§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH rose to call attention to the Beeching Report, The Reshaping of British Railways, and to the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes 180 for which it is most suitable; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. Noble Lords will have seen the Report of the Beeching Committee, and I myself have read it. I must say that I find it a very able contribution to the study of the fundamental economics of railway transportation. While the country is indebted to Dr. Beeching for his labours, that, of course, refers only to the Report within its limited context, and it is very limited because it deals with the situation of British Railways alone.
§ The Report is somewhat technical in character, and the reading of certain passages requires a little patience. The paragraphs might well have been numbered to facilitate easy reference in this House and in other places. I may be wrong—I hope I am—but I do not gather that capital charges, that is to say amortisation of capital and payment of interest, are allowed for in the costs, a fact which is perhaps a little misleading. Then the explanations of certain technical terms are not given early enough—for example "liner trains", which are so referred to in the early part, although they are not explained until halfway through, or more than halfway through. The reader who is not an expert in these new terms may well be wondering what a liner train is. It is, of course, a train which can pick up goods from road vehicles and unload them at the other end and have them delivered by road. It would have been better if that had been explained earlier on in the Report. The Report refers also to "systems cost", which I imagine may mean overall costs of management and so on; but I do not recall that that is explained. It might have been as well if a glossary had been put at the end of the Report to explain these terms which occur on numerous occasions throughout the document.
§ I am very glad that the Report says that industrial consultants have been used. I think they ought to be used more extensively in publicly-owned industries, providing that the right people are chosen—because some of them are not very good. But they are useful when the Boards of publicly owned industries are up against a difficult situation. Indeed, I advocated it, not with complete success, 181 during the years of the Labour Government with the Chairmen of the Boards concerned. I must say, in fairness, that the publicly owned airways did use industrial consultants and they told us that there were advantages in so doing.
§ One of the things which worries me a little is the effect of this plan upon the location of industry. In the South-East of England, where we have, if anything, too much industry as compared with the North-East and parts of Scotland, Merseyside, Northern Ireland and parts of Wales, there is some interference with the railways, though not so much as in the North-East or in the North of Scotland or Mid-Wales. If the redistribution of railway tracks under the Report does have the effect of leading to the diminution of railway services in those very parts of the country to which we either are or ought to be trying to get industry to move, it may be that industry, when it moves, will find itself without adequate service in those parts of the country. Undoubtedly railways, like highways, have an effect on the wider issue of town and country planning and the distribution of industry. This is not something which I have noticed the Government have undertaken to take into account, but I think they ought to do so.
§ There is also the matter of the seaside traffic, on which a Question has just been put by my noble friend Lord Stonham. I admit straight away that much of this seaside traffic is seasonal; it may last for three months in the year, then taper off and in other months be very little. From the point of view of the railways, which have to meet large fixed capital and maintenance charges, this is a nuisance. But we have to take into account the interests of the travelling public who go on their holidays to these resorts and the well-being of the boarding house and hotel keepers. It might be worth while mentioning that, so far as I know, the boarding house keepers and possibly hotel keepers have no right of appearance before the transport consultative committees, because they are not themselves travellers. Whether they can get over that by persuading the travel agencies to appear on their behalf, I do not know. But these closures can mean serious economic consequences to these people, who render a public service by running their boarding houses and hotels, most of them pretty well. Moreover, as 182 my noble friend Lord Latham reminds me, they create rateable values, which are important for local rates.
§ If a man and wife with four or six children go to a seaside resort with a lot of luggage, under the recommendations of the Report it would apparently be the case that they would have to go by bus from the nearest railway station; but unless the bus is reconstructed so that there is plenty of room, say, under the floorboards, for all the luggage and plenty of room for the children in the bus, they are going to have a problem. This is a consideration which ought to be kept in mind. I admit that probably over the year there will be a loss on the railway services to these seaside places. While I am in favour of the idea that publicly-owned industries should pay their way, I do not think that that means that they must pay their way on every mile of railway route. There may be exceptions which ought to be made in the public interest.
§ It appears from the Report that there is inadequate co-operation with the National Coal Board, or from the National Coal Board, in the handling of coal. These are both great concerns and there ought to be co-operation between them, so that coal can be shifted in the most economical manner between the pit and the point of delivery.
§ The Report refers to diesel engines and to electrification. I admit that where electrification takes place a fairly heavy and constant load of traffic is needed. On the other hand, if there is a balance between diesel and electric, I think it is better to go for electric, because the diesel engine wears out within a reasonably brief period of life and it is costly from the point of view of maintenance. Therefore, where traffic warrants it, I hope the Board and the Minister will have a bias in favour of the electrified line.
§ With regard to the location of industry, according to the maps it looks as if some of the areas where unemployment is heavy are going to be among the most heavily hit by closures of railway lines. I find it difficult to believe that that will be an incentive to maintain or increase the amount of industrial activity in those areas, which are largely of heavy industry, though no doubt small industry will be going there. The areas include 183 the North-East, the East Midlands, where the line between Derby and Nottingham and Lincoln is going to be closed, the Highlands and other parts of Scotland, Mid-Wales and the North-West, which is not an area of heavy unemployment but nevertheless is one of great importance for holiday traffic.
§ I have said that I think it desirable that publicly-owned industries should pay their way. I say that not only as a good citizen, but as a Socialist. It is no good advertisement for Socialism if heavy losses are incurred, unless they are inevitable or can be justified. I should prefer these industries to pay their way. Recently the Sunday Times suggested that, in view of the big blow which will come to the Isle of Wight through the closure of the whole of its railway lines—and the Isle of Wight is almost a seaside county—it would be a good thing if the County Council would run the railways or other transport undertakings and subsidise them in the interests of the county. The Sunday Times also suggested that local authorities might like to subsidise buses where they are not forthcoming, in the absence of railways, because traffic is too light. I think it would be undesirable for local authorities to subsidise out of the rates transport undertakings which they do not own, and I hope the Government will not favour it.
§ It is sometimes argued that railways and transport should be treated as a social service. As a matter of fact, some years ago my late friend Lord Ashfield, when I was having periodical arguments with him about London Transport in relation to the L.C.C. tramways, seriously suggested that there was a lot to be said for letting the people of London travel free on the various passenger transport undertakings and for the L.C.C. to pay for transport out of the rates, with the other local authorities paying their share. I should think that he was a Conservative—I do not know. He was not a comrade in that sense. That would be a very costly venture for local authorities. And I said, "Not me! I'm quite willing to pay for the drains, the highways, the schools, the bridges and the ferries; but to subsidise transport so that people can travel free, attractive though it is because it would save a lot 184 of money, is not a thing that I could recommend my colleagues to go in for."
§ While some in my own Party argue that transport should be regarded as a social service, speaking for myself, I regard transport as a commercial undertaking, not like housing or education or public health. If we started to treat everything as a social service we should be inviting unlimited subsidies, and that might well have a bad effect on the efficiency and energy of the management and possibly on the outlook of the employed people as well. Therefore I do not share the idea of transport as a social service. Nevertheless, it might be right in particular cases, though we must remember that taxpayers and ratepayers are also God's children. But there are particular cases where it might be right that there should be, not so much subsidies, but what I should prefer to call specific grants-in-aid, to particular aspects of the railways.
§ For example, if Her Majesty's Government say to the Railways Board: "We want you to keep open such and such a line. We admit it is unremunerative, but in case of war and troubles of that kind, in the interests of defence, it is essential for the well-being of the country that that piece of railway shall be maintained." And that may well be the case, because the railways, as those of us who were in the Government will remember, did a great job for the country during the Second World War, which I do not think could have been done otherwise. The railways were vital.
§ This is not going to cover every mile of route of British Railways, but it may well apply in some instances. If the Railways Board say: "We wish to close that line," and the Government say: "We cannot very well let you do that, because it is necessary for defence," then I think the Railways Board have a reasonably specific case for a grant-in-aid on behalf of the maintenance of that line. There is a case for a grant-in-aid on the permanent way, somewhat similar to the grants made by the Ministry of Transport in respect of Class I and Class II roads—that is to say, as specific grant-in-aid for that purpose. I think that is a fair point. And there may be, in respect of all or some of the resorts, cases where a specific grant-in-aid is justified.
§ This, my Lords, is not particularly strange. In Scotland there is a steamship 185 undertaking, known as MacBrayne's, which has ships floating about for passenger and goods services. Ever since I have been in Parliament I remember this contract being discussed almost every year by Scottish Members who wanted better services and possibly a bigger subsidy. The subsidy is paid to MacBrayne's, and has been for goodness knows how many years. This was a case where the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland needed this transport to get about. The Government did not want to undertake it themselves, by direct enterprise, and therefore they subsidised the commercial firm of MacBrayne's to do it. In the circumstances, I think it was legitimate. But probably the Scots will go on talking and quarrelling about it every year in the course of Scottish Estimates debates in another place. Similarly, British European Airways, in so far as they are required to run services in the Highlands of Scotland, with a very slender population, which commercially they might not want to do, would have, equally with MacBrayne's, an arguable case for a subsidy for running those services in the public interest.
§ One of the things I cannot follow is why some such Report as this (I will come presently to if e wider aspects) was not prepared before. I have been told that the information has been fairly readily available to the old railway companies and to the new publicly-owned railway system, although I cannot answer from my own knowledge as to whether or not that is true. But this is a useful Report. Factually it is useful, and also in teaching us about railway economics. I think it is a pity that something like this was not done before, because the railways have been in trouble for quite a long time. They have been in trouble, not merely since they were nationalised, or, as I prefer to call it, socialised, but for many years when they were private companies. They had agitations for a "Square Deal" with the roads, and various other things; and they obtained powers to run commercial transport and passenger transport. They were in a bad way.
§ If the Labour Government made a mistake (I do not see very well how we could have helped it) it was in nationalising as soon as we did. If we had waited four or five years, the railways would have been near enough "broke", and 186 we should have got them for very much less compensation than that we had to pay on the basis of Stock Exchange value of the shares. On the other hand, we might have lost the next Election and not been able to nationalise them at all—but that is not entirely a legitimate consideration from the point of view of practical affairs. Perhaps on the point of why this was not done before the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, or the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who are former Chairmen of the British Transport Commission, may be able to help us. They will know much more about it than I do and may be able to explain this circumstance satisfactorily.
§ The big complaint that we have is on a number of things connected with what led up to this investigation. Why was this not an investigation into the whole of the transport system, or at any rate the whole of the inland transport system? In debating this matter we are debating in the dark, to a great extent; and if we have Ito face a Bill, or orders, or what-not, we shall again be debating in the dark, because we shall have no picture before us of the transport system as a whole and of the effect—we know there has been some effect, but not the exact effect—of competition between railways and roads. We shall not know these things, and there is little in this Report about them. Dr. Beeching was asked to report, not upon the transport system as a whole, but upon the railways, and he had to confine himself to those considerations. That is our big complaint.
I would ask your Lordships to notice the terms of the Motion, which in effect condemns the Government for not having had a much wider and more comprehensive investigation. It is:
To call attention…to the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable.
There is nothing in this Report about that; and there is nothing in the exposition of the Government about it. I think it is a pretty sad and sorry state of affairs that we should be driven to debate on the basis of a Report which deals with British Railways alone, without any reference (except that we shall bring it in) to the wider questions of transport, as such, and of transport as a whole. That is why we have worded this Motion in this way: To call attention to the failure of the Government (and it is a
very bad failure of the Government) in this respect, and their side-stepping of the issue of the wider considerations of transport organisation and planning. That is our big complaint.
§ It may be said by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Minister has announced that he is to have an inquiry into the licensing of road vehicles, including commercial traffic. But why did he not do it before? Why wait until now? And will it be an inquiry with the objectivity and thoroughness of the Beeching Report on the railways? Will it be just as merciless about the roads as Dr. Beeching has found it necessary to be about the railways? We should like to know this. Why is it that the Minister allows all this to go on, and not until he is faced with a Parliamentary debate, serious industrial problems, and perhaps trouble, does he announce that he is going to have some sort of inquiry into the licensing of vehicles which serve upon the highway for commercial traffic and, presumably, passenger traffic as well?
§ Even if he has, it is very doubtful whether it will be as thorough and as exhaustive, within its limits, as the Beeching Report, whatever faults it may have. Nor will it be an investigation into the problems of transport as a whole in its various phases. It is not good enough. I do not want to be too rough on the Minister to-day; he had a rough time yesterday. Anyway, I have been rough on him before, and the only result was that he held his job. I think I had better be quiet about being rough on him; it may help him to hold his job. I am not going to be drawn into promises to various Ministers, including the Minister of State of the Foreign Office, to attack them so that the Prime Minister will keep them going, in case they appear to be surrendering to the Labour Party. I do not wish the Minister of State of the Foreign Office ill at all, except that I shall be glad when there is a Labour one who has his job.
§ What have this Minister and other Ministers of Transport of this Government done from the time the original Conservative Government was established in 1951? They have persistently attacked and undermined the financial well-being and interests of the railways. They have 188 had an anti-railway complex, and it may be partly because the railways were publicly owned. I think they might have had a different attitude if the poor companies were still coming round Whitehall asking for help for the poor shareholders, including the widows and orphans who have money in the railways. They have deliberately taken away from the railways much of the road commercial element in the British Transport Commission. That was a money-maker; not enough to wipe out this deficit, but still a noticeable money-maker.
§ They took it away and insisted on its being run as a separate institution, in so far as it was allowed to survive under public ownership at all. This favouritism of the Government for private enterprise in road commercial transport as against publicly owned railways represented a great political battle at some elections, and some of us would very much like to know how much the private road hauliers contributed to Conservative Party central funds at those elections when the Government were running this policy. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to answer this, though I am not sure he is quite high up enough to know. It would be very healthy for the Conservative Party to "come clean" about these things.
§ Then they broke up the Transport Commission. There may have been a case for some degree of reorganisation and modification, but the Commission was the only body which had a function of co-ordinating transport as a whole. They broke it up. Now we have some of the undertakings under the Holding Company, and we have the Railways Board as a separate institution. So the railways have been isolated, left on their own. I do not like it. One of the things I hoped for when we established the British Transport Commission was that rail and road management, labour, and so on, could live together under the same umbrella, and in the same undertaking; and, moreover, that some of the railwaymen could be transferred to road transport management, and some of the road transport experts could be transferred to railway management. As a result of that, they would both have learnt something about the other elements in the transport system. I think you have to be a little careful about what I call the railway mind. 189 People who are on the railways most of their lives are not quite as well equipped as wide transport men as they would be if they had had experience of road transport as well. After all, railways run upon rails, and there is a possible danger that people who are kept in railway work all their lives, with no variation with other systems of transport, may be affected mentally.
§ So there has been an artificial stimulation of private road commercial transport, not only in the directions I have mentioned, but recently by permission for the vehicles to be bigger. Heaven knows! for the safety of everybody, including the little motorists, a good many of whom vote Conservative, they are big enough. They are really too big. They are wider and longer. And the Government have put up the speed limit. The great highway, the M.1, may be a good thing, but I should like to feel sure in my own mind that the Minister of Transport was not partially actuated by a desire to encourage heavy commercial transport between London and Birmingham at the expense of the railways. I am not saying that the construction of the M.1 was necessarily wrong.
§ The Government, having deliberately damaged the railways, as I think, and put them into difficulties to the point where the loss was growing—it had reached a substantial figure—set Dr. Beeching to work on narrow terms of reference with an axe to wield with a view to knocking out many miles of railway route. We are not saying that no mile of railway route should be cut, but we are inclined to think that these proposals are a little wholesale, and that there will have to be further thought about them and the practical ways in which substitutes can be found for them if they go.
§ Why did not the Government let Dr. Beeching report on the whole affair? There is nothing about co-ordination, except an incidental reference. Even then, Dr. Beeching does not think it would have much effect on the railways. He says that the local loads are useful. That is all right, but the implication is that the bulk of them are not useful at all. So you pursue a transport policy which puts the railways in the cart. Then Dr. Beeching is put on to make this 190 Report. The railway situation had been surrendered in advance, with the consequence that he was almost bound to bring in some Report of this nature, which I think is a Report ably done but too narrow in its outlook and the field which it covers.
§ There is the effect upon railway labour. Compensation is offered, and though many people think it is not enough—and they have a case—it is probably somewhat more generous than industry has engaged in before. And so it ought to be. But is it adequate? That is the question which is being argued. The loss of manpower on the railways by wastage—that is to say, by resignation, illness and death—is very substantial, as the figures on page 50 show. In these circumstances, it is not unnatural that the railwaymen should have fears, especially the men who have been working on the railways for a long time. It has been their life. Many of them are very fond of the railways for which they have worked. They have an affection for them. I know that some directors of the old Great Western had a great belief that the railwaymen on the Great Western were very proud of the undertaking. I daresay the same could be said of others. By the way, I gather that the former directors are still walking around with medallions whereby they can travel for nothing, a practice that I think is a little out of date and ought to be stopped. That is a small point, but it is a possible irritant. Does the noble Viscount the Leader of the House wish to tell me something?
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
Time is on your side.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
There is this fear of the railwaymen; they have the knowledge that the Government have pursued an anti-railway policy and a road commercial policy. They are worried. They feel that the railways have had a raw deal, and they are afraid. Therefore, the N.U.R. have decided to have a three-day strike. I will be quite frank; I myself hope that this three-day strike somehow will not come off. I hope that some way out of it will be found by the Union, by the Government and by the British Railways Board. In 191 any case, I hardly call a three-day stoppage a strike. If you are going to have a strike—not that I am encouraging anybody to do so—I should have thought that it ought to last until somebody is forced into a decision. You would not catch the miners on a three-day strike—not very often, anyway—and they can last a long time, as indeed, they used to. It seems to me that the three-day strike may be interpreted as something in the nature of a political demonstration and an irritant—an irritant to the public more than anybody else. The high-ups of the Railways Board will still go to work in their cars; so will other people in the commercial world.
I understand the railwaymen, and certainly I am not going to abuse them, but I feel especially that this is a political matter which ought to be settled by political argument, and that it is hardly a matter about which a three-day strike is worth going for. However, that also is a personal opinion. That is how I feel about it. I do not think the N.U.R. really want the stoppage, and I believe that if some reasonable way were found whereby they could, without an excessive loss of dignity, withdraw the talk of a three-day strike, it would be a very good thing.
The unions are entitled to full information and consultation, and, of course, that would help them to be constructive—as indeed they ought to seek to be. But the record of the Government in all this matter of transport is bound to make the union leaders, and the union rank and file, apprehensive, fearful and nervous about what is going to happen to them. I would urge, therefore, that the Government should hold up positive action on the Report for the short time needed for the investigation of the problems of transport as a whole; for it is impossible to separate the problems of the railways from the other problems of transport. This Report has taken some years to prepare, and I quite understand why. But in the light of this fact could not the Government hold up action for another limited period, in order that a comprehensive investigation may proceed? That would avoid this bitter row which is going on, and which may develop. Moreover, I think that good statesmanship and good public spirit re- 192 quire that that should be done. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the Beeching Report, The Reshaping of British Railways and to the need for utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable.—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)
§ 3.25 p.m.
My Lords, if every speaker in this debate were to analyse the breakdown, the figures, the arguments and the conclusions of this Beeching Report, I am sure that both the debate and your Lordships would collapse from exahustion before achieving anything at all. Therefore, I propose to be very brief and to speak only on one or two general topics in this matter. As a beginning I should like to offer two specific congratulations: first, to Her Majesty's Government for conceiving and putting into effect this much-needed analysis of the state of British Railways; and second, to Dr. Beeching himself upon a very able and striking Report, both in its broad scope and in its able conception of radical and often painful remedies.
Indeed, the outcome of this idea of setting an expert to work upon a national problem rather makes one consider afresh the advantages of something like the American political system whereby the highest responsibility is not tied to membership of the Legislature. The best man for each supreme administrative job is chosen from among the whole population of the country, and he works in parallel with the Government in Parliament. In our system, however, the supreme authority is the Minister, who must be a member of Parliament. We are told, for instance, that Mr. X is the perfect and ideal choice for Minister of Defence, or of some other Department; and then, after a very short time, that Mr. X is, in fact, the ideal Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and that Mr. Y is the perfect man for the Defence Ministry. Very soon after that we are informed that Mr. Z, another of this small band of Party apostles, is, after all, the best man for Defence. So we go on with our musical chairs with what is, I think, far too limited a circle of choice; a choice of admirable and able men but 193 not a choice of the outstanding expert who may not be a Member of Parliament.
This thought crosses my mind because I have a great admiration for Dr. Beeching's product, and I hope that, with careful modification, revision and adaptation, it may be implemented and bring order and prosperity into the railway chaos which, I think we all agree, successive Governments have been singularly lacking in being able to solve. But my reservation about this matter is that national transport, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has told your Lordships, is a totally integrated problem, it involves rail, road, air, inland waterways and coastal shipping; and we have given to Dr. Beeching a task which may prove to be quite futile unless it can be co-ordinated rapidly with readjustments and most urgent improvements in transport which is not necessarily railway transport.
Quite obviously, one branch of transport will be relieved if it throws its unprofitable burden on to some other branch of transport. Quite obviously, too, the railways' difficulties will be helped if they are thrown on to the already grossly inadequate road system. Surely the transport conundrum cannot possibly be solved unless it is dealt with as a whole; and yet, so far as one can see, no anticipating and parallel inquiry has been made into the services which are blindly expected to take the overspill of a pruned and curtailed railway system. The place of weighty and bulky loads, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, pointed out, is not on the roads. Non-urgent traffic is deprived of cheap canal transport because we have short-sightedly allowed our inland waterway to disintegrate. Coastal shipping is more or less despised because, despite its efficiency—and it is a very efficient way of transport—the time element there is often over-rated. In many cases, of course, time is not of paramount importance. Air freight is by-passed because at present, in this early stage of its development, it is comparatively expensive for hulk traffic.
Probably the first reaction to this Report is that of the difficulty and the hardship which the railway traveller, particularly the daily ones, will encounter. I have no doubt that your Lordships, like myself, have met many who admire 194 the Report and say: "It is excellent so long as they do not lay a finger on my station." This is a serious problem, but it is inconceivable, I should have thought, that Dr. Beeching and Her Majesty's Government have not taken this into account and will not immediately plan to provide adequate and acceptable alternative accommodation far beyond what exists and is so inadequate to-day. If they have not done so, or do not do so, I think that the whole scheme may fall to the ground. I do not think there is one of us who does not know of instances where a cessation of rail communications may cause injustice and real hardship, and operate towards even worse chaos than exists on the roads to-day.
There is, I think, in this Report (which I have tried to read in detail) no mention of adapting abandoned railway tracks to modern roadways. Admittedly a single-line track, or even a double track, is of insufficient width to make a good modern motorway. But with the inconsiderable gradients, the absence of abrupt corners, and above all the established rights of way throughout the whole countryside, it would seem that the railway tracks offer a very good potential basis on which to construct and develop new first-class motorways.
In the last hundred years, as your Lordships know, our railways have given us pathetically small improvements in speed and comfort. Motorists travelling nowadays, in suitable circumstances, at speeds even up to 100 miles an hour have, of course, innumerable checks, corners, village streets, unguarded crossroads, and so forth, which, quite properly, reduce their average to a slow figure. But it seems to me extraordinary that a railway train to-day, travelling on a perfect billiard table surface, as these polished rails are, with no hills, no corners, no crossroads, and with all traffic held back for its clear and uninterrupted passage, still jerks us along in noise and discomfort at the speed of a broken-down motor lorry. Let us hope that in this jet age our Victorian rail transport may become much more up to date when it is shorn of its present barnacles.
I notice also, with some wryness, that the Report advocates "through-train operation" in such cases as coal transport between colliery and loading ports. It strikes me with personal interest because some 40 years ago I was wholly occupied 195 in harrying the railway companies to convey coal wagons in under a fortnight a distance of only 80 miles between the pits and a modern port (I think the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, will know to which port I am referring), where things could have been taken in only a few hours. Chasing these wagons around for 80 miles seems quite fantastic, but it seems, from the tone of this Report, that these conditions more or less still exist.
I am not going to detain your Lordships longer. The crux of the whole transport position is that it needs a co-ordinated investment policy. This matter cannot be broken down into a Railways-Beeching bit and a road bit, and a historical bit and a potential bit. It has got to be looked at as a whole. We congratulate Dr. Beeching and we are grateful to him. But we do look to the Government to co-ordinate and, above all, to look much further ahead than they have done so far in the matter of British transport as a whole.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the Motion, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, of course enjoys a certain position in your Lordships' House and has done ever since he has been in it, and we listen to what he says with great interest and attention because of his long and distinguished record in public life about which we all know. We listen to him no less so when he speaks on transport matters, because of his being a former Minister of Transport. While he will not be surprised I did not agree with everything he said, I should at least like to record my admiration of the moderate and well thought out manner in which he presented his case to the House—not surprising coming from him, although he will allow me to say that his little personal imp of mischief occasionally leads him a little further from the moderate path. He slipped only once to-day, in making what I thought for a man of his calibre was a rather unworthy Party political crack; at least it made one man of my calibre feel slightly sick that he did so; but we need not bother about that because we have matters of very great importance to deal with.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The noble Lord is challenging me to give him a figure of his base allegation. All I would say to him is this. He queried whether I was high enough in the Party; I will tell him if there was an answer to that I would not be in the Party. I should prefer to continue on the subject of the debate which the noble Lord has carefully put to us and which is a matter of the highest importance, because on what we are considering to-day rest (as the noble Lord seemed in some ways to think we thought was the case) not only the future of British Railways, but the future of the whole transport system.
I want there to be no mistake about this. I can find very little, if anything, between us and the views of the noble Lord opposite as expressed in the terms of his Motion, particularly the important part where he calls attention to the need for utilisation of each form of transport for the purpose for which it is most suitable. With those words, with that sentiment, I could not agree more strongly; the Government could not agree more strongly. At face value, if it can be described as any form of substantive Motion, I, for one, should be quite content to accept those words. I do not think that in accepting this Motion I would regard it as a great duty being laid upon the Government as to the production of Papers, but it is that sentiment I am keen about and certainly would not wish to go against. Certainly if accepting the Motion meant that I had to accept the noble Lord's thinking and his arguments, and that the element of censure which he implied, although it is not visible, was included in the terms of Motion, I could not agree with him or accept the Motion at all. But, on the face value of those words of the Motion, we have no quarrel at all. But I want to make it clear that I certainly could not accept the arguments he has put forward.
I am going to deal, of course, with the main features and implications of the Railways Board Plan, and in that I must necessarily omit reference to some of the things that the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, put forward in their speeches; and there are other aspects of it which I can cover only very quickly or not at all. I can see from the noble Lord's speech there are many things I must explain, but I would ask the noble Lords to forgive me if I do not follow 197 them entirely along the paths on which they spoke.
Here I begin to deal with what the noble Lord called his big complaint. I am also going to concentrate on something that is of wider interest and more important than just the shape of the railways, and that is the relationship of the Plan to our general transport policy and what we regard as the need for an efficient, economic and well-balanced transport system properly fitted into the life of the nation, which is what our policy is. As has already been said, the Government see these proposals as a major contribution towards a policy of that kind, and I think the railways are in fact the key. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, I thought recognised that fact, that the railways were the key.
I am sure that he does not advocate the idea that, whether by his means or by other means—our means, which I shall come to—we achieve a balanced transport system for the country, we should create a 20th century transport system to suit 20th century needs and try to include in that a 19th century railway system. No more do I feel that he, or anybody else, would want the incorporation of that 19th century railway system to involve incorporating the cost of running that system as at present, because no amount of countervailing profitable services from other forms of transport will make up for the large sums which the railways are losing at the present time. It cannot work that way.
As long ago as March, 1960, the Prime Minister indicated that the railway industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. The Select Committee which studied the railways saw this as well, and said so. The Plan which we are now debating is in direct descent from there, via the intensive discussions arid inquiries—the Stedeford Group, the 1960 White Paper and the traffic studies—which have taken place during the last three years. Therefore, what the Plan proposes is a continuation of a deliberate course of action. I must come to the actual position of the Plan in that course of action. I realise that I am probably [...] statement of the [...] great change [...] industry 198 long has the band been playing. But out of it all has emerged at any rate some main conclusions on which I do not think there can be any serious disagreement. First (and I am so glad that it has been acknowledged by the noble Lords who have already spoken), the Board's analysis is based on painstaking fact and careful costing. In fact, I think that a new phrase has just about passed into our language, because to "Do a Beeching" now seems to mean to carry out an inquiry comprehensively and scientifically. But having done that, and establishing what traffics the railways were carrying, and where, and working out what traffics they should be carrying, and where, the Railways Board have tackled the problem in the right way. The second point is that the large railway deficit—£150 million, and probably likely to get worse—ought to be cut down, thereby making the valuable resources that it represents available for better use elsewhere in our economy as it changes.
I should like to take the opportunity to make quite clear to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, this business of making the railways pay, which he criticised. This is the important point. If I may make a differentiation, the idea of the operation is, so to speak, to stop this particular financial rot—to stop the railways costing so much. It is not a question of making every inch of line pay, as I shall try to show in a moment, because my next point, which is pretty clear, is that a large part of the system is little used. It is not just that the revenue from it is inadequate. Much of the lines and services concerned have in fact, for one reason or another, been given up by the public. It is not the other way round, that they are inadequate and useless for what the public want: it is the public who have given up the lines.
The facts of that matter are that one third of the route mileage of railway in this country carries 0.8 per cent. of the passenger mile traffic. One-third of the route mileage carries 1.5 per cent. of the freight. One-third of the stations produce under 1 per cent. of the passenger receipts, and one-third of the stations produce 0.6 per cent. of freight receipts I[...]
199 The fourth point is that, apart from proposals to deal with that one-third of the system, the Report clearly makes positive proposals to exploit the railways' natural advantages, to increase their revenue and to take freight off the roads and on to rail. In other words, Dr. Beeching has done exactly what he was asked to do—namely, to produce a plan to show and to reason what ought to be the pattern and operation of the railways in modern conditions—a plan sound in commercial logic and consideration, and a plan which held out some constructive hope of some economic future for the railways. If this Plan is going to be fully effective it must clearly form part of a still wider and more comprehensive policy—and therefore the next question we have to tackle is, what to do about it.
The first illusion that I want to dispel is any impression that may still remain that the Government propose simply, by a stroke of the pen or something like that, to accept everything which is put forward in that Plan; to say, "Right, here is the Plan. So let it be. Do it." That would be wellnigh impossible, and in any case highly undesirable. I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said that he had not noticed anything on these lines coming from the Government. I do not complain of that, but I hope that he will not mind if I tell him now exactly what consideration, as we see it, must be given to these proposals. In fact, I welcome the opportunity to make the matter abundantly clear.
There is no question of doubt in anyone's mind that, in considering the future pattern of the railway system and what is to be done under this Plan, a long list of things, which I suppose might roughly come under the headings of social considerations, defence considerations such as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, mentioned, industrial considerations, development distribution and so on, the effect on areas of high and low unemployment, of population movement, road considerations, planning future towns and conurbations and so on, are all matters which have clearly to be taken into consideration.
Therefore, my Lords, I describe the [...] as giving a proper 200 this matter. Because when we have to come to accept certain services whose importance to the community, for one reason or another among all the variety of reasons that I have sketched, outweighs purely commercial consideration, we must at least know what financial or economic burden we are accepting; for not to do that is to make a nonsense of economic planning in the country as a whole. That is the point we are at to-day. There is a great deal of thought and consultation before us, and many and various are the interests which must be consulted or considered before a great many of the proposals can be carried into effect.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? In the list of considerations which he read out, all of which, I am sure, everyone approves, I did not hear him say that the cost of the alternatives was going to be taken into consideration too, including the cost of the roads.
§ Lord CHESHAM
The fact that I may not specifically have mentioned those does not exclude them, any more than the fact I did not happen to mention seaside resorts—which I had jotted down to mention and then did not notice it—means that I exclude those interests. I did in fact say "among many others", or if I did not say it, I meant to say it. I hope the noble Lord will not regard the list, which I said I was sketching, as comprehensive, because it was not.
The size of the problem seems to me to be so obvious that the Railways Board ought now to start putting forward their proposals in the near future, and if they do so it will not cause very much surprise when one considers the very lightly used one-third of the system which I have just mentioned. I should like to make one point quite clear. When I say they ought to go forward because that one-third of the system is very lightly used, I want to stress that your Lordships should remember that those proposals are at the moment subject to the two principal powers which were deliberately reserved to the Minister under [...] port Act, 1962. In that Act [...] the railways a [...] system; [...] it [...] of their 201 debt, and a Board of their own concentrating on railway problems. This, together with the millions which have gone into the railways, scarcely represents an anti-railways attitude.
There were two checks on that freedom: first, that opposed passenger services cannot be closed without my right honourable friend's consent, after observing a carefully defined procedure; second, that major matters of finance, including investment, require his agreement. In a nutshell, the Government have kept their hand on the two main controls—finance and the protection of the travelling public. When the railways proposals involve passenger closures the procedures under Section 56 of the Act, including examination by the area T.U.C.C's, must be observed, as must any conditions he imposes for as long as he imposes them. But the final word rests with the Minister, who will have to take all the relevant factors into account. That is the position in regard to the proposals which I said the railways ought to bring forward in the near future.
In the meantime, where proposals have wider implications in a variety of ways consultations have been, are and will be going on with the people affected. So far as possible, we did our best to set up machinery to consider the implications of these wider matters, particularly most of the matters I mentioned in my list, as soon as the Report became available. We did not wait until it became available and then think of the machinery for taking these matters into consideration, any more than we waited an instant more than was necessary to seek people's views as rapidly as possible. I know that some associations think they have been given very little time to consider these matters. That is why, in many cases, their views have been accepted as initial ones, and we quite realise that more fully thought out ones will probably be with us before long.
I have rather stressed the present position because so many people ask, as the noble Lord did, what will happen about this or about that, or what will be the position in regard to planning traffic on roads, and so on. So the context in which those questions are to be answered is important. Therefore, the kind of con- 202 siderations now facing Her Majesty's Government and my right honourable friend in particular are these. First and foremost, whether alternative services are adequate, and, if not, how they are to be achieved; what are the effects of closures on industrial development, on areas of industrial recession, and on populations, either growing or diminishing; what element of social requirement must be preserved?—and a number of other aspects. Not the least of these, of course, is the effect on roads. People ask—and they worry about this, which does not surprise me—about the possibility of tipping a lot of traffic off the under-used railways on to the congested roads.
It is very important to get this matter into accurate perspective, because a large part of the trouble with the railways is that so much traffic is already on the roads. Nevertheless, we have been busy working on this and we estimate that the overall position will be as follows. First, if all the railway proposals for passenger closures were carried out and the traffic diverted to the roads, it would add 1 per cent. to the total road traffic of this country—that is, less than the equivalent of two months' normal growth of road traffic, which is growing by 7 per cent. per year. Secondly, if all the railway proposals are carried through and succeed in gaining the whole of the goods traffic as mentioned in the Plan, the net effect will be 1 per cent. reduction in total road traffic in the country. I know that these are overall figures, and I realise they have definite limitations as to their real implication because obviously in certain places particular roads will be affected and become inadequate because of diversions of traffic from the rail.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt for one moment? Could the noble Lord give us the basis of his 1 per cent.? One per cent. of the total passenger journeys in a whole year is 10 million passenger journeys, and single lines do 5 million journeys. It is really nonsense.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not think it is nonsense at all, if the noble Lord will allow me to say so, and I shall be happy to oblige him by giving him the basis. If the noble Lord will refer to the top of page 19 of the Report, he will see that the services proposed for closure in Appendix 2 account for an annual train mileage of 68 million. The number of 203 passengers carried by the trains concerned he will find described on page 16 of the Report as an average of less than a busload. I think it would be fair to interpret a bus-load as 30 people. This, then, gives a measure of the passenger miles carried by the services which are proposed for closure. It amounts, my Lords, to 30 times 68, which gives you an answer of about 2,000 million passenger miles a year. I do not know whether the noble Lord is following it.
§ LORD STONHAM
You have not counted it; you have merely estimated it on this basis. It is not an actual figure at all.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps the noble Lord would allow me just to finish explaining how this calculation has been made. The figure I mentioned of 2,000 million passenger miles has to be converted to road traffic. Assuming that they all went by car—and that would have the most pronounced effect that they could make on traffic, as I think the noble Lord would agree—normally you expect to find an average of two people in each car, so that would give 1,000 million passenger car miles. That is an increase of 1 per cent. on the present total of road traffic, which is about 100,000 million passenger miles. That is how I come to the 1 per cent. If half the traffic went by car and half went by bus without any additional buses, the increase would be about 6 per cent. But whichever way you work it out, the total increase comes out at something like 1 per cent. If traffic, as I said, is increasing at 7 per cent. per year, that change is less than 2 months' growth.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I am sorry to press this point. Perhaps it is unfair to put question and answer on a matter like this. It was once said that figures cannot lie, but those who use them can. The fact is this that those figures do not take any account of density. Let us take just the closing of the Southport-Liverpool line, which is an entirely commuter service on which the whole of the traffic is crowded into four hours. The figures go sky-high. You are carrying these figures over 24 hours.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I said, and perhaps the noble Lord will recall, 204 that these figures must be used with some caution. I said that it was an overall figure and that I was aware that there would be problems on certain roads, because naturally the entire traffic pattern and population pattern are not spread evenly over the entire road system. I agree there. But, my Lords, I can only come to the House and give the best possible estimate that can be seen, in order to give the House the information to which I think it is entitled. A point I wanted to make, too, and it is important to remember this all through—it is very much the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, has just made—is that if you are going to adopt means, which are unspecified at the moment, of getting a good deal back from the road on to the rail, then, as a corollary to what I have just said, and for the same reason, putting traffic back does not necessarily mean that a great deal of the very lightly used part of the system will be any more used. I thought that point was worth making.
We are now looking carefully at cases and we have already called for individual consideration of what road works need to be carried out in the case of each proposed closure. I realise, of course, that at times it may well prove that the road works necessary will be impossibly expensive, relative to the gain that arises from the closure, in which case the Minister, as I said, would have to think again about it.
Now I must have a word or two, because it is very important, on the question of possible redundancy. It is even more important to get this as much into perspective as possible, because I certainly understand the concern and fear—the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, called it—of the staff in such matters. I want to explain the facts as carefully as I can. I do not want to mislead the House in any way. Neither the Railways Board, nor the Government, nor the railway unions themselves can be precise about the numbers of men affected by the implementation of this plan. The reason why they cannot be precise is because, first, for the reason that I have been mentioning, no one at this point can forecast the rate at which rail closures will take place. Secondly, no one can yet know the views of individuals who may be affected.
205 The facts are these. It was said by my right honourable friend, I think on March 27, that the adoption of the railways' proposals could mean the disappearance over the next few years of some 70,000 jobs. It is quite false to represent that as 70,000 redundant men. Although the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, nods his head, he will agree with me that in certain uninformed quarters it has been taken to mean that. I thought it was most important to say that. It was emphasised, though, as I said, that most of the reduction would be effected by normal wastage and by control of recruitment. Actual discharges were not expected to be more than a small proportion of the total reductions; the number, of course, depending on how far it would be possible for men to move to other work and to another area.
My Lords, at that stage it was impossible to be more precise, and it is not any easier now. The Railways Board have been calculating probable effects on their employees during the twelve months ending September, 1964. They selected that period because they expect it to see the most intensive implementation of the Plan. They cannot ensure that it will be the most intensive period, because so much depends on the rate of through-put of the closure proposals, through the T.U.C.C.s and through consideration by my right honourable friend. But what the Board have worked out shows that in 22 out of the 28 areas into which the six railway regions are divided, normal wastage would exceed the number of redundancies which were expected to arise. In only 6 out of the 28 were redundancies expected to exceed normal wastage, and in no case—and this was the worst one—is the excess more than 261 men. Those figures, estimates though they may have to be, bear out quite strikingly the forecast that the Board made, that actual discharges need not he more than a small proportion of the total reduction.
My Lords, a great deal must depend on the readiness and the ability of staff to move. The arrangements to alleviate trouble in transfers of this kind, as well as to provide compensation, were the subject of an agreement made between the Railways Board arid the responsible unions as recently as February 15 this year. That means, as I understand it, 206 that the agreement was freely negotiated and signed at a time when all parties knew that the publication of the proposals was imminent. This agreement has been called a model of its kind, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was right when he said that it provides better conditions than anything of its kind has previously done.
Although, again, we must not look for too much in this, it is interesting to consider what has happened over the last fourteen years—since 1948, anyway—because, in effect, something not entirely dissimilar has happened. It is interesting to reflect that since 1948 to date—to the end of last year, at any rate—2,350 stations have become no longer available to passengers, of which 1,850 were closed down altogether; and a line mileage of 3,700 is no longer with us. Then, a matter, as I say, of interest only, not to be too heavily drawn upon for conclusions, is that the total staff employed by the railways is 140,000 less. To take the year 1962, in that year the overall reduction was 26,000. I mention that, although I do so with reserve and not in any way trying to draw too much out of it, in the sense of looking at something comparable with the next seven years, because it is not entirely wrong, I think, to look at it in connection with what has happened over the last few years. I do not try to draw any more distinction than that.
My Lords, before my noble friend leaves those figures, may I say that I am rather foxed, and I want to refer to this matter to-morrow? Is this figure of 474,000 staff as at the beginning of 1962 or at the end of 1962? It is in the Report.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Could I possibly let my noble friend know that later? I have still quite a lot of ground to cover.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, may I intervene briefly on this question of wastage to ask this? The Minister has referred to the effects of the redundancies and wastage in, I think, 22 of the 28 regions. These would appear to be the same figures that the Minister quoted two days ago in another place; and he said in column 725 of the Commons Hansard for April 29 [Vol. 676 (No. 102)]: that the total wastage was 46,068 207 jobs, and that the jobs which would disappear would be 25,726. Do we have to add these two sets of figures to find the total reduction of jobs on the railway as a result of these proposals?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Does the noble Lord want an answer to that now, because I have not quite followed him, I am sorry to say.
§ LORD HUGHES
The Minister of Transport said that the wastage through retirals, people leaving the industry, and so on—the various reasons—would be 46,068 jobs; and the number who would disappear as a result of closures—stations closing down, railway lines being discontinued, and so on—would be 25,726. What I am asking is: is the total amount of reduced employment on the railway these figures put together, so that it comes back to somewhere in the order of 70,000 jobs?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I understand the answer to be, Yes, it is. I know that everyone concerned is anxious that the railway employees should be treated in a humane and decent way. I believe that the arrangements being made by the Railways Board, backed by the agreement between the Board and the unions, provide a basis for that to happen. The Government and the Railways Board will do everything that they can in the form of retraining and helping any redundant railwayman to find other work.
At this stage I should like very briefly to sum up. The Beeching Report says what the railways think ought to be done: the Government are now considering what actually should be done. It is not yet possible to say that, because we do not yet know what will be the outcome of considerations of each individual closure under the Parliamentary safeguard that I told your Lordships about; and we do not know the result of consideration of the effects upon social requirements, industry and employment, planning and so on. Therefore, we cannot tell with precision how quickly things will happen, and, in particular, what will 208 be the rate or the scale of reduction of jobs, or when services will be withdrawn, stations closed and so forth. It is most important to have that position in mind, because that is the position against which we must view the Beeching Report to-day.
My Lords, I have said that we agree with the idea that each form of transport needs to be used for the purposes for which it is most suitable. I have said that our policy to meet the nation's need is to have an efficient economic transport system, and that means using each form of transport in just that way. I know that noble Lords opposite, and the Party of noble Lords opposite, offer us vociferous criticism for not having a plan for this. If we are criticised for not having a plan in the Socialist planning sense, that is a criticism I am happy to accept, because we feel quite sure that we have got a better way of doing things.
I would remind your Lordships of the weapons which are now coming together for the implementation of a truly realistic policy in which transport can be geared from the start into all other planning in the nation's life, both regional and countrywide—implementation which, incidentally, can start from now on, and which need not stand still and wait until everything possible is arrayed together for ultimate consideration, which I fear would be the fate of the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, made. On his suggestion, I do not think anything would start for a very long time. We have, either with us or soon to come, the Report we are discussing, of course; we have also the study being made of the South-East Region; the London Traffic Survey; the Jack Report on Rural Buses and the six area studies being made as a result of that Report; Buchanan on Traffic in Towns, which will be with us, I understand, in the autumn; Hall on Transport in the next Twenty Years; and various studies being carried out in conurbations and towns in various parts.
§ LORD CHESHAM
We realise that, if an efficient system is to develop, road transport must operate in the right 209 control set-up. As the noble Lord mentioned, we are going to have a look at 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, and to make recommendations on what changes, if any, should be made. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, had his doubts as to whether it would be effective for particularly deep probing, or anything like that. I cannot say about that now: he will have to wait and see when the committee is set up. But having got the foundation—at least, having got a Report which enables us to get the right size and shape of the railway system, and its right function, and which will show us which way we are going—we think this must be the right moment to inquire into road haulage—which, after all, nobody has inquired into or looked at since 1933. Those are the kind of weapons we must have if we are going to create the 20th century transport system I have spoken about, and towards which we are on our way. We need to go with it a comparable road programme; and I think that, with the intention of spending £660 million in the country in the next five years, we have a major programme. For that position the noble Lord and his friends and the Party opposite criticise us.
The noble Lord offers an alternative plan; but he said nothing about what would be his ideas of how to put his alternative into practice. I hope that somebody else will do so even if it is not possible in the course of the debate; because I think we ought to know what tools the noble Lord opposite would use to do the job his way. I should like to know whether he achieves his "getting-together" operation by some form of common ownership: I think we ought to know. If that is not the way, then I think we ought to know what kind of statutory and bureaucratic control he would have in order to ensure that every kind of traffic moves by a stated and set means which may or may not suit it or the individual consumer. We should know, I think, whether industry is to be compelled to use the form of transport which it is told to use, and which may not necessarily be cheaper or better suited to its own needs. I think we 210 should be told whether people will have to go by train instead of using their own cars: because it is in considerations of that kind that the problems of to-day lie. I want your Lordships to consider this aspect because I want it to be clear.
On the freight side, ten years ago rail carried half the load; road carried the other half. Road now carries two-thirds, and the proportion is still growing. Rail's share has fallen to one-third—and most of that decrease, as your Lordships know, is due to the very large growth of "C"-licence lorries. On the passenger side, rail has remained almost stationary in the terms of numbers of passengers carried every year. The share used to be 20 per cent. of all passenger transport; to-day the figure is 13 per cent. The proportion carried by bus has fallen from nearly 40 per cent. to about 25 per cent. But private transport has grown from its former 40 per cent. and now accounts for nearly 60 per cent. of all passenger travel.
My Lords, that indicates, both with passengers and with goods, that the same striking picture is clear: there is a determined and very strong preference among transport users for transport of their own providing. This strong desire on the part of users creates, as we all know, many problems, from road congestion and risk to human life to unfruitful investment in modernisation. But it still has to be reckoned with. It is not possible to work out and sustain a transport policy which does not pay heed to individual preferences and requirements. It seems to me that the Party opposite are not taking that fact—and I deliberately say "fact"—into consideration; and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, did not seem to take into account this question. All he could see in that was a "Tory plot". It is not a question of politics; it is a question of fact. And if he left out that aspect, we have not.
In our approach to this I do not think that I can do better than quote the words of my right honourable friend on the subject. He said: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 road or rail or water, on a competitive basis and without extravagant use of the national resources.211 I believe that that is what is leading us towards an efficient and economic transport system in this country. That is what makes sense for the future. The Beeching Report provides one of the foundations for that future now.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, the British Railways Board under the chairmanship of Dr. Beeching has produced this Report in response to a mandate from the Government. That mandate established what The Times called, in an excellent leading article last Monday, "the criteria". I do not propose this afternoon to comment on that mandate either one way or the other. I fully understand that a speech which shirks most of the fundamental issues of transport policy is of somewhat limited value to your Lordships' debate; but I have been involved so personally and so recently in this highly controversial field that I hope your Lordships will give me your indulgence in this respect this afternoon.
There are, I think, a few observations that I can make appropriately and, I hope, usefully about the Report itself. This Report has had an astoundingly good reception in the Press and with the public. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said that it surprised him that such a Report had not been produced before, and he named me as one of those who might give an explanation for that. I have not stood up in my place this afternoon to talk about the past and I have no wish to do so; but as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has asked this question, I will suggest that if such a Report as this had been produced, say, five years ago, it would have been promptly consigned to purgatory and its author along with it. If any reasons are wanted for that statement they will be found in the records of the transport debates in this House and in another place. Moreover, no mandate for such a Report then existed. But the Report has had an extremely good reception and, in part, credit for that must go to the really excellent presentation it has had; but it is deserving of its reception on its own merits. It is an admirably clear and workmanlike document, and I hope that, coming from me, that will not be 212 regarded as condescending, because it is not meant to be said in that way.
As to the substance of the Report, I would say that if the closures and retractions and savings mentioned in it are made, then the financial savings foreshadowed will be realised; if not, then they will not be. One of the main changes not dealt with in the Report is the rationalisation of the main line services. This matter is referred to on, I think, page 14 of the Report. There could be something quite big and important here, and it could be that consideration of further reductions in staff are entailed, particularly after the electrification of the main line from Euston has been completed. Another matter which is not dealt with in the Report is that it is not shown what lines will be closed to all traffic, including freight traffic, after the passenger services have been removed. It would have given us a rather better picture if those two matters had been included in the Report. I mention them, not to criticise the Report, but merely to suggest that it would be a good thing if they were clarified, and clarified as soon as possible.
As to the positive side of the Report, I think it has had far less attention than it merits. Of course, this side of the Report is speculative. The words used in the Report itself are "restrainedly speculative", and I am sure we can accept that adverb. For my part, I wish the Board every good fortune in pressing forward with this part of their plan, and I hope the Government will back it as much as they can and help it forward. They can do a lot.
The liner train scheme is given prominence in this part of the Report. As a number of your Lordships will be aware, a prototype train of this sort has been running for four or five years between Glasgow and Euston. At first, that service did not attract sufficient traffic to pay for itself. The general manager has recently said in the Press that it is paying now. The point I should like to make is that the results to be obtained by running one train of this sort are very little indication of the results to be obtained from developing a network. I hope the Board will decide eventually to develop such a network and that the finance that is necessary for it, referred to in the Report, 213 will be forthcoming. Without regarding the liner-train scheme as a panacea, I believe it to be very promising.
I endorse strongly what is said in the Report about the desirability of co-ordination by municipal authorities of their bus services and the charges they make on them with the suburban railway services. An agreement of this kind was made with the City Corporation of Glasgow as a pre-condition to the electrification of the suburban services feeding that city. I am glad to know that now the arrangements then made are working to the satisfaction of everybody. They certainly have been an important factor in the phenomenal success, referred to by the Minister of Transport in his speech in another place on Monday, of the blue trains which provide these suburban services for Glasgow.
These are the only observations of a technical nature which I propose to make about the Report, and I should like to confine the remainder of my remarks to the human side of this question. Our debate is being held under the shadow of a possible railway strike. All that needed to be said on that has already been said, I feel, by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Like him, I hope that the strike will not take place. But whatever your Lordships may think about it, I trust that you will be ready to consider with me, for a short while, with patience and sympathy, some of the human issues that are involved in this great reshaping of our railway system.
Redundancy in industry generally raises a very grave moral issue, which I submit has been far too long overlooked in this our country. The Church of England has recently drawn forceful attention to it. N.E.D C. has drawn attention to it and advised action on it. The Minister of Labour, to his credit, has shown an awareness of it. He has promoted a Bill on contracts of employment, which I hope we shall be debating before long in this Chamber. He has promised early action on redundancy itself. He has started in a modest way a retraining scheme, which he has promised to develop. These things are all encouraging for the future. Meanwhile, the crisis on Britain's railways has blown up and demands immediate attention.
The British Railways Board are much to be commended, if I may say so, for 214 the sense of responsibility which they have displayed. As has already been said, they have reached fresh and better agreements on resettlement pay and displacement allowances. They have started their own retraining scheme to facilitate movement within the industry. They have appointed a senior officer, a man whom I know to be highly regarded in the industry, to watch over the whole business. As the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has already said, the Board have set a model which many other industries would do well to study.
But, at the end of the road, there will still be a considerable number of men who will have to leave the employ of British Railways because no suitable jobs remain for them. Whether the number of such men merits the adjective "large" or "very large", or whatever it may be, is at this moment a matter of opinion. One can easily drown in a morass of figures, and we have shown slight signs of doing that already this afternoon. As the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, no precise estimates can be made. I venture to say that it is a pity that Government spokesmen seem recently to have needed to make this problem sound too easy. It is well to remember what has already been said this afternoon: that these reductions come after a whole series of drastic reductions during the past 14 years, and that does not make things any easier. Another point is that it is certain that these are not the final reductions—not by a long way. Whatever one may say about the numbers, I feel sure that a sufficient number of men will have to leave the industry during the next few years to cause deep and lasting bitterness if they do not find other jobs elsewhere.
Some people are too inclined to take the attitude, "Well, one cannot make omelets without breaking eggs. These redundant railwaymen are the unlucky eggs, and there it is." But it is my strong feeling that there it is not, and that there it should not be allowed to rest. These are our railwaymen and we cannot regard them as expendable. These are the men who kept the railways going under conditions of great difficulty and peril during the war, to which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred. These are the men who, time and again, have kept the railways going under conditions of weather which brought all other forms 215 of transport to a halt. These are the men who, when there is an accident, display a courage and devotion to duty that compel our admiration.
These men, moreover, are men trained to discipline and to accept responsibilities. We constantly abuse them, but we know in our hearts that they merit well of us. And even though their particular skills are not immediately applicable to other jobs, with retraining and with trouble it should be perfectly possible to fit them into other jobs where their good qualities will be valued and where they themselves will prosper and be happy. I am referring, of course, to the really professional railwayman, and not to such casual labour as may have to be taken on from time to time. The Railways Board have shown us that they will do all they can about it; but when, after what the Board have done, a problem still remains, then it becomes our problem, and it is the Government who on our behalf must solve it.
The Minister of Transport said a few days ago that these men should be able to find other jobs if they are prepared to move. But is that enough? There was a time when men in the Regular Forces of the Crown came to the end of their time we put them out on the streets and told them: "You should be able to find yourself a job." But that time, I am glad to say, has gone long ago. Now when men come to the end of their time, when they are still with their unit and before they leave the colours, the process starts whereby the country and the Government accept responsibility for helping them and seeing them into proper jobs thereafter. It is not good enough to wait until a man is already on the stones and drawing the dole. When these men leave the Forces now they find that there is an organisation already in being, sponsored and helped by the Government, which knows all about them and accepts responsibility for helping them, and which has already some ideas to put to them about their future. That is the sort of thing that I feel the Government should do with regard to these railwaymen.
I read carefully the remarks made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury yesterday in another place, and I listened attentively to what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said this afternoon—and, in- 216 deed, I was glad to note that he went rather further in this matter than any remark by a Government spokesman that I have heard or seen previously—but I still think the Government should be clearer and more categoric about this matter. If the Government were openly to proclaim determination to ensure, so far as is humanly possible, that no railwayman will end up out of a job, and a job, moreover, which implies no big sacrifice in his status or in his standard of living; and if they would also take steps to ensure that meanwhile he is, not just adequately, but generously, treated, then I believe that most of the sting would go out of this business so far as the men are concerned, and it might make a great deal of difference. After all, it is due to the policy of the Government, and not the men's own fault, that their jobs are disappearing.
I should now like to look at the reverse side of this coin. The success of the British Railways' Plan, in my humble opinion, will depend not so much on getting rid of men as on retaining men in sufficient quantity and quality to operate the reshaped system; and this may well prove to be the harder part of the exercise. The point does not go unrecognised in the Report itself, which on page 53 speaks of…a vigorous and efficient railway system…able to offer good employment…to the large number of staff who will remain..I welcome those words, but I should like to give them rather sharper point. Good employment, in my view, must include good pay. What I am saying has no reference to any wage negotiations that may be going on at the moment, but is intended to have general application to the future. This Plan will, I think, fail unless railwaymen are rewarded for their efforts in a manner that is comparable to the rewards given to similar efforts and similar skills in other industries.
A great deal of criticism was directed at the findings of the Guillebaud Committee on railway wages. Those findings were never intended to provide an automatic escalator. But to argue that they were bad findings is to say that railwaymen should be paid less than other workers because they are railwaymen and because the railways are not making a profit. That, in my view, is a monstrous philosophy and one which, if it were persisted in, 217 would certainly ensure the failure of the present British Railways Plan. But while I have no authority at all to speak for Dr. Beeching, as I interpret his actions he is very much of the same mind as I am on this point, as on some others.
To conclude, my Lords, it has become unfashionable to admit to any affection for the railways; it is said to be unbusiness-like. My affection for the railways does not, and never did, lead me into a wish to retain those parts of the system for which proper purpose has disappeared. On the other hand, I have a strong faith in the future of our railways, in spite of the technical advances that have been made in other branches of transport, and I have an abiding affection for the men and women, including the officers, who have made our railways their profession.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD MABANE
My Lords, like others who have recently been elevated to your Lordships' House, I make my maiden speech in a Chamber in which I have spoken before, in other circumstances, during what I might call the occupation days. But merely to speak in this Chamber is a very different thing from venturing to address this august Assembly, and I approach this occasion with even greater trepidation and apprehension than was the, case some 32 years ago when I made a maiden speech in another place. I therefore crave your Lordships' indulgence. So often when one hesitates on the brink before plunging into the ocean, kind friends assure one that it is warmer in than out. From what I have seen of your Lordships' courtesy and kindliness, I may be warmer in this time than out.
I am more diffident in that I am intervening in a debate of such importance and to which so many of your Lordships intend to contribute your wisdom; but it is a particular pleasure to take part in a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for whom I have such an old friendship, dating to the days when I spent some years as his junior Minister, when he carried the responsibility of Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security. My excuse for intervening is that I think I have a special interest deriving from my responsibility as Chairman of the British Travel and Holidays Association, to which I shall refer later. Before doing 218 so, however, perhaps I may be permitted to make a few general comments on this historic document, The Reshaping of British Railways, or, as it is popularly called, the Beeching Report, the subject of our debate.
I have listened with particular interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, from which I am certain we all learned a great deal. I am sure he will agree with me when I suggest that the Report needs to be considered from three points of view: in its economic consequences, in its human consequences and in its social and secondary consequences. As an economic document the Report is, in my view, beyond cavil, once the fundamental and vital decision has been taken. That decision which, so far as I can judge, no Government since the war has taken firmly enough, is whether transport generally, and the railways in particular, are to be regarded as a form of public service, or are to make a profit in the sense that revenue shall exceed expenditure.
This Report assumes the latter to be the purpose, and, for my part, I have no doubt that in general terms this is the proper purpose—that revenue should exceed expenditure. In other words, are trains, as my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth suggested, to be like drains. Some people suggest there is not much difference between them. Are they to be there for general use, without specific payment, or like electricity, for which you pay according to your usage? Assume the purpose of the conduct of the railways is to make both ends meet. Dr. Beeching has shown the way to do it with clarity and courage, and I think he and his Report deserve the highest praise.
But, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, suggested, no omelet can be made without breaking eggs, and to implement this Report means breaking many eggs; and that is, primarily, the human aspect of the problem. Many who have made their lives in the railways Fare to be displaced. We are told that as a protest against this possibility there may be a strike, and this I deplore; for such a strike would embitter argument land confuse the issue. I am sure we have all heard with great pleasure what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, had to say on this subject. 219 My own view, however, is quite clear, and similar to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge. At this time of day no employer, however hardly he is pressed, can create redundancy (as we nowadays call giving people the sack) and pass by on the other side as if it is no concern of his. There is both a social and an individual responsibility to carry over displaced employees of long and loyal service until they are fully reinstated in some comparable and, I hope, equally rewarding occupation and their human needs fully met. All good employers recognise this obligation in greater or less degree; and so in an increasing degree, as we learnt from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, this afternoon, do the Government. My profound hope, therefore, is that human consideration will be given equal weight with the economic advantages which, after full debate and consideration, may be deemed to flow from this Report.
May I turn now to the social and secondary aspects of this Report and my particular interest as Chairman of the British Travel and Holidays Association—an aspect of the matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth? My responsibility, as defined in the Memorandum and Articles of Association, are, among other things: (a) to assist in every way the improvement of the tourist and holiday accommodation, catering, transport, entertainment and other amenities in the United Kingdom; and (b) to increase the number of visitors from overseas to the United Kingdom, and to foster and develop among residents of the United Kingdom the practice of spending holidays in the United Kingdom. I am indeed concerned with what The Times described on October 2 last year as, "The newest industry." The leading article went on to say:Tourism is becoming a thriving business, not only for hotels, travel agents, railways and airlines, but for Governments, too. The sums involved are now so big that a bad summer, an international crisis, or simply a new holiday fashion, can knock millions off a country's balance of payments almost overnight.I know that when the plastic bombs had been thrown in Paris, I thought that every plastic bomb cost me several thousands of pounds; and during the 220 Cuban crisis I had many cancellations so long as it lasted.
There are two elements in this industry. The first is the movement to this country by visitors from overseas, and the second is the movement of our own people within this country. Few, I believe, realise the size to which this industry has grown. Take first the visitors from overseas. In the year just ended, as was announced in this House by my noble friend Lord Derwent, the expenditure on tourism, the contribution to the balance of payments, was no less than £320 million, of which £100 million was represented by payments to British carriers. Moreover, that figure has grown in the last five years since 1958 from £168 million, an increase of nearly 100 per cent. Yet these figures fade almost into insignificance when set beside the figures of home holidaymakers. We received £320 million last year from 2 million visitors from overseas. Yet in 1962 the number of our own people taking a main holiday in Britain was about 26 million, and the total number of holiday trips, both main and subsidiary, was about 36 million.
Behind the façade of these figures there is a great industry with many participants, all of whom are affected by this Report we are considering to-day. There are hotels, boarding-houses, holiday camps, caravans, camping, caterers, the local authorities and all who provide amenities at resorts; and, by no means least, the many Members of your Lordships' House and others who open their houses in Britain for visitors to see. And, of course, the foundation of the whole thing is transport. Our estimates show that somewhere about £70 million was spent by holiday makers and tourists, both by our own people and by visitors from abroad, on public transport in 1962.
I have no wish to weary your Lordships with figures, but I have given a few to show how important it is, when considering this Report, to remember this great industry and to do as little damage to it as possible. Let me make it plain that the number travelling by train is a declining percentage, decreasing from 47 per cent. of the total in 1951 to 26 per cent. in 1962; but because of the greater numbers the decline in actual numbers is not so great. The number of those travelling to their final destination by car 221 has proportionately increased from 34 per cent. in 1955 to 54 per cent. in 1962. None the less, for many—and these are often the least well-off sections of the community whom we want most to see developing the holiday habit—the train remains the main mode of transport.
Moreover, for many parts of the country and for many resorts, especially M Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, in Wales and in Northern Ireland (the Isle of Wight has already been mentioned) the railways are the vital arteries through which the blood of their prosperity alone can flow. In many resorts in these areas there is at present great alarm. I myself am not an alarmist. I read one sentence on page 58 of the Report that seemed to me a little ominous. I see the danger, but I do not really feel it. I am not an alarmist, because I am entirely satisfied that the Government Departments concerned, and perhaps especially the Board of Trade, are fully alive to the problem and deeply conscious of the importance of the tourist industry. It is comforting to know that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, now saddled with the great responsibility of creating prosperity in the North-East, is very much alive to the contribution the tourist industry can make to the solution of a part of his problem.
What I am anxious is that this important social and secondary aspect of the Beeching Report should always be kept in mind, in this House, in another place and in public discussion in this country. I am second to none in my admiration of the great work done by Dr. Beeching and his staff in bringing the country with a sharp jolt face to face with reality. I hope that the proposals will be implemented, in whole or in part, with expedition and success. At the same time, with my eyes on my own special responsibility, and with, on the one hand, the prospect of a contribution to the balance of payments of somewhere between £300 million and £400 million a year and, on the other hand, the great contribution to the health and happiness of the ordinary people of this country if they are able to take holidays comfortably and conveniently, I am extremely anxious that, whatever action is taken on the Beeching Report, care should be taken that my particular baby should not be thrown out with the bath water.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, on his maiden speech in this House. He has made it so eloquently, and has been non-controversial to the extent that he supports the Government in the implementation of the Plan, but was also human enough to ask for special pleading for that part of the Report which is likely to damage the interests with which he is associated. We are delighted that he should have made his speech this afternoon and hope that he will be with us in many other debates to give us the benefit of his knowledge and experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that as to the speech of my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth and the wording of the Motion there was very little between them, and that he accepted the sentiments expressed both in the speech and in the Motion—that is, the face value of the words. I wrote that down. One of the advantages of having been a clerical worker at some time is that I can still do a little shorthand, though at speed it is difficult, and if the noble Lord refers to the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow he will find that he said in opening his speech and referring to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that there was "very little between us", and that he and the Government agreed with the face value of the words on the Order Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, now agrees, and I am sorry that I thought he disagreed before. But that is our complaint: the words of the Government, and perhaps the closing words of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, are different from the basic fact of the action to which they give effect.
The present problems arising from road and rail transport are not either of the road industry's or rail industry's own seeking. They are the direct result of Government action. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, admitted—and we would agree with him—that the fundamental economics of all forms of transport are the same whether they are to do with the viability of the industry as a whole or sections of it, or with the operational side. Their viability depends on the 24-hour utilisation of its capital. An engine, a motor car or a lorry standing idle is losing money because the interest has to 223 be paid on the capital that is needed. One of the problems with which Dr. Beeching has had to deal is the excess capacity within the railway industry which has been very largely created because this Government, on purely ideological grounds, destroyed the 1947 Act and the integration of road, rail and inland water transport. I referred just now to all forms of transport—and the Government are doing exactly the same so far as shipping and air transport are concerned.
What happened so far as road and rail transport is concerned is that the development of the motor car and lorry took vast traffic from the rail industry, which left it its spare capacity. In exactly the same way, so far as shipping is concerned, the aeroplane is taking a deal of first-class passenger and freight traffic and leaving the essential shipping with a lower standard of traffic both of passengers and of freight. Capacity in the air was deliberately created with this fetish of private enterprise, charter aircraft and the rest, and the Government are creating—it is not in existence at the moment, but it will develop—as big a chaos in sea and air transport as we have at the moment with road and rail. That is the fundamental objection to the approach of the Government to these problems of transport.
It is all very well to say that the function of transport is to use the vehicle most suited to the journey and the traffic to be carried. One agrees that is the proper function, but you cannot do that under a free-for-all system of transport, particularly road haulage transport, on which this Government have committed themselves. Let me make this clear, because it is sometimes said—I have noticed it in the Press, and I say it is wrong—that we as railwaymen have never claimed that railways should be run for railwaymen. We have never claimed that other forms of transport have not a function within our society. We admit quite clearly and openly that road, air and inland water transport, in their specific spheres and suited to the traffic, render a service which railways cannot. Therefore, what we ought to do is to send that traffic by the system of transport most suited to it.
I accept the challenge set to us by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham: what are we going to do? You cannot have an 224 effective transport system in this country dealing with transport as a whole and on behalf of the nation unless it is either a monopoly of private enterprise or a monopoly publicly owned. If you are going to have transport integrated, if it is going to be able to pick up on the swings what it loses on the roundabouts, if you are going to be able to treat it as a whole and work it as a whole, it must be a monopoly; and the choice is whether that monopoly shall be public or private. From these Benches we definitely stand for the public form of monopoly and the public control which goes with it. But do not let us have the idea that there can be a free-for-all in transport without the nation suffering.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, says that we cannot dictate to people. May I say this to him: within a comparatively few years he or his successor at the Ministry of Transport will be dictating to the Londoners and inhabitants of many other big cities that they cannot come into their town centre by car. With the development of the car and lorry, unless we are going to have a capital redevelopment of the highway system in our large towns they will be choked. Last Thursday, in coming to this House, it took me 40 minutes to come from Shaftesbury Avenue to here. Why? Just because there was a false alarm that there was probably a fire in Westminster Abbey. Traffic was jammed; and, of course, that sort of thing is happening, although to a lesser degree, in cities every day. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that the losses so far as railways were concerned could not go on, and we would agree. I believe that I have said in this House before that, as a railwayman, it is not a nice thing to be associated with an industry which is losing money. Men want to be in an industry in which they feel that the result of their labour is being shown in a balance of the right sort.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham did not admit—and I hope that some other Government spokesman is going to admit—that very little is known about the cost of road transport. After all, could the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, or the noble Earl who is to reply, tell us what will be the total cost to the taxpayer and the ratepayer of last winter's snow and the cost of keeping road transport 225 going? The railways had difficulty in keeping the lines open. They kept them open, in most cases, but they met their own costs. Road transport did not meet its costs so far as snow and ice was concerned.
In the county of Hertfordshire, with which I am associated on the local government side, the cost was £300,000. If in one county out of the 66 in England and Wales it cost £300,000 to keep road traffic going, it must have cost the ratepayer and taxpayer millions of pounds over the country. The repair bill in Hertfordshire, arising from the damage to roads by frost and snow, was £200,000. What is it over the whole country? Fortunately, those of us in the South, the Home Counties, were afflicted only very slightly by this severe winter as compared with other parts of the country. No doubt the greater the amount of snow and frost and ice, the greater its density, the greater the costs have been. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham hedged. He said that they had no idea of the cost of road construction to meet the needs, or of road maintenance.
Again, there had been no attempt to associate development of transport with planning the dispersal of both industry and population. When fog comes the railways do keep going; they may go slower, but they get there in the end. The roads shut down. What is the cost to industry if it grinds to a standstill because of fog on occasions during the winter? There was no reference to the cost of accidents arising from road transport, the costs of police, of fire services; no costing either of the cost to industry itself of the tremendous congestion and delays arising from congestion. They have no basic figures. If all the items I have put forward were costed, I guarantee that the total would be much more than the loss that is recorded in the British Transport Commission's Report of last year.
There are just one or two further points that I should like to make. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that none of these proposals will be implemented until the Plan has been considered by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. But he added, quite rightly, that the final say is with the Minister. I am not one to decry consultation, but this is a farce. Is the Transport 226 Users' Consultative Committee in any position to determine the economics of transport, either the economics of the line to be closed or the economics of the substitute? On the basis that you are going to run a scheduled bus service on a railway branch line that does not pay, the odds are more in favour of the fact that a bus service will not pay either. That has been found in a number of areas, particularly in the Midlands, where bus services were instituted when the line was closed. The bus companies have had to say that they cannot make their services pay and are withdrawinig them in certain sections, with the result that people have to walk to main roads.
I should like, as a railwayman, to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, for his speech on the question of redundancy. If a statement such as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, had been made from a ministerial Box, either in this House or in another place, or made by a Minister outside in the country, much of the present problem which faces this country in regard to possible dispute would never have arisen. Even though it is true, as the noble Lord has said, that Lord Chesham went a little further than the Minister in another place in regard to redundancy, there is no human approach to it at all. Overall figures are correct. It is true, as the Minister said, that a fellow who gets the sack in one place can get another job. If a fellow gets the sack in Birmingham or Oxford it is not a great source of worry to him. But if a man is 50 years of age, or 55 years of age, and has been a signalman in the Highlands of Scotland, or a porter in mid-Wales, it is no good saying to him: "There is a job in Birmingham or Oxford; if you want it there is work". He says, "I have a home here; my family is here. Will you give me a home where I can take my family at Oxford or Birmingham?" As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, said, as a result of the retraction within the industry over the past few years many of these men who are now facing the problem of redundancy are men who have had to face it before and have already moved once in their career because of the diminution of the industry.
That brings me to the possibility of the strike. Perhaps I can say it better than my noble friend Lord Morrison of 227 Lambeth, because I am a railway trade unionist. I entirely agree with him that this is a political matter: it arises from the action of the Government. If there is a row—and goodness knows! there is one—if there is a dispute, the dispute of the railwaymen is not with Dr. Beeching or the Railways Board; it is with the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said—and he will not retract it—that Dr. Beeching had carried out the instruction given to him by the Government; that he was an agent acting on behalf of the Government. Therefore, whether we like it or not, this is a political issue, and it is far better that political issues should be decided at the ballot box rather than on the industrial field.
There is one other point—and no one knows this better than my friends within the N.U.R. We are having difficulty in even maintaining the traffics we have now. I do not blame the industrialist. He says, "If I have got three days—whether it be the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, or the 14th, 15th and 16th—in which my traffic cannot move, I must try to get some alternative method of transport." Perhaps the movement away from rail traffic will never stop. Apart from the fact that it is wrong to use industrial matters for political purposes, this proposal for a strike is likely to have an effect on the future of the industry, an effect on its possibility of profitability. Therefore I hope that my good friends in the N.U.R. with whom I have worked very closely for many years, will have another thought about it.
One of the problems that they have to face at the moment, and what the Government have to remember, because they have the major responsibility for it, is that the morale of the worker within the railway industry is very low indeed. I can hardly use in this House the language with which they refer to the way in which they have been "messed about". It is colourful, graphic, but unprintable; and it is true. But they have been centralised, decentralised, modernised, modernisation has been stopped, and now all this. It has reduced the morale of the men to a thoroughly low level; and that in an industry which, since the war at least, has always had some difficulty. While the 228 Government cannot be blamed for this—the British Transport Commission and the Railways Board now have some responsibility—the rot has set in at the top. The managerial staff of the old British Transport Commission and the Railways Board, perhaps because of Government instructions, haggled for months over implementing a similar award to that which has been applied to the wages grades or the salaried staffs.
When those in charge at management level get disgruntled and show that they have got a "Don't care" attitude, it is not long before it goes down the line; and if there is anything wrong at the bottom, rarely is it the fault of those at the bottom; it generally stems from the top. But if the top is wrong, nothing can get the bottom right. This attitude of the general managerial staff of the railways and the morale of the railway men at the present time is dangerous. You can talk of reorganisation, redevelopment, making a new plan and everything else, but unless the staff there is enthusiastic towards the work, then no paper Report, however well it is received in the Press, will be effective. To be implemented at all it must be implemented by a willing staff. That is why I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, referred to the problems not only of redundancy but of the relationship of salaries and wages and conditions of work on the railways to-day as opposed to those applying to general industry.
The noble Lord, Lord Mabane, referred to the fact that transport was the life blood of industry. That is true. Unless the transport system of the country is right, the industrial planning and the economics of industry cannot be right. The Government have done a tremendous harm to the general organisation of transport in this country. There is even yet a possibility that we can put things right. But things cannot be put right until, in effect, the Government does what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, says it pays lip service to or accepts at its face value—namely, creates an integrated system of transport in which the traffic is suited to the vehicle and to the journey to be made. The various studies to which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, referred, that have now been made, ought to have been made in conjunction with the Beeching Report. Then, when you have got them 229 altogether, you can make your pattern for transport. I hope that this Motion will be accepted by the Government as a sign of repentance in relation to their previous attitude to transport and, in particular, to the railways.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MILLS
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, on his maiden speech in this House. He gave us a timely reminder of the importance of the tourist industry and of the part played by the railways in that respect. However tempted I am to comment on Lord Lindgren's statement in regard to integration or further nationalisation, or whatever else he had in mind, I think I must leave it to a member of the Government to give it the attention which it deserves.
§ VISCOUNT MILLS
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has reminded us that it is over three years ago since the Prime Minister, speaking in another place, announced the intention to remodel the railway system to meet current needs. Not only had the financial burden resulting from their operation resulted in a grave matter for the general body of taxpayers, but the service itself had been the subject of much criticism, which was reflected in the public estimation of it and in the outlook of those who served in the service.
As I was somewhat concerned in the discussions which led up to the appointment of the Stedeford Committee, and as Dr. Beeching was a member of that body, I consider it my duty to tell your Lordships what I think of this Report, The Reshaping of British Railways. I think it is an excellent Report. The problem which Dr. Beeching and his colleagues had to face can be divided into three parts—partly financial, partly social, but also how to produce an efficient system and an efficient public service geared to the requirements and needs of the public. I welcome the Report. It portrays, fully and clearly, the painstaking researches which must have taken place and which have gone into all aspects of the problems with which the Railways Board have been confronted. It is clear 230 and concise—a common-sense approach to the problem. In the Summary of the Report, the last paragraph on page 57 says:The thought underlying the whole Report is that the railways should be used to meet that part of the total transport requirement of The country for which they offer the best available means, and that they should cease to do things for which they are ill suited"'That, surely, is a common-sense approach to the problem.
It might not be out of place if I take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the Minister of Transport.
§ VISCOUNT MILLS
It was he who selected Dr. Beeching, and it is his drive and energy which facilitated in every possible way, a thorough examination of the problems with which the railways were confronted. I listened with great attention and respect to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, but I think he accused the Minister of having an anti-railway complex. The Minister is responsible for all forms of transport in this country, other than air, and he has a lively idea of his responsibility, both for the railways and for every other form of transport. It is a good thing that we have a Minister who has this responsibility, because it ensures that consideration is given to all forms of transport, which the noble Lord so ardently desires.
The financial position of the railways is indeed serious. The deficit in the current year has reached the appalling figure of some £150 million. In addition, they are unable to meet any of their capital expenditure, which puts a further burden on the Exchequer in the current year of £110 million. As Lord Morrison of Lambeth has said, the conception that nationalised services should pay their way was that of the Government of which he was such an illustrious member, and I am sure that it is a right conception, as the noble Lord has stated this afternoon; but we must appreciate that much has happened in the field of transport since the Socialist Government laid down that formula.
The Beeching Report brings out quite clearly what has happened, and then proceeds to outline its plans for improving the financial position, not only by attending to the multiplicity of 231 economies, which are of course always possible, but by reshaping the railways so as to eliminate the parts of the system which are no longer really needed. The Report, on page 4, in the first paragraph, says:…it is no longer socially necessary for the railways to cover such a preponderant part of the total variety of internal transport services as they did in the past, and it is certainly not possible for them to operate profitably if they do so".In regard to the social aspects of the problem, they are considerable and are of the greatest importance, but it is quite clear to me from the Report that they have received the careful consideration which is their due. They fall into two categories: the effects on the public, and redundancies in staff brought about by the proposals in the Report. It is only natural to stress the inconveniences, perhaps to call them disasters, which would follow the closure of individual services or stations, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, reminded us, it is necessary to keep the matter in perspective. While I was very interested in his statement that the closure of one-third of the services would mean an addition of 1 per cent. to the total road traffic, it is, of course, a general statement and does not hide the severity with which the proposals might act in some cases.
As the Report itself states, it would be folly to suggest that widespread closure of stopping train services will cause no hardship anywhere or to anybody. The Transport Act, 1962, places the responsibility on the Transport Users' Consultative Committees to bring forward that question of hardship. But the responsibility of deciding whether to close a station or a service rests firmly with the Minister, who must take into account not only the question of hardship, but other matters which appear relevant, including the alternative means of transport which have to be available if the station or system is closed.
Then there is the important problem of redundancy and resettlement, and it would be futile on my part to try to elaborate on what has been said on this human problem by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and other speakers. I understand that the regional 232 and divisional managements are everywhere preparing themselves to deal with this problem so that the greatest possible assistance can be given to those who may be concerned. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that if the terms of the Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, are considered as words, there is little to quarrel with; but it is not quite so simple as that; and I, for one, hope that the Government will get on with this job and will implement the Report as quickly as possible, because I find that the general question of transport, in all its aspects, has unavoidably been considered in the preparation of this Report.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I feel that your Lordships are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for the exemplary manner in which he introduced this Motion to your Lordships' House. I thought it restrained and statesmanlike, if he will allow me the liberty of saying so. He gave one of his hobbyhorses a canter up the course; and, knowing the noble Lord as we do, we could hardly expect him to do otherwise. Our thanks are also due to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for a speech full of fact, unimpassioned and informative. If Lord Chesham will permit me to say so, I think it was a Parliamentary performance of no mean order.
I want to say something which it hurts me to say. I listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I agreed with nearly everything he said, with the exception of his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who asked why a Report like this had not been issued before—a very proper question to ask. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said that the reason was that he had no mandate. I myself should have thought that ever since 1947—as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, so aptly said—there had always been a mandate on the British Transport Commission so to arrange its affairs that, taking one year with another, its revenue met its expenditure.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It is in the Act of Parliament. If that is not a mandate. I do not know what is.
What was the result of that mandate not being adhered to, or effectively put into operation? The Minister and the Government at long last, after all the shilly-shallying that they went through, have now to admit that, through not making their expenditure meet their revenue, the total deficit is £875 million. That has been the cost to the taxpayer. My Lords, whatever other noble Lords may do, I cannot dismiss an item like that, together with a running annual deficit to-day of £150 million, as just a rather trivial little matter of accounting. It is a very serious thing, and any Government that has allowed that to go on is culpably negligent in its duty to the taxpayers in this country.
That is the fault of this present Government, and it ill becomes any one of them to stand up in a white sheet to-day. Because for ten years at the Opposition Dispatch Box I complained, year in and year out, about the White Papers putting forward estimates of when the railways were going to reach the haven of profitability, and of how much they were going to make. I used to accuse them of bringing forward before your Lordships' House "Cloud Cuckoo-land" estimates and "Cloud Cuckoo-land" economics, and the deficit went on mounting—£60 million a year, £70 million a year and £80 million a year. If there are any blushes to be diffused over the faces of some of the noble Lords sitting on the Government's side, they are understandable.
My Lords, in 1959 a White Paper was issued, signed by the then Chairman of the British Transport Commission, and introduced and supported by Government spokesmen on the Government's Front Bench. This was entitled, Re-appraisal of the Plan for the Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways, and it said:This Re-appraisal has shown that the Modernisation Plan drawn up four years ago, and the financial appreciation made in the White Paper of 1956, were soundly based"—resulting in a loss of £875 million of the taxpayers' money! Beeching, in his Report, says this in the first chapter:…there had never before been any systematic assembly of a bash of information 234 upon which planning could be founded, and without which the proper role of the railways in the transport system as a whole could not be determined.So I would place the blame equally, so far as it is useful to place the blame for past happenings, squarely on the shoulders of Her Majesty's Government and the higher management of the British Transport Commission, where it must firmly rest.
The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has paid a tribute to the Minister, who has, I suppose, been subjected to more criticism than any other Minister. But criticise him as you will, just pay him this compliment: that he did at least have the guts to do one thing; he had the guts to say, "A plague to this! I am going to bring in somebody who knows what he is about, and I am going to pay him the rate for the job". The reason we have this Report before us is that the Government were willing to pay somebody £24,000 a year—cheap I should say; cheap if he is going to save the taxpayers of this country £150 million a year. I do not think it is a bad bargain.
My Lords, this Beeching Report was absolutely inevitable. I blame the Government for not having a Beeching Report ten years ago. I blame the Government for not having had the foresight to see the trend. It was an absolute impossibility for a board of archangels ever to make British Railways pay, based on the then organisation. It was not the fault of the Government and of the British Transport Commission. They could not read the signs aright. The development of British industry and the peculiar fit-up of British industry made the railways more redundant as time went on. For 50 years we have suffered with too many railways. I have said this to your Lordships many times in discussing this matter. I take one industry about which I know at least something—the modern motor car industry. It is one of the biggest industries, if not the biggest, in this country. Motor cars are never built in one factory; they are built in 40 or 50 different factories all over the country, and the conveyor and assembly lines in those factories are only a continuation of the roads from all those factories leading to the central organisation.
The most expensive item in the whole of British industry is the handling of 235 goods. Handling is the biggest single cost factor, and that is why British industry has been striving all the time, by automation and by any other means, to eliminate handling. You may carry huge containers on railways; you can do a lot with long hauls of minerals. But you will never beat the door-to-door conveyors which alternative forms of transport can offer, and which are absolutely essential to the modern fit-up of British industry. This has been going on now for 50 years and Beeching is right. There is only one way to make the British railway system pay, and that is by finding out, by scientific analysis, what it is economic—not economic for the railways, but for the country—for the railways to carry.
Where I would perhaps quarrel with some of my noble friends, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, is that I always think—and he may accuse me of distortion—that they are far more interested in transport as an end than as a means. Transport can serve only one purpose, and that is the economy of the country and the comfort and pleasure of its citizens.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I said comfort and pleasure. That is what I mean by "social needs". I lump those altogether. It is no good the railways or their advocates, such as my noble friend Lord Lindgren and the others, trying to see the railways' prosperity in the artificial handicapping of rival forms of transport; that is useless. They have been trying to do that ever since I have known them. I cannot get it out of my system or my thoughts that they advocate—as the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, quite frankly admitted—that this is a political issue; it is not an industrial one. It is re-nationalisation or not: that is the political issue. With him, I hope sincerely that it will remain a political issue. How right he was; how right Mr. Harold Wilson was!
An issue like this must be settled through the ballot box, not by pressure groups banded and organised together to put pistols to the head of the British public. I am afraid that attitudes such as this are, as we have seen, common to our troubles in this country to-day. There are too many sects, groups 236 banding together with industrial power, who are adopting the attitude, "If you won't play the game as I want it played, I'll take my bat home". My Lords, that is dictatorship; and I hope the railwaymen will listen to the pleas of people like the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, with part of whose speech I agree 100 per cent. The railwaymen of this country do not need to have a strike to get the sympathy of the people of this country. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Oakridge and Lord Lindgren, are two common or garden citizens of this country, and they are only voicing the opinions of every other citizen. If the Government do not treat the displaced railwaymen with that consideration which the rank and file of this country expect, then sad is this Government's lot going to be at the hands of the British people at the next Election. And I say this to the railwaymen: if they think they can blackmail the British public by putting them to all this inconvenience, they are doing the cause they seek to serve irreparable damage and harm.
So, my Lords, I support this Report. I support it industrially, because I think Dr. Beeching is on the right lines. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, who said that of course you cannot write everything into a Report like this; you cannot dot all the i's and cross all the t's. There are towns, very likely listed in this Report, which if they cannot have a railway service must have an adequate alternative service. You cannot suddenly say that because Ramsgate, Margate and all such seaside resorts have an appreciable amount of traffic for only three months of the year they cannot have any transport for twelve months of the year. You cannot say that the countryside has to be bereft of transport because it will not pay. Any form of transport will not pay. We have to form something to ensure that they have transport and that somebody pays.
The argument will eventually come: Who is going to pay? At the present time, as your Lordships well know, the British Transport Commission are giving subventions to bus companies, but they say they cannot continue that for long. The bus services in the rural areas which serve the main line trains are useless for the housewife who wants to go into 237 the town to do her shopping. They will not pay; and they also start at the wrong time. If at the present time I wanted to go by bus in the morning to catch my train into Oxford, I should have to get up at 7 o'clock. That might not hurt me.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
If I said I could not catch a bus at all and could not therefore come to your Lordships' House, some of my friends might say, "That would not be much of a loss". But you have to realise that an adequate alternative service must be given and that a way of paying for it must be found, because I do not think that this Government, or even an alternative Government, could ever devise a Bill that would make private industry run at a loss. But all this does not frighten me, because it is so pat and obvious that it will have to be done. Do your Lordships think that the people of this country are going to be driven in hordes and herds into towns, leaving the countryside and all the rural areas bereft of any form of transport? No, my Lords.
May I come now to the other point which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, mentioned and which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and other noble Lords: the setting up of a Committee of Inquiry into road transport? I would welcome it. There is a lot that is wrong. One of the things that is wrong is the continued connivance and encouragement by the present Government in their allowing the most absurd loads to be carried upon the roads of this country. It may be profitable for the manufacturer of a condenser to have it carted by road; it may be a glorious advertisement for British Road Services to be able to say that they have a lorry to carry this kind of thing, 20 feet wide and 40 yards long; but the economic cost to every other road user is just ridiculously high. However, the Government will not do anything about it, and the Ministry of Transport are now going to put even larger loads on the road.
I always have a fear of committees which are going to inquire into things like the reappraisal of the road services. I always have a suspicion that, in the end, it will mean that, either by taxation or by regulation, they will seek to sup- 238 press artificially that competition which it is good for a country to have. In other words, that they will try to restrict road transport artificially. When the 1947 Act was before Parliament I was a bitter opponent of the inclusion of the "C" licence provisions in that Bill. So bitter was my opposition that, perhaps at this late stage in my life, I can confess that it wrecked any political aspirations I might have had, if ever I had any. But I was firmly convinced then, as I am now, that industry must be given a free hand to use that form of transport which suits its particular purpose best. To dictate to a manufacturer or anybody interested in British industry that he must have his transport provided by somebody else is just tantamount to saying that he must have what machine tools some bureaucratic organisation says he must have.
It is absolute nonsense to put the argument forward that many people run "C" licences even at a loss because they think they are status symbols. I can assure your Lordships that there are far too many hard-headed business men in industry to-day and that profits are far too hard to earn to waste them on status symbols. No; I think there is room for reorganisation of the "A" and "B" licences. I think they may have outmoded themselves. But let British industry have a free hand. I have said, times without number, that one of the greatest responsibilities of British industry to-day is to keep its costs down. I repeat that handling is one of the biggest and costliest factors in the production of any article in industry.
That is why I will support this Report; and I will support any action the Government take to implement it. Delay is foolish, and I have my shrewd suspicions that those who are advocating that we should have a Report on the whole of the road transport of this country before the Beeching Plan is put into operation are saying that with their tongues in their cheeks. They are hoping that nothing can be done until they have a chance, at least, of changing the Government. Again, I welcome the Report and I hope it will receive the approbation of your Lordships' House.
§ 6.2 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, should like to join with those noble Lords before me who have congratulated 239 the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, on his excellent maiden speech. Although I think he does not know it, he and I belong to the same club, which is not directly connected with transport; although certainly, the use of "Shank's pony" during our youth gave us some reason for being members. I greatly enjoyed his speech and particularly his reference to the subject of tourism which I find fascinating and which we neglect at our peril. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has forgotten more about transport than I am ever likely to learn, and I was rather hoping that, because of that, he would have already made my speech for me and that it would be unnecessary for me to weary your Lordships for the next ten minutes. Unfortunately he has not done so; although I enjoyed listening to his forthright manner.
I may say at once that, in my view, the principles laid down in the Beeching Report are refreshingly and eminently sensible, however unpalatable some of the truths may be. But to hear some of the detractors of the Report talk one would think the railways had been picked upon for improvement quite unfairly and quite without justification. Surely the facts are all too self-evident. In their present state the railways never can be commercially viable. We have to face these facts squarely and unemotionally. Change and progress are, unfortunately, no respecters of persons or of institutions. Much as we might emotionally wish to, for old time's sake, we can no longer afford to retain the railways in their present state and shape. Nevertheless, I beg the Minister to think very hard before closing down lines which are doing a real social service such as those to holiday resorts or which are covering areas where road transport is not feasible.
All those concerned with transport must surely welcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, did, the announcement by the Minister of the re-examination of the licensing system for goods vehicles. In particular, I am pleased to see that the Committee of Inquiry to be set up will be independent and will have an independent Chairman. To me this independence is essential. It reassures road transport that the object of this Committee will not be to force 240 traffic back on to the railways against the wishes of the consumer, but to see what additional flexibility can be introduced into the transport system—not the sort of integration which the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, was demanding.
Whatever else comes out of this Inquiry I confidently hope that the customer's right to choose the form of transport most suited to individual requirements will be retained. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, put this point far better than I can, and I join with him in everything he said in this respect. Co-operation will play a big role, and three organisations are already setting the example. The Road Haulage Association is even now discussing with the Railways Board and British Road Services the establishment of co-operation in providing the new types of services which will be required by trade and industry.
The Dr. Beeching Report accepts that the railways are not the ideal form of transport for all types of traffic. The Report makes it abundantly clear that the intention will be to compete with the utmost vigour for that freight for which the railways are best suited. I agree that this is a thoroughly healthy objective and one that should receive our wholehearted support. But road transport, too, must be able to compete with equal vigour for the freight for which it is best suited. Road building must keep up with the numbers of vehicles coming on to the roads; it must keep in step with the type of vehicles coming on the roads, so as to enable road transport, alongside the railways, to help industry to go forward in prosperity for the good of the whole country.
Collectively, road users already pay to the Government three times the total amount spent on the roads. I would therefore ask the Government—in fact I have already done so as Chairman of the British Road Federation—to double the amount to be spent on the roads annually in the next five years. This is a compound rate of 7½ per cent.; I ask that they should double it to 15 per cent. If this is not done we shall run into complete stagnation and be in no better position than we are at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, mentioned that the local authorities incurred large costs for snow clearance and road repairs following the frost damage, and 241 he asked who was going to pay for these various costs. Surely, whatever the costs were, the noble Lord—who, unfortunately, is not in his place—must remember that of the £700 million-odd levied off road users, less than £200 million will be used for their benefit. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, also said that the railways economic difficulties were due to excess capacity and that this was entirely due to the Government's pro-road policy. He furthermore said that the same thing was happening with sea and air transport. Whether he meant that here was an exact corollary, I do not know. If he did, I think it shows a certain resistance to progress. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, also mentioned—I think it was him—the large loads now carried by the roads. I would like to point out that, in fact, many of these cannot be carried on the railways anyway.
I should like to refer to a recent remark by the First Secretary of State. He said that to earn our living as a nation and improve it, we must continually improve the competitive efficiency of our industry. One of industry's most important and pressing requirements is an efficient and economic means of transport. It is my belief that a considerable contribution to this will be made by the implementation of Dr. Beeching's Report. But this is only one leg of the transport problem. The other main means of achieving the objective will be by the continued build-up of a modern road system throughout the country, not just in those areas affected by the rail closures. The Government must have a hard look again at our road programme, which, as I have already said, is half the size it should be.
Finally, I welcome the Report, in the hope that it is only a first step towards the efficient transport system which this country not only deserves but needs, and needs badly, if it is going to compete in the world. I think that the Government are to be congratulated on their courage in having this Report made and on the attitude they have taken to it since its arrival on the scene.
§ 6.12 p.m.
My Lords, I want to confine my remarks entirely to one matter—that is, the effect of these recommendations on local authorities, particularly on planning authorities. Your Lordships will know that planning authorities are 242 empowered by Statute to produce plans 20 years ahead, and this has involved large expenditure in money, time and effort. Quite a number of these schemes contemplate movements of population on a considerable scale, and some of these movements have already started. But by far the largest schemes are those which have been sponsored or promoted or encouraged by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in the way of new towns and expanded towns. The process is by no means at an end.
Only last February, the Minister published a White Paper dealing with London overspill, and I know that inquiries have been going on; and we confidently expect that before the year is out, substantial suggestions will be put forward by the Minister for decanting the population of London. There is the report of the Rochdale Committee on Ports; and here again we do not know what will be the outcome. For these reasons it is difficult to follow the assumption which appears on page 56 of the Beeching Report, that there will be no material change in the pattern of growth. I should have thought that there may be considerable changes in the pattern of development.
All the schemes that I have mentioned depend on communications; and where the communications plan cannot be implemented, the remainder of the development cannot be implemented either. One of the inherent difficulties in our planning has been that, whereas local authorities are supposed to plan 20 years ahead, no Minister has yet been found who will commit himself to anything of a financial nature for more than three years ahead. We show roads on a plan and get them approved, but that is no guarantee that they will ever be built. Personally, I believe that this vagueness about future roads, something which no Minister has been able to overcome, should be taken into account when considering the Beeching Plan. Hitherto, I think that in our planning we have regarded railways as something more or less static. We do not expect them to be improved, but so far we have not expected them to be curtailed. Now we find that we are mistaken. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily disastrous to the long-term plans on which we are engaged and which we have submitted to the Minister; but I strongly feel that they produce a new 243 situation which ought to be taken into account. In some places, the effect will be very great; in others it may be negligible. But I believe that it will be a great mistake to take it for granted that, if railway facilities are curtailed, new roads will automatically come about. It may mean, in fact, that in some places either the long-term plans will have to be altered or the Beeching proposals will have to be altered. These are matters that will have to be considered in detail.
The County Councils Association was one of the bodies that were consulted by the Minister of Transport. They were not given much time, but they have done their best: they have made certain comments to the Minister, and published a letter, which may have reached some of your Lordships. They make the point that, although this question of immediate hardship is one of the greatest importance, it is by no means the only matter that arises. They lay particular stress on the point I have been making, about long-term planning, and they also bring out other matters which do not exactly come under the heading of hardship—matters of detail perhaps, yet matters which may affect the thinking of the ordinary man in the street more than long-term questions. Take, for example, the question of car parks. This was the sort of subject which, up to a few years ago, would have been discussed by a sub-committee of an urban district council, but to-day it is a big problem all over the country; and, so far as I can see from motoring abroad, it has become one of the big problems of Western civilisation.
It is not an exaggeration to say that a large number of people have built up their lives on the assumption that every day they can drive to the station and go to London, leaving their car, and come back at night and go home in it. I am certain that they would go somewhere else, if there were somewhere else for them to go, when these stations are closed. But the trouble is that the nodal points selected by Dr. Beeching are just those where there are already the greatest congestion of traffic and the greatest parking problems. Here again it does not seem to me to be an insuperable problem, provided that there is the proper degree of co-operation between the railways 244 and local authorities. But it seems to me highly important that this cooperation should be afforded by the railways, in whose benefit the local authorities will be acting. I hope very much that facilities will be given, that land will be made available by the railways and that proper opportunities will be afforded to permit the work to be done.
May I take another rather secondary matter—the future of discontinued railway traks and disused railway buildings? The County Councils Association are naturally a little perturbed about the possible effect that neglect may have on amenities, arising from weeds, vermin and so forth. In my own county it is proposed to close about 20 stations and to make redundant some 57 miles of track. There is quite a considerable acreage involved. I feel that that is a matter which should be discussed at local levels. Finally, the County Councils Association are concerned as to whether in disposing of their properties the railways will be bound by ordinary planning law. They do not want things to be happening which will be contrary to their declared policy, which might well happen if the railways take no cognisance of the law. So, in general, though the authorities may not be hostile to these schemes, many of them are concerned about the various corollaries of the scheme. They are concerned lest economies on the railways should mean extra expenditure of ratepayers' money; they are concerned about the future of their long-term plans; they are concerned about some of the lesser matters on which I have been speaking, which may not sound very important, but are important to the ordinary man in the street.
This brings me to the question of procedure. We gather from what has been said so far that the only machinery for consultation contemplated is through the Transport Users' Consultative Committee; and, as we understand it, they are to deal with questions of immediate hardship. The County Councils Association ask specifically that the Minister should give some assurance that he will not give his consent to any closure until he has given due consideration, not only to the recommendations of the appropriate Transport Users' Consultative Committee on the issues of hardship, but to other issues to which reference is made, and a few more to which I have been referring.
245 The Minister has reminded us that no closures can take place without his personal authority. In these debates I do not seem to have heard very much about how the Minister is going to become informed on these points. Are we all to write direct to him or to the Minister of Housing and Local Government on matters of planning? Are we to write to the Minister of Education on questions of education? Are we to write to the Minister of Transport on all matters of transport? How are we to deal with British Railways? Do we get in touch with them to negotiate about the disposal of land; and, if so, when are we to do that?
It may be stupid of me, but I fail to understand how this machinery is going to work. I cannot quite discover from officials of the County Councils Association whether anybody knows any more. I thought we were going to be told something about it by my noble friend Lord Chesham. I had just got my notebook out to take notes on what was going to happen, but he then seemed rather to lapse into mysticism. However, I may be wrong. However, I hope that at some time in this debate we shall be given a little more information about these procedural questions. I do not think the people with whom I am associated desire to criticise anything in the general conception of the Government, but they are anxious to try to learn a little more about what exactly is in the Government's mind and what will happen in the matters to which I have been referring.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I must say that I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and I think a great many people feel as he does as to what they should do now; what steps they as ordinary people should take in order to get their hardships ventilated and their problems faced. On the school train which is going to disappear, do they write to the Ministry of Education; do they write to Mr. Marples, or to British Railways?—in which case I feel that they may get a "dusty" answer. It is not often that I disagree with my noble friend Lord Morrison of. Lambeth—he used to be my boss, and I am still very frightened of him—but I am going to disagree with him on two 246 points. First, I disagree with his view that the railways are not a social service. I am not really sure whether they are a social service, but they are certainly a service, and a service to society; and transport is a service as a whole.
Services such as the Post Office, the National Health Service, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Armed Forces and the roads are things which we pay for in various ways, and we do not ask ourselves immediately, "Is this particular little part of the service profitable? Is the stamp I put on my letter to send to Edinburgh profitable or not, or should I be forbidden the service because it does not happen to pay to send a letter to Edinburgh? I think this reasoning is insanity and that this whole approach of trying to regard transport as a purely commercial proposition is a grave mistake. It is a great deal more than that. It is something which is the life-blood of industry, and is also a human service. It is what people get to work on. Millions of people every day go to work on British Railways, some of them comfortably, but most of them, I fear, in great discomfort; and it will be in even greater discomfort in the future.
The second point on which I disagree with my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth is in his praise for Dr. Beeching's Report. I think it is a bad Report. Here I differ from most noble Lords who have so far spoken in the debate. I think that Dr. Beeching is a very charming gentleman, and anyone who has watched him on television will realise that he is a charming gentleman; he is a very intelligent one, too, and very subtle. But on some issues I think he is quite obtuse, as I shall show as my speech goes on—at least, I hope I shall. A few days ago he remarked on our dirtiness. I never mind being told I am dirty, if I am. He said that we, the British public, behave in a very dirty manner, and that is why the railways are dirty.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I was at the particular conference where Dr. Beeching make this remark. It was very much in parenthesis at the end of quite a long list of all the various difficulties he was up against in cleaning the railways and the railway stations and so on. 247 Merely as an aside, he said: "Of course, the British people are dirty". But he did not put that down as the main reason.
§ LORD TAYLOR
I am glad to hear that Dr. Beeching suffers, as I do, and we all do sometimes, from the odd bit of our speeches making the headlines. But the point I wish to make here very strongly is this: people behave largely accordingly to their environment; British Railways, I am afraid, are very dirty, and are getting dirtier, and that is largely, although not entirely, why the public behave as they do on British Railways. Where things are decently clean and are kept clean, I find that people on the whole behave decently and well. What is wrong? I think what is wrong is lack of supervision. People just do not clean things up unless they are supervised, as every housewife knows; and I think that supervision is the thing that has gone wrong. Why is this so important? I think it is this basic problem that is behind the attitude of our approach to the railways.
I want people to enjoy railway travel. I must confess that I never enjoy railway travel nowadays, and I know few people who do. I think that is wrong. A great many of us have to spend an immense amount of our time travelling back and forth to work every day in conditions of extreme misery, or to travel long distances because we have to get about the country and we choose to travel by rail. It is still the best way to go for long distance travel, but it is not comfortable, it is not clean, and it is not enjoyable. If it were enjoyable, it it were a pleasure to go on the railways, and if we could take pride in the railways, then I think people would come back to the railways and use them instead of sitting in a car in a great traffic jam waiting for other people to move on. I should like people to care a bit more about whether I am comfortable on the railways, and whether I am being looked after.
I remember that before the war, as the train passed from Belgium into Germany, a charlady used to appear and start sweeping, and went on sweeping the whole way through; and the German trains were meticulously clean. Why should we not have train hostesses, like air hostesses, to visit every carriage to see if we are comfortable and happy?
§ LORD TAYLOR
Why not? I suggest that this might be a very good job for superannuated air hostesses.
§ LORD TAYLOR
Yes. At the age of about 28 one begins to get a little worn-out if one is an air hostess, and it would be very good indeed for a smartly dressed lady to come along and have a word with us all to see if we are getting on all right; to reprove us if we were throwing our pieces of paper from our ice creams on the floor, and perhaps even, on occasion, wield a dustpan and brush. One thing which I think would immediately clean up British Railways, and all public transport, would be to stop us smoking in public transport. I most seriously and earnestly suggest this. I do not think it would cut railway travel at all, and I believe that it would improve the conditions. A great deal of the dirt on British Railways on the stations, and on the buses, is due to cigarette ash, pipe dottles—to which I am afraid I am a contributor—matches and cigarette cartons.
As one gets away from London the service on British Railways, in my opinion, steadily improves. It must be the great Metropolis where the improvement has been least. I feel that this Report is largely metropolitan-orientated. It is looking at the subject from the point of view of somebody sitting in London as an accountant, working the thing out on a careful cash calculation, and saying, "If we knock off this, this and this, it will cut the losses", regardless of the fact that those are very often social services and the lifeblood of the communities they are serving. The arguments are sometimes really extraordinary. There is the argument about holiday resorts: that there is very heavy traffic at holiday times, but poor traffic at other times. Why not cut down and have a single rail-car running back and forth at these times? There are a great many seasonal trades and occupations, and we do not try to maintain a uniform flow of services when the services are not required.
Now a word on the suburban services. I think that the Beeching Report is quite 249 extraordinary on the subject of the commuting services. Some people say that the way all these millions of people are brought into London is a miracle. But to me the miracle is that, with this enormous, guaranteed traffic, the services apparently can never be made to pay. I think that this is a sign of immense inefficiency in the thinking behind this Report. At peak hours there are immense numbers of travellers on these trains, and at off-peak hours the trains continue with very few travellers indeed. This, surely, is grossly uneconomic, because these trains are being worn out during this period. Supposing one said that every factory must work a three-shift day just because it happens to have expensive machinery—and my goodness! there are some industrialists who do think thus. If I may say so, it is thoroughly unsocial thinking. If you have ever worked a night shift or three shifts, or changed your shift continually, you will know that it is something you do not want to do—for fundamental economic reasons. Because of the impossibility of running down a glass furnace, it is necessary, for fundamental technical reasons, to work three shifts. But to work three shifts simply in order to make a machine pay for itself seems to me a very poor reason, because working three shifts is a miserable affair.
There is a perfectly good one shift of profitable traffic on the suburban services—four hours in the morning, and four hours in the evening. Surely, in between that we can have sufficient space to lay our suburban services into store, as it were, and run a light service in between. Unless this suburban service can be run properly, it is an extraordinary situation and, in fact, a disgrace. I cannot believe that it is necessary for our suburban services to be so miserably uncomfortable; that it is beyond the wit of man to devise some kind of railway car which will carry the passengers sitting down, and that it should be thought to be right for millions of people to stand up for two hours a day, packed as they are on these commuting services. I suppose it is because urban and rural housing has been allowed to run away over the years in relation to transport; because industry and offices have not been properly localised; because new office building is allowed to continue. It 250 shows how one has to plan all the way and all round if we are to make a success of it.
Seaside resorts, I should have thought, were a manifest case in point. I have been struck by the comparison between our failure and the comparative success of the French railway services. During the war, I believe, about 75 per cent. of the French rolling stock, and most of their marshalling yards, were destroyed. So closures were not part of their programme, and the opening of a line was a triumph. To-day, they have 24,000 route-miles, compared with our 18,000. They have 7,000 stations and halts, against our 4,300. They have invested enormously in new rolling stock and in vast new marshalling yards with the latest electronic equipment. They have electrified nearly 5,000 miles of rail, and are adding a couple of hundred more every year. They have reduced costs by using larger wagons, longer trains and reducing the number of services. They have only half our number of locomotives, passenger coaches and wagons, but the average load carried by a French wagon is 17 tons, which is nearly double our average. This difference in capacity makes an incredible difference to the distances covered by their trains.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but would he agree that the French railways were absolutely smashed during the war and they had to begin from scratch? That is what made it so easy for them.
§ LORD TAYLOR
That is precisely what I said; but the point is that, given that situation, they have expanded to a greater extent than we have. They are now nearly double ours in every respect. French trains have a total of only 264 million train-miles a year. Our total is 598 million train miles a year. Yet in 1961 they carried 230 million tons, compared with our 238 million tons. Half the number of trains, and the same amount of freight. This is something which really is a credit to France, and something at which we should he looking very seriously.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, can he tell us what deficit the French railways are running at?
§ LORD TAYLOR
Yes, I can. The French deficit last year was £7 million. That compares with our £170 million, if we include the interest charges. The French deficit of £7 million is not bad, I think the noble Earl will agree.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but does he bring into account in his figure of the French deficit the fact that the French railways receive a large subsidy for the maintenance of their track; another large sum in compensation for the fact that they have not been allowed to put up their fares, and also for the fact that they have to give concessional fares, at the Government's instance, to large classes of people? These large subsidies should, in fair comparison, be added.
§ LORD TAYLOR
I entirely agree; in fact, they were my very next points. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having made them and I will not therefore repeat everything he said. They were the points I was going to make, that they get a payment of 60 per cent. of track maintenance costs. I think that is correct. Why not a payment of 60 per cent. of track maintenance costs? After all, the roads get 100 per cent. track maintenance costs. Is not that common sense? The railways also get substantial contributions to the railwaymen's pensions, and subsidies to make good losses occasioned by the Government's insisting on uneconomic prices for certain services. France also has weighted taxes to induce road hauliers to concentrate on routes insufficiently served by railways. That is a co-ordinated system, and that is what we say we should have here.
I am wondering what is going to be the next system to be "Beechinged". I am wondering whether it will be the National Health Service or one of cur other social services which is going to be "Beechinged". I think this is a ridiculous tragedy. If we applied the strict cost of profitability to all our human activities very little worthwhile would be done; and I wonder how many of us would be sitting here if we were here for what we get paid.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken in your Lordships' House. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, who, I think, under different circumstances, has spoken in your Lordships' House, I, still more, require and ask your forebearance for my various shortcomings which will doubtless appear later. As I come from those tribal areas north of Inverness, areas which probably will be more drastically affected by these closures if they come about than anywhere else in Britain, I am vitally interested. I think that even we up there realise that an overhaul of the railways has been inevitable for some time and that certain stations and branch lines should be closed. I imagine that most noble Lords know the geography of that area—although a surprising number of people do not—and there are three counties affected; a large part of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, the Islands of Orkney and Shetland in a different way, and at least the Northern Hebridean Islands. I do not consider, nor does anybody up there, including our local county councils, that a completely total closure is in any way justified.
I am not very certain about these various Commissions that have been sitting, but I happen to know that a very old friend of mine, a well-known Highland chief, who was on the Advisory Committee, has backed the Beeching Plan. We can all be wrong. Of course, we Highlanders are comparatively simple people, and perhaps the salesmanship which he got down in the South blinded him to the terrible position which the Highlands will be in if these closures, as suggested in the Beeching Report, go through completely.
My Lords, we have been told that the aim and object of these closures is to make British Railways pay. I think that if that means the destruction, or the partial destruction, of people and of a way of life it is going to be much too expensive. Most of us who live and work in those areas realise only too well that our road system is quite incapable of carrying the traffic that we have now in the summer, let alone what will come on to them once the railways are closed. To modernise our road system—and I am thinking largely of the roads to the 253 West—and to make them safe, and I do stress the word "safe", would require an astronomical sum.
Luckily, during my life I have made a great many friends who are railway guards, porters and all sorts of other people on the railways, so my next remark is certainly not aimed at them. But there is no doubt that in past years the higher echelons of British Railways—or so it has appeared to us, at any rate—have actively tried to discourage the use of the railways. There is a definite improvement now—one has to be fair; but for years we were starved of rolling stock and all the old rubbish (heaven knows where it came from) was dumped on us. Trains ran from Euston to Inverness and you could be sure of lateness amounting to hours; you were foodless and frozen to death, and the trains were filthy. There has been a considerable improvement, but these conditions drove a tremendous number of people off the railways and on to the congested roads, as has already been mentioned by several noble Lords.
There is a very definite demand for railway transport in the north of Scotland, and in that I include Perthshire, provided that it is made efficient. I do not understand it altogether, but it seems impossible for the local representatives of the railways at the stations to be able to make arrangements with farmers, crofters, and fishermen which will allow the railways to compete with the road hauliers, who have had it all their own way. I feel that much could be done in very many ways. Much greater use could be made of the diesel train-bus. There is no point in having a train of ten coaches, as I have seen one going to Kyle in winter, with one passenger. This point seems to me fairly common sense.
People will have to suffer through the closure of certain of the smaller stations, but let it be done with a certain amount of care, remembering that we do not have adequate roads. I am thinking in particular of the Inverness-Kyle and the Inverness-Wick lines, which I am sure many Members of this august House know. They go through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and I cannot help feeling that if the British Transport Commission really "went to town" with their advertising and made more use of observation cars they could 254 get a great deal of trade, especially from Americans and other people coming from abroad. That ends what I have to say, except that I would beg everybody to watch the position very carefully because people who do not know the country up there and do not live there may not realise what the closures are going to mean to thousands of people scattered over a vast area with practically no other means of transport, certainly in bad weather and very often at other times too, especially if there is no more transport put on the roads. I think that any Government that tried, for purely bookkeeping reasons, to push through a complete closure would live to rue the day.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the first item I had on my notes was to convey congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on his maiden speech. It would have been my duty to do so, following the custom of the House, whether he had made a good speech or not at least, so I gather is the tradition of the House. Fortunately for my love of truth, I do not need to stretch it in the slightest, although, in one sense, perhaps he has not completely followed tradition, which calls for a speech to be non-controversial. I think, however, so far as Scotland is concerned and those who represent Scotland in this House, he has no fear of any controversy or disagreement with him once he departs from the Bench on the other side. It is with real sincerity I congratulate him on a speech which has been well worth the long journey. Those of us who are speaking now are almost a Scottish phalanx. I think the idea has been "We have got to face them, so let us put them all together and then we can settle back". I doubt very much whether any of those who follow me will wish to say other than that with the bulk of what he said we are in complete agreement. I hope we may often have him coming to assist us against the serried ranks from the South.
Like so many other people, I do not quarrel with the answers Dr. Beeching and his colleagues have provided to the question put to them. It is not an unreasonable answer to the question, "Can the railways be made to pay?" But even on that basis it is only so if one accepts that the railways can be considered in isolation from other forms of 255 transport, and if one accepts the proposition that running the railways is primarily an exercise in balancing the books. I would take issue with my noble friend Lord Taylor on this point, because I do not agree that trains are dirty and uncomfortable. I was checking up the claim I have submitted to the Accountant of your Lordships' House for travel during the last two months, and I, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in due course will pay British Railways £72 for bringing me up and down. I have been most comfortable and very well looked after on those trains, except on the one occasion when I landed in one of the antiquated pieces of rolling stock that assumes that one still uses a cut-throat razor.
My noble friend Lord Taylor mentioned the misfortune that befell Dr. Beeching when he added what appeared to be an afterthought to his speech, and said he felt a fellow sympathy for him on that account, once he learned that was the position. I recollect an occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, hit the headlines in a very serious debate by assuring housewives it was very easy to do house cleaning; that all one needed was a squeegee-mop, and that he used it. I predict he has a fair chance of hitting the headlines again with his suggestion that air hostesses should be transferred to railway trains at the elderly age of 28. In case Dr. Beeching should take it seriously, I would remind him that they have that system on American railways, and they do not pay.
I liked some things the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said about the severity of the measures Dr. Beeching proposes. It impelled me to dive into my pocket and bring out a document which I have carried for a very long time, as your Lordships will notice. The title of it is Cuts by the Score. I do not know whether the author of it originally was Dr. Beeching. It is a report by an efficiency expert on a visit to an orchestral concert. This is what he had to say:For considerable periods the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number should be reduced and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert, thus eliminating peaks of activity. All the twelve first violins were playing indentical notes. This seems unnecessary duplication. The staff of this section should he drastically cut. If a large volume of sound is required it could be obtained by means of electronic amplifier apparatus.256Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demi-semi-quavers. This seems an excessive refinement. It is recommended that all notes should be rounded off up to the nearest demi-quaver. If this were done it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.There seems to be too much repetition of some musical passages. Scores should be drastically pruned. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the wood wind passages which had been adequately dealt with by the strings. It is estimated if all redundant passages were eliminated the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an interval.The conductor agrees generally with these recommendations but expresses the opinion that there may be some falling off in box office receipts. In that unlikely event it should be possible to close sections of the auditorium entirely, with a consequential saving of overhead expenses, lighting, attendants, etc. If the worst came to the worst the whole project could be abandoned and the hall put to a more useful purpose.It seems to me to a certain extent Dr Beeching has done that, or suggested it. I do not believe it is a good proposition and there are many people in Scotland who do not think so, either. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry do not think so; the National Farmers' Union of Scotland do not think so; nor do the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Transport Council, the Scottish local authorities, or the Highland Transport Inquiry, which last named body reported to the Minister of Transport at the beginning of this year.
Speaking as second in a Scottish block of speakers, I may be forgiven if I concentrate on the effect of Beeching in Scotland, although I wish to emphasise my opinion that most of the drawbacks of Beeching in isolation are not peculiar to Scotland. No one in his senses would propose for one minute that every mile of railroad must continue to be in perpetuity, that every station must remain open, or that every railway job is sacrosanct. None of the organisations I have mentioned have done so. With an almost unprecedented degree of unanimity they have put forward the same proposal: that transport in all its forms should be considered as a co-ordinated system and that no useful purpose is served by looking at any one form in isolation. It may be that in many places rail and bus are competing at present and that neither pays. If one is withdrawn the other may survive. On the other hand, it may be that neither 257 is economic or can be so made. Then the test must become not a book-keeping one but that of social need.
As far back as 1938 the Scottish Economic Committee said:There is perhaps no individual element which has contributed in greater measure towards the depopulation of the Highland area than the inadequacy or lack of communication in many districts. The Highland Transport Inquiry under the joint chairmanship of Lords Cameron and Kilbrandon accepts that proper transport services are essential and that assistance to that end will be necessary. It regrets the argument that cases can be judged only by the yardstick of profitability. It advocates improvement of the road system and says that railway lines should not be closed until adequate road facilities for both passengers and goods have been provided. It recommends the setting up of a permanent body to encourage and co-ordinate the development of Highland transport.The National Farmers' Union of Scotland said of the Beeching Report:The commercial yardstick is used throughout and this makes the Report completely one-sided and certainly no answer in itself to the major problem of ensuring an adequate transport system in this country. What is needed is a balance between the right of the community to have a reasonably adequate transport service at reasonable cost, and on the other hand, the economics of operating particular services. To achieve this balance a rational integration of all forms of public transport is needed.The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, speaking as chairman of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) said:We are bound to question the idea that Scotland's transport needs can be met by the economic yardstick alone. We cannot have a transport policy that will counteract our efforts to improve the economy.He concluded by saying:What is absolutely vital is that we are given time—time for study and reflection by the Government and all the other interests concerned; time to assess the gains and losses; time to see that industry's needs are met; time to make roads and road services fully adequate before rail services are cut: time to replace the jobs which will be lost in the process.During the last two days it has become obvious that time is the one thing which the Government in general, and the Minister of Transport in particular, are not prepared to give. It may, of course, be that they are afraid that it will prove for them the one commodity which is really in short supply. As things stand then, there is to be no passenger service beyond Inverness or Aberdeen—with one exception. 258 We have not been informed whether the same consideration is to apply to freight services. In this connection it is, however, somewhat ominous that had the railways not been committed to the maintenance of a freight service for the proposed pulp mill at Fort William, the passenger service to Mallory would have been withdrawn also. Are we to take it from that that every passenger service in the north of Scotland and other areas which is to be withdrawn is to be followed in due course by the withdrawal of freight services? If so, it is going to be exceedingly difficult for those of us who are interested in getting industry into the northern part of Scotland to meet any success whatsoever.
The justification for such wholesale closures is that the lines carry so small a proportion of the total traffic. But I feel, as do so many other people, that if Dr. Beeching had been put on the job of surveying road usages in Scotland he could, by applying his own yardstick, have come only to the conclusion that a large part of Scottish roads, inadequate as they are at the present time, should be closed down because they carry such a small percentage of the traffic. It may be that these roads in Scotland do not carry 1 per cent. of the road traffic of the whole of the United Kingdom. But no one, not even the present Government, would suggest that we must go back to footpaths in the North of Scotland because even one-track roads cannot be economically justified.
The Scottish Council has emphasised that there must be time to take the right overall decisions; and Mr. Marples seems to be a man in a great hurry. He has said in another place that the decision on passenger closures will be his decision. In this connection, I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, in wondering how the Minister is going to arrive at these decisions. If he is going to make a personal decision which is going to be worth making he can do it only after he has considered all the evidence, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, emphasised, not merely the type of evidence which the Transport Users' Consultative Committee is permitted to consider—because that is only part of the picture. If he is going to do that after considering all the evidence, he is going to earn a 259 great deal more money than he pays Dr. Beeching.
What I would say to your Lordships in all seriousness—and I believe that in saying this I speak for the people of Scotland—is that we will insist on holding the Government to the pledge given by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that no railway line in Scotland will be closed until he, the Secretary of State, is satisfied that suitable alternative transport is available. That is a much more satisfactory thing if it is maintained—if the Secretary of State is permitted to maintain it—than relying on the tender mercies of Mr. Marples giving full consideration to all these factors and arriving at his personal decision.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on his extremely well-informed maiden speech. I only hope that the future transport system in Scotland will be such that it will enable the noble Earl to come to your Lordships' House on frequent occasions, and that when he comes here we shall hear him speak.
I believe that at last two of my prayers are going to be answered. I have always maintained that if the remoter parts of our country are not to become deserts, it is essential that we should have a good transport system and good communications. Looking at Hansard, I see that when I made my maiden speech in this House in 1955, I made two points. The first was that goods being moved by rail must be moved by fast, reliable scheduled services, and that double handling must be cut out wherever possible. My second point was that a road bridge should be built over the Firth of Forth. The penny seems to have dropped, because about the only constructive part of Dr. Beeching's Report concerns liner trains. I need not say that other parts of the Report are equally vital, but I think it is agreed that most of the other points are destructive.
I am, of course, delighted that the Forth Bridge is now under construction. It is a natural reaction to protest against anything being taken away. We have all done that since we were quite young. If vie look at Map 9 of the Beeching Report, at the British Railways' pro- 260 posed withdrawal of passenger services, we find that the North-East of Scotland and the Highlands figure most prominently on that map. From that, your Lordships might expect that I should voice a large protest. But, I take the opposite view. I congratulate Dr. Beeching on having done, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham said, exactly what he was asked to do. I believe that he has done it in an excellent manner.
I should also like to congratulate my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on the appointment of Dr. Beeching. Memories are short. I remember that when Dr. Beeching was appointed there was a certain amount of criticism. I believe that the Beeching Report is excellent; but, of course, it is only a blueprint for the future. Some are advocating slowness in carrying out the Report. I would put it the other way. I would rather advocate speed in bringing in the necessary alternatives. I believe that the North-East and the Highlands can benefit by the Beeching Report, as we are now in a position to re-shape completely the forms of transport suitable for this part of the country. It is possible that the North-East and the Highlands may now get the most modern and suitable form of transport for that part of the country. There is much that can be done to give a really good transport system to Scotland.
I believe that the air can play a great part in this. It can bring great centres of industry, government and technology within easy reach of the remoter parts of the country, and can do more than anything to give the whole of Scotland that tonic which she so badly needs at the moment. There is much to be said on this matter, and I should like to expound my plan in a debate later on as to how air transport can help Scotland. We are now in the space age. We cannot hold on doggedly to a rail system which was made for the 19th century. We must advance, and there are new forms of transport coming along. There may be a future for the hovercraft. The hovercraft looks like being a versatile young lady: unlike the old lady who has to pick up her skirts to get over an obstacle, the hovercraft keeps her skirts down and just pops over, which is very convenient.
261 I should like to say a word about road transport, which is very convenient, as it operates from door to door. I believe that some people were disappointed by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he did not reduce the fuel oil tax in the Budget. Apart from giving the coal industry "a breather" in which to settle down, I believe that the decision of the Chancellor was a right one. It was sensible because he has now waited for the publication of the Beeching Report. Now where railways are to be withdrawn there is an excellent case for lowering the fuel oil tax. We do not normally like a tax which is varied by zones, because the people just outside a zone usually come off badly and therefore it is unjust. In this case the reverse would be true; it would be ideal. Those just outside the zone of low fuel oil tax could enter it and refuel, if they wished. With simple safeguards which could be evolved, there should be no difficulty and no reason for abusing that system. At present oil fuel, owing to the cost of transporting it, costs most in the outlying districts. This is a complete anomaly. The reverse should be the case. Those living in the outlying districts who have to move long distances should have things made easier for them rather than more difficult. This can be remedied by altering the tax position in regard to fuel oil.
The Government have to do a vast amount of quick thinking as a result of the Beeching Report. The most important question they have to face is that of redundancies. There must inevitably be redundancies, even though they may be temporary. In any forward-looking country one must have a change from one job to another, otherwise there is stagnation. We do not want to stew in the juice of old out-dated industries, but want to become the most progressive country in the world. If we are to do this some commandments are necessary. The Government must not shrink from causing redundancies, neither must they prop up out-dated industries for the sake of keeping them going. The Government must, with forward planning, foresee redundancies. They must help retain and resettle those who become redundant, so that workers can enter a modern industry with confidence and have an even more exciting and rewarding way 262 of life. This is a task the Government must tackle urgently.
There are many other things which the Government will have to think about. The existing roads and buses are inadequate to take the place of railways. British Railways, according to the Beeching Report, are going to adopt 8-foot wide standard containers. The standard width of trunk roads is 24 feet, except in the Highlands of Scotland where it is 18 feet. I doubt very much whether an 13-foot wide road will be adequate for carrying containers. Then buses are not suitable for baggage and other impedimenta. In the remoter country areas of Scotland what is wanted are a few large buses which would carry passengers together with their baggage, and many mini-buses which would provide frequent services for people moving about without baggage.
Where railways do not exist or where they are to be closed down, snow clearance will become of supreme importance. Roads simply must be kept open, as they will be essential to the life not only of human beings but also of animals. Proper snow-clearing equipment must be available, and the job must be done properly, as it is done in countries such as Switzerland. In parts where there are no railways, snow clearance will assume such importance that I believe the cost would have to be borne by the Exchequer, and not by local authorities.
As I have said, the Beeching Report is the blueprint for the future. It is now up to Her Majesty's Government to interpret it within the framework of our transport requirements for the 'seventies and beyond. I believe that the North-East of Scotland and the Highlands stand to gain more than they are to lose under the Beeching Plan, and it could be the opening of a new era for these parts of the country. I welcome the Beeching Report. It will mean many changes, but do not let us forget that without the ability to adapt ourselves to change we perish.
§ 7.20 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, I also should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on his fine opening of the Scottish section of this debate. He covered a great many points which, while 263 he was applying them entirely to the Highlands, apply all over Scotland, and to other parts as well.
The Beeching Report is undoubtedly a masterly document, and one cannot disagree with the need to adapt the railway system to modern requirements. But some of the proposed withdrawals, especially those applicable to Scotland, are too drastic. My noble friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport must have received very many letters on this subject. In fact I myself have been closely concerned with the writing of two of them. These letters—and there are others which I have read—all stress the same theme, which has also been expressed by other noble Lords this afternoon: that there must be no withdrawal without some proper alternative form of transport; and if that alternative cannot be provided, then there should not be a withdrawal of the transport service. It is no good just saying "The bus will provide." As my noble friend Lord Forbes has stressed, and I will repeat what he said, buses must be improved and made more able to carry luggage. Roads must be improved; they must be widened; they must be realigned in some cases, and re-graded, before they will be capable of doing the job for which they are intended.
I should like now quite blatantly to turn to a particular area—the Borders. My noble friend the Secretary of State, in his speech on Monday, April 29, in Hansard, col. 838, gave the Borders the barest possible mention. He just mentioned the fact that they exist. I do not know whether one can take hope from that; that his realisation that they are there gives hope that he will take some action about them. I can only hope that that will be the case. There are, my Lords, two main industries in the Borders; one is based entirely on wool, the other is agriculture. The industrial position in that area is delicate. The twin-set industry, that is, the knitwear and the tweed industry, though in very fair shape and prospering, are not far off the danger line and face intense competition. If they were to receive any rude shock, that would have the most serious result. The withdrawal, as is proposed in the Beeching Report, of every single passenger train in the 264 whole of the Border area would have this result.
I agree that there are some trains which are not used, and that there is no case for the continuance of the passenger services on the branch lines. They are practically not used now. If the buses were very greatly improved that would be perfectly all right. But the main line between Edinburgh, Carlisle and the South is a very different proposition. Between Edinburgh and Carlisle, I personally would not press for the continuance of more than two stations—Hawick and Galashiels. If this line is taken away Hawick, a sizeable industrial town in the centre of the knitwear and tweed industry, will be practically 50 miles from the nearest railway station. Either one has to go nearly 50 miles to Carlisle or 50 miles to Berwick-on-Tweed. The closure of this line would take the heart out of the country. It would make life for industry and the ordinary people just that much more difficult and would remove the margin of prosperity which they now have. With your Lordships' permission I would here quote part of a speech made by the Chairman of the Scottish Woollen Manufacturers' Association. He said:Our industry in the Borders must have efficient transport for our goods out of our area, at a rate and price which will enable us to compete with anywhere in the world. We must have a transport system which will bring the buyers of our products easily, cheaply and conveniently to our factories, and which will not produce a system which will tend to make buyers from overseas say, 'Oh, the Borders! Oh, no! We will not go there. There is no train, no bus, no air service. It is right out of the world. It is off the face of our globe.'If that sort of thing should happen, my Lords, it would be an extremely serious situation in that part of Scotland.
I feel that the line from Edinburgh through Galashiels and Hawick, which are the two main stations—and one could possibly not have any of the others—to Carlisle and the South, is one that has real possibilities, provided that it is improved. The service needs to be completely retimed and speeded up. At present it is so bad that there must be a genuine requirement for it, or nobody would dream of using it—and a number of people do use it. With these improvements, I think it could become almost a 265 paying proposition. But not only that: it would do something very much more important; it would help to prevent the further depopulation of these Border counties.
This is a situation which produces problems that are quite as serious as those produced by unemployment, though much less obvious. They are, in fact, a disguised form of unemployment, because in that part of the country, when there is not a job for them, instead of sitting back and saying, "I am unemployed", people go out and find a job in some other part of the country. That is what is happening to us now; and any shock like the complete removal of the transport system would have serious repercussions. The retention of this line would prevent the knitwear and tweed industries from being given what would well be a body blow, and keeping the area on the railway map would make the attraction of a new industry more probable. For these reasons, my Lords, I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to step in and take the action which has been almost promised by my noble friend the Secretary of State, of preventing the withdrawal of trains from this main-line service.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I welcome this masterly Report with, of course, reservations regarding Scotland and regarding the aspect of social benefit. If we look at the figures, which I have not yet heard quoted to-day, we see that between 1948 and 1962 British Railways lost £960 million and absorbed £1,300 million in capital investment. In spite of this capital investment, they are in a far worse position now than they were before they had that, and we have heard that the current deficit this year is expected to be £150 million. 1, with other speakers, think it is a pity that we have not had a Beeching Report on the roads which we could study along with this excellent Report on the railways, because if we had a Report on the roads we could probably be more constructive in our criticism of this Report on the railways. I feel that if we had a Report on the economic and social aspects of the roads, there would be some very red faces in some of the road organisations.
Of course, one cannot argue commercially with the Beeching Report at all. 266 In fact, one might argue that Dr. Beeching has been rather lenient, because we read that, apart from the one-third of the lines he is proposing to close, one half of the total route mileage carries only 4 per cent. of the total passengers and 5 per cent. of the freight. The revenue from this pays for only half the upkeep of the permanent way. There is nothing over for trains, stations, signalling or anything like that. As I have already said, in some ways, perhaps, Dr. Beeching has been, from an accountant's point of view, rather lenient. On the other hand, the other half of the system pays its route costs more than six times.
My Lords, though I agree with the commercial side of the Report I am rather worried regarding its effects on social benefit. If we look at page 56 of the Report, we find Dr. Beeching says there:It might pay to run railways at a loss in order to prevent the incidence of an even greater cost which would arise elsewhere if the railways were closed.Of course, you cannot really look at the railways on a strictly pounds, shillings and pence basis. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that if the proposed one-third of the route mileage was closed, would add only 1 per cent. to the extra traffic to be carried on the roads throughout the whole country. Of course, that is so, but it is an overall figure; and if the amount of traffic that would have to be carried on the local road at the special time when people go to work were worked out, it would be found that the percentage would be far greater.
But in assessing the closed railways, we ought to try to evaluate the appalling waste in human life and injury to human life on the roads. For instance, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has estimated that for 1961 the road casualties (although I cannot imagine how they assess these on a cash basis) cost the country the equivalent of £230 million. My Lords, in any balance sheet on the roads that would be a very serious factor on the debit side. We also have the millions of man-hours lost in traffic blocks; the frustration and damage to health by noise and fumes; the great expense on ever more and more roads; and the spoilation of our countryside. I feel that if some people had their way the whole of the South of England would I be turned into a sort of dodgem park at 267 a circus. The whole place would be tarmac. I hope that in the Report which we are going to have on the roads, the experts will find out the real cost of road transport.
There is also the wastage of agricultural land, which nobody has mentioned, for the widening of roads and for new roads. On the widening of roads alone, it is over 10,000 acres a year. I agree that the individual must have the right to choose his own form of transport, but I cannot agree that commercial undertakings should have a complete right to choose the form of transport for their goods. I wholeheartedly sympathise with their outlook provided it does not conflict with the national economy and the public interest. After all, to-day you cannot choose where to build your house; you cannot choose exactly what type of house to build: you have to get planning permission. Therefore I think that the road organisations are perhaps living in the past by demanding complete freedom of choice as to how their goods are transported. Perhaps I am speaking mild Socialism, and I apologise to your Conservative Lordships if I am, but I have always thought that we really want a rational integration of all forms of public transport. We really want a Beeching Plan for the whole of transport to-day—rail, road, sea, air, everything, in fact.
I certainly welcome in the Report the excellent plans for the development of the liner train services and the provision of time-tabled freight trains to suit the customer. I sincerely hope that some of the long-distance freight will be taken off the roads on to the railways by this means. But if this does not come about, as I said in a previous debate on transport in 1959, can we not have legislation to direct that certain goods travelling over certain mileage should be transported by rail or sea? In the Beeching Report there are some excellent maps showing how various goods are transported, and it is surprising to see, for instance, how much coal is now being carried on the roads for long distances. This seems quite crazy to me. There are also other bulk goods which ought to go by rail.
However, perhaps if we could reduce the licence charge on vehicles used for 268 railhead collection and delivery that might encourage firms to send goods by rail. But, after all, it really boils down to the fact that there is rather unfair competition between road and rail. For instance, road transport has not had to build the roads and their traffic is of course controlled for them by the police. It was the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, who said that the larger part of motor tax—I hope I am not misquoting him—ought to be used for the roads. You could say with equal force that the dog tax ought to be used to provide luxurious kennels for dogs; or that the tax on alcohol should be used by the Government to provide luxurious pubs. That argument does, in fact, work both ways.
May I now say a few words about the closure of stations? I quite agree with the Beeching Report that it is absurd to keep stations open where the receipts do not cover even the cost of the stations, apart from the trains, track and so on. But if you take the staff from these stations and close them, cannot some of the stations be used as halts? Staff are not needed at a halt. The guards on the train ought to be able to sell tickets to the passengers. There are buses in which the driver sells tickets to the passengers.
Dr. Beeching in his Report proposes to withdraw coaches during the high peak holiday time. He says that by 1965 all of these coaches are to be withdrawn. He says that 6,000 coaches are required on an average of only 14 occasions annually. That is probably all right in some areas of the country, but I would say that in the South-West of England it would appear to be madness to withdraw the holiday trains. Anyone who has motored during the holiday time to these resorts will know how appalling the congestion can be on the roads. If the trains are withdrawn it will become quite chaotic. It is obviously quite uneconomic to have a whole new road system through the South-West of England for the holiday traffic. Also, I am afraid that the hoteliers down there will be very severely hit if the Government allow these trains to be withdrawn.
I was intending to say quite a lot about Scotland, but other noble Lords have already covered these points. I should however like to congratulate the 269 noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on an excellent maiden speech and I heartily endorse everything that he said regarding the Highlands. I feel that Dr. Beeching must have had his tongue in his cheek when he proposed closing the Inverness—Wick line, because one cannot shut off the whole of the north of Scotland in that way when the Government are trying to help the Highlands and to encourage industries there. If the railway services are withdrawn it is bound to have an adverse effect on the economy.
To sum up, my Lords, it seems to me that there must be a certain amount of closures, but, of course, the real answer to the British Railways problem is to have these extremely fast inter-city passenger services and the regular door-to-door freight services. The liner trains are, I think, going to be a great step in the right direction. According to the Report, the railways could take 56 million tons of freight annually from the roads if everything goes as expected. If they can do this, then it is going to be of great help to the road system in general. I, personally, am not at all pessimistic about the eventual future of the railways. Perhaps it will take some twenty to forty years, but I feel that when the Hall Report suggests a doubling or trebling of road transport in the next twenty years, that is probably correct for private cars but wrong in regard to freight.
We are now introducing automation into our factories and once we have that, we are bound to have automation in transport. Our industrial civilisation depends on the proper movement and handling of our goods. The railways are far better suited to automation than the roads. For instance, they have this specialised, exclusive rail system and they have large areas of land in our towns that they hold on behalf of the community. Therefore, they are thoroughly suited for automation and in perhaps thirty or twenty years' time, maybe earlier, I am convinced that we are going to see a complete revolution in transport. I think that the heavy lorry is going out. In the days to come of automation in the factory and transport, it will be entirely uneconomic to have one man driving a six-ton lorry on the road. What will be required are trains, probably driverless, carrying hundreds of tons. Therefore, I welcome 270 this Report as a first step in the direction of automation on the railways. We must bear in mind, in safeguarding the social benefit of the community, that we cannot go too fast. After the report on road haulage is out, possibly we can go a great deal faster. On the whole, I welcome the Report.
§ 7.53 p.m.
My Lords, since there are still many speakers in this interesting debate, it is essential that those of us who are left should confine and condense their remarks. This I propose to do, and I will confine my suggestions to two points: the use of what I will call light railway buses on the branch lines, and the effective use of the 18,000 men now employed in the railway workshops who will become redundant in the course of one or two years.
Since the 1954 Railway Modernisation Programme, diesel rail-cars and trailers have grown to over 4,000, out of a total of 4,600 estimated. In a debate on a similar subject some years ago, suggestions for the use of light rail-buses were put forward and something was done in 1958, when 22 four-wheeled single-unit rail-buses were ordered from five different manufacturers. I believe that these units have been quite succesful. On the average, they weigh 15 tons each and carry 50 passengers. At that time, for comparison, a batch of five rail-buses was imported from Germany for use on our railways. Surely by now an anlysis of the performance of these different types will have been made, or at least is in the process of being finished, and this would enable the potential of these light rail, buses to be properly analysed.
I contemplate a lighter and smaller unit, much more akin to a bus, equipped to run on the railways with a crew consisting of driver and ticket collector only. I believe that such a service, associated with the branch lines, would be much more convenient to the public than adding to the traffic on the already overcrowded roads. There would be a saving in cost in comparison with the services now running, which might come to around 50 per cent., but a detailed analysis is essential, which would show whether the light rail-bus would be superior to the ordinary road bus. I 271 am convinced that a modified service must be run on the branch lines which under the Beeching plan are to be closed. It would indeed be a disaster, particularly to the Highlands—and I warmly support the words of the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, and also the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—if this were to be done.
No question is more in the front of your Lordships' minds than that of employment for our personnel, particularly those with skill in engineering, and it is very sad to contemplate that, as at present planned, some 18,000 men, many of them highly skilled and now employed in the railway workshops, are to become redundant, since these workshops are to be closed within the next two or three years, as there is no requirement here for the specialised equipment which they are capable of producing and for which they have established a lead in the world. We pride ourselves in leading in the provision of aid for underdeveloped Commonwealth territories. Without question, such territories still require railway equipment and will do so for some time. This equipment could be made in these workshops, and if that were done it would prevent the workshops, their equipment and staff, from becoming redundant. But since the territories concerned have no means of paying for such equipment, unless some special plan is devised, these shops will become idle and the men redundant. This is a situation which we must try by all means to avoid.
I suggest, therefore, that the Colonial Development Corporation (and your Lordships will remember that only a day or so ago the extension of the Corporation's powers was actively under consideration) should be asked to request the Crown Agents to draw up a list of railway equipment requirements from the territories concerned, covering, say, a five to ten year programme, and to place this work with the about-to-become-redundant railway workshops. At once the question will come up, "Where is the money to come from?" May I suggest to your Lordships that the answer to that originates from the late Lord Keynes, and I quote:It is a question of manpower and materials, not of finance.The cost of newly created Government finance should be about 1 per cent., and 272 it is surely sounder and better to pay people to work rather than to do nothing. At the receiving end these underdeveloped territories would certainly be happy to benefit from such a generous gesture. The annual output of these 18,000 men in the railway workshops would be about £30 million. In closing, I should like to join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth upon initiating this debate and in paying tribute with him to Dr. Beeching—indeed an astonishing man, though we do not want too much of his medicine to-day.
§ 7.58 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF AILSA
My Lords, I should like first to join with other noble Lords in welcoming Dr. Beeching's Report. It is something which for many years we have all hoped would appear; but, as with other things to which we look forward, it has been a shock when we got it. Having studied it, I realise that it makes a lot of good sense. Unfortunately, I come from an area in which my station was closed among the earlier closures, prior to Dr. Beeching. Now, I understand, we are to have the trains taken away completely on the line between Ayr and Stranraer. I mention this because I am confused as a result of the various statements which have been made from time to time concerning this line and which conflict with each other. I do not think that anyone knows now whether the line is likely to remain open or is to be closed.
Another point on which I should like further information is whether, with the withdrawal of passenger services, there is to be a withdrawal of freight services. To my mind, that is the main essential, because in most cases the passenger service has already gone—the intended passengers travel on existing road transport and do not use the railways. But in many cases the situation with freight is different. I do not say that the users make use of the wayside stations, but they go to certain points along the line, and from there the freight is collected and distributed. I think it would be unwise radically to break up this system.
Another point we have to bear in mind is that some of these lines, like the one I mentioned from Ayr to Stranraer, wander through rural areas. I cannot say what is the travelling population but 273 we want to encourage people to stay in these areas, and therefore it must be possible for them to get comparatively easily from the remoter parts to a town. I agree that, to a great extent, road transport caters for them; but in winter time there is the trouble of road blockages and so on, so that they have to depend on rail travel. We do not want these areas to be bereft of all means of communication. I cannot help feeling that it is somewhat strange that the General Post Office have a system by which a letter posted one day can be delivered pretty well in 24 hours to any other part of the British Isles. I cannot help wondering whether it is possible for a human being living in any part of the British Isles to get to any other part in 24 hours. If a letter can do it, it should be possible for a human.
One point where I differ from the Report is on something that has already been mentioned—the question of holiday traffic. I cannot dispute Dr. Beeching's argument that the extra overtime to be paid and the dead stock carried does not make the traffic worth while. But the point is that it does exist. We all know of these various holiday resorts to which during the holiday season—which, it is true, may last only for three or four months—the trains are packed with people, with their luggage, who visit these resorts and then return. I doubt whether it would be humanly possible to put on the road sufficient transport to move all these people and their luggage; and even if it were possible, it would, certainly, as has been said, make the roads exceedingly uncomfortable for the other users. I feel that this point should always be borne in mind. A great many people take their cars with them on holiday, but there are still vast numbers who do not, and they must he able to get to these resorts quickly and comfortably.
The other point I would add concerns something that I notice British Railways have been doing in the last two or three years; that is, to make it possible for cars to be transported from various centres to other centres. That idea can go a long way in removing congestion from the roads. Many people who go from the South to some parts of the Highlands to which there is no present railhead or rail access are only too pleased to have their car put on a train and taken as far 274 as Perth, from where they can drive the rest of the way. They have no joy in driving from here to Perth, but they do not mind driving from Perth onwards. This arrangement also reflects on holiday traffic and on road congestion, and I hope that consideration will be given to extending this system.
My last point is that when consideration has to be given to the actual closing of these lines British Railways should not try to blind the councils with science. It is easy to prove that large numbers of people do not use the trains if the fact is that trains do not run at times convenient for people to use them—and in many instances this is happening. I notice from the Report that all stopping services are to be removed from the railway from Glasgow down to Carlisle, going through Dumfries. I do not dispute this move; I think it is correct. But if you look at the timetable of the stopping services available, you will see that one has to be a Spartan to use it. This can happen on some of the other remoter lines. This should be watched. I repeat that I welcome the Report. I hope that, with consideration, a great many of its recommendations will be put into force soon, and that we shall be able to welcome out of it the beginning of a proper railway and general transportation system in this country.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as the last of the eightsome reel, which was so ably led in by my noble friend Lord Cromartie—and I congratulate him on his maiden speech—I shall be as brief as possible, falling in with the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Sempill that those of us who are speaking so late in the debate should confine our remarks to points that have not already been made. I like the words of the Chairman of the Scottish Council, my noble friend Lord Polwarth, who I know is sorry he cannot be here to-day, in describing the Beeching, Report asthis clearly reasoned, concise and grimly fascinating document.But it has its imperfections. For instance, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ailsa, in recommending that passenger services be withdrawn on certain lines it is not clear whether it is recommended that the lines should also be closed to freight traffic. I will not 275 develop the point, but it is one which confuses me. Nevertheless, whatever the imperfections of this Report—and they are few—to my mind it is a pity that it is the subject of a debate at this stage that is to say, before a more detailed pattern of the Government's proposals has emerged. To that extent, with due respect to your Lordships' House, the debate, as I see it, is an unsatisfactory one. This was a point which I think I sensed behind the remarks of my noble friend Lord Gage.
As other noble Lords have said, I maintain that the presentation of this Report has been faulty. The public relations side has been neglected, and the human relations side has not been given sufficient weight. This particularly applies to its impact on Scotland. Take, for instance, the fact that Dr. Beeching visited the Kyle of Lochalsh on August 27. People pay large sums to come from all over the world to see the Sound of Sleat at the end of August. Would it not have been better public relations if he had visited it, say, on December 27, one of the shortest days of the year, and had been able to compare the conditions there even with those in Wales, which, because of its latitude, has a less short day in the middle of the winter? No one who reads the speech of my noble friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in another place on Monday, with the interruptions which occurred in the course of it, can but see how mystified some people are about the prospects arising from the Report, and how difficult my right honourable friend found his task to be.
Other noble Lords have emphasised most of the doubts which have arisen in Scottish minds, but there are some points which have not been raised. For instance, I am unhappy that the Report's conclusions are based on the figures of a run-down system. The noble Marquess who has just spoken touched on the point. Many existing local services, in Scotland certainly, are timed so that they cannot really be of service to the public. Of course they do not pay, and on that basis they are justifiably criticised. At the same time, their inconvenience makes them most unattractive as they stand to-day.
276 No noble Lord—or if he has I have missed it (I apologise for having had to be absent for a spell in the course of the afternoon)—has mentioned the problem of defence. Surely it is fair at all times to remember that a measure of subvention will necessarily apply to the rail services in terms of defence. Another point I have missed in your Lordships' deliberations is the general indication throughout the Report, and in the statements from the Dispatch Box, that alternative means of transport will be provided. But who has to pay? I think the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, touched on the matter when he said that the cost would have inevitably to fall on the Exchequer. If not, will it fall on the county councils or local authorities? Of course, it is to be borne in mind that the local authorities, in the very areas where the railway system calls for diminution, are probably the local authorities with the least available resources to spend on alternative modes of transport. It is conceivable that the cost of alternative means of transport laid upon a county council might result in a figure which would pay for running the railway. But that is a rather topsy-turvey approach.
I feel that it is fair, in defence of the railways and my many friends on the railways, to say that I am a most contented railway traveller, certainly so far as the night services are concerned. I imagine that the whole of the set of the eightsome spend a fair proportion of their night life on the sleeper trains, and I think they must admit that, by and large, they are comfortable, convenient and, in terms of cost in comparison with other countries, not expensive. That leads me to another point which is worth bearing in mind. Sleeper services are one of the few services where speed, and nothing but speed, is not essential. What one wants is a good night's rest, and I mention this point, not in a frivolous manner, but because it is worth bearing in mind that sleeper services should not only be timed from terminus to terminus. If speed is not essential, then intermediate stops to pick up sleeper passengers are no great additional burden on the cost of running a sleeper to timetable. I myself should prefer to travel to my daily work by train, but I simply cannot do so, on the lines indicated by the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa—that the timings are simply not applicable to my working hours.
277 I think it is fair to say that Dr. Beeching is a most impressive and charming man. Certainly that is my impression; and I have met him. Indeed, he must be a charming man to have overcome the very poor presentation of his Report, particularly as he himself seems completely indifferent as to whether he pleases or not. That is one of the attractive things about his monumental efficiency. In this context it is fair to deplore the absence from the Report of the more human, more open-hearted approach to the problems of the railwaymen—an approach such as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, disclosed, and which the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, welcomed so open-handedly.
In this context, only a few Peers have mentioned the threatened strike. Can we by any means in our power help to avert this? As I see it, a strike can do nothing but harm. It happens that I have personal knowledge of the problems of several railwaymen, and I have reason to believe that most of them do not want to strike. Only this morning I heard from a very authoritative person in an important Scottish industry, with a large distributive problem, that another railway strike might, it seemed to him, lead to a decision to put all the transport in this concern on to the road once and for all.
I welcome the Beeching Report, as other Lords have done. It is indeed monumental, but we cannot wait for more reports and more reports before something is done. Something must be done. Let the Government get on with all speed with providing the relative authorities with the actual proposals arising out of the Report. Then, and then only, can we have the time of which the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, spoke, and which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, quoted, to consider the position. Above all, may I make a special appeal to the Government? Let Dr. Beeching and the transport authorities pay better attention to the presentation of their matter to the public.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ EARL BALDWIN OF BEWDLEY
My Lords, I want first to apologise for not being able to be here at the debate tomorrow. I came up from the country, and I learnt only this morning that the 278 debate was going into a second day; and I have to get home to Worcestershire.
As a former member of the old Great Western Board, I hope it may not be out of place for me to utter a few reflections on what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, called, with a grim choice of epithet, a striking Report, if only to say that one, at least, of the former directors, who were widely supposed to be far gone into their second childhood, is still alive and more or less thinking for himself. There are not many of us left now. Everyone knew that this transport crisis was bound to come. And it is a real crisis; for the word "crisis" in its original form meant "a judgment", and Her Majesty's Government have to judge, and very soon, how much of this Report is to be acted upon, and how speedily. I do not necessarily speak in censure when I say that every year of delay has made that judgment harder. I wish it could have happened years ago.
For various reasons, the railways between the wars were not allowed to challenge effectively their less hampered competitors on the roads. They were treated as they were in the days before the motor car, as monopolists; and they were kept in fetters until long after the danger of abuse of their power had passed away. Given more freedom, they might have prospered here and withered there, naturally, cutting themselves slowly down to size and, at the same time, perhaps saving some cash for really original research, of which, in my view, there has not been any too much in the railways in this century. But they were not given the "Square Deal" they needed and they should not, therefore, be blamed for their failure on that score. Now the time has come for them to be shrunk drastically and unnaturally, and it is going to be a frightful operation, entailing a great deal of suffering for a great many people.
I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord for putting down this Motion, and I propose to offer one or two comments on the first part of it. What I like about the Report is that, although it is hopeful, as I suppose it had to be, yet it is not absurdly hopeful as commercial estimates are sometimes apt to be. 279 I like the words, for instance, on page 2—and I quote:The plan is not carried to the stage where it purports to answer the question, 'How much of the railway can ultimately be made to pay?'.And a little further down:Nevertheless, the firm proposals included in the plan are expected to lead to substantial improvements in the financial position.I should say that that is entirely reasonable. There, the Report seems to me to be aware, implicitly, that plans take a very long time to materialise and that, meanwhile, present conditions will have become past conditions almost before you can say "Dr. Beeching". That is partly why, I imagine, we are told that the task must he tackled swiftly or we shall find ourselves too late again.
My Lords, it is about freight rather than about passenger traffic that I want to talk. Thirty years ago I could have spoken as a manufacturer, and it is here that I am rather doubtful about the ability of the railways to give as much satisfaction as they expect to do. The railways live by carrying freight and this country lives by its manufactures. Before the war, when I used to work in a steelworks, I was horribly familiar with the problem of supplying customers with first-class steel sheets and tin plates, all at the shortest possible notice. I do not know if it was, and is, the case in other trades—I think it possibly is—but in our trade we could not easily find words to describe the outstanding quality of our products, and the customers were equally hard put to it to express the frantic hurry they were in for delivery.
It was quite normal to require delivery "urgently", "very urgently", "soonest possible", "immediately", or even earlier than that. Trade was hard to get and hold in those days and, accordingly, the goods had to be quite flawless and had to be dispatched like lightning. Some used to go by rail and some by road, and I well remember how our hearts sank when instructions came down to us from our own firm's headquarters, as a result of certain top-most reciprocal arrangements, that we were in future to send as many consignments as possible by rail. We could not help recalling how many times our tough and gleaming 280 sheets of steel had arrived late, and very late, sometimes bent and sometimes rusty after a spell of shunting and weathering in the steaming jungles of the railway system whereas, with the lorries, slow as they were in those days, the steel always got through undamaged and on the same day or very shortly after. A disappointed customer is apt to become a lost customer and the telephone can be a formidable destroyer of one's nerves.
So when the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, goes on to speak of…the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable",with which, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, agreed, I cannot help wondering who is to say which is the most suitable, and the most suitable to whom, and, when that is settled, how the manufacturers and traders of this country will bear being directed to utilise a form of transport which they do not think is in their trade's best interests, whether by earth, air or water. They will surely wish to choose for themselves, and I think the national economy will be better for that freedom of choice. That is the only rather meagre comment that I feel qualified to make on the latter and elemental half of the noble Lord's Motion.
Road freight traffic goes much faster now, and will go faster yet, as engines and motorways develop. I have lately followed a loaded 5-ton lorry on an ordinary main road at over 50 m.p.h., and twice in the past week I have paced a motor coach on the M.5 cruising at between 70 and 75 m.p.h.—and we have scarcely yet started on these motorways. So that on the question of mere speed, when the Report speaks of the attraction of siding-to-siding traffic, through trains movements, special stock and liner-trains travelling at a maximum of 75 m.p.h. and an average of 50 (this is on page 142), I can only say that forty years ago I should have applauded that, but now I should feel more confident of their success if they could have been equipped for a maximum speed of 175 m.p.h. and an average of 150. For it seems to me that, not only by getting below their rivals' costs, which I dare say they can do, but by getting well above their road speeds, too, can they 281 make up for the disadvantage of not always being able to give a singly-handled door-to-door delivery. Anyway, good luck to them in their gallant efforts. My great affection for the railways never lessens, but I cannot see the sense in denying their shortcomings, whether avoidable or not, merely out of purblind loyalty. I know that the state of road traffic is, in its own way, almost as desperate as the plight of the railways, but we are riot dealing with that problem to-day.
I notice that the Report says, on page 54:…realisation of many of the savings depends upon adoption of the plan as a whole.And it modestly and wisely adds:If the plan is implemented with vigour…much (though not necessarily all) of the Railways' deficit should be eliminated by 1970.So it looks as if the whole of the operation will have to be performed if any financial improvement is to be more than trifling.
I said at the beginning of my speech what was very obvious: that the carrying out of the recommendations would entail a great deal of suffering. Almost everyone will be affected to some extent; and it is also very obvious that those we should be thinking of with most sympathy are the railwaymen who are to be displaced. Whatever their numbers really are, there are bound to be many thousands of them, and no imagination is needed to picture that in terms of purely material hardship—and here I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, for his humane and knowledgeable speech.
The Report is properly mindful of the domestic side and proposes generous ameliorative steps. So far so good. Railwaymen in the lower grades have never come out very well in the matter of pensions. One or two have told me of shamefully small weekly sums on their retirement after a lifetime of faithful service. Perhaps I ought not to make comparisons, but I must say here that the old Great Western was not so remiss in this respect, and I happen to know from my experience on the Appointments and Pensions and Retiring Allowances Committees the personal care which was taken to understand and meet the various 282 human factors. I caught the spray of blossom wafted to us in his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and I thank him for mentioning the Great Western Railway.
I want to end, therefore, by telling, or reminding, Her Majesty's Government of one thing that many people do not realise. It is this—and it is a variation on the moving words of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. The railways hold, or used to hold, a very special sentimental appeal for some of those who work for them: almost a mystique—if that is the right word—more akin to that of a great service than of a business company. Many railwaymen, from the top to the bottom, have a feeling of pride in and love for their railway, such as you may find in men of the Royal Navy. Some of them have inherited a family tradition of many generations. When such men's jobs on the railway are finished sometimes their very hearts are finished too.
I have seen the look of loss in the eyes of retired railwaymen. I once knew an old railway servant a ticket collector he was. When he had to retire he pined so much for his lost work that after some time he could stand it no longer. The heart gone out of him, the mind went too, and he put a stop to his misery under the wheels of a passing train. So I earnestly hope that those who have the odious task of performing this appalling though necessary operation will be able, wherever possible and within the bounds of efficiency, to distinguish those who are true railwaymen to the core from those to whom a job on the railway was never more inspiring than any other job and I hope that those responsible will do their cutting out judicially and with that in mind. I think if they really understand and remember they are dealing with a subject of quite unusually deep human emotion, that they will.
§ 8.30 p.m.
THE EARL OF HARROWBY
My Lords, it seems to me that the case for co-ordination in transport is very strong indeed. It has been a lack for at least forty years. It applies both to freight and to passengers, in terms of transport we have to consider not merely the roads and the railways but also coastal traffic—which, to my mind, should be, so far 283 as can be directed, employed in fitting into the right place—and aircraft, pending the realisation of commercial rockets, which I do not doubt will be in the picture in the early part of the next century; and cars, coaches, buses and lorries and so on. The important thing is that this should not be effected by any form of dragooning.
The proper way to secure this—and it is perfectly feasible to do so—is by making the way which is deemed by authority as being the soundest from the point of view of the interest of the country, the most attractive financially, and convenient in all other ways both to user and consigner. It is perfectly possible for the State to do that by means of taxation, licences, and so on. They can even do it in the sphere of non-State industries. In actual fact, the State is concerned directly in a great many transport activities, but it can influence the remainder quite easily in other directions. The vital thing seems to me to be that, without any dragooning whatsoever (I know that some people would like dragooning, but I think it would be disastrous, because it would take away the clement of competition), the State should make up its mind about what sort of thing it wants to go in what sort of transport. Suppose the State decided that, by and large, coal should go by rail, bricks by canal, boilers by coastal service, and mail by air, it should so weight the advantages in favour of what was desired that the vast majority of people, not being dragooned and not losing the option to use any form of transport, would naturally be influenced in that direction. I think it is important that, beyond that, there should be no hindering of anyone from using any form of transport for any purpose they desire. I can quite see that in certain eventualities—war is the obvious one—there has to be direct hindering of a more practical kind, but I do not think we need consider that to-day.
The question of cost, to my mind, can largely be met by the pool, in so far as a pool can exist between private enterprise and the State. But pools can work within the State on their profits, and their profits would be enormously enlarged when perhaps 95 per cent. or 90 per cent. of the competition was eliminated in those things which the 284 State does not regard as within its sphere. It appears to me that from those profits could be financed any losses there might be, particularly in the intermediate period. It seems to me absolutely essential, in spite of what I know some people hold, that in the main, and as a pooled industry, transport must pay. It is all very well to say that these things are a service; but, after all, if we are going to regard everything as a service, who is going to pay for the whole country? These things must be made to pay. But there are many means, by the profits, of covering up the loopholes which for one reason or another cannot be covered otherwise.
I know that there is, or has been in the past, a school of thought which is so keen on settling what is the desirable transport for a certain type of goods that they would like to stand or fall by it in the last ditch, in a sort of diehard effort that everything of one particular kind should go by road, rail or air, as the case may be. But I believe that the only possible safeguard of the consumer and the user is that, irrespective of any of these considerations, he should be entitled to go by any means of transport he likes. And the same applies to his freights. That would stop the risk of any industry which has previously been given the "all-clear" becoming inefficient and, through being inefficient, anti-social. That means, of course, waiving theories. It rather reminds me of that old epitaph:Here lies the mother of children fiveThree are dead, and two are alive.Those that are dead preferring ratherTo die with mother than live with father.I think it is essential that that epitaph should not apply to the transport industry.
I, like many other Members of your Lordships' House, entirely approve of Dr. Beeching's Report in principle; and very largely, I think, in detail. The only point which strikes me as extraordinary is the suggestion of any diminution of suburban services. I think the whole country would be in complete chaos if there were any diminution of suburban services. Apart from that, I think the Report has for long been needed. In my view the public are not aware of the extent to which it operates in actual fact, because they have not been given the figures. I am rather 285 surprised that the Ministry do not seem to be able to produce figures as to the enormous number of closures between the wars. If we take the period between the wars and up to 1947 they changed the picture. In spite of that, I still feel that the railways have done wonderful service in their day.
There are many causes for their decline, some natural and scientific; and some should never have happened. But they have happened. Going back to the point as to administration, I should have thought that if a person were merely to look at the Bradshaw of 1913 and compare it with 1947, he would get practically the complete story of what stations have been closed in the interim. However that seems to present difficulty, which rather surprises me.
Of course, in saying that I support these closures, which I do—and I support electrification—I am not talking from my own personal knowledge; I am basing it on what is said by people, like Dr. Beeching, who know much more about it than I do, that in fact it is going to do the trick. My support is bound to be conditional on these things doing the trick: that we shall get more frequency in trains, vastly more comfort—travelling to-day is absolute purgatory—far greater speed and far greater reliability. I will come back to that in a moment. I mean, in other words, getting back to the sort of efficiency in the railways which existed at the turn of the century. Most people in your Lordships' House have no idea what that efficiency was. I have experienced it and seen it. I will come back to that also in a moment. But of course the one thing that is beyond the power of man to put right is to get back to the old costs, when one used to get from Stafford to London at 11s. 3d. but now one has to pay I do not know how much—pounds and pounds.
I feel that this scheme is the last hope for the railways. We do not want to say that their position is analogous to the cavalry in warfare—a wonderful past and a wonderful record of achievement for the benefit of the country, but that it has had its day. I believe it is possible that the contribution of the railways in the future may he eminently practical and may prove to be a wonderful thing for them and for the country. 286 The public is putting up with an enormous amount of inconvenience, whether they like it or not. This they meet every day. I met it to-day and I meet it every day that I go on the railways. One is prepared to accept all that provided one realises that it is a stage and that there is something lying beyond. It is in that faith that we do the tolerating.
But the railways have to realise that there is an enormous quantity of ill-will to be overcome. They have built up this ill will for themselves all over the country. Anyone who travels about must see it. One sees it among the railway staff as well. There is towards everything to do with the railways. I have seen it both on the railways which are being modernised and on those which are not in any near programme for modernisation. I do not think it is quite so bad now as it was seven to eight years ago when I used to travel more. Then often in nine cases out of ten, even on the express lines, a train would be perhaps half an hour to an hour late because the engine had broken down. It reminds me of that Irish song:Are ye right there, Michael; are ye right?Do ye think that ye'll be home before it's light?'Tis all dependin' whetherThe ould engine holds together—And it might, now Michael; so it might'.That has been the picture of English travel for many years, ever since before the war.
I mentioned a little earlier the contrast with the old days. Only some of your Lordships will remember those old days, and what I mean by the "old days" goes up to August 4, 1914. Then the expresses could be absolutely relied on. They practically never stopped, even at stations like Crewe, for more than three minutes. The engine would draw up, out came the guard and he had his watch in hand. He would wait for the three minutes to elapse. The whole thing was dynamic. Porters rushed up to the doors and the doors were banged. Everyone rushed in. We call this a dynamic age. It is simply a slow crawl. The whole approach and idea was dynamic up to 1913 and 1914. The number of people who remember the railways under those conditions is quite small. The whole of the passengers and 287 porters were geared to it; everyone was geared to it.
Now as one travels in modern times on the railways, particularly on lines which are still given over to steam trains—I speak now of a few years ago one can see the old train arriving at a station "hff, hff," panting," Thank God—I've—arrived! "That was the whole atmosphere of the place. Then the station went to sleep. The trains now stop for a quarter of an hour when they are billed anyhow for, say, twelve minutes but they stay put for minutes longer. The whole thing is the complete antithesis of anything which suggests dynamism. I hope that Dr. Beeching is going to put that right. I say that I support him. I do, absolutely and entirely. But it is conditional upon his getting rid of things of this sort, and other things as well. I am not going to dwell on the few things that were bad in the old days. There were a few, but they are just nothing to what has gone wrong since.
One thing which I have written in about a number of times is the question of information. There is the expression which we know from childhood days thatTo know all is to forgive all".It is not 100 per cent. true but it has a great deal of virtue in it. This is not only a question which has arisen in modern times; it has always existed. When things go wrong—and they are much worse now than they were then—if you want information from the railway company no one ever knows anything, and no one really cares, and nobody troubles to find out. It may be that there has been an accident, that there is fog, or that there has been a hold-up of some sort. If they were to give a reasoned and honest explanation for what has happened they might win the respect of people—even the affection of people. It will take a long time to gain that, but one day perhaps they will. People like being taken into confidence.
Now it is no good ringing up to inquire whether the 10.40 is going to be three-quarters of an hour late or an hour and a half late. No one knows, no one cares and they almost resent your trying to find out. It is not proper to rely on loudspeakers—anyhow very bad—since many people will not be there. The proper way is to put up a huge notice board giving the 288 information that a train due to arrive at 10.17 will arrive at 11.27, and that the reason is so-and-so. When you have done that you have eliminated about 80 per cent. of the opposition of the travelling public at the present time. It does not depend on economics or on Dr. Beeching's plan. It is just a question of "admin." If £10 or £100 were spent on this on one station, it would be well worth it.
It is vital for British Railways to woo the public. It is going to be a hard job. The last thing the public want to do is to marry the railways. But it can be done by an effort. It means having a notice board with a proper pro forma in regard to every single train. File porters and others concerned must be trained to know the reason. They must be told in advance when a train is going to be late so that the information can be passed on to the passengers. During the last war it was a disaster when the private soldier did not know what was going on. When he was put in the picture he was a much better soldier in consequence—one of the great gains over the First World War. It is high time that the railways learned this elementary lesson. As to luggage, often these big trolleys, or indeed any trolleys, are not there. No one has one and there have been cases when they have been there but the officials do not allow them to be used.
Then there is the important matter of the permanent way. In the old days when one travelled on the London & North Western railway (it was not so true of the others) you could get your glass of water or tea, fill it to the brim and nothing happened. If you go more than twelve miles an hour now you will not have more than a quarter of your cup full; the whole thing upsets. The permanent way is shocking. In the old days it was only shocking on the Great Eastern and on our old friend, the "London Smash 'em and Turn Over", and even that was not so bad as the Great Eastern.
Then there is the difficulty these days in regard to corridors. In the old days when someone got out of the carriage, you got in. Nowadays you have a long procession of people in corridors getting in and out, and it is no wonder the trains stop for such a long time in the stations. There is a very marked difference between that sort of thing and the comfort 289 of the old Wagon Lits toilette in the European railway system. They used to push the luggage in through the big windows at the side, which is seldom done in this country.
Then, on the matter of Pullmans, no one of course wants to go on a long journey in a tram. English people when travelling long distances like to be in a compartment, and I hope Dr. Beeching will see that these are still provided in the trains of to-day—and not only in Pullmans. As to the carriages it is not possible to put your legs underneath the seat, where the heating system occupies the whole of the room, and I think it could quite easily be put somewhere else. Furthermore, these days, the heating seems to take two or three hours to reach the front part of the train instead of being on from the start. The whole thing reeks of inefficiency.
In the old days, one distinguishing feature of the railways was that you never knew when the train had started or stopped. It was such a gentle movement you suddenly said, "By jove! we're moving". Nowadays there is a great banging and clacking, the sort of thing you get on the American Continent, as if to say, "We are moving and don't you forget it". The same thing applied very largely to the Continent. The great pride of the trains in this country was the way in which they gradually used to slither out of the station, and it would be a wonderful thing to see that again.
Perhaps a good deal of what I am saying has a sort of "Sez you" variety about it, but when one talks to some of the old railway officials who can remember the sort of things that went on in the old days, one finds that they take a pretty poor view of the present situation on the railways. And I have found this out not by asking them leading questions, because in that way you can often get the answers you want, but merely by speaking to them; the old guards, inspectors and porters who remember things earlier in the century say that things are very different from what they used to be. I always felt that when the national railways came in and the old South Western red tie went out we lost one of those hall-marks which count for something. This is not the occasion to talk of staff perhaps, but I am certain that if Dr. Beeching can get the railways into first-class condition it 290 will make a tremendous difference to the sort of staff they get and their morale—people much more of the type who did the job in the past to whom I have referred.
Another thing which has happened in recent years is the appearance of the middle-grade functionaries. In the old days of the companies when there was negotiation to be done over land or verges one man came down to see you and it was settled in about half an hour. Nowadays you get at least two or three men coming down to see you. It is the sort of principle we find in all walks of life, that marvellous institution of committees. No one takes a decision; everything has to be off-loaded. After the two or three men have seen you they have to go back to a committee at Paddington or Euston before a decision is arrived at. Everyone must have a cushion to fall back on. There is a famous story on these lines, which like most stories is libellous and untrue, about the naval officer commanding a ship somewhere in the far Pacific who telephoned the Admiralty and said, "I see an enemy destroyer 20 knots to the starboard beam", or whatever the jargon is. "What do I do?". And the Admiralty telephoned back, "Press button B, the fourth button down the right hand side." I am not suggesting that that is a true story, but like all jokes of this sort it expresses a point.
Finally, although perhaps the old stations were badly lit and out at heels, some of the new ones are terrors. I quite understand that we are a poverty stricken country and cannot afford to do things nicely, but let us say so. I have never been one for the theory of making a virtue of necessity. I believe we should say we cannot afford to do any more and must have the sort of glass buildings, prefab. type, which we see at the present time. We should not pretend that such a thing is virtuous in itself and has inherent advantages and is something to be aimed at. If you say a thing often enough, it is believed. We know this well enough from Party politics. I notice that in one of the newly-built stations the public convenience is not even under cover; you must go into the open to get to it. That is not the sort of thing I expect from a rejuvenated railway service under Dr. Beeching.
291 I say all this in the hope that Dr. Beeching will recognise these evils and put them right. If he does there is everything to say for his scheme. I am sure it is on the right lines and, what is more, I have nothing but admiration for Her Majesty's Government in tackling something they know is bad propaganda. They have had a lot of that in the last year or so. I think it is a remarkable tribute to the standard of the Government of the country that they are prepared at a vital time in their history to do something which is quite obviously unpopular with the public because they feel the thing is right. In the old days that form of duty and public service was called statesmanship.
§ 8.58 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I am afraid I do not feel myself capable of following the noble Earl, Lord Harrow by, in his very thorough and informative speech on the details of the railway system, but I must agree with him that the Beeching Report is something to be thoroughly welcomed. It is a very long time since this country has been presented with such a vast collection of valuable and detailed facie and maps, even though, of course, on some minor details one may have doubts. But having welcomed the Beeching Report, I wonder what action we shall be able to take on it. I think the action taken on it will be very much more difficult even than making out the Report itself.
To begin with, as a nation we never have treated our transport as an economic matter. I do not believe that most manufacturers truly study their proper economic interests when choosing their method of transport. I am certain that individuals with private cars do not do so, because on the figures—which it is quite easy to work out if one has a mind to do so—to run a private car in our days is just about the most uneconomic thing that a family can well do. So it is my belief that what action is taken on this Report will not be done from an economic standpoint; it will be very much more a matter of the choice of the people of this country as to their likes and dislikes. What is more, I think it would be distinctly unwise to make decisions on large areas 292 of the ground covered by this Report, as until we have some knowledge of the other forms and methods of transport in this country, equivalent to that presented by Dr. Beeching, it seems to me that any action would be distinctly premature.
As your Lordships know, the waterways are my particular subject, and you will not be surprised to hear that a similar situation to that which has arisen on the railways has also arisen on the waterways. Of the 1,600 miles of waterways at present controlled by the British Waterways Board, the cargo-carrying is done on slightly over 400 miles; and slightly less than 1,200 miles carries so small an amount of cargo as to be statistically negligible. What is more, that situation does not appear to be reversible, mainly because the changes in transport in this country are making the smaller cargo craft, the narrow boats on the narrow canal, progressively more uneconomic. And to attempt to broaden those waterways to take larger craft would be disastrous, owing to the fact that the reservoirs and stream systems feeding these waterways cannot possibly be sufficient to supply the extra water that would be needed. Therefore, my Lords, 1,200 miles of these waterways will cease to be cargo waterways in any serious sense. If they were part of a railway system they would be a natural target for closure. However, a waterways system is an entirely different matter, due to the fact that there are many other purposes being served by these 1,200 miles—purposes which are increasing very steeply.
At this hour I do not propose to go into the matter of fisheries and agricultural irrigation, and the possibility of using the canals as water leats to conduct water to the barest parts of the geology of this country, and so on. To begin with, it is too late in the evening; and secondly, it does not seem to me (and probably would not to your Lordships) to be a reasonable thing to start talking about on a transport debate. In fact there seems good reason to consider that these 1,200 miles are ceasing to be a matter of transport at all. There is considerable logic in the position which was taken up in one of the recent Reports on the waterways; that these waterways which cease to carry cargo should perhaps be 293 separated off from the cargo-carrying waterways under a different organisation—that is, of course, if it is intended to keep them at all, and not simply to go for closures. But I think that that should be a subject for debate at some other time.
The cargo waterways, in the meantime, are not losing cargo the way these 1,200 miles have been. In fact they have been doing better, partly due to large sums of capital that are being spent on them; and there seems to be excellent reason for continuing that programme to an even greater extent. The major waterways of this country, the river-fed waterways which can carry heavy traffic, are not in isolation, because the intervening sea between us and the Continent is not all that wide—indeed, it might almost be called an inland waterway itself. It is perfectly possible for vessels of a quite considerable size to cross from the interior of the Continent over considerable mileages of inland waterways, to cross the narrow seas between, and then come right inland in our country.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, laid particular emphasis on door-to-door conveyance. There, of course, he is entirely right; but one point, remember, is that we are an island, and if the first door that you leave is somewhere on the Continent of Europe, then unless there is a bridge or a tunnel somewhere you must do something about travelling by ship, and if that ship is a small vessel which can come from a European inland factory and carry a considerable weight of cargo to an inland port in the centre of England, that is an enormous advantage.
The best thing we can do with these cargo waterways is to push the inland port as far up the major rivers as we can get them; and where the river becomes too narrow or supplied with too little water to enable there to be locks big enough to take the Continental inland barge through, we must unload over-side in to fair-sized barges which are considerably larger than the inland narrow boats and take the cargo a little further. But, after that, it is quite obvious the cargo must be loaded ashore on to shore transport, either train or road; and that means that we are going to have very large cargo ports and depots, first of all of a size for sea- 294 going ships and then for major barges, up our major rivers; and these depôts will have to be connected with the main industrial centres by large road systems or by rail systems. If that is to be the plan—and it seems likely that it is—these road and rail systems would have to be planned to integrate with the existing roads and railways, because even one cargo boat can take a tonnage of cargo which, if unloaded at a point on the road, can cause a perfectly enormous amount of traffic jams.
Let us discover what is to be done about these waterway systems before we start planning the roads and railways in their areas. There is likely to be, I believe—I may be wrong about this; perhaps the noble Lord can tell me—a White Paper some time this autumn put out by the new British Waterways Board when they have completed the examination of their position which I believe they are now making. After that, perhaps we shall know more what can be done: but until then, so far as the waterways side goes, it seems unwise to deal with the transport which must connect with them.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, first, in his absence, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and to my noble friend Lord Chesham, for the fact that I was not in my place when this debate opened. I was, in fact, attending a meeting of the Parliamentary Home Safety Committee, which will doubtless give some consolation to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who himself held for some years the office of Home Secretary with distinction.
It is inevitable in a debate of this kind that one is to some extent parochial. It is also inevitable that one is to some extent repetitive; but I shall try certainly to avoid the latter. May I first say a few words about Scotland? Several noble Lords from north of the Tweed have contributed very knowledgeably and very valuably to this debate. There is a great deal of concern, particularly north of Inverness—and anybody who has been to that part of the world must be a little concerned—when there is talk about running coaches, because long stretches of these roads are, for much of the year, virtually impassable owing to weather 295 conditions, and when they are passable two-way traffic in itself becomes a problem. Also the construction of new roads would present great engineering difficulties because of hills and such like.
It has been argued, and the Report argues, that the amount of traffic passing through these places is relatively small. I would not dispute that; but there is industry growing up in these parts of the country and there is also a very large tourist trade in Dingwall and Strathpeffer especially. There are a number of people going up for the winter sports to Carr-bridge, Aviemore and Grantown-on-Spey, and here during the winter season British Railways are running trains at special mid-week fares. Whether they are profitable, I do not know. But it is certainly a very popular service. In order to take part in these sports one has to take with one's luggage a good deal of heavy equipment. While it is true that on some roads one can run coaches with trailers or large luggage racks, they would be very dangerous in this part of the country.
I should like [to congratulate Dr. Beeching on this Report from a general point of view. It has been well written; it has been thought out with great care; it is not a piecemeal Report; it is one which has been written with a great deal of considered thought. What is far more worrying is the implementation of certain parts. I watched Dr. Beeching in his television interview just after the Report was published. He was courteous and factual. He impressed many of those who are probably not in sympathy with his views or his proposals. This Report is not a foregone conclusion; it is in the form of an estimate. The onus is on the Government to confirm it or, in some cases, to make concessions.
To revert to Scotland for a moment, one of the most comfortable ways of travelling there now is by the car sleeper service. I have used it several times. I have suggested in this House more than once that from London this should be extended to Inverness, and this is more important now than ever before. I would go further and suggest that it is extended a few miles further north to Dingwall, in certain cases, because quite a lot of people visit Sutherland, Caithness and Ross-shire in the summer. I know that 296 the Report recommends that 130 miles between Inverness and Wick should be closed; but it is to this line above almost anything else that a great deal of thought must be given by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that it will be he and his Department who have the final decision on that, and' not the Minister of Transport, because there are many special difficulties here. I dare say that some stations on the route could be closed; many already have been. There are also some which could be used in the form of halts—that is, stations not fully manned, and perhaps a guard could collect fares, particularly in the winter. Those who know this part of the country know that in many winters the road between Inverness and Wick is virtually impassable, especially for heavy traffic.
May I turn to another county which is rarely mentioned in transport—Lincolnshire? The line from Peterborough to Grimsby, 93 miles of it, is to be closed. This includes Skegness, which is a thriving seaside town, in which recently a certain amount of industry has been set up and which has a large holiday camp. Many people travel there by rail. The road from London is in some parts far from good. The A.15 beyond Peterborough has many narrow stretches and if coaches with trailers are run, I can foresee a number of traffic jams. I hope that when the time for consultation comes special consideration will be given to Lincolnshire.
On the question of consultation, the Report in parts is somewhat nebulous. Who is going to initiate the consultation? Can there be direct consultation with the Minister? I would suggest that when the time comes for consultation, the British Railways Board should be represented, because an area like Lincolnshire is not like the area around London. There are many villages, and such towns as Boston and Spalding, all of which will be practically cut off by rail. Boston is a thriving market town with a good deal of industry, such as canning. Spalding is the home of bulbs and flowers, and I understand that much of this traffic is carried by rail. One further vital point arises. Even assuming that the closure of this line for the carrying of passengers in confirmed, what will the facilities be for freight? If the freight lines are 297 closed, it will mean that the A.1 and the nearby trunk roads will be further filled with heavy lorries; and there are enough of these on these roads as it is.
I am not necessarily criticising the decision to close some of the stations in the county of Lincolnshire. Compared with many counties, it is not so frequently visited. But attempts are now being made to attract industry and also tourists to this part of the world; and while the roads are flat and there are not many hills, nevertheless, weather conditions there can be very bad. Only two years ago I motored from Boston to London, and between Boston and Spalding we rain into thick fog, which lasted as far as Huntingdon. Admittedly, this was at Christmas time; but even at Christmas time people visit their families in these parts, and many of them travel by road. Many also travel by rail, and several times I have used the diesel service between Peterborough and Thursby, which is the junction to which I go, and this is rarely less than full even during mid-week. So I would particularly ask for consideration to be given to this line.
I turn for a moment to the suburban services. Certainly in Surrey, to a large extent, we are being spared; and I think few would quarrel with the closure of such lines as the Redhill to Guildford. I was talking to one of our local porters only last night. He lives in a village on that line, and the receipts per week average something like £12. There is every justification for the closure of a line like that. But many of us earn our living in London and travel on season tickets between Surrey land other counties and the London termini. There are hints in the Report that season ticket fares are likely to be increased fairly substantially. It has, I know, been argued that we pay very little for our rail service; and that may be so. On the one hand we are told that there are too many cars with only one passenger coming to town—and this is quite right—but, on the other, fares keep going up. I suggest to the Government that on this matter they cannot have it both ways. I suggest that from What is saved by the implications of this Report, consideration should be given to reducing the cost of season tickets, because I think that would have favourable results.
298 Finally, I should like to say a word or two about staff. We listened to a moving speech by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. While I think the younger staff on the railways should have no real trouble in finding alternative jobs, those in their forties and fifties are not so happily placed. I know that the Government have given assurances that compensation will be generous, and I accept that. Nevertheless, there is concern in many quarters. While many stations are to be closed, I hope that in some places the building of new stations will be speeded up. I think particularly of Stevenage, where there is a New Town of 65,000 people, which may well increase. There is one very small, dingy station, which is quite a long way from the New Town. There is, I believe, a plan to build a new station in the New Town of Stevenage, and I should like to ask the Government how these plans are progressing, because the need for this station is becoming urgent.
I think we should pay a tribute to the railway services in this country, because while there are examples of dirty trains and one sometimes gets idle staff, there are still many railwaymen who take a very great pride in their job. This Plan will bring with it faster trains and, we hope, more happiness and better conditions to the staff on our railways. I hope that the Plan is brought forward speedily; but in saying that, I hope also that the consultation with those areas which will be especially hard hit by these frequently necessary closures will be carried out fairly.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, the Motion before the House draws attention both to the reshaping of British Railways as proposed in the Beeching Report, and the policy for the future. I feel that Dr. Beeching makes out conclusively a case for the closing of approximately one-third of the British Railway system. He proved by figures that it serves only 1 per cent. of the passengers and I per cent. of the freight. While talking of future developments and cases where it will be possible for British Railways to regain some of the traffic which they have lost, he indicates that it is not likely to be in the case of that one-third of the system.
Railways are not a social service. If there is an obligation to ensure that there 299 is transport in the rural areas, it is not in the least necessary that it should be by means of the railways. They are to be run only if they pay their way. That was made perfectly plain in the nationalisation Act, passed by the Socialist Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who has introduced this Motion, was perhaps stronger than anyone else in emphasising that the railways should pay their way, with the mystical words "taking one year with another".
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? Surely what was said in the Act of 1947 was not that the railways should pay, taking one year with the other, but that the whole Transport Commission should pay.
§ LORD MOLSON
That is, of course, quite true, and if the noble Earl will look up what the profits were which were being made by British Road Services he will find that the profits they made at that time before they were denationalised would not go any distance at all towards paying the losses upon the whole system as it is at the present time.
What is much more important than recrimination about the past is considering the future and what is to be the general underlying policy. We are told by the Opposition that there should be integration. So far as the Conservative Party is concerned, it agrees that there should be co-ordination. Exactly what the difference between the two is is obviously a matter for discussion and debate, but what I should like to emphasise, as I have done on previous occasions, is that there was never a time when Conservative Governments left competition between road and rail as a free-for-all.
It was the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, when he was Minister of Transport, who passed the measure in 1930 under which there was to be licensing of passenger transport. I regarded that as a very good measure. I had something to do in administering it for a time, and successive Conservative Ministers of Transport have never interfered with it. It was the late Mr. Oliver Stanley, a Conservative Minister of Transport, who introduced the licensing of road haulage. I think that his Act of 1933 was based upon the Report of the 300 Road and Rail Conference presided over by my noble friend Lord Salter.
Mr. Marples announced on Monday that there is to be a further inquiry into that system of road haulage licensing. I am never afraid of an inquiry; I welcome inquiries if they are designed to elicit the truth. As time passes, so methods of dealing with these things must change also. I am bound to say that I do not see anything at all unsatisfactory in the way in which the Act of 1933, passed by a Conservative Minister to prevent cut-throat competition between road and rail, was operating. I hope and believe that the present Government largely accept the principle laid down by the present Prime Minister in a book he wrote as a Back Bencher, The Middle Way. It is that of having as much free competition as possible within a general scheme which is controlled by the Government for ensuring that the competition is not harmful and extravagant.
There is no doubt that the present Minister's views have somewhat changed since he has been Minister of Transport. When he first came in I thought he was rather opposed to any kind of co-ordination. On Monday he said that the Conservative Government was committed to the principle of co-ordination, and he went much further than that. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 676. (No. 102), col. 741]: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.Then, in another passage, he said [col. 738]:The Government are determined that transport policy must be related to national planning, growth and the movement of industry and population.That goes a very long way towards accepting the general principle of a national plan in which the location of industry, offices, housing and so on, is to be co-ordinated with transport. I naturally welcome that, and this gives me an opportunity of explaining, and indeed apologising, for my absence from the debate earlier. I had a long-standing engagement to address the Town and Country Planning, Association, and when I prepared what I was going to say to 301 them I discussed the importance of co-ordinating transport with a general conception of planning and I was much fortified in what I said to-day by being able to quote from the speech of the Minister of Transport the day before yesterday.
The first and most obvious application of this is in the case of London and the commuter problem. The appalling traffic congestion from which we all suffer is due to the fact that 7 per cent. only of the commuters who come into London to work every day travel by motor car. A week or two ago the Minister of Transport, speaking in Manchester, said it was impossible to continue to endure the system of one man, one car, coming in to work. If this is the state of affairs with 7 per cent. of the commuters coming by car, what would be the state of affairs if it were 21 per cent.?—and with a rising standard of living there is nothing unreasonable or exaggerated in looking forward to that time. And at the same time the number of bus passengers in London is declining.
I hope and believe that what the Minister of Transport said is due to what has been issued in the White Paper on London Housing, Employment and Land by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I am sure that in the future the majority of commuters into a great conurbation like London must use public transport, and I am very glad indeed that the Minister announced the setting up of a co-ordinating committee of the Railways Board and London Transport. There will obviously be a need to plan on a great scale the staggering of hours of work and of recreation. We tried to do that some years ago. We had the co-operation of a member of the Party opposite, Alderman Fitzgerald, who had acted in the same way when Mr. Barnes was Minister of Transport. With great public spirit, he devoted his time and energy to helping us to deal with this appalling problem of the peak of commuter traffic in the morning and in the evening. But it will have to be dealt with on a far larger scale. It cannot be dealt with by the Minister of Transport alone. It is a matter which involves every branch of the national life.
From the daily peak traffic in and out of London I pass to what is dealt with by the Beeching Report, the peak of 302 summer and public holiday traffic. The figures given at page 15 of the Report are really quite shocking: that 2,000 coaches which are kept and provided by British Railways are used on only 10 occasions in the year, 2,000 on 14 occasions, 2,000 on 18 occasions; the cost of those is £3.4 million a year and what they earn is only £.5 million. Again we have to recognise the problems of the present age. The introduction of paid holidays has resulted in an immense increase in the holiday traffic, and it is quite intolerable that the public transport system should be required to provide the vehicles for people who go on holiday once a year.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he feels the public service should not provide that facility for towns like Skegness, which has been mentioned? Does he suggest we should congest these pleasant resorts with masses of motor cars and heavy diesel lorries and buses?
§ LORD MOLSON
No, quite obviously not. I have already indicated that the motor-car nuisance would make London completely uninhabitable, and it would have exactly the same effect there. Surely the solution is on the lines of staggering of holidays. Why does everybody go on holiday in August? It is one of the most unattractive and unpleasant months of the year. Surely, as paid holidays increase it should be possible for there to be some planning in spreading holidays over the year. I should have thought that there was no doubt at all that it would be possible to spread the holiday period over the summer time. I believe it is true to say that the notion of holidays being in August and September, like the Recess of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is not due to the weather at that time but to the fact that in mediaeval times the harvest was gathered in at that time.
§ LORD STONHAM
So far as people travelling by train to seaside holidays in August is concerned, that is largely because they are families with children having their holidays in August, and really they have no choice. The noble Lord must have regard to that fact.
§ LORD MOLSON
I know there are difficulties about these matters; but one of the things I would suggest is that the school holidays also should, to some extent, be staggered. I see not the slightest reason why all the schools should have their holiday at the same time, and at a time of the year when, really, weather conditions are much less agreeable than they are somewhat earlier in the summer. I am trying, and I think we all ought to try, to approach these matters in a constructive way. Quite obviously, one of the greatest problems of transport is the habit of people to go on taking their holidays from a Friday afternoon or at a certain time of the year, and everybody doing it at the same time. This is not only a matter of transport. Quite obviously, it causes great congestion in the holiday places to which these people go.
I turn now to the question of the country districts which are dealt with. There is, I think, a valuable and interesting sentence at page 15 of the Report—namelyRail stopping services and bus services serve the same basic purpose. Buses carry the greater part of the passengers moving by public transport in rural areas, and, as well as competing with each other, both forms of public transport are fighting a losing battle against private transport.All this must be considered and planned carefully. But I am quite sure that in his Report Dr. Beeching has hit upon an extremely important and valid point. Generally speaking, buses are more convenient, more flexible, and cheaper, and they go a long way further towards meeting the actual convenience of travellers in the country districts than do the railways.
Of course, in this connection we have to take fully into account the Report of the Jack Committee, although I think that we ought to bear in mind also that the members of that Committee were, to a considerable extent, chosen because they represented special country interests. I think that ought to be taken account of before we attach too much importance to the conclusions at which they arrived. There was also a Report of a committee dealing with Wales. They all point out that the decline in the bus services in country districts is due to private transport: and the Jack Committee recommend 304 that part of the cost, should it prove necessary, of subsidising bus services should rest upon the county councils, it is one of the advantages of the Transport Act. 1962, which we debated so fully in this House, that the Ministry of Transport has power, if it is shown to be necessary, to give assistance in the provision of bus services, especially in cases where rail services in rural districts are closed down.
The next point concerns the long-distance passenger trains. I am quite sure that the Beeching Report is right in saying that there is a great future for them; but it is essential that they should be comfortable, warm, clean and fast. They have the great advantage that they arrive in the centre of towns, having departed from the centre of another town. I think that will give them a great advantage over air services. But if the railways are expected to confine their services to those which they can provide economically and efficiently, it would not be right for British European Airways to run competing air services if, in fact, it is done at a loss. It would be completely unfair that, while making large profits out of their overseas services, they should be enabled to run an uneconomic service in competition with British Railways. All those are considerations which appear to me to arise logically out of the principles of the Beeching Report.
I am sure that the traffic of goods in bulk holds out great prospects for the future. I am sure that palletisation and express services to ports will continue to be services which the railways can provide in very effective competition with anything else. There was the Green Arrow service which was started some time ago by the noble Lord and which has been extremely effective in enabling exporters to arrange for their goods to arrive reliably in time for the departure of a ship. There is immense scope for this, but I hope—though without any confidence—that the Conservative Government may have the courage to deal with the problem of "C" licences.
When noble Lords opposite talk about the integration of transport, they conveniently omit to refer to the fact that originally in 1947 they had intended to bring "C" licences under control, and finally decided not to do so. I am not 305 sure that the Co-operative Movement had not a good deal to do with that change of mind on their part.
§ LORD MOLSON
The noble Lord is very frank in these matters. I believe that there must always be a free issue of "C" licences for vans serving in a local area, retailers and people of that kind, but I do not think the same applies to long-distance lorries. The figures on this subject given by the Minister of Transport in the other place are very revealing. At a time when there was an increase of 100,000 in the number of "C" licences (I think in the last ten years) the number of lorries was 70,000, and those that I regard as more naturally giving scope for "C" licences would be only 30,000 as compared with 70,000.
A number of your Lordships have said that this is not a purely technical problem; and it certainly is not. I believe that we all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that we should wish those who become redundant to be given a fair, and indeed, generous, treatment at this time. We are also anxious that what Dr. Beeching refers to should be done: that there should be scope for a reliable labour force, with good prospects and good security before them for the future. Because the future prospects of the Railways depends on having men of high quality who are content with the service in which they work. I want to see good wages paid to good men, but I do not think that any useful purpose, would be served by blinding oneself to the fact that in the last few years, when wages have been low and conditions have not been too good (and it was from the opposite Benches that we heard that the morale was low) on the human side things have not been entirely satisfactory.
The older men joined the railways at a time when there was a great deal of unemployment, and they sought security not so much for themselves as for their families. At a later time, after the war, when there was not the danger of unemployment, the people who joined at a time of low wages did not seem to have the same pride in the service as the older men; and I am quite sure that there has been a certain lack of discipline in the last few years. When one 306 travels from the Continent one finds efficient porters in Italy, and not such good ones in France; but it is when one comes to England that sometimes one finds, if one arrives late at night, that there are no porters at all. It is an extraordinary thing that there never seem to be barrows available. I know that there has been very irregular attendance by a great many of the people who are responsible for work on the railways. There have been many cases of inquiry as to accidents, which have shown that things have not been entirely satisfactory.
I believe that, with reorganisation of the railways, it will not only be possible greatly to improve them from the technical point of view, but possible also to got back to the state of affairs when there was a well-paid, loyal and enthusiastic body of men working for a service in which they took interest and took pride. When that is done, I believe that the reshaped railways of this country will be able to have a very distinguished, profitable and advantageous future before them.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, the staff question which the noble Lord, Lard Molson, has just dealt with, and which was also most seriously dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, is, of course, one of the most important problems. As to morale, one cannot expect the members of a service, those in the lower ranks in the lower paid jobs, to take a pride in their service if they see that the country as a whole does not do so, and if the service to which they belong is used as a political football and a political instrument, as so often in these years It has been.
When redundancy is in the offing, one cannot blame them for regarding it as the most serious threat to the future of themselves and their families that there could possibly be. We know that in the Services for the comparatively well-paid members of the Armed Forces who volunteer, it is a hardship for them when they are subject to continual upheaval and changes of station. In fact, we are told that that is one of the main reasons why men do not join, in spite of the pay. For the railwayman, who is forced not only to lose his job but to lose his 307 home, and compelled to move to another place, it is a vast upheaval. He has to change his friends, his children have to change their school, they have to change their doctors, all their associates, their religious bodies and everything. When that is fully realised one cannot expect them to be content with even the proposals that the Beeching Report makes. I think that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, that there should be set up a body similar to that set up for ex-Servicemen, is one that ought to be very seriously considered by the Government.
My Lords, this Report has had great praises lavished upon it. Undoubtedly—I say this with great respect—it is a very able document. Reading through the definition of the kind of traffics that were good for railways and good for roads, it struck a chord of memory in my mind, and I looked back to one of the British Transport Commission Reports, where I saw that exactly that study was made and that definition given: that the most suitable traffics for rail were bulk goods, to be carried in train loads, long-haul, siding to siding, and so on. That Report, your Lordships may be surprised to know, was dated 1950. That was the work of the Transport Commission in their 1950 Report, and that shaped their policy for all those years.
I think we should remember that nearly all the recommendations contained in the Beeching Report have been the policy of the British Transport Commission for all these years. They worked on getting modern rolling stock, overcoming the arrears of generations, almost, of under-investment in the industry; they cut out branch lines; they closed stations; they shut down passenger traffic by degrees; they introduced standardisation among all the different railway lines; they started, and I think they went a considerable way with, reducing the numbers of marshalling yards and goods depots; and they proceeded with the rebuilding of stations, the redesigning and ordering of rolling stock, motive power and all the rest.
But, my Lords, think of what prevented their achieving what Dr. Beeching hopes. First, they were prevented from raising fares to such an extent that they "ran 308 into the red" initially; their capital investment was continually being checked; steel supplies were unobtainable; again, capital investment was stopped; and then, when their Modernisation Plan came in, which I think your Lordships will find was even closer to the Beeching proposals than the 1950 one, that, again, was subject to continual Governmental hindrances. So there was nothing inherently wrong with the management of the system, but in the way in which it was interfered with by the Government.
Do not let us forget, also, that the problem of the private motor car is not a British problem alone. It has hit every developed European and trans-Atlantic country, and has hit them in very much the same way. The "C" licences have multiplied enormously to the detriment of the national railway systems. So that is common to all highly-developed and highly-industrialised countries. It is curious, by the way, that the name of Dr. Beeching does not occur anywhere in the Report. He does not sign it; in fact nobody signs it. Apart from the fact that the British Railways Board appears on the front cover, nobody is told under what authority it goes out.
I notice that the author of this paper warns the public that the figures and calculations are to be taken with reserve. That, too, is nothing new, because experts in transport economics have for a long time recognised that it is virtually impossible to cut off sections of a transport system and cost independently each of those sections. The problem of traffic originating in hundreds of different places with hundreds of different destinations and densities of flow makes it almost impossible. We are justified in taking those figures as merely estimates of the profit and loss, and of course they are based on a single week in a single year, on a census taken, I think, in April, 1961. The savings to be expected from the closures are also, I think, to be looked on with a certain reserve because the British Transport Commission, for the whole of the thirteen years up to 1961 that they were closing down certain redundant stations and lines, made a saving of less than 1 per cent. of their annual working costs.
Again, the figures of savings forecast by this Report depend upon the scheme, once launched, working more or less to 309 a timetable and going through as a continuous operation. But how many of the closures are going to be contested? There will be hundreds and hundreds of protests against closures; and all these, we are assured by the Minister, will be considered by him after due representations have been received from all interested parties. How long is that going to take? We heard at Question Time to-day that he has taken nearly a year to consider one case—that of the Porthcawl passenger service. If that is any measure of the care, admittedly very admirable and praiseworthy care, that he has taken to consider this case, and if that is going to be a measure of the time to be taken with each case, then I cannot see that the timetable proposed is going to be adhered to.
There is another figure which I think requires a second look. We are told that the closures of all the branch lines and stations will result in the diversion to the roads of 1 per cent. of the passenger traffic of the country.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, what I said was that the overall traffic would go up 1 per cent. in the country.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
Yes, my Lords; but that overall 1 per cent. will not be spread over the whole country. It will be concentrated in a number of areas, where it can hardly fail to add to the congestion and to all the evil effects of excessive motor traffic, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson referred, and which are important factors in town and country planning.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, asked whether we are proposing to regiment or dragoon all consumers into using a particular type of transport, whether they like it or not. What the Beeching Report is proposing is, in fact, denying the consumers the choice of methods of transport. The noble Lord may say that it is denying only a small number of consumers freedom of choice. That may be so. But surely the way we can guide traffic on to the transport which is most suitable for it to take is by offering advantageous terms, to meet the true economic cost of each method of transport. At the moment, my friends and I are not satisfied that that is the case.
310 The whole of this case rests on the comparability of road and rail fares as offered to the consumers. I very much doubt whether road traffic is bearing its fair share of the costs attributable to road traffic. Often spokesmen of the Ministry of Transport have told us that cases of abnormal indivisible loads are carefully scrutinised, and that permission for exceptional loads to be taken on the road is given only in rare cases. But the owners of the loads use the roads because they find it cheaper. I wonder whether, before giving his approval, the Minister really considers what charges ought to be paid by the owners of the loads. How many hours of policemen's time and local authorities' time is taken up in planning journeys of this sort? And often actual engineering operations have to be undertaken to move them along selected routes. So, as I say, I doubt if that type of traffic pays its proper share.
I think that any type of road transport should be expected to bear part of the cost of what on the railways is an exclusively railway cost. The cost of signalling, of control, of the maintenance of the road and the full cost of road casualties, if spread over the whole motoring public, would not be very much; but the amount involved would pay for a considerable part of the costs of the Health Service. I hope that one of the noble Lords who will be replying tomorrow will tell us to what extent costs of this kind are calculated. They have the Road Research Laboratory, and they calculate often enough the saving of time by motor cars that go by the M.1 or somewhere else. Do they similarly calculate the loss of time through accidents and bad weather; police costs and local authority costs in traffic lights, and all that kind of thing—costs which are incurred solely for the benefit of the road user? We should like to know how much of this should be borne by the road users.
I have been speaking long enough at this time of night, and I will finish by saying this. I think that we should agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that public transport is not a social service, as normally understood. On the other hand, it is definitely a public service. If we do not admit that it is a public service, then we are saying that nobody who for one reason or another is not able to provide himself with his own transport can ever 311 move about the country if he happens to live in one of the unfavourable rural areas or remote and distant areas. That is what will happen if profitability, judged by normal accountancy methods, is the criterion for the maintenance of public services.
I know that Ministers have said that arrangements have been made with the bus companies and adequate bus services will be supplied when the railway services are removed. But what if the bus services do not pay? There will always be a minority of people. If there are not 5,000 passengers the railways will not pay; if there are not 2,000 passengers a week, maybe the bus services will not pay. What about all those 2,000 people for whom there is no means of transport except cadging a lift, hiring a car or walk- 312 ing? We are back to Dick Whittington days if that is really the principle on which the Government are going to plan our transport services. Public transport is part of the furniture of civilisation. We have had it for 150 years, and we ought not to give it up now.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until to-morrow.
§ Moved, that the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Dundee.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past ten o'clock.