§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Morrison of Lambeth, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the Beeching Report, The Reshaping of British Railways, and to the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I begin what I have to say, and I hope what I have to say will be short, with an apology to the House. The development of this debate into a two-day debate took place at a rather late stage of our plans, and the unfortunate consequence of this was that I was not able to be present throughout yesterday's proceedings since I was not able fairly to disembarrass myself of my public duties; and to-day at a later stage I have, at any rate for a short time, to attend Her Majesty in Council. I hope, therefore, that the House will not consider it a discourtesy if I am not present entirely throughout to-day's debate. But the debate will be answered in detail by my noble friend Lord Dundee, and I thought I could usefully at this stage of the debate try to see some of the wood amid the forest of trees in which this subject is beginning to be entangled.
I should like to pay, if I may, a tribute to my right honourable friend the Minister, who, I think, has been the target for somewhat ungenerous attacks in the last few days—I make no accusations against noble Lords opposite. In this era of our history I think there is no quality of which public life is more in need than technical awareness, the awareness of the importance of technical considerations upon the 315 development of public policy and national affairs. I would say, quite sincerely, that of all the Ministers I can remember on either side of the House there is no right honourable gentleman who has this quality of technical awareness in fuller measure than my right honourable friend. Moreover, he has devoted himeself with a zeal, enthusiasm and dedication to his task which I think can hardly fail to have commanded the sympathy of all sections of the community.
His determination to reduce the casualties on the roads, the very forethought with which the Report which we are discussing to-day was planned, derive a great deal from his enthusiasm for his duties; and I myself regard him as one of the most valuable of the figures in our public life. Of course, nowadays anybody who shows the smallest sign of originality is always accused of seeking publicity, and anybody who shows sincerity and enthusiasm for his duties is apt to be pilloried by what is now called satire. But, personally, I would range myself beside my right honourable friend in all these respects and I think that this is an occasion to pay him a tribute.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Chesham said yesterday, I think we could accept to the full the phrase in the Motion:… the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable.I do not think I could improve upon that language at all if I were to try. Therefore, this is not, from our point of view, a contentious Motion. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Gosford in his speech yesterday related the subject of this debate to our national economy, since the Report and the kind of issue which the Report raises is, I think, an essential part of our plan for the modernisation of Britain and for the efficiency of that economy. Nor do I think we can afford to delay consideration of the proposals which it contains.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Baldwin of Bewdley in his speech yesterday was right in saying we were now reaping the consequences of the failure to give what he called a "Square Deal" in the 'thirties to the private railway companies. It may very well be he 316 was right. What is quite certain is that whether you consider the national economy, whether you consider the future of transport, or whether you consider the future of those employed, a failure in time to deal with fundamental issues as they arise is always visited in the end with a more drastic and terrible awakening as a result of weakness or timidity in handling it. Whether or not my noble friend Lord Baldwin of Bewdley was right, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that this was wanted ten years ago. I sympathise with that criticism, and if noble Lords opposite had shown a more immediate awareness of what I regard as the realities of the situation to-day, I should have sympathised with it with some sense of accepting a criticism.
But the truth is, I suppose, that ten years ago nobody, least of all the Transport Commission or the Government or the Opposition or the unions, really understood how deep-seated the causes of weakness in the railway system really were. Most of us—at any rate most of us who, like myself, have no direct experience of administering a railway system—thought that the situation could be dealt with by investment of the kind broadly called modernisation: the purchase of new locomotives, of rolling stock, the introduction of new signalling systems, new marshalling yards, the building of new hotels, the general furbishing up of something which we have rightly been proud of in the past and which we have received from our forefathers. The truth is—and this is a truth which I think must be accepted—that what is wrong is more deep-seated than that. The truth is that a system which was built in the main about 1855 or before, and designed for purposes then, needs redesigning. The design of 1855, in the civilisation of the horse, is not the de-sign we need to-day; the stations about 2½ miles apart (I think it says in the Report); a third of the railway system accounting for only 1 per cent. of traffic. It is not to exhibit a bias against railways or in any way to criticise the management or workers on the railways to say that these things must be looked at from a more radical point of view than simply that of modernisation.
And although I absolutely agree with the terms of the Motion, nothing will alter the ultimate realities of the case 317 as revealed by the Report: namely, that one-third of the system is not really being used adequately at all. I speak with studied moderation. With the roads in a far from perfect state, the people, whether they be consignors of freight or potential passengers, are voluntarily deserting the railways in droves and taking to the roads, with buses and private cars and lorries and trucks and every other form of internal combustion engine. The reason they are doing so is not, as has been alleged, that we in the Government have any bias against the railways, either because they are railways or because they are publicly owned; the reason they are in fact doing so is because of such factors as It think two or three noble Lords referred to: the flexibility of road transport, the absence of double handling and the facilities of door-to-door delivery. These are the kinds of things that have to be looked at now.
But it has been said, wrongly, as I assure the House, that the terms of reference of Dr. Beeching presuppose an act of surgery—I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said he was given an axe; at any rate the phrase was certainly used. I do not agree with that at all. The terms of reference of Dr. Beeching arose out of the Stedeford Committee to which the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, referred in a speech which I was very interested and hippy to read yester day. The principles upon which Dr. Beeching proceeded are set out on page 4 of the Report. They are not misguided principles in economy at all. They are, in fact, the principles of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. They were:
Those are the principles upon which Dr. Beeching proceeded and upon which it was always understood and asked that he should proceed.
- "(i) to determine the basic characteristics which distinguish railways as a mode of transport;
- (ii) to determine under what conditions these characteristics enable railways Ito be the best available form of transport;
- (iii) to determine to which parts of the total national pattern of transport requirements these conditions apply;
- (iv) to shape the railway route system and services so as to take advantage of favourable circumstances wherever they exist."
But, of course, nothing—no preliminary inquiry about roads, no overall 318 Domesday Book inquiries such as I thought the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was asking for at one stage in his speech—will alter the basic facts of the situation as I have tried to outline them. What is being given in this Report is, of course, the railway end of the kind of transport policy for which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, is, we believe, sincerely asking.
This brings me to what the noble Lord said was his big complaint against the Report—namely, his plea that we should wait for what he described as "the short time needed" to consider the problems of transport as a whole. It is this demand—the short time needed—which I would now ask your Lordships to analyse. He asked, in effect, for a Beeching inquiry on the roads.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
On the road end of the transport business, so as to complete the whole. If he asked for more, the point which I am about to make is of even stronger validity. At one time he spoke as if he was referring to the limited inquiry which my right honourable friend had announced in another place—the inquiry into the licensing system limited to freight on the roads, which I think, on reflection, he will see could have only a marginal relevance to the Beeching Plan, although, of course, it is related and has, up to a point, a distinct relevance.
But it is as well to remember what a wide inquiry would involve. The Beeching Plan, conducted by a man of great quality, to which tribute has been repeatedly paid, has taken years to prepare. There are 18,000 miles, more or less, of track of railway in this country; there are 195,000 miles of road, of which 70,000 miles are classified roads; and for every unit by which trains work there must, I should think, be 1,000 separate units on which the transport system works. If we were to defer the implementation of the proposals in the Beeching Plan until such time as we had completed a generalised inquiry into transport, we should be making a Domesday Book for transport, and we should have to wait until doomsday for a policy—and we could not afford to wait that long.
319 I think that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth (here I concur with my noble friend Lord Chesham) was moderate in tone and constructive in conception, but I think he underestimated the extent to which the essence of this situation is already known. The results of any inquiries which are made will still not invalidate the undisputed fact that one-third of the transport system produces only 1 per cent. of the traffic, and the related facts to which the Report draws attention; nor the fact, to which I drew attention, that the basic trouble is the movement away from the railway towards the road, occasioned by what at the moment have been the technical advantages of the road and the internal combustion engine. Nothing will alter that.
As my noble friend Lord Chesham pointed out yesterday, although of course we must seek as our aim a unified conception of our transport requirements, the extent to which the Beeching Plan will affect the requirements of the roads is, quantitatively, only marginal. As my noble friend pointed out, if the whole Plan was carried through the effect on passenger traffic would be to increase the total burden on the road by 1 per cent., and the effect on the freight traffic, if the whole of the anticipation and hope of Dr. Beeching were realised, would be to decrease it by 2 per cent., whereas all the time the pressure on the roads is building up at the rate of. I think, 7 per cent. a year. The new roads and the new transport on the roads will be required in any event. The question is, therefore, what do we do about the Beeching Plan?
This, I think, brings me to the crucial issue about which really I think there has been some misunderstanding. The Beeching Plan is not something which can be implemented all at once—next week, next month or next year. The Beeching Plan is a long and detailed series of individual proposals which, if they are pursued with the utmost vigour, could he, at least in my judgment, implemented only over a long period of time—my own guess is somewhere about seven years; and that only after, in relation to each set of proposals, the most elaborate series of arguments and counter arguments, some of which will take place in Parliament, some of which 320 will take place before the Transport Users' Consultative Committees, some of which will be negotiations between the trades unions and the Board, some of which no doubt will take place inside local authorities, in which all the characteristic difficulties which will have to be faced, whether we adopt these proposals or not—the difficulties of the boarding-house keepers, of the Highlands of Scotland, of surburban traffic. All the things which have been mentioned in the course of these pages will have to be hammered out over a long period of time, and nothing that we do will alter that.
The danger is not the danger of rushing these things, because they cannot be rushed; the danger is the force of inertia behind our economy at the present time, which, at any rate in my judgment, is one of the greatest dangers from which we suffer at the present time. It is precisely this long period of time and this elaborate apparatus of negotiation which must be gone through, which I would say makes a strike such a mistake. It is not something, as both Lord Morrison of Lambeth and the Leader of the Opposition in another place said, that is a political issue and not an industrial issue. I think it is a great number of political issues, a great number of industrial issues and a great number of economic issues. But the basic folly of this thing is that to strike against not a plan but a highly detailed and lengthy set of proposals is to strike against something which may never happen in any given case, and which may not happen until the next Parliament but one, when there is available to everybody a full apparatus of procedures whereby reason and common sense, and justice and generosity—because I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak ridge, said in his speech yesterday afternoon about our attitude towards possible redundancies—and all these things will have to be discussed at great length and over an extended period of time.
To move from that, I thought there was a distinct difference of approach, if noble Lords will forgive me for saying so, between the general attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Both, of course, talked about an integrated transport system; and both of them, I think, had a picture in his 321 mind of what that integrated transport system might be. I agreed with the conception of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, as I understood it, which was that you must look to the requirements of transport and try to build a system, both as to roads and as to railways, into the requirements of the latter part of the 20th century.
Of course, this is not the only sense which the expression can have. If we lived in a purely static economy—for instance, an economy of the kind in which we were all compelled to live, against our will, during the war, when no important investment on transport could be indulged in—obviously it would be possible, and indeed it would be our duty, to take the transport system as we find it—our 19th century-designed railway system, and our road system designed partly by the Romans, and partly, if we are to believe G. K. Chesterton, by "the rolling English drunkard"—and force as much traffic as possible through it in whatever proportions it could best bear. But it is quite clear that that sort of conception is no good for us now, in time of peace, when our whole object is to create a 20th century system out of what we have received from our forbears.
What we have to integrate is not the rail system we have got with the road system we have got. What we have to do is to design a 20th century rail system and a 20th century road system and see that the whole makes a harmonious and convincing service. I absolutely agree with noble Lords who have said that as we move, as we shall have to move, vigorously in the building of roads which are at present inadequate for our requirements, and in the development of railways on the lines for which we believe they will be required, we must see in any given case, from the Highlands of Scotland down to the suburbs of London, that the two conceptions move, so far as possible, harmoniously hand in hand.
There is one other criticism on this side of the matter which I should like to make and on which again there has been a certain amount of misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren spoke—and I think in another place the Leader of the Opposition spoke—as if the roads creamed off (I think the phrase was) the best of the traffic from the railways. This 322 is not what has happened at all. There is practically no branch of traffic, freight or passenger, which has not, on the whole, tended to move, in the present situation and under the present design, from the railways to the roads.
To give one example, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said yesterday that he thought that those very big loads behind which some of us are compelled to travel in cars, with increasing feelings of frustration, ought not to be on the roads at all. The inference which I think he left with your Lordships was that they ought to be on the railways. Well, a little reflection would tell him at once that none of them would go on the railways. They would get stuck at the first bridge they reached, they would go through no tunnels, and if two of them happened to meet on opposing tracks they each would succeed in derailing the other.
My Lords, will the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt? I did say "railways or sea-borne".
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I quite agree. Of course it is suitable in many cases for these loads to be water-borne. I am not prejudging the question of the railways. I am saying only that as the railways are at the moment one would have to alter every bridge and tunnel before they could go that way.
I believe it was the noble Lard, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who said that in France they were in many ways superior to us, and more favourable to rail. The fact is, of course, that the roads on the Continent are cluttered up with freight vehicles carrying loads which are infinitely larger than anything we see on the roads in this country. Who is right and who is wrong is another matter, but one must face the ultimate state of the facts. The Beeching plan allows for this kind of integration, because Dr. Beeching has followed the principles which I read out earlier in my speech: liner trains to improve speed and remove double-handling, and the limiting of rail to what technically it can do best.
The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, tried to draw from his premise—which I think is a mistaken premise—the conclusion that part of what at the moment is on the roads should be forced back on to the railways. I did not think that that was the inference drawn by either 323 the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, or by the Leader of the Opposition in another place. It seemed to me that they drew a quite different inference. They both, in somewhat different language (though I think they were making the same point), thought that the profits of road transport ought in some way to be pooled with the losses on the railway transport in order to conform with their conception of a unified transport policy.
The only points I should like to make about that idea—and obviously if I were to argue the whole case I should be going very far from the Motion—are these. This would not alter the pattern of traffic in any way. This presupposes a pattern of traffic on the roads and rails either the same as it is now or as it would be created by a unified plan. It is therefore a device of accountancy (it may be that the House agrees with it: I myself do not) designed to cover up losses on the rail by setting them off against profits on the road. Personally, I think that is a mistake. There is nothing dishonest about it: many undertakings, both private and public, set off losses of one kind against profits of another; but it is a mistake to conceal the losses of the railways and to cover them up by profits from the roads. What is certain is that my honourable friend Lord Molson was right yesterday when he pointed out that the profits on the roads were simply inadequate to cover up the losses on the railways.
I should like to intervene in the interesting discussion which took place on what is called "making the railways pay". The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and the noble Lord, Lord Mabane (whose interesting and delightful maiden speech I hope I may be allowed, in parenthesis, to welcome), and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, paid some lip-service to making the railways pay. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, took a less commercial view. I thought, incidentally, that he was rather unfair to Dr. Beeching, of whom he complained when he made the criticism about the habits of the British public not being of the utmost cleanliness. I think that if Dr. Beeching were a Member of your Lordships' House he might have made the point that this comment came ill from someone who had just returned 324 from Eastbourne, where he had described one-third of the British public as neurotic!
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that they were only sub-clinically neurotic, but I am not sure they would appreciate even that degree of neurosis.
On the whole, I take a slightly different view from both groups of noble Lords opposite. The question at the moment is not whether the railways can be made to pay, although I was happy to see that the Report adopts a fairly optimistic view about that. The fact is that they are losing £170 million a year; and that sum is going up. The question is how long can we afford to pay that scale of loss; and in return for what. The problem is not answered by saying that the railways are a social service, because the Report establishes that, whether they are a social service or not—and personally I think that any service to the public is, in one sense, a social service—they are losing this quantity of money because they are a social service a great part of which the public do not wish to avail themselves. The problem, therefore, is not to make the railways pay—nor was Dr. Beeching, to give him credit, given such instructions. He was faced with an obsolete system, one by-product of whose obsolescence is that they lose £170 million a year, and rising, and he was asked to devise a modern system for the better service of the public, one by-product of which will be—at least we believe it will be—that it loses rather less than £170 million a year.
Of course I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, when he says that there will be, or at any rate may he, occasions when the Government may be asked to subsidise to some extent either a railway service or the alternative to a railway service. This may be so. There are parts of the country at the moment—or, at any rate, there were until recently—which might be totally inaccessible unless that was so; although on the whole a good road service might be better than a bad railway service. Incidentally, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who was troubled about the lodging-house keepers and the family with their luggage, that anyone 325 who, like myself, occasionally visits Switzerland knows that very heavy luggage can be taken, without very important structural alterations, by fairly ordinary passenger vehicles up the most narrow, tortuous and mountainous roads.
But, my Lords, of course these are things which we may have to subsidise in one way or another. There is the Stranraer link. There is the even more curious case of the suburban services into London. This all might be true—I do not know. Perhaps the commuters ought to pay. But at any rate, if we are to subsidise, or use grants-in-aid, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, preferred to call them, let us at least know what we are paying for, how much we are being required to pay and whether it is worth it. Let us not lump the whole thing together in an immense mass of services which the public do not use, and then seek to perpetuate them, or to prolong them unnecessarily, under the plea that they are a social service and therefore need not pay.
There is only one thing that I want to add, and that is on the interests of the men. I have already indicated that I personally agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said yesterday about our attitude to people who may at some stage be made redundant by any of these proposals. We owe a duty to show ourselves not only average employers but examples as employers, and I hope that all parties in the State can co-operate to try to see that this is done. But the long-term interest of the railway unions and of the men must be to have a worthwhile service. It is this, in the end, which will give them a sense of self-respect; and above all it is this, in the end—I hope not very far in the future—which will enable them to look forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said, to a standard of wages which compares easily, comfortably and without regret to other forms of employment.
The thing which has been holding them back is not an undue degree of malice on anybody's part. It is the fact of this enormous service, designed in 1855, which so far has not had radical change. Therefore, in the long run, and assuming that the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, towards redundancies is accepted, I should have 326 thought that the interest of all concerned was to have a viable service which was appropriate to the 20th century. Having said that, I should like to conclude by reiterating that I am not satisfied that any substantial redundancies need take place at all, especially if—which I am sure is echoed by the whole House—the Government's policy on employment is as a whole a success.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but this is an important matter, and I am sure the noble Viscount recognises the serious concern there is among railwaymen and, I think, in the nation. He has said that he is satisfied there will not be serious redundancy. I think the unions and the country would like to know some specific figures of the redundancy that is likely to arise during 1963, 1964 and 1965. I think the noble Viscount will recognise that the sooner we can have those clear figures, the sooner can the Government and the employers in the localities affected co-ordinate and work to reduce the fear that lies in the hearts of these men. If we can get those figures as soon as possible, then a start can be made to meet the point of our noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge.
My Lords, I quite appreciate the feeling behind what the noble Lord has said. I deliberately couched what I had to say as a general opinion, and echoed the opinion expressed by my right honourable friend in another place. What I would say, with respect, to the noble Lord is this. As I said the Beeching Report is not a plan but a series of proposals based on certain principles. I do not see at all why, when each proposal comes to be put forward, it should not be possible to calculate, at any rate in relation to that series of proposals and related proposals, what the effect will be on employment. Some of the proposals will probably go through and some of them will not.
Equally, when we have ascertained what jobs will be affected, we can then start working out how many of them can be dealt with by wastage, how many of them can be dealt with by transfer if people are prepared to accept transfer, how many of them can be dealt with by retirement pay, and so on. Then we can get some kind of figure. But as obviously a number of the proposals will be opposed, quite apart from the unions, by 327 users and local authorities and other interests, and as I think it would be quite impossible to anticipate, except by the wildest guess, the speed with which these things will go through the Transport Users' Consultative Committees for their consideration and approval, I do not think it would be intrinsically possible to start calculating an overall figure.
But I will certainly take account of what the noble Lord has said, and my noble friend the Under-Secretary is behind me, and we will see what we can do about that. Because I fully agree with the noble Lord that, the greater the certainty and the greater the concrete information which can be made available to the unions, the happier the industrial situation will be. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for putting the point. I must apologise to the House. I had intended to sit down after my previous remarks. I would only say, in conclusion, that we regard this Plan as part of the integrated system of transport which I gather both sides of the House are agreed in desiring.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, on Monday in another place the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport said categorically that 25,726 jobs would disappear, and I think that illustrates the whole trouble that we are in to-day. It brings me into immediate disagreement with the noble Viscount with regard to his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, who he said had been the subject of ungenerous attacks. Indeed, the noble Leader of the House paid such fervent tribute to his right honourable friend, that I began to wonder if this was a preliminary to his canonisation as St. Ernest and his transfer to another sphere.
The noble Viscount referred to Mr. Marples's technical awareness, his dedication and determination. I am not prepared to dispute that at all, but I think the most important thing of all is utterly suspect, and that is his judgment. Indeed the whole difficulty, the whole acute public anxiety which undoubtedly exists throughout the country about the Beeching Plan is, in my view, attributable to what the noble Viscount called Mr. Marples's flair for 328 publicity: the terrific public relations job which has been done on the presentation of this Plan, and its blowing up out of all reasonable sense of proportion. That is one of the main difficulties that we have to-day. When we ask vitally important questions about redundancy, and when the N.U.R. ask vitally important questions about redundancy, on which the possibility of a strike may depend, they do not get the proper answers. They certainly do not get the kind of answer which the noble and learned Viscount has just given to my noble friend.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said that ten years ago no one understood the causes of weakness in the railway system. He will have to speak for himself, because the Labour Party very clearly understood the causes of weakness in the railway system. It was not fully implemented in the 1947 Act (there was some weakness there), but we fully knew that the essential thing in transport is an integrated transport policy. May I remind the noble Viscount, further, that ten years ago was 1953, and that in that year the railways were still showing a profit, and one of the reasons why they were still showing a profit was because at that time the noble Viscount and his colleagues had not disrupted British Railways by tearing away from them a large part of their road haulage functions. And it is not merely a question of the £8 million or £10 million profit that they were making on road haulage: it was that it gave at least some possibility of integration. When the noble Viscount makes statements like that he shows very clearly that, although he may give correct answers when he is speaking as Minister for Science—and, indeed, when wearing any other of the many different hats he wears—certainly this afternoon he was not very strong on facts.
He said we had been given the railway end of a total transport policy—and that is quite right. Then, dealing with the very reasonable request made by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth for a cost analysis, a full inquiry into the roads on the same lines as we have now had from Dr. Beeching on the railways, he said, "We cannot possibly wait for such an inquiry". That savours to me of, "My mind is made up; don't bother me with the 329 facts". Because how can you possibly judge a transport system, of which the noble Viscount said we have only one part, if you do not know the other part, particularly the economic facts? Immediately after saying, "We cannot wait for an inquiry", he went on to say, "This job cannot be rushed. There is no danger at all that it is going to be dealt with and rushed in a short space of time". If there is no danger and it is not going to be rushed, then why can we not wait for a proper inquiry, until we know the facts?
The plain truth is this. What the noble Viscount has just been saying is in direct contradiction to what his right honourable friend said in another place on both Monday and Tuesday. May I quote what Mr. Marples said? After disposing of the third of the railway system which the Plan proposes to deal with, he went on to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 676 (No. 102), col. 725] that the period ending September, 1964, which is only seventeen months hence,… will see the most intensive implementation of the plan on the assumption that closures will go as fast as anyone could reasonably expect.That does not sound much like "no danger", or "not rushing it". In fact, the precise mention of the number of jobs which are going to be lost indicates that the decision, in so far as it can be made, has already been made; and almost every word that the Minister of Transport says on this subject is proof positive that the minds of the Government have been made up.
The noble Viscount mentioned the Stranraer link. Is he aware that 40 per cent. of the people who go on the boat to Lame in Northern Ireland go by rail to Stranraer; that the steamer's income increased to £286,000 this year from £200,000 the year before, and the Ayrshire County Council are afraid that if the rail link is broken they will eventually lose the steamer and the short sea route to Ireland altogether? But, about the Stranraer line, Mr. Marples said (Col. 737):So the people there need not worry that there will not be consultation before it is closed down.That is the kind of consultation that a condemned man gets when they ask him 330 what he wants for breakfast before they hang him. The fact is that the noble Viscount has not really studied this matter or, in my view, the Plan, or he would not have got up to-day and made the kind of speech he has made—pleasant as it was, although it told us nothing new.
My Lords, I have been a critic of the Beeching Plan ever since it was published on March 27. But I find, as I found when it was first published eight years ago, very much to commend it. Its title then was The Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Railways—the Report I have here. I still think that there is much to commend in the Beeching Plan, although I recall that no one said of the 1955 edition that it was "monumental" or "boldly imaginative", or used any of the other superlatives which have been applied to the current edition. Everything in the Beeching Plan is in this book, and it has been in increasingly large-scale operation for eight years. In fact, we are now half-way through the fifteen-year plan which was adumbrated when this Report was published. Everything is in it except for some of the figures; and many of the figures in the Beeching Report are known to be wrong, although unfortunately none of them can be really checked.
In this book you can read of the plans for reduction in stopping and branch line services; closure of little-used wayside stations, or their conversion to halts; reductions in passenger stock and wagons; great reduction in the number of marshalling yards, plus re-siting and modernising; larger wagons, particularly for mineral traffic; complete reorientation of freight services, to speed movement and reduce costs; provide direct transits for main streams of traffic; and to attract to the railway a due proportion of the full load merchandise traffic which would otherwise pass by road. They are all quotations from this eight-year-old plan, faithfully copied into the current edition—and that is despite the Minister's statement that there has been nothing like it before in the history of British Railways.
But, if it is the same plan, why is it then that in 1955 it was accepted almost without demur but in 1963 it has 331 occasioned anger—anger cutting across Party barriers; anger deeper and more widespread, in my opinion, throughout the country than almost any domestic issue during the last twenty years? In fact, the only pleasant comment I have heard on the Plan is the advice to use Dr. Beeching's face cream because it removes all lines. I have asked why it is, and I think the answer is to be found in the speech with which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, introduced his plan on January 24, 1955. I have it here because, by an extraordinary chance, when I got the book from the Printed Paper Office only two or three weeks ago there it was, the Press hand-out. From it, I would quote three extracts. The first is:The Plan is not designed merely to make our railway system self-supporting; it aims at producing far-reaching benefits for the economy of the country as a whole and for the better ordering of its transport arrangements".Dr. Beeching was not allowed to spare a thought for the economy of the country as a whole. The second is:The Plan aims to adapt our century-old railway system to the needs of to-morrow. It will undoubtedly be of special benefit to those parts of the Kingdom which are rather more remote from the great industrial centres. In this connection I am sure our customers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the West of England will be looking to sec what benefits the plan will bestow on them. Their requirements are very prominent in our minds.Under the Beeching version Scotland, Wales and the West of England, railway-wise, will have virtually ceased to exist.
Thirdly, here is how the noble Lord concluded his speech in 1955. The Commissionlook forward now to receiving from the railway trade unions and from the men they represent the co-operation which is necessary to assist them in this task. In their last annual Report the Commission put forward as the first of their objectives a loyal, contented, keen staff employed in the most productive manner. We hope that this Plan, if it is approved will put new heart into the whole industry and convince all who work in it that they belong to a live show with a fine future, and not a decaying anachronism.Mr. Marples's deployment of the Beeching Plan has so knocked the heart out of the men, so convinced them that they have no future, that they propose to take the despairing and, in my judgment, mistaken course of striking. In 1955 the same ideas were presented with 332 wisdom as a means of rehabilitation, re-equipment and, in some cases, expansion. In 1963 it has been brutal surgery allied to mishandling so foolish as to appear deliberate. For this I blame the Government; certainly not Doctor Beeching. Indeed, one can only blame such an outstanding technologist for having accepted his task with such limited terms of reference and thus inevitably producing an intellectual exercise in a vacuum; as any plan for the railways must be when it is conducted in isolation from other forms of transport and from the economic and social needs of the country.
I want to examine this present Report under two heads—these are distinct heads and not the same thing—first, the immediate need to postpone action on closures until we know what the closures themselves will cost the country; second, the longer-term, fundamental question of the national cost relationship between road and rail. In recent years we have closed 340 branch lines and 4,000 miles of track. This has saved the railways less than 1 per cent., which is 2d. in the £, of their total costs. Of course, this microscopic saving has been swamped by other costs to which it has given rise. The nation has, in fact, lost heavily on the deal.
Is there any evidence that the further 5,000 miles of passenger closures now proposed will not also cost us very dear? Surely, common sense dictates that before Dr. Beeching is given the green light on closures we must know what the costs will be, so that the country can decide whether we can afford them. No one, not even the Minister, knows the costs. I will mention some of the items. It is expected to save £18 million a year on the 5,000 miles of passenger closures. That is equal to four days' defence expenditure and, if it is not an official secret, many of these lines are part of our defence. Compare £18 million with the £235 million allowed on tax-free expenses—most of it on tax-free cars. Would an £18 million branch-line subsidy be a worse way of spending money than the much larger business car subsidy? Which is the more immoral or the less moral? This sum of £18 million a year means 1½d. a week for each one of us. That is the measure of our savings. What shall we have to pay for that 1½d. a week? 333 Some of us will pay with our lives. At present 130 people are killed each week on the roads compared with less than 1 per week on the railways.
I hope that the noble Viscount will listen to what I am going to say now, because I am going to deal with this 1 per cent. which he said was the only difference it would make. This has been said also by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. Mr. Marples claims that the traffic diverted to the roads by the closure of one-third of the railway system will be only 1 per cent. of the total road traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, told us yesterday of the method—which I regard as an absurdly unreliable one—employed in arriving at that estimate. Surely, if you want to find out how many people are going to be diverted from rail to road, you ask how many passengers in all and calculate 1 per cent. You ask the total number of passengers and work out what 1 per cent. comes to. We know that in 1961 there were 1,025 million rail passenger journeys. One per cent. of that is 10 million. Therefore the Government claim that only 10 million extra passengers a year will be added to the roads.
I shall be glad to be interrupted if any noble Lord wishes to interrupt me. I am using the 1 per cent. argument. My Lords, you will be aware that some 300 lines and 2,300 stations are scheduled for closure. One line alone, the Southport-Liverpool line, has 5 million passengers a year. The Broad Street-Richmond line has more than the other 5 million to make up the 10 million. I could mention numbers all round the country to show how utterly foolish and ridiculous is this 1 per cent., which is virtually the basis of the Government's whole case.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting, I had understood that the proposition was that this would add 1 per cent. to the road traffic; not take 1 per cent. off the travellers on the railways. Have I misunderstood the proposition?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the idea is that you are going to close one-third of the railway system and that will add only 1 per cent. to the traffic on the roads. That is the statement.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I had it right all along. In order to find out or to check back on the Government's estimate, I asked myself how many passengers that is going to mean. I would invite the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, to read Lord Chesham's explanation of it. It was almost like water divining or something like that; I think they worked out the answer and then found the way to arrive at it. I am sure that noble Lords from Scotland or anywhere who really know about this, know how ridiculous this is. I have heard it said many times, jokingly, that most people agree with Beeching until his plan is applied to their own line or station. That is because it is their own line. It is not merely a matter of self-interest; it is that they know something about local conditions. This idea about 1 per cent. being added shows no knowledge at all of the actualities.
The other important fact is that most of the traffic in the threatened holiday areas is concentrated in three months of the year. That, surely, will not be denied. There are days in the summer when some of the doomed stations receive a hundred times their daily winter average of passengers. So that 1 per cent. then becomes 100 per cent. That is the measure of traffic which the already choked roads will have to carry in summer if the plan is implemented.
In regard to freight, the Minister claims that if the railways attract all the traffic they want from the roads, it will reduce road traffic by 2 per cent. This also, I think, is untrue. In 1961, road goods transport totalled 28,000 million ton miles. Two per cent. of that is 560 million ton miles. If we generously assume an average of 100,000 ton miles per lorry, that means only 5,000 fewer lorries on the trunk roads. The Plan proposes to have only 100 main freight depôts, instead of some 900, and from every one goods will be delivered by road over a radius of 20 miles. It will need many more than 50 extra lorries from every one of these depôts and they will all be in congested areas. It means that there will be a considerable increase in the number of vehicles on the roads.
I know the West Country very well, and especially Taunton. In Taunton, on an April day in mid-week, it is like an 335 August Saturday used to be. Somebody wrote about it in these words:It used to be frustration, then chaos; now it is absolute hell.The Mayor of Chard last week set out the true position in the West Country in these words:To annihilate the unprofitable, but extremely safe, railway system by increasing the lethal propensities of our ridiculous and costly road system will transfer the price to be paid in money to an account which will be paid for in blood.We shall also have to pay a lot in money.
Recently, Mr. Marples declared that we must make sure that the roads can carry the increased traffic arising from the closures, and that the roads must be "strengthened, or widened or realigned." But he has only just started the survey. It will be at least a year before the Minister can have any idea of the cost of widening, realigning and straightening the roads directly arising from these closures. I have in my hand a letter and report from the Ayrshire County Council, who say that it will cost £4,828,000 for immediately necessary expenditure before the roads can be used for road transport. They add:This is only the immediately foreseeable effect. Only a detailed survey will enable us to say what further road works will arise from railway closures.I should like the noble Earl to deal with this when he comes to reply. This is only one county in Scotland, and the immediate cost is nearly £5 million, just to make it possible for road transport to proceed safely.
Take another example, the closure of the marginal Peterborough-Grimsby line, which will isolate a large part of Lincolnshire, including towns like Skegness, which will be 23 miles from the nearest railway station. The roads are comparatively narrow and wind extraordinarily, and 150 miles will need straightening and widening. At £100,000 a mile, that means £15 million for only one area. In addition, it will put an enormous burden on ratepayers at the very time when they are losing income because people will not be going to the seaside resorts. How much it is going to cost on immediate works the Minister does not know. My guess is that it well may be £1,000 million, and as the estimates come in, that may well prove to be an under-estimate. This cost alone is 336 going to knock the £18 million a year silly. How can the closure procedure be started before this information is available?
Another urgent question I would like to address to the noble Earl is that of damping down of holiday traffic and getting rid of the surplus passenger rolling stock. When is that going to start? Can it be deferred until the matter has been more fully considered as a question of principle? The Minister indicated yesterday that he had been sitting for nine months on the recommendation that the seaside town of Porthcawl should have a summer service. There are literally scores of what I regard as utterly daft proposals in this Plan. In the Rhondda, there is a two-mile railway tunnel under the mountains. It is proposed to continue the railway for freight but not for passengers. To get to the other side of the mountain by road entails travelling 40 miles and the roads round are not suitable for buses. There is a five-mile branch line into Cardiff. For that area, this line is as important as the Piccadilly Line is to London, and there is no other service. Out of 195,000 miles of highways, there will be thousands of miles which will need major and costly improvements, if they are to carry buses and lorries safely. How can such astronomical expenditure be justified on roads which, by the Beeching yardstick, should be closed because the traffic they carry is too small to justify their existence?
In rural areas, we shall have to foot a large annual bill for buses, because buses have suffered even more than the railways from the wasting disease which is afflicting all forms of public transport. We have been promised bigger buses for carrying luggage, and they will need wider roads. Then we shall have to pay for unemployment in these areas. In parts of Devon to-day one person in five is out of work. Some of them seek work in Plymouth. The journey takes 45 minutes and costs 3s. 6d. return by train, and the alternative by bus via Tavistock costs 7s. and takes an hour and a half. In most cases within my knowledge the alternative costs twice as much and takes twice as long. There is a quarry there giving employment, on which recently a lot of money was spent on a promise that the Callington line would stay. It is on the closure list. 337 If these people cannot get work or get to work, they will have to leave their homes and go to the big towns, there to compete for homes and jobs. The social cost alone of depopulating the countryside will far outweigh any saving on these railway closures.
In many other parts of the country—in Scotland, for example—the situation will be tragic. We heard the speeches of noble Lords, speaking from their knowledge, in your Lordships' House yesterday. On Tuesday in another place the Minister of Transport, knowing that 15,000 square miles of Scotland would be entirely without railways, said that the situation could be met with 100 extra buses. This is in Hansard. Noble Lords look astounded; but that is what he said. Seven hundred buses for the entire country: 600 in England and Wales, and 100 in Scotland for 15,000 square miles. How can one respect the judgment of a Minister who is so manifestly out of touch with the situation and talks such utter nonsense? What sort of confidence does it inspire when he tells the doomed areas not to worry because he personally will have to approve every closure? That is precisely what does worry them.
The transport consultative committees can oppose closures only on the grounds of hardship arising on the closure of a particular line or station. Virtually none of the most important considerations, such as alternative costs, trade, employment or congestion come within their purview. The Clerk to the Winchester Rural District Council rang up yesterday, because they are concerned about losing the Alton line, to say: "We are sure it could be made to pay. Is that something we could put before the transport consultative council?" Well, they could talk about it, if the chairman of the committee allowed; but it is quite outside their province.
How is the Minister to judge when all those things come to him which were detailed by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in his speech yesterday, and which are to be considered when, certainly in the next twelve months on the most important one, the cost—that is, the cost of the alternative—he just will not know and the information will not be there? But the point is that meanwhile the closure procedure, presumably, is going to be implemented, in the 338 Minister's own words, as fast as possible in the next period of seventeen months. If the position is that the Minister is then going to consider these other things, it may be that in many cases everyone will have been put to acute anxiety and considerable cost for no reason at all. I feel that in common justice and common sense the procedure of closures must be deferred until we know the cost of road improvements.
Last Thursday I presided at a conference organised by the National Council on Inland Transport. It was attended by 400 delegates, including representatives of 170 local authorities from all parts of Britain—county councils, boroughs and district councils. It was the most widely based and representative gathering of local authorities that I have ever attended; not just the fringe areas, but London and many big cities were represented there. They submitted, debated and carried some 40 resolutions on the Beeching Plan; and they finally insisted on summarising their views in a resolution which stated that this conference,-"appalled by the social and economic consequences of Dr. Beeching's Report, demands that it shall not be implemented until all the consequences and costs to the nation have been fully assessed.Since then the County Councils Association of England and every major authority in Scotland, Wales and the West of England have made similar demands. This adds up to a unanimous and overwhelming demand from non-Party organisations representing virtually the entire population. Any Minister, in my view, would have to be either mentally subnormal or morally delinquent to ignore this overwhelming demand and the local knowledge and facts on which it is based.
I would now ask your Lordships to consider briefly the fundamental question of the national cost relationship between road and rail, and the extent to which we subsidise both forms of transport. The Minister constantly refers to the need to leave the consumer freedom of choice, but insists on destroying true freedom of choice by constantly increasing subsidies to road freight traffic. I submit that there can be no real freedom of choice until we have the same cost analysis for the roads as we have had for the railways, and accord to both the same measure of 339 public support, or no support at all. I ask the noble Earl who is to reply whether the Government accept the principle of equal public support, and, if so, whether they will institute this cost analysis for the roads—and I do not mean just the Buchanan traffic survey. If they refuse to do so, I submit that they lay themselves open to the charge that, while declining to subsidise railways to provide a necessary public service, they are willing to use our money to provide ever-increasing subsidies for privately-owned lorries so that they can profitably quote freight rates which put the railways out of business. That is the economics of Bedlam.
There is, I admit, no precise information, but from various sources my Council have compiled figures to show the costs to the nation involved in the use of the roads, apart from the historic cost of the free track. These are, first, road construction and maintenance, now rising to £250 million a year; cost of accidents, £230 million a year; police signals and traffic control, £130 million a year; cost of congestion—this is not my estimate, but the estimate of the Road Federation—500 million a year; and damage to buildings, £100 million a year. That is a total of £1,210 million a year, apart from the cost to the Health Services arising from noise, fumes and so on. And if you deduct the receipts from fuel duties and vehicle taxes, it reveals a net subsidy to road transport of over £600 million a year that is, four times the railway deficit. In other words, the roads are a far bigger national loss maker that the railways. The remarkable thing is that, despite their favoured position, we have demands from road haulage interests for reduction of fuel duties and doubling of expenditure on roads. It must be the first time in history that a tenant paying half the economic rent has demanded at one and the same time that the landlord should halve the rent and double expenditure on the property.
Translated into terms of single vehicles, we estimate that a 3-ton lorry is subsidised to the extent of £10 a week, and a 20-tonner by £100 a week. Consider the effect of this on the railway freight services. The railways have now established the successful Condor freight service, 12 hours London to Glasgow. Alongside, on the roads, we are providing £100 a week for every 20-ton 340 lorry which competes with it. That is not free consumer choice; it is not coordination; it is financial madness, and it must be stopped. The Government cannot dispute my figures, because they have not any of their own. But it is in the national interest that they should get figures and ascertain the facts with the least delay by means of a really searching, comprehensive and objective inquiry.
I began by saying that there was much to commend in the Beeching Plan, and this applies particularly to the freight proposals. But they cannot succeed unless we see to it that they get the chance to compete on equal terms. For the rest, we should ask Dr. Beeching to look again, not at how easily he can close lines down, but at what must be done to keep them open. Give them a face lift; apply with goodwill the many methods whereby costs can be lowered by running modified services, rather than destroy them altogether. Use and foster the growing interest of many local authorities in their railway and their anxiety to increase its business. Jettison the idea, which our people will never accept, that they must holiday abroad because British Railways will make no provision for holidays in Britain. Above all, I would say to Dr. Beeching: "Play your part, which could be a decisive one, in stopping this strike; and then start the long, hard struggle to put heart and hope back into the men; because without that no plans can succeed." Before the war, students used to come from all over the world to watch and learn from British Railways. They will begin to come again if we call a truce to amputation, and, by infusing modern efficiency with the old spirit of public service, restore our railways to their former position as the envy of the world.
§ 4.30 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has argued that the railways are receiving from the Government less than a fail deal compared with the road users. I would, in a few minutes, consider the charges. He suggests that motor vehicles pay far too little for the use of the roads and, therefore, compete unfairly with the railways. I do not think this is true. In fact, the road users pay very large sums in taxation for the support of the roads, 341 and I do not believe that anyone can say whether the present system of charging road users is right in economic or financial terms. I would say that the important question is: does it seriously distort the present basis of competition between road and rail? In my humble opinion, it does not.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that he considered that the previous Report on the Reorganisation of the Railways, some eight years ago, was the same as the Beeching Report, except, I think he said, with regard to the figures. But I would say that the figures are the really important point, and have taken a great deal of work and organisation to compute.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I said, except for some of the figures. There are, of course, a good many figures in the 1955 Report, and in fact some of the things, the reduction of wagons, and so on, which were forecast have only just been achieved, and are mentioned in the current edition.
I am sorry that the noble Lord has found it in any way necessary to decry this excellent and informative Report produced by Dr. Beeching. I should like to add my support to the Plan which he has produced for reshaping the railways. It is something which should have been dope years ago. I think it is true to say that if the railways had remained in private hands they would have been forced by their shareholders to carry out a somewhat similar plan. I would say that at last there is sufficient information to begin to construct a properly balanced transport system, while at the same time leaving freedom of choice to the users. On the other hand, I do not think that a survey of roads and traffic has by any means been completed, and I am glad to hear that this is to be carried out at the earliest possible moment. I understand that further negotiations are still going on with the bus and coach interests, and I should like to take this opportunity of declaring that I ant a director of a large bus company.
I am sure that in cases of unremunerative bus services it will nearly always be much cheaper for British Railways to pay a subsidy to keep the bus service going than maintain an unremunerative branch-line. No doubt the Minister of Transport 342 will give his attention to each individual case. There is no doubt that rural transport is deficient in many parts of the country, and the failure to remove the tax on oil fuel has gravely aggravated the position. Bus companies, partly or wholly owned by British Railways, are keeping country services going by subsidising them out of their urban services. Also, of course, independent small bus companies, unable to make both ends meet, are frequently withdrawing services which might well have been maintained if some relief in the oil tax had been given in the recent Budget.
I am sure that many of your Lordships are under the impression that the supposed great increase in road haulage units is continuing to take more business from the railways. This is not entirely true, and I want first to deal for a few moments with the "A" and "B" licences, and later the "C" licence holders. It must not be forgotten that the holders of "A" and "B" licences for the carriage of goods are required to establish proof of need of their services against objections lodged by other operators, including British Railways. The licences are, in fact, granted with regard to the interest of the public, and I should like to point out that these licences have increased by only 14 per cent. over the last 25 years. I understand that the whole of the licensing system is now to be reviewed, which I think is a very good thing, but this is a question we cannot deal with to-day.
I should now like to draw your Lordships' attention to page 56 of the Beeching Report. The statement in the third paragraph on that page reads:Any deliberate influencing of the balance between different forms of transport, in future, is more likely to be in favour of the railways than against them".Perhaps the Minister in charge of the Bill can explain a little further this paragraph in the Beeching Report. I hope that Her Majesty's Government do not intend to create conditions which will handicap road hauliers as competitors of the railways, and that they intend to provide the national economy with a transport system in which road and rail can compete on equal terms.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, when the noble Lord talks about road haulage, he is really referring to the "A" and "B" licences?
Yes. I will deal later with the "C" licences. I maintain that any policy of restriction would have a most disastrous effect on our industrial competitiveness and the national economy.
Then we have the "C"-licence vehicles which have come in for a great deal of criticism lately, not only in your Lordships' House but also outside. It is even suggested in some quarters that "C"-licence vehicles are used for the sake of using them, without regard to their true cost of operation. I would say that this is nonsense, because companies and industry in general are very much alive to the heavy capital investment involved in operating a fleet of haulage vehicles. I think it is perhaps worth while emphasising precisely why the "C"-licence vehicle is used. The dominant consideration for their use is service, speed of delivery and certainty of timing, not forgetting the avoidance of damage to goods and often elimination of packing; and, last but not least, the specialised knowledge of the driver who drives the vehicle. Cost is also obviously an important consideration. I think, therefore, it will be clear to your Lordships why, even on long-distance work, "C"-licence vehicles may have the advantage over both rail and road hauliers.
I suggest also that there has been much loose talk about the astronomical growth of "C"-licence vehicles. Let me give your Lordships one or two figures. The facts are that since 1950 the number of "C"-licence vehicles has grown at an average rate of 5 per cent. per annum, and in recent years has declined appreciably: and the current rate of growth is only 1 per cent. per annum. I think I am right in saying that the recent Ministry of Transport survey shows that this growth does not generally represent an abstraction of traffic from the railways. What this survey shows is that it reflects the growth of industries which depend on road transport; and that is a very different question. Incidentally, the rate of growth in "C"-licence holders in this country is the lowest of any country in Europe.
What about the so-called "empty running"? We have read a great deal about that in various periodicals concerned with transport. The Ministry of Transport survey shows only a very small 344 difference in empty running between the "A" and "C"-licenced vehicle.
Why is this?—because many manufacturers arrange their operations so that they can bring raw materials in and take finished products out. I would say, in spite of what the noble Lord has interjected, that the so-called empty running is almost a myth.
I do not think the proportion is anything like as high as that, but I will certainly look into the figure the noble Lord has given.
Noble Lords opposite always seem to be anxious that as much traffic as possible should be diverted from the roads to the railways by restriction, or even by direction. I maintain that this is a wrong conception for transport policy. Transport must be free to carry those goods for which it is technically best suited. What we want, certainly those on this side of the House, is co-ordination, and not integration. The fact is that you can have a fully integrated transport service only under a Communist system, and I do not think that any of us wants that in this country. That must mean full direction and control.
My Lords, I think it is true to say that the Beeching Plan and investigation are symbolic of what we require in many of our industries to-day if we are to maintain our position in the world as a great trading country and keep up and improve our standard of living. I hope that the Minister of Transport will not flinch from the great task he has set himself, and that the country will in the near future have a properly balanced transport system. But I fully support the view which has been made plain by many of your Lordships, both in yesterday's debate and, I think, to-day, and which, I suggest, reflects the view of the House as a whole; that the redundancy and movement of staff from one area to another should be treated on a humane and understanding basis, and that finally the railway service will be a well-paid one and the staff assisted in every way to regain the morale which they used to have in the past.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his concluding remarks, and I would also thank him for the fact that he has made a highly specialised contribution to this debate. After all, it is right that we should have all forms of opinion presented to the House when considering this great matter of the transport of the future.
As one who has spent the greater part of his life in transport, and has been concerned with the politics of transport since the days of "A Square Deal for the Railways", "Fair Play for the Railways", and so on, of the inter-war period, I must say that I should find very little difficulty in pointing to the stupidities of Governments since those days. My noble friend Lord Stonham has done this very ably, and I enjoyed his speech immensely. It would be easy for me to say a lot of scathing things about Conservative Government actions since 1951. That is a very pleasant occupation for a politician, but I must say that I do not regard it as a particularly valuable one in a situation in which we have, more and more, to prepare for what the National Economic Development Council describes asthe development of concerted effort towards an economic expansion.What Parliament ought to have been doing in these four days, beginning last Monday in the Commons and ending here to-day, is considering transport in the setting of our great need for ensuring the economic survival of the country. And transport must be considered as a whole, not just as a part of the programme which has been brought reluctantly to our notice by the Beeching Report. Of this, I am positive: that the time has come for a consideration of transport in its entirety and for setting about the task of preparing a plan, not merely for the 'seventies, but at least for the rest of this century, so far as it is humanly possible.
All too often in the past we have tried to meet existing difficulties by actions designed to plaster over the obvious cracks. This sort of action has been going on for many years. It followed the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport in 1928 and it has gone on up to the adoption by the Conservative 346 Party of the modernisation proposals in 1955, with the Single exception of the very brave attempt to tackle this problem which was made by the Labour Government in passing the 1947 Transport Act. I think that now to carry out the Beeching policy for the railways, in isolation from the rest of transport, would be to continue the mistakes of the past. The first thing we have to do is to recognise the magnitude of the transport problem and the effect that bad transport policies adopted now will have upon our future as a nation.
I might be told that this is clear to every one, but I have to ask: is this really so? The Government in 1962 set up the N.E.D.C. with the object, among other things, of considering together what are the obstacles to quicker growth, what can be done to improve efficiency, and whether the best use is being made of our resources. That high level body has now issued two Reports. The first was called, The Growth of the United Kingdom Economy to 1966, and the second Conditions Favourable to Economic Growth; and in neither of those documents do we find a single paragraph dealing with transport—not a word about the fact that in transport we are not making the best use of our resources, or that all the growth of the seventeen industries reported upon in the first Report will be unavailing if the situation is allowed to continue in which free movement of their raw materials and products will become increasingly difficult as the private cars pour in vast numbers on to our inadequate roads and railways are cut to the skeleton proposed in the Beeching Report.
Someone has pointed out recently—I think with some force—thatwhile expert recommendations on the underdeveloped countries always stress two absolute priorities for economic growth, education and transport, we have for decades been failing to invest enough in either.To its credit, in the document Conditions Favourable to Economic Growth, the N.E.D.C. gave pride of place to a section on education and economic growth, and they pointed to the fact that there are American studies which suggest that in the United States the rate of return to the country of increased expenditure on education may not be very different from the return on physical assets, and 347 that during the last 30 years this expenditure has been one of the number of factors contributing to economic growth. I praise the N.E.D.C. for recognising this fact and giving, perhaps, pride of place to this aspect in its last Report; but I wish that this high level body had devoted its next section to transport and economic growth. Then I think it would have got its priorities just about right.
What must we do about this transport problem? The first steps, I would say, have already been taken by the Minister when he set up a study group under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Hall to study the likely demand for inland transport facilities over the next 20 years. I have read their first Report with tremendous interest. So far as it goes, it is an admirable document, but up to now that group have only posed the problems and asked some of the right questions. There is a necessity for a scientifically-based examination of the whole structure of transport. That necessity, my Lords, is now with us. The tools of thought upon transport problems are being fashioned and are becoming increasingly available. All the highly industrialised countries of the world are giving thought to the problem of transport and are exchanging information upon it. The Road Research Laboratory in this country are issuing the results of their sample surveys on the roads and the traffic of Great Britain. Traffic engineering is becoming recognised as an essential provision. The relationship of transport and regional planning is understood now, as never before, and team work between transport and planning experts is rightly increasing. The systematic assembly of a basis of information on railways is provided in the Beeching Report. The underlying concept of the social cost of transport of freight and passengers is being increasingly understood as an essential tool of thought in this matter.
At the moment our transport investment programme is fundamentally confused. To go on as we have been going on, spending a few inadequate millions on a route here and closing a railway there, would be a colossal mistake. What we must do is to ask another brilliant Beeching-type brain to assemble all the available information on all aspects of transport and provide the answers as 348 ruthlessly as Beeching has done to the questions the Government put to him on the railway problem. In the meantime, I would suggest that we take no irreversible decisions on the railway Report, for once you had run down the manpower, dissipated the skills of that manpower and pulled up the tracks it would be an extremely difficult task to reverse the process. That is why we ought not at this stage to go too far with the Beeching Plan, despite everything which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said in his opening speech this afternoon.
Tremendous praise has been showered on Dr. Beeching for his Report, and I am not going to depreciate its value. But to hear many of the critics of past actions in connection with railways one would think he had come to the problem and plucked the answers out of the thin air, like a magician. He did not. His Report is based on the information provided by the team of experts assembled under the leadership of Sir Brian Robertson, as he then was. I ask your Lordships to look at the evidence given to the 1960 Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries, on the point of the employment of scientists and engineers. In 1956 the Commission employed 1,551 of such staff, and they told the Select Committee they hoped to employ some 2,031 by 1959. They achieved only 1,641 by 1959, a rise of 5.8 per cent. instead of the hoped for 30.9 per cent. That was not through any fault of the Commission but because our educational system failed to provide these people in sufficient numbers.
On rationalisation, in the Report the Committee said at paragraph 226:It was never envisaged that the whole of the 1954 railway system should be modernised. On the contrary, it was intended that the time of modernisation should see the rearrangement of the railways' resources so that inefficient parts should either be made to function better or if necessary excised. At the same time as modernisation took place there was to be a process of rationalisation.That is the Beeching Report in essence, and that paragraph was based upon the evidence provided to the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries by Sir Brian Robertson, as he then was, and others employed in the railway industry. I thought yesterday, and I still think, what a speech the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, could have made in defence of his own 349 stewardship did he not clearly feel bound by a self-denying ordinance. He is not, I feel, in the post-war tradition of ex-generals, most of whom have no compunction whatsoever about telling us of their wonderful leadership, for "What I did and what I told 'em" makes up very much of their books and their speeches. He is not in that tradition.
When I read the Beeching Report I felt that I had been this way before. The most recent other document on it was that prepared under the outstanding chairmanship of Sir Toby Low, now Lord Aldington, who is going to follow me in this debate to-day. That was based on the evidence of railway experts and was dated before I knew that Dr. Beeching even existed. But the Select Committee's Report could not hope to have the impact on the public that the Beeching Report has had, for obvious reasons. The Select Committee's Report was, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, would agree, a very weighty tome in more respects than one. It is a Parliamentary paper and it could not be released to the public with a corresponding blare of publicity, but it did contain the guts of the matter.
In listening to the critics yesterday—and I listened to so many critics of the railways yesterday it rather staggered me that there were so many criticisms, so many of which were completely ill-informed—my mind went back to the time when I first became a member of a town council. We ran three undertakings, gas, electricity and transport. The committee meetings were held on the same night. The gas and electricity managers' reports always slipped through with scarcely a word said on them. The transport manager's report caused hours of discussion and often much unfair criticism. When I asked the transport manager, a very blunt Scot, why this should be, he looked at me and said bitterly, "They are all bloody experts on transport". I felt a little like that yesterday, and I would only add that I wish the critics would take some little pains to inform themselves of the facts before indulging in criticism, which if ill-founded creates only disgust and bitterness in the people who have to run the railways and work upon them.
As I see this railway service and listen to the critics, it does seem to me that 350 too many people want Rolls Royce travel at a push-bike price, and it just cannot be done. If the public will pay the price, railwaymen, within the limits imposed upon them by physical conditions, will be happy to provide Pullman travel for everyone, but they will not pay the price. As a railwayman I writhed under some of the criticisms I listened to yesterday. Listening to some of the critics' complaints of the men who run British Railways one would think they were a bunch of incompetent nit-wits instead of a group of intelligent men grappling with the errors of the past and trying to set on its feet an industry that was starved of capital throughout the whole of the interwar years and was last in the queue for capital investment in the post-war period of the Labour Government and subsequent Conservative Governments. These men are not perfect; they have made their mistakes. But I could not help thinking when listening to my noble friend Lord Taylor's criticisms yesterday that transport men have to live with their mistakes, unlike doctors who bury them—I might be just a little unfair to a noble profession.
Perhaps I should end as a railwayman with a few words about the problems. There is an increasing recognition at all levels of the service that we cannot preserve for ever the pattern of a railway system which came into being in the railway age of the Victorian era. That does not mean that men are not frightened about what is going to happen to them in the process of securing the pattern of transport appropriate to the second Elizabethan era.
I remained a £3 a week railway signalman for the whole of the inter-war period, and I did it because my job was secure. I started on the railway as a boy, and had grown up with a sense of belonging to a great and secure industry, and I accepted its disciplines as being natural to the industry. Recently, I attended a jubilee function of the N.U.R. as a founder member, for I joined the A.S.R.S. (the old Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants) as a boy of fifteen, before it merged into the N.U.R. in 1913. At that function I met men with whom, on the railway and in the trade unions, I had worked closely for the period from 1913 to my entry into Parliament in 1945, and 351 I was shocked at the demoralisation that had taken place. I was hurt at the expressions I heard that indicated that the old esprit de corps that I knew in my period of active railway service had gone. I was repeatedly asked, "What does Beeching mean for us?" Those men feel that they are employed in a dying industry, and that in itself is a demoralising factor.
Whilst I feel that a strike against the inevitable is a useless protest, I can understand the feeling that has caused them to take the decision, in the same way as, when I read industrial history, I can understand the futile protest of the Luddites. The feeling that you have to hit out at things that are hurting you, even if you appear to be hitting in the wrong direction, is a pretty natural reaction. All I would ask the public, who will be inconvenienced by a strike, is that they should try to understand the feeling behind it; and that the Government and those responsible for labour relations should also understand, and do everything in their power to soften the blow of redundancies and the like.
With the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, also a railwayman, I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge whose touching speech yesterday on the men's problems reached heights that I could not possibly hope to achieve. I am, and I am sure the whole of the railwaymen of this country will be, grateful to him for his words, and also his leadership during that period when he was the head of the Transport Commission. For all the reasons that I and others have given, I appeal to the Government not to implement the Plan. I realise that some parts of it ought to be implemented fairly soon. I realise that the points that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham made about spreading this over a period are points that ought to be considered in connection with this proposed strike and all these difficulties. I believe that we ought not to proceed with the main parts of this Plan until a thorough examination of the future of transport has been made and completed, and until, finally, we have given more thought to this great problem of redundancy to which so many noble Lords (and I am grateful to them) have referred in the course of this debate.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was most kind about me in the course of his speech, and I should like to start by thanking him. I think we can all understand the spirit which was moving him in his closing words. Certainly in his tribute to Lord Robertson of Oakridge I, and I know many others, wholeheartedly agree with him. I am sure that we are all agreed about the human emotions and domestic upheavals, and so on, that must be in the minds of his former colleagues, who think—I believe wrongly—that so many of them are threatened by redundancy under this Plan. The noble Lord asked us a question which had been asked of him—namely, what does Beeching mean to them? What does he mean to them in circumstances when, as he told us, the esprit de corps which he knew in the old days of the railways seems to have gone? Well, I think that what Beeching means to them is that they have a good chance, if they will take it, of getting back that esprit de corps which they had in those days. I will try in the course of my remarks to explain why, and I will also, perhaps, comment, directly or indirectly, on one or two things that the noble Lord has said.
I should like at once to say that, like others, I find myself in agreement with the words of the Motion that we are discussing; and I also find myself in agreement or near-agreement, with some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in opening this debate. I agree, in particular with what he said about subsidies or grants-in-aid; and a little, too, although not completely, with what he said about holiday resorts of which I have some experience as a former representative in another place of one famous resort. But I am not (and I hope the noble Lord will be glad to hear this) in agreement with everything that he had to say. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Chesham on the way in which he put the Government's case to us on the first day of the debate. It has not been my privilege to hear him putting the Government's case so fully before, and I realise how fortunate we are in having the noble Lord and the Leader of the House to explain to us, in such clear and thorough terms, what is the 353 Government's policy and what the Beeching Report really is about. I have a few things to say, and I hope the noble Lords will not find themselves in disagreement with what I am going to say.
I have ventured to intervene in this debate for three main reasons. The first is the one which was mentioned by Lord Champion: that I had the honour to be the Chairman of the. Select Committee of another place which reported in 1960 on the British Railways, a Report from which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, was good enough to say that Dr. Beeching's Report is in direct descent from—I do not think Sir Winston Churchill would approve of that sentence. The second reason is because I am passionately interested both in every proposal efficiently to modernise Britain's life and, I think more important, in ensuring that modernisation is carried out sensibly and with humanity. The Beeching Report will, I believe, if it is properly carried through, achieve just that. The third reason is that, though I have not served on the railways, I believe in them as I tried to show, with my colleagues, in that Report in 1960; and I believe in, and have great respect, for railwaymen, whatever may be said about them or written about them in cartoons. I believe that they have a fine future, if only the railways are used for the right purposes, and if the railwaymen feel themselves part of a top-class, up-to-date system, which is earning enough to pay them as they should be paid, a wage at least as good as they could get in comparable employment. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge said yesterday on that aspect.
I was taken to task after the 1960 Report by quite a number of people, because in the Report we had said, I think in paragraph 419, that there is no doubt that a large-scale British railway system can be profitable. I am now glad to find myself in the fashion again. I must say that during these last three years it has seemed to me that too many people were doubting whether a large-scale railway system ever could be made to pay for itself. We can see from this Report, although this is not its object, that a large-scale railways system can be made economically viable. How much better railways are now than they were even in 1960? I disagree 354 with what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said yesterday about the state of our railways. They have constantly been improving, and we have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, much more than we can yet thank Dr. Beeching. The improvements Dr. Beeching is undertaking will take time to show, just as the improvements Lord Robertson of Oakridge set in hand have also taken time to show.
It cannot be too often said that the Beeching Report is a series of proposals, and only proposals. It is the Minister of Transport, and not Dr. Beeching, who has the power of decision in regard to closures. To accept the Report, therefore, as I do—and I join with those who say that it is a first-rate, admirable document—is not to accept that every proposed closure should be carried out. It is to accept that each proposal should be put forward, and quickly put forward, for consideration by the proper consultative bodies and by the Minister. Nor is it to accept that further proposals for contraction and further proposals for development and expansion of the lines and services will not be made in the future.
I though I detected in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to-day, quite a different attitude in regard to the Report from that displayed by the noble Lords, Lord Champion and Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who spoke yesterday. Lord Morrison of Lambeth described the Report as a very able contribution to this subject; Lord Champion said appreciative things about it. The Daily Mirror (which is a paper that more usually finds itself in agreement with the Party opposite than with the Party on this side) described it in these words:It is tough, it is brilliant, and it is right.But what did Lord Stonham say? He described it as a series of utterly daft proposals. I was not quite certain, after some of the mathematical calculations to which we have listened, who was being "daft". But perhaps that is a disrespectful remark, which I am sure Lord Stonham, who knows me well, will not take in bad part.
This Report is only part of modernising the whole transport system of Britain. In the railways themselves modernisation has been going on for many years. The 355 noble Lord, Lord Chesham, gave us the figures of closures since 1948, and we remember well the improvements of freight traffic and better passenger services that have been going on during this last ten or twelve years. Where I think the Beeching proposals are special is that they clearly set out what has to be done if the railways are to meet current needs rather than the needs of a century ago, or even ten years ago. The modernisation programme of the last decade concentrated its attention more on modernising equipment. We are now directed more—but not only—to the rôle of the railways and the new shape they should have.
The question was asked yesterday by the noble Lord who opened the debate: why was this type of Report not produced before? The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, gave a reply which some noble Lords did not seem to like; but in my humble submission it is the correct reply. We should not blame the noble Lord for that. We should blame ourselves, noble Lords on both sides of the House and men in all political Parties. It is not only the mechanical and traffic circumstances of the railways which have changed in recent years: the whole attitude of the public, of the Government and of Parliament has been drastically changed even in the past five years. It was changing at about the time when the Select Committee to which I referred was producing its Report, and I think it has further changed since. Frankly, I think that it is a mistake to say that the modernisation programmes of 1955, 1957 and 1959 were really Beeching proposals, marks I, II and III. I do not think that is correct. They were aimed at a quite different purpose and the Beeching proposals are aiming at a quite different purpose from theirs.
One of the remarkable things about the Report of the Select Committee was that that all-Party Committee on the railways produced a unanimous Report, and I must say that I had hoped Party political considerations could be taken out of the railways. But back they seem to have come in recent days—and with a vengeance! And I have no intention of ducking some of the political issues which have been raised and, indeed, some of the red herrings—if one can duck a red herring.
356 It is suggested by some in the Party opposite that, good though the proposals appear to be, we must hold them all up until some further broader national survey had been made of transport as a whole. That was the tenor of some part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I must frankly say that I am very suspicious of that argument. This cry for another inquiry is a well-known dodge by those who wish to oppose. Anyone who has been in another place knows this very well. If one sticks out for all or nothing, the hope is that nothing will be done. That must be the hope of the anti-modernisers. What conceivable rational objection can there be to the immediate acceptance in principle of proposals for detailed consideration of substantial closures when a third of the railway route mileage carries so little and so few, and a third of the stations produce so little in revenue? As my noble friend Lord Chesham reminded us yesterday, it is not just that Dr. Beeching wants to give up some of these lines. The public have, in the main, given them up. The argument that nothing should be done about that until a national transport survey has been completed, and a national plan of integrated transport completed, has surely no justification in logic and has only one purpose, which is to delay or to prevent change.
Despite what is said in the Report about the limited nature of these proposals, and the fact that it is said that at page 56 that none of the present proposals penetrates into the field (where future changes may alter the balance between road, rail and air) "to the point of prejudicing future judgments", we are nevertheless being told that nothing must be done even to eliminate what a thorough Inquiry has proved to be wholly unsuitable uses of railways in principle, even though each case has to be exhaustively examined on its merits. And we are told that by many of the same people who advocate irrevocable abandonment of the nuclear deterrent without any inquiry at all. That may be good 1960 Left-Wing politics, but it is certainly not the way to get Britain modern and strong for the 'seventies.
I thought that the Party opposite were as interested as I am in getting faster economic growth. How does that aim fit in with the delaying of one of the 357 best and most practicable proposals for modernisation of transport that we have ever seen? I must avoid getting passionate about these things, and remind myself, as did the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that this Report is not only about closures. It is about some very important developments, and about methods which will increase the traffic on the railways, taking more traffic from road transport, and, I hope, encouraging more passenger transport.
I should like now to say a few things about the closure problem. The important thing about this problem is that every single proposal has to be thoroughly examined both by the T.U.C.C.'s and by the Minister. Of course, we are all aware of the problems in each locality, and it is, I think, far better to have a procedure which investigates the problems of each individual locality to be affected by the proposals that Dr. Beeching has in mind, rather than to waste a lot of time on a national survey of transport as a whole at the time.
EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, how can the headquarters, of which the noble Lord so often speaks so attractively, really face up to that kind of thing? You can go on delaying the inquiry into the road side of what ought to be an integrated service. You have defended many a time the action by a Conservative Government in taking away from the growth of integration between the two sides the road services, which were helping the railways at least to pay, as well as giving actual experience of joint working together and of devising new methods.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, I am sorry. I do not think the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition was here when I started off. I did not wish to enter into a long discussion and to add anything to my speech about the respective attitudes of the two Parties to this question of comprehensive or integrated road transport policy. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House entered into this matter quite shortly this afternoon. If the noble Earl wants a quick answer to this question, it is that I do believe in a comprehensive or, if you like, a unified transport policy. I certainly believe in that. I believe that the Government have a duty to ensure that, within reason, there are facilities—rail, road or air—for 358 the transport from every place of anybody who wants it. I believe that the consumer, the transport user—let us call him that—within reason, again, should have freedom of choice. It is most important that he must have reasonable freedom of choice if we are to ensure that our transport costs are kept to the minimum.
I believe, too, that the Minister of Transport should constantly be carrying out surveys of the changing circumstances, and that is what has happened. If one looks only at the investment on the roads, the change from the £5 million a year that was spent under the noble Lord's régime to the £130 million a year that is now current, one will see what has been done in that regard. I believe, too, that one has constantly to be revising one's attitude to the particular problems of transport as the habits of our countrymen change—as, for example, when so many more cars are put upon the road.
But I do not believe that you get the right answer to our transport problems—I do not know whether the noble Earl wants an answer to the question—by the kind of integration which I believe is in his mind, and which I believe was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, when he spoke to us yesterday; and, frankly, I believe, too, is in the mind of Mr. Harold Wilson who leads the noble Earl's Party. I believe that can result only in inefficiency and in taking away from the transport user the freedom of choice, which must be important if we are to get the cheapest methods of production so that we can further increase our exports.
After that digression, I will come back for one short moment to one particular problem of closures. I said that I had some agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, about holiday resorts. I mentioned the fact that I had represented a holiday resort before—indeed, for sixteen years—and my experience there had taught me how very important railways are to the large seaside resorts. I believe they are quite important to the smaller and medium-sized seaside resorts as well. I would add my voice to those who have asked the Government to have a particular look at the effect of these proposals on some of the seaside resorts. I know, 359 for example, a little about Ilfracombe. I used to take my family to a place near there for our summer holidays, and, frankly, from what I remember of that place, the road accesses are simply not suitable for a whole string of buses Or indeed of cars; and my experience, at any rate five or six years ago, of the station there was of watching masses of people arriving and leaving on the Saturdays. I can well understand that during the non-holiday part of the year very few go. This is a serious problem, and I hope it will be looked at. I should like, in saying this, to add my words of congratulation to my noble friend Lord Mabane far his speech yesterday.
There is one other point that I want to make before I sit down. I have heard it said that any of us who stresses the importance of these other considerations, the social considerations and the national economic considerations outside the roads, and of each case being properly tried on its merits, is undermining the economics of the Beeching Report. I do not think that is right, and I do not believe that to be the Government's view, or, indeed, Dr. Beeching's view. Throughout industry we want efficiency, but we want humanity, too; and certainly Dr. Beeching's Report shows an attitude to the men whom he moves, and who may have to change their jobs, which is an example to everyone. It shows, too, an understanding by him of many of the social aspects of transport and its effect on industry and on growth.
I stand by everything that was said in the Select Committee Report, that:The best initial test of what the public need is given by what they will pay for".But we added that:If thereafter there are other considerations which make it desirable for members of the public to travel or freight to be carried on some routes at prices below the cost, it should be for the Government (and not the Commission) to decide.Frankly, I would expect that the Government will have to decide that some few of the proposed closures should not take place, at least for the rime being; for example, because adequate alternatives are not available. I know that it is assumed that they are available in most cases, and I should say that that is right. But I assume that they 360 are not available in some, and I expect that I am right there, too.
What, then, will happen if it is decided that Dr. Beeching should continue services and keep open stations and lines which he considers should be closed down? I believe—and I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, put to us yesterday—that in such a case there should be a grant-in-aid out of public funds; and, I would add, in advance each year. This was indeed one of the most important recommendations of the Select Committee which has not yet found favour with Her Majesty's Government. But I was glad to hear my noble friend the Leader of the House using words today which seemed to give approval to this idea. Of course, with an uneconomic service, when the railways as a whole are not paying, the taxpayer does in effect subsidise uneconomic lines, whether he likes it or not. But it is a bad system, and not a good system, for him to be faced with a bill at the end of each year, without any say as to whether he likes that line to be subsidised or another line to be subsidised. I very much hope that the Government will take the opportunity on this Report, and on the closure examinations that will follow, to institute a new procedure.
I would in conclusion—and I am sorry to have kept your Lordships so long, but I was rather led astray by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition—to say that there are many problems here which this Report will leave behind it. The financial point to which I have just referred is only one. Much has been said about planning. Of course there has to be a plan, but the plan is no good unless action follows, and follows, pretty quickly. And it must be a forward-looking plan, and not a plan which is designed solely to keep things just as they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 100 years ago. My right honourable friend the Minister, to whom the noble Viscount the Leader of the House paid such a well-earned tribute this afternoon, has taken a good many knocks in his life and some very tough ones this week, but I cannot readily think of any Minister of Transport who has shown more forethought or collected more material for good planning and decisive action than he has done.
As The Times wrote on Monday, the challenge of Dr. Beeching's Report 361 extends far beyond the railways, and even outside transport to regional planning. But it is the challenge to transport generally that we acknowledge to-day. Efficient transport means cheaper costs and more exports, and a much more efficient nation. Let me express, in simple terms, my confidence in Dr. Beeching and in my right honourable and noble friends that they will, together, provide for that efficiency.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I am delighted to be able to associate myself with the congratulations which have been given to the two noble Lords who have made maiden speeches in this debate, and particularly, if I may be allowed to say so, to my old friend and colleague in another place for a good many years, the noble Lord, Lord Mabane. I am sure we look forward very much to his wisdom and experience being at our disposal in future debates.
Before I make such remarks as I wish to make, I should like to refer to one statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in his speech, because I feel it must not be allowed to pass without comment—and I feel that, on reflection, he may himself share this particular view. In paying a very well-deserved tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, told us that Lord Robertson of Oakridge was net as other Generals; he was a different sort of General, unlike those who (and I paraphrase what he said) go about making self-satisfied declarations of how well they have done in their Service. I am quite sure that the noble Lord did not wish to say anything derogatory, because we all know that we owe Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals, in the days of war and also in the days of peace, a great and important debt in the national interest, and those Generals are not here to defend themselves against such criticisms as we heard this afternoon.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I did not put it quite as the noble Lord has suggested. I thought I was very careful in what I said; but I say at once that if any General who engages in controversy and writes books about the past really did feel hurt about what I said, I immediately withdraw every word I said.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I thank the noble Lord. My Lords, after listening to most of the debate and after reading those speeches which I did not hear, I think one can understandably ask oneself: how much of the Beeching Plan is ever likely to be put into operation? If the reservations asked for, if the concessions promised, if the amendments demanded and the exceptions claimed, if the ponderous and complicated procedures for hearing objections from every interest ranging from the individual to the local authority are allowed to operate, at the end of it how much of the Plan will be left? Will the purpose of the Plan have been undermined? How much of the economic salvage operation will be allowed to operate, and when?
The hardships and the dangers of the pure, unadulterated Beeching approach have been admitted in the Report on page 19, and they have been developed by your Lordships on all sides of the House during the debate. Now it will be the task of Her Majesty's Government, in the national interest, to adopt, to amend, to soften the impact of the various effects in the fields of industry, agriculture and social life. It is the Government's duty to hold the balance between these considerations and the danger of whittling away the Report until it has lost its value in terms of money saved and railways modernised. I believe that is a very real danger, to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention.
The debate has also raised certain big issues as regards public corporations, and one of them was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in his opening speech. He raised the basic question of whether public corporations should be regarded as public services or should pay their way: whether they should be regarded as accepted money-losers or commercially viable. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, came down on the side of the need for broad self-sufficiency, but he also questioned, in the case of railways, whether every sector should be examined by itself from the economic viewpoint. Although I must not speak of the particular corporation with which I am connected, I have had some experience of public corporations, and I would admit the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, subject to two observations.
363 The first observation is that the overall picture of the particular corporation which is going to take what I call the rough with the smooth should be, broadly speaking, a commercially attractive one; that is to say, if the overall position of that corporation is one of making both ends meet, or very nearly so, taking one year with another, I would not have any quarrel with the noble Lord when he says that certain uneconomic sectors of any particular activity should be accepted. The second observation I would make is the tremendous danger to morale, to determination on that thrusting urge of outlook essential for commercial success, if there is allowed to enter into any organisation the viewpoint expressed in such words as, "We are a public service corporation and, therefore, our losses do not matter and profitability can be forgotten". That is a very real danger if it is ever allowed to creep into any organisation, whether it be private enterprise or public service.
In the Government control of the implementation I foresee many times when the Government will, on broad national grounds, feel unable to accede to what I call the Beeching Report proposals for savings in various areas. The Government may be unable to accept the Beeching proposals on industrial welfare, social or defence grounds. I believe that to preserve the right picture of any enterprise, to preserve the morale of those engaged in it, and in fairness to those running any organisation, if the Government direct that certain uneconomic activities should take place then they should give what is termed under the Act "a general direction" to that corporation. Such a general direction, as your Lordships probably know, has to be printed in the Report of that particular corporation, and such a general direction will show clearly where the Government have felt it necessary, in the national interest, to step in and counter commercial considerations. Furthermore, if the corporation which, in the national interest, is told to pursue uneconomic activities is allowed to segregate such uneconomic activities in its accounts, then the public outside and those engaged in the industry of the particular corporation will see what is commercially viable and where they have succeeded; and, if they have had a loss, it will show that 364 it is not a commercial loss caused by inefficiency or lack of business acumen.
What I cannot understand—and, so far as I do understand it, I must regret it—is the N.U.R. leaders' resistance to inevitable change. The noble Lord, Lord Lingren, and others have spoken of hopes of reconsideration by the union leaders. These leaders have a fine, loyal body of men who must look to them for wisdom, guidance and help to overcome change and uncertainty away from the traditions and habits of the past. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, paid such fine tribute to those men that no words of mine need be added, except to say that one cannot but agree wholeheartedly with all that he said. Yet the leaders of those men are pledged to resist the Report. They say, "Not a man less, except by death or retirement". They wish work to be provided where men now are; and moves elsewhere are to be resisted. Of course the men feel thus. But I submit to your Lordships that it is not for the leaders to follow the men but to lead the men away from natural fear and doubts.
One can only ask this question arising from the attitude of these particular Union leaders as I read it in the Press: do those leaders consent to their members being part of a bankrupt, outmoded system, supported on the backs of the taxpayers?—because that is what resistance to drastic change must mean. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge and Lord Aldington, made the point of wage scales for railway men comparable to those in outside industry. But by resistance to drastic change the leaders are assenting to their men becoming a body of recipients of permanent public assistance with every well-deserved wage claim submitted being resented by the taxpayers and, not least, by some of the workers in other industries.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, that theory means that the noble Lord places on the men the whole responsibility for the losses of the railway. That surely is grossly unfair; because the end of his argument would be that the men might have to work for nothing in order to make the railways pay.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
The noble Lord has not got the point. What 365 I am saying is that if the Union leaders resist all change, resist redundancy, and say that there must be not a man less except by retirement or death; if they wish the deficit of the railways to go on as it is at present; then they are making their men the unwilling recipients of permanent public assistance. Every wage claim which is, from the men's point of view, fair and right and justifiably put forward will be resented by the general body of taxpayers and, not least, by workers in other industries.
I personally look for wisdom and courage, but I see only stubborn folly from those who are advocating a strike. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said yesterday—and I may say it in stronger language—a strike can do nobody any good, least of all the men, in the security of their future employment. The only benefit of such a strike will be to their political opponents. If the strike comes then I can assure your Lordships that it will be an unsought, unexpected, and unasked-for "Beeching benefit" to the Conservative Party; and we do not want that sort of benefit. Make no mistake, this will be resented by the public as a demonstration of sectional power to penalise and punish, and the purpose of the strike, as defined in another place, is said to be [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 676 (No. 102), col. 769]:… to draw public attention to the realities of what is being done to our transport system.But deliberately to inflict injury on an innocent third party—that is, the public—in order to coerce the second party, is an act that the electors will neither forget nor forgive. It is sad to me to see good men led into folly by the failure of their leaders to face the situation as it must be faced.
I believe that there is no refuge to be found in the Labour Party proposal that the Report should be shelved until some co-ordinated transport national blue print can be produced. This is only an evasion of reality and a postponement of inevitability. All the coordination plans cannot save the railways from the inevitable implementation of almost all of Dr. Beeching's Report, if we accept the modern concept of an efficient railways system. My hope is 366 that in the name of national interest, and in the men's own interest, while there is yet time, those leaders will lead wisely and not follow unwisely.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, we are coming towards the end of this lengthy and extremely interesting and informed debate. I have only three points that I wish to make, and I hope that I shall not detain your Lordships too long in doing so. The first two of them are specific, and the third is a rather more general one. I will deal first with the specific ones. We heard yesterday—and while I was not able to be here for the whole of the debate, I read this morning what took place—quite a lot about the problems of Scotland; and with those I must sympathise from a distance. We did not, to my surprise, hear anything about the problems of the remote rural areas of England which, under the Plan, will inevitably suffer. And I think it is right—not that they should suffer, but that there should be considerable alteration, and even closures, in the actual form of transport offered to them.
To concentrate this argument a little, I will turn to East Anglia, the area I know best. There it is proposed to close down a good many branch lines and small stations, and passenger services will be greatly curtailed. From the economic point of view, as the railways are at present, that is obviously right. But could not those responsible for transport in the wider sense for that area give thought to making use of the actual capital equipment which is there in the shape of the rights of way and permanent way itself? I am not referring to anything that we understand to-day as trains, nor even rail-buses, but to something much more on the lines of long-distance trams.
There would be no need for station staff of any kind. There would also be no level-crossing keepers and even no signalling devices. Rail-cars would simply operate as tramcars, with the conductor taking the tickets and people getting on or off at regular halts where there are already shelters for them. There would be either automatically-operated level-crossings or flashing lights with no signalling devices at all. This, I believe, 367 could be done with complete safety, provided the density of the traffic was not unduly great; and by definition there would not be a dense traffic on these lines. The adoption of some such system, before the railway lines are scrapped altogether and the whole system abolished could mean a considerable alleviation of the hardships that people living in the remoter areas are suffering.
My second specific point, which was just touched on, but not developed, by my noble friend Lord Stonham, concerns safety. We all know that it is safer to travel by rail than by road, but I do not know that we all realise the difference in the degree of safety. In 1961, taking railway servants and passengers together, 42 were killed on the railways; on the roads, the figure was 6,360. It is true that there are approximately seven times as many travellers by road as by rail, so that the figures are not comparable as they stand. We have to multiply 42 by something like seven to reach a correct relationship but, even when that has been done, the chances of surviving, if you travel by rail, are 50 times greater than if you travel by road. That is certainly not a reason for perpetuating indefinitely an obsolete system of transport, but it is a factor which we should bear in mind. Any Government spokesman, or anybody else, who says that they are going to force people off the railways by closures on to the roads, is in fact saying at the same time that he is forcing, these people to undertake a risk of being killed which is 50 times greater.
My third point is a general one on which many noble Lords have spoken, but I make no apology for coming back to it, because it is the crux of the problem. The Beeching Report has been almost universally accepted as extremely able, important and valuable. It has done the groundwork which is essential if we are to plan a modern transport system, but it is a transport system that we want to plan, not simply a railway system. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, argued as if we were simply planning for railways. In that case, undoubtedly there would be no reason for not acting on the Beeching Report. But if we are planning a transport system, clearly we must have the whole picture.
368 It is as if we were trying to plan our building industry by declaring, after we had received a report on brickyards, that we must close them down because they are inefficient and because of high costs, without having looked at cement production and all the rest. We may find that even though bricks were more expensive than other materials, it would cost still more to open up further cement works and in the end the cost to the building industry would be greater. Nobody in his senses planning the building industry would consider acting simply on a report on brickyards. He would wait until he got reports on cement and the rest. And no Government in their senses would consider our transport industry solely on a Report on the railways.
It has been said that all this would take too long. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said that this is a favourite gambit of people who want to pigeonhole a report and take no action on it. I agree with the noble Lord, but that does not mean to say that it is being used as a gambit by those who put it forward as a serious argument. If it will take too long, on whom does the blame lie? We have had the transport problem and we have had this Government for many years. They decided to proceed, rather late in the day, to call in Dr. Beeching and get a survey from him. Why did they not at the same time call in other people who would consider road transport as a second major section, also that somewhat neglected means of transport our inland waterways and coastal shipping, and also, something which has not been mentioned at all in the course of this debate, the new method of transport which we debated some months ago—pipelines. We cannot develop a really modern 20th century system of transport if we ignore pipe-lines, which, as your Lordships know, are something used not solely for transporting liquids—water, oil, petrol—and grains but can also be used for coal and many other solids and semi-solids.
I think that the right thing to have done was to set up two other high-powered, highly qualified committees to inquire into road transport and other methods of transport and when their reports came along—without the publicity and fanfare which has caused such heated differences and such fears, which could have been avoided and which it would have been 369 much better to have avoided—we should have got the chairmen of the three inquiries together, or appointed an outside body, if considered necessary, and got them to work out a co-ordinated plan in the light of all the information they had acquired, and presented it to the Government to make their decision. Surely that would have been the correct way of tackling this problem.
As it is, we now have one admirable and valuable piece of groundwork information and of technical proposals to help us in this problem, but we have little else. We also have what my noble friend Lord Champion and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, referred to—and I think it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, did not spend more time on it—the Report of the Hall Committee on The Transport Needs of Great Britain in the Next Twenty Years. I cannot help thinking that such a document should be sufficient for the Government, with the help of the Beeching Report, to be able to decide what should be done. Let me just read two or three paragraphs from this Report. Paragraph 73 states:The two fundamental problems which face the Ministry seem to the Group to be these:—
- (a) What level of investment is called for in transport as a whole? How should this be divided between road and rail? And how should road investment be divided between urban and inter-urban roads?
- (b) How should the growing traffic problem of towns and cities of varying sizes be tackled?The problem of the place of transport in regional planning and its relation to economic growth in particular areas is also assuming importance.The next paragraph goes on to say:To provide a better understanding of the economic factors involved in both problems, and as a basis for future policy decisions, the Group considers that further work and research is necessary in three broad fields:—Finally, in paragraph 78, the Report says:
- (1) development of improved criteria for investment planning;
- (2) study of the nature of transport demand: how it arises and the factors influencing its distribution between forms of transport;
- (3) study of the costs incurred by transport operators."… the development of solutions to the urban problem calls for further study of the economics of urban traffic. Road users inflict costs on each other: the costs of congestion. 370 Moreover, an extra journey in a congested area may inflict costs on very many other road users. These are likely to be, in total, very much more than the cost borne by the person making this journey. Thinkers about this are agreed that costs of congestion are substantial and that they may have an important application in the problems of charging for road space.That is a valuable Report; but I would stress, without depreciating from it in any way, that all it does, as my noble friend Lord Champion said, is simply to pose more questions. And until those questions are answered it is impossible for this country to have any reasonable form of transport policy. The only answer that I could make out from the speech of the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House was that the roads are already congested; they will be a great deal more congested in the next few years, and so to add just a little more to the congestion by taking people off the railways does not make much difference one way or the other. Surely that is not the way to tackle this problem.
The noble Viscount went on to say that we would not have this type of survey of the other industries now (he did not explain why such a survey had not been initiated already, which is a pertinent question that I hope the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will answer when he comes to speak) because it would take until Domesday. Whether that is true or not, it has never been the case that overhasty action has provided a remedy for over-slow thinking. This is something we must remember in dealing with this matter. Do not let us, simply because the Government have been too slow in their thinking, be rushed into this overhasty action. I will conclude by quoting the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in answer to a Question by my noble friend Lord Stonham yesterday on the Porthcawl passenger road service, when the noble Lord replied [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249 (No. 76), col. 179]:My Lords, I still think it is more important for him"—that is the Minister of Transport—to arrive at a right decision than at a quick decision.I hope that those words will be put in front of the Minister of Transport when he comes to make his decision on the Beeching Report.
§ 6.3 p.m.
My Lords, the Beeching Report has attracted immense publicity, and that publicity has, I think, collected unduly on the question of the closures and withdrawals, instead of on what I regard as the more essential part of the Report, the improvements in operating. There is, I believe, a widespread desire among the general public to-day to try to put goods back on to the rail, and this desire is shared by quite a number of businessmen. But until there can be such improvements in goods handling as will lead to a guarantee of delivery within a certain time there is no chance of maintaining the railway traffic in goods, let alone increasing it. The Opposition answer to everything, of course, is what they know as integration. I strongly suspect that what they mean by "integration" is the direction of traffic on to the rail. That would take place in an atmosphere which is painted by the Beeching Report in these few words:These slow and variable delivery times are quite unacceptable for many forms of freight in these days when road deliveries over comparable distances can be made on the day of dispatch.Integration in the form of direction is out of it completely unless and until the railways are able to offer more efficient handling.
I am not quite sure that the general public realise the monumental task of Dr. Beeching and his staff. Let me take a theoretical case. Suppose that British Railways were to-day in the situation of a reasonably healthy financially sound railway; and let us assume that their revenue was a little more than it is at the moment—say, £500 million a year. A reasonably solvent railway would be held probably to operate on an 85 per cent. operating ratio: in other words, their expenses would be £425 million. The Beeching Report, on page 49, says, quite rightly, that over 60 per cent. of expenses in railways operation are manpower. If you take 60 per cent. of £425 million you get £255 million. If you could add a little more, say 66⅔rds that gives a figure of £284 million. Split the difference and you get £270 million as what a solvent British Railways in those circumstances could afford to pay for their annual manpower Bill.
What, in practice, are they paying? British Railways have always been very 372 coy about their total wages and salaries but on page 169 of the 1960 Accounts one gets from a table the average earnings of all their staff on a certain week at the end of March in 1960. In that time they had 500,000 staff earning approximately an average of £14 a week, which gives a total of about £364 million. We know from the Report that at the end of 1962, the staff was down to 474,000, and we must assume that the average rate of pay had gone up a little; and if we take that at £15 a week, we get a total of £350 million. So that the best guess we can make at the wage and salary bill of British Railways to-day is approximately £80 million more than they could afford to pay and remain in a sound financial state. In other words, unless revenue is substantially increased, British Railways cannot afford to employ more than about 350,000 staff and still pay their way.
No closure visualised in this present Report could possibly achieve a financial solvency based on that sort of formula. Therefore our main hope must lie in the increase of revenue, while at the same time making the most economic use of manpower, as is visualised on page 49 of the Report. Working on the same type of figures, one can say that to be able to employ about 400,000 staff (which one gathers appears to be the ultimate target of the Plan as implemented) the total revenue would have to be of the order of £560 million, which is an increase of some £85 million on 1960. I do not know what the 1962 revenue was. The railways would still be paying nothing on their suspended debt of £800 million. When we were discussing the suspended debt last year I suggested that it was quite unrealistic to keep this debt suspended; that the chances of their ever paying any interest on it were completely remote, and that it ought to be written off, along with the other sum which was written off at the same time. I still maintain that this should be done, and I believe that it would give a little confidence and hope to the railwaymen. At any rate, it would be realistic.
All these statistical exercises are only what are, I hope, intelligent guesses which the outsider can make, because these figures are difficult to find from the meagre data supplied in the Annual Reports. I bring them forward only to 373 emphasise, first of all, that the real costs are primarly the cost of wages and salaries—in the case of British railways more than 60 per cent.—and the formidable weight of the problem of bringing solvency to the whole undertaking. This problem will not be solved, even by the drastic surgery proposed, unless more revenue is earned. Increased revenue is the only key and hope. Coming to the surgery and the closures, let us face it that, from the very nature of the calculations, the saving in closures is more likely to be overestimated than underestimated. Branch lines can potter on with little maintenance, and yet the accountants must have provided full maintenance and renewals on a standard scale when they were calculating their estimates of costs or running.
There can be no generalisation. In some parts of the country, where the roads are straight wide and fiat, a good road service can be provided by public road transport. In other parts, where the roads are winding and climbing, the road service will be much inferior to that offered by the rail. In all cases an adequate public service will require new types of vehicles with special luggage holds.
In many cases, particularly where the road traffic is mainly at peak-hours, the provision of special road vehicles will be most uneconomic, and any bus company is likely to be shy. I have had that from a bus operator. Where there is a feeder branchline bringing commuter traffic on to the main lines to London, close timing of public road transport, in the light of appalling traffic conditions, will be so difficult as to drive a large proportion of the commuter traffic into private road transport to the main line, which is most uneconomic in terms of capital cost, wear and tear, and imported fuel. This, in turn, will lead to great difficulties over parking at ma in-line junction stations which, in the part of England of which I know anything, has at present broadly no margin at all, and any land available for residential purposes anywhere near these main-line commuter stations is worth £20,000 an acre or so.
I feel that under these conditions there should be an examination made by running any of these branches as tramways under the Light Railways Act. I am not at all convinced by the figures 374 on pages 16 and 17 of the Report, and in any case they represent the cost of operating under the existing state of affairs as a proper railway, and not a down-grading to the light railway status, such as I and the noble Lords, Lord Sempill and Lord Walston, suggested. In Sussex, where three important commuter feeder lines are to be closed, we have never seen a light railway car. I think we should do so, and that an attempt should be made to operate these lines before there is any question of closing them down.
I heartily agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House that we need patience, and that nothing can possibly produce solvency to British Railways overnight. There will be some saving from closures. Some lines will receive a subsidy to keep open as has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Aldington, but there is no hope for railways until they can offer to handle all goods on the basis of a maximum guaranteed time of transport. That is the one thing which has driven goods off the rail on to the fleets of "C" licence holders. Once they can do that, they can then hope to offer to firms who run "C" licence fleets a service from factory to local depot which could persuade many firms in certain lines of business to give up the nuisance of having to run large fleets of long-distance trucks. This would be much to the relief of all other road users. It is in this sort of direction that salvation lies, and we must not deceive ourselves that closures are some sort of magic door to instant solvency.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I have two first-hand contacts with this problem, and the first is through the locomotive manufacturing industry. On this, as the hour is late, I would say only that this dieselisation and electrification have not only paved the way to competitive operating on British Railways, but the experience gained in their provision and manufacture, particularly in private industry, has been completely invaluable in providing a shop window for our export markets. In the matter of gaining export markets, I should like, as I have done before, to pay tribute to the United Kingdom Railway Advisory Service sponsored by British Railways, which so ably aids the efforts of manufacturers. The industry is a very competitive one, but as 375 a mainline diesel locomotive with its kit of spares is worth £100,000 in foreign exchange, the effort to export it is well worth it.
But my locomotive connections remind me of something which I feel I must tell your Lordships to-night, because it provides rather a different angle on the redundancy problem to that which is usually mentioned. I was in the cab of a locomotive on the inaugural run of the first 2,000 horsepower diesel-electric locomotive to Norwich. There I talked to the fireman. He told me that he liked diesel locomotives very much, but he did not want to be a fireman much longer because, he said, there was nothing to do, and if he stopped in that job any length of time he would soon stop knowing how to do real work. I cannot help thinking that that attitude will go for a lot of the railwaymen who are said to be redundant. There can be no joy for them in driving trains with no passengers, or manning stations with empty platforms. Therefore, I should like to associate myself wholeheartedly with what my noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge said yesterday—and I am sorry I could not be here to hear him—about the need for fair and generous (I think he said) terms of compensation.
I feel that there is a great deal of double talk about all this redundancy and compensation. Surely, in any industry, certainly that about which I know anything, it is perfectly well known by those who understand the industry what is the fair rate of compensation in any given case. If the Government, by any chance, were failing to offer a fair rate they would be making fools of themseves. If they paid a rate which was far more than was really necessary to meet the needs of the case they would be making fools of the taxpayer.
I will leave that and come on to my second reason for intervening in this debate to-night, which is to talk about the rural scene, not so much Sussex with which my noble friend Lord Hawke is so familiar, but the more sparsely populated areas in the West of England and Central Wales, because although the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is not here, he told me that anything I was likely to say would go not only for Shropshire, which I am going to talk about, but for Scotland and Wales 376 also. I want to say a word or two about this because I do not think this particular aspect was fully dealt with in another place, nor dealt with a great deal here, although the noble Lord, Lord Walston, touched on it for a moment.
In the County of Salop, from which I come, if the full Beeching proposals are implemented we shall have lost no less than 56 or 57 railway stations or halts since the end of the war, and therefore we have special experience of this problem. There are, of course, some general problems affecting county councils, but my noble friend Lord Gage dealt with those yesterday and therefore I shall not pursue them now. But to come back to my own local experience, every closure announced by British Railways in the pre-Beeching days, as well as the Beeching days, was fully and fairly discussed by them with the representatives of the community, the district councils, the Consultative Committee and, finally, the county council.
None of us has any complaints with the attitude which the railways took up and each time the answer, in substance, which was given by those consulted was this: in fact, hardly anybody used the lines and the stations proposed to be closed except railwaymen with free passes; the freight facilities also were not necessary and, if they were withdrawn, could perfectly easily be replaced with road haulage distributing from the larger railway centres and taking goods to those same centres. In the case of the passenger service the answer came every time that there was no need to keep the trains going provided an adequate bus service was provided. In some cases it was there already, in some cases not.
I am not at all sure whether we are going quite the right way about this question of buses, and I should like to say one or two words about that. In the meantime, I should like to associate myself very fully indeed with everything that my noble friend Lord Aldington said about the railway problem as a whole. When the Beeching Report appeared I happened to be in Johannesburg and when I read the leader in a South African paper I saw that it referred to what it called "the sentimental conservatism of the British people" and dealt with these proposals. To avoid doubt in the minds of noble 377 Lords opposite, I will say that the word "conservatism" was spelt with a small "c". But I am not quite sure that I agree with that newspaper, because apart from dedicated men like those who run the Bluebell line and the Ffestiniog railway, I think that ordinary people who want to go from one place to another really do not mind whether they go by train or road, or send their goods by train or road, so long as they have the best means of transport which the circumstances demand.
Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that so far as the countryside is concerned it is very hard, indeed impossible, to fault the pattern of the Beeching proposals as put forward in the Report, but those proposals must be properly linked up with real arrangements, not paper arrangements, to handle passenger transport and freight, not in a haphazard way but in such a way as to feed the railways with traffic and to distribute traffic from the railways to the deeper parts of the country.
I now come to this Motion. I have very little doubt that the terms of the Motion about reshaping each form of transport have a good deal to be said for them. I have also no doubt whatever in my mind that to keep the countryside alive it will be necessary to subsidise one or other form of passenger transport, either buses or trains. To go on from there, I am equally certain that if either form of transport has to be subsidised it should, in the ordinary way, be buses and not trains. I am leaving the question of defence considerations aside. There are, I think, very few places in the country where defence considerations apply in any serious measure to the Beeching Plan, and all those to my thinking are in the north or west of Scotland, far away from the areas about which I am now talking.
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend for a moment? Has he taken into consideration the alternative routes, for instance, from London to Brighton, if a bomb damages, say, a tunnel? They are going to close down the alternative route.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I do not think that that particular problem has arisen in the parts about which I am talking, but I fully agree with my noble 378 friend that it is an important one and must be considered. But it is not an easy matter to consider here because the question of security comes in and it seems to be the fashion to suppose that noble Lords must not be reckoned to know a great deal about all these matters which Communist teenagers talk about freely; so I will leave it at that.
I will now come back to the question how we are to set about linking up the railways which are going to remain with the passenger services. Certainly in my part of the country there is a crying need on the passenger side to link up the buses as feeders to the trains. Nothing has yet been done to do more than perhaps put on one or two more services; nothing has been done to place the bus stations close to railway stations; and nothing whatever has been done to produce a timetable so that the traveller from, say, London can look up a new-fashioned ABC and see how and when he can get to the country station which he used to be able to find in the ABC when trains went to the country stations. Only in that way can the needs of the travelling public be served or can the hope expressed in the Beeching Report be attained that the passenger services will act as proper feeders and distributors for passengers and freight in the railways which remain.
I come now to something about which I make no apology at all for mentioning again, the implementation of the Jack Report. There is no escaping whatever the logic of the Jack Report. If the Government wish to keep the deep country inhabited then public transport must be provided and, in so far as that transport does not pay for itself, it will probably need to be subsidised. Are the Government going to shirk the need to deal with the 1 per cent. displaced by trains? I certainly hope not. I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber yesterday when the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, made his speech, which I have since read with great interest.
If I were a Londoner no doubt I might agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said on the subject of subsidies. If the noble Lord were a countryman he might possibly agree with what I am going to say, because the two 379 conditions are entirely different. From the country point of view the subsidising of say a country bus service is a social service and it is just as much a proper subject for subsidy as the roads on which the buses run, welfare homes for old people or anything else; that is, if you take the view which I do, that a bus service in the country is a social service and not something which stands or falls by whether it can be operated at a profit.
So I was very glad to see when I read the speech of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place that Mr. Buchanan was studying the question of passenger transport and was going to produce a report. But what I am not clear about is why Mr. Buchanan has allowed himself to be overtaken by Dr. Beeching, who started later; because this problem is really in its way much more urgent than the problem of closure of the railways, my reason for saying that being that railway closure has been going on since about 1946 or 1947. A great many stations have been closed and a great many lines have been pulled up without any proper attempt by anybody, despite the protests of people like county councils, to tackle this question of buses.
Here, if I may take a moment or two more, we come to a point where I think there has been a certain amount of rather over-emphasis of the need for a composite plan. After all, the main issues are perfectly clear, and this problem of replacing obsolescent train services by bus services is not a thing which needs a terrific central plan; it is something that is to be provided and operated piece by piece and bit by bit as lines are closed down and stations shut and alternative arrangements for the travelling public have to be provided. It absolutely passes my comprehension why anybody should want to wait for a master plan before doing the obvious thing in each case. But if the matter is not tackled at once, if we are to be left without the railway lines which have been closed down, let alone the ones that are going to be, while master plans are thought out, those in the rural parts of the western counties and Central Wales will be in a very bad state indeed.
My own guess is that what has held the matter up is not a master plan or the need for any such thing; it is really this. With one thing and another, and 380 particularly with the Welsh problem, whether or not the Central Wales line is to be closed down, which is the one which will be the deciding factor, these problems have brought the Government face to face with this question of subsidy, which has been shelved not only since the Jack Report but ever since the Report came out of the Select Committee in another place the Chairman of which was the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. That, and not the master plan, is the key to this problem. It may be wrong to consider subsidies for a thing of this sort, though I do not think so. It may be wrong, as I think it is, not to implement the Jack Report and get on with the problem of providing rural passenger transport on the roads. But, in any case, two wrongs do not make a right.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, it is my duty at this stage to wind up this rather long debate for the Opposition. There have been 34 speakers. It would be impossible to cover all the speeches that have been made, but I should like to single out two in the first instance, mainly for the sincerity and the reception I think the House gave to them—the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and of my noble friend Lord Champion. Both can be classed as ex-railwaymen. They speak with the knowledge of the men of the railways. I detected, I think, in your Lordships' House a feeling that the Government would fail in our estimation if they did not take all the steps within their power to mitigate the hardship that will undoubtedly fall upon an unknown number of railwaymen.
I must also on behalf of the Opposition, congratulate the two noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Mabane, comes to our House very much as an old warrior, having had years in another place. Certainly he has not lost the technique of speaking in Parliament—I almost said that he has not lost the cunning, because, while he supported Her Majesty's Government—as he should, speaking from those Benches—I detected a sting at the end when he raised the question of the industry with which he is very much connected, the tourist industry. The noble Earl, Lord 381 Cromartie, of course, comes as a newcomer, and I think it would be recognised in all quarters that he spoke with charm. We were indeed pleased to hear his comments in regard to Northern Scotland, and I think it is the wish of all the House that we should hear them on many other occasions.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, described the speech of my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth as a statesmanlike speech. By that we perhaps understand a not very controversial speech. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, is a statesman of no mean stature; and, whether he will admit it or not, he is also still a Party Leader. His speech was restrained and constructive, but it was equally deeply penetrating. It could be read, as it will be read, as a damning indictment of the Government policy of the past twelve years. I think the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, himself recognised that when he said the Government were prepared to accept the Motion upon the Order Paper but that he could not accept the implications of the speech of my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I can well understand the dilemma of Her Majesty's Government in the face of this Motion. In fact it is a true paraphrase of the utterances of Dr. Beeching in the early days when he took over his heavy responsibilities.
Whatever the result this evening, I think it would be recognised as a travesty of truth to say that there is some form of unity in this House on the question of transport. There is a deep chasm of division. For some there is a high mountain of resentment at the way the nationalised section of the transport industry created by the Labour Government in 1948 has been dealt with by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore let there be no misunderstanding, whatever may be the fate of this Motion.
The Beeching Report has been generally welcomed in all quarters. The railway unions themselves, in the early days, appreciated the work that had gone into it and the implications from it. Their own attitude towards it now rather stems from the unknown quantity (the point which I made to the noble Viscount who leads the House) of how this redundancy will affect their own members. The Beeching Report is a brilliant 382 analytical exercise. In some ways I share the view of my noble friend Lord Champion that we want a few more Beechings. The Government say that we must look to the '70s. When one sees the competition in front of us in Europe, it is clear that, somehow, we have to yank ourselves out of our present stagnation; and I am quite sure that if we could have a similar analytical look at some of our basic industries it would be extremely interesting. Despite statements to the effect that the Beeching Report is not necessarily new, that something similar was said in the Report of a Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, which reported in 1960, I think it will be recognised that, for the first time, the ordinary member of the general public, the employee of an industry, is able to appreciate a statement in good and simple English, of the clear-cut facts, the economic facts upon which an industry lives and prospers. And, as I have said, I think the general public would greatly welcome further exercises of this character.
But the House must also recognise that this Report covers merely a limited area of the problem. It is based equally on the facts of to-day, and not only on the possible position of the 1970s. As we have recognised, we have a stagnant economy; we have misdirected effort and investment; in recent months, we have had growing unemployment and—I think it would be recognised by all—a major problem arising in regard to what one might call the lopsided development, residential and economic, of this country. Many areas are becoming denuded not only of population but of industries which could support them. Therefore, while we can accept the facts contained in this Report, that does not necessarily mean that we accept in entirety the proposals that are laid out in the Report.
In spite of the words of the noble Viscount, the issue that was put to Dr. Beeching was, in essence, to devise a way in which the railways would become viable and would pay. If the question were put: Does the Report give an indication of what could be done? then the answer could be in the affirmative. But if that Report is to be judged in the light of the possible needs of this nation in the late 'sixties or 'seventies we can only 383 come to the conclusion that it gives a negative answer. That is no criticism of Dr. Beeching. In fact, I doubt whether Her Majesty's Government now could give any indication of the trends of industry to-day, the posture of industry, the needs of industry in the 'seventies: whether they are to be based upon rail or upon road transport.
We enjoyed greatly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, because it became rather provocative, and that is a good thing, coming at the end of a debate. He was surprised that the Labour Opposition were calling for a pause, for a fresh appraisal of the Beeching Plan. He was surprised that we were taking this rather dilatory look, as he described it; he thought that we were in favour of expansion. Coming from the noble Lord in his position in the Conservative Party, it is indeed surprising that he should mention the word "expansion". The record of the Government and of our country under the Conservatives is the worst in Europe; over the last eleven years it has steadily declined. We look at our position, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, that it is not dilatory or trying to play for time. We believe that we should plan our economy in this country, and that we should then take account of the needs of transport: that transport should effect the appropriate services in industry. We have not got a national economic plan to-day. We look to N.E.D.C. for that. We have a 4 per cent. proposal, but we have not yet been given the way in which we can obtain the sinews to achieve that 4 per cent.
I think the House must recognise that transport is bound to play an important part in our development. The noble Viscount who leads the House spoke in the philosophical way of his which the House always enjoys, but as I listened to him I could not but help feel that this was a new Government that had just come into power. For nearly twelve years they have sat opposite, and then they give the impression to your Lordships' House this afternoon that the problem of the railways has only just come to their notice. The Government cannot escape their responsibility in this matter. If they did, we could only say that when they agreed to the vast sums for modernisation they failed to carry 384 out what was expected of them—to inquire as to the use of their money and to ensure that the money which was being put in would be used not only for the development of the railways themselves but for the national good.
I should like to remind the noble Viscount that in 1951 the British Transport Commission earned a working profit of £39 million, of which the British Railways contributed £35 million. During the period of the Government of the noble Viscount this profit has been lost. In 1954 there was a profit of £16½ million. Then, when we saw the effect of their own Bill breaking up the system that was created by a Labour Government, the losses started to rise. They were £16½ million in 1956 and £67 million in 1960; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said yesterday, it was not so long ago that they had to come to this House to write off £875 million of national money. That stems solely from Government policy. Whether the effect on the railways, leading to the losses, can all be attributed to the diversion to the road, is perhaps questionable; it played a part. But the responsibility for this deterioration in the circumstances of British transport, nationalised transport, lies at the feet of Her Majesty's Government.
There was one interesting point that I would take up. This is the first time in your Lordships' House that I have heard the noble Viscount say that the railways' difficulties were not due to nationalisation. He said tit was nothing to do with the management, that it was nothing to do with the ownership. He said that the stark fact is, as is now apparent in this Report, that we were requiring this nationalised organisation to perform a task which, in itself, was uneconomic. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has attacked certain people for denigrating our country. With that I agree. But having listened to the speeches made opposite attacking nationalisation, drawing attention to its failure, attacking those who operate it and who work within it, I sometimes cannot help but feel that the pot is calling the kettle black. However, we cannot withstand a loss of £150 million a year. We cannot afford to squander valuable assets, particularly if we are to advance to the 'seventies as the 385 Government would wish us to do. We are a country of limited resources. We should, therefore, use them to the maximum advantage.
There are some who say that we should continue the railways on social grounds. There is sympathy for these parts of the country which will suffer through the retraction of the rail system. I agree with my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth that we cannot provide a rail service for this cost merely in the context of a social service, but if one takes social service in the context of national well-being, national purpose, economics, then the matter falls into quite a different category. You have to decide whether it is economic for the nation to run an essential transport system at a loss—not necessarily at a loss of £150 million, but at a loss—while keeping the cost of transport down in order to keep your exports competitive. Then, perhaps, there would be a very strong case. In fact, the Government did that very thing in regard to the importation of American coal. The Coal Board had to bear the entire loss of importing expensive coal in order that it should be sold to the industrialist at British prices. That was a right decision to make, but it was wrong to attribute the loss to the accounts of the Coal Board.
I should like to make one point to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on the Transport Users' Consultative Committees, the organisations which make recommendations where they feel hardship is involved. Would it not be possible to enlarge that responsibility to the giving of advice on closures? Because we are losing only one or two lines close to the particular area I mentioned, land prices are beginning to rise. People are no longer looking for houses in areas where these lines are being retracted; they are seeking houses and land close to the railways that will remain. I ask Her Majesty's Government whether it will not be possible for the T.U.C.C.'s not only to give advice to the Minister in cases of hardship, but also as to the effect such closures will have on the areas where railways remain. This is a very strong point in south-east England, because although there are a limited number of retractions it may well have a serious effect on land prices, which are already extremely high.
386 My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth drew attention to the possible effect of closures on industry. One cannot, of course, look at one industry in isolation because the decision made in one industry has an immediate effect on the health and development of another. To take as an example the car industry, if, for reasons of economics, one damps down the production of cars there is an immediate effect on steel; if car production is stimulated, as is happening to-day, one places increased burdens on the local authorities. Therefore, when the Government consider closures they must consider not only the savings to be made, but the effect which they are going to have on industry.
I am most conscious of the position in this matter of Scotland, which is being denuded of population; many of their heavier industries are dying and have to be replaced. Scotland is to a large degree going to lose its railways, and this is bound to affect the attitude of business people who are considering opening new factories. Therefore, I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. We believe that we need a national economic plan, a development plan for industry and the dispersal of industry, and that we should make sure that there is an adequate rail service available.
The noble Viscount in his speech said that it was quite wrong to believe that the roads have taken the cream of the traffic. That is not so. Road transport has taken the most valuable part of the freight that was available to British Railways. It is well known that the heavy dirty cargoes, whether they be carried by rail or ship, pay the least, and that is the type of cargo that has been left to British Railways. The higher price freight, such as cigarettes, whisky, and the like, has all been moved over to road transport. I know the reasons; it is flexible and goods can be delivered to the door. But the noble Viscount is wrong not to take note of the fact that cost comes into it. It is a fact that to-day road haulage can adjust its freight at any time to undercut the British Railways price system.
The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, drew attention in his speech yesterday to the cost borne by the road haulage industry. 387 He quoted a figure of contribution to the National Exchequer of £700 million a year. I have the figure from a very good source to-day that in 1962–63 the contribution will be in the region of £745 million. I have tried to get a break-down, and I think it would be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who made the same point this afternoon, to hear it. Of the £745 million all road users will contribute to the Exchequer, goods vehicles contribute 30 per cent. The remainder is borne by private motorists and public service vehicles. I want this point to be made quite clear to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and the noble Earl, Lord Gosford.
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt—I thought he said in the debate a short time ago that the figure was only 40 per cent.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I interjected the figure of 40 per cent. in regard to the point the noble Lord was making about the percentage of vehicles that were on the highways in an empty condition. Thirty per cent. is the contribution which road haulage makes to our roads, the remainder being borne by the other road users. Perhaps Lord Teynham will be interested to know what that is per vehicle. The total amount that a lorry owner pays through taxation to the Exchequer for the privilege of using the roads and the traffic system is a sum of £157 a year. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, mentioned to your Lordships this afternoon that it was too high and should be reduced. It is an extraordinary statement.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I should like to continue the argument. I was only making the point to the noble Lord that £157 per year was what they paid for the use of the whole of the Queen's Highway. I am not quite sure what the Government's attitude is towards co-ordination and integration. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, if he could tell us at some stage, whether now or later, what is the Conservative attitude towards it? I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Molson, 388 that the Tory Party is for co-ordination, but he is against integration. Yet I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will agree that in the Transport Act, 1962, the Government have carried out, or continued, the integration of the London Board. Here is an example of where the railways make a loss but the buses make a profit; and, overall, the London service pays. This is a point that we have all the time stressed; that we should try to create a service in which one side can contribute towards the cost and possible losses of the other side.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, and his friends in another place support the idea that the consumer should be the arbiter as to the type of carriage of traffic that should operate. I am going to ask the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, as he has the right of reply: is it not a fact that British Road Services are limited to 16,000 vehicles under the 1953 Act? Can the noble Earl tell me whether, if the consumer wishes to go by British Road Services and there are not sufficient vehicles to meet the demand, the Government are prepared to increase the number of British Road Services vehicles? This is an important point, because we shall look to British Road Services and to our bus companies, under the Holding Company, to provide a service for those areas from which the railways are withdrawn. If our present vehicles are being used to the maximum, then obviously, if the Government believe in freedom of choice, they will see that this restriction is removed immediately.
My Lords, I have only one further thing to do, and that is to deal with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I was not here when he spoke, but according to the note that I have been given he said that the N.U.R. leaders insist on no redundancies from the retraction of rail; that the situation should be met by "wastage" through death or retirement. That is just not true. The railway unions have recognised that the-re will be redundancy. What they wish to know are the proposals, the numbers that are likely to be involved, and what action Her Majesty's Government will take in dealing with the effect of the proposals. I spoke privately to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, the other day, and I should be grateful if one day he could give us an answer on this question.
389 Not so long ago, of course, these men were members of the British Transport Commission. It may well be that, if the Government had not broken up the British Transport Commission, had this retraction taken place the Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, could well have found ways of moving those men over to the Road Services. But at the moment the Holding Company and the Railways Board are separate entities. I do not know whether there is any discussion going on between them, to see whether the bus companies, the lorry companies, could find jobs for these people. It would make a considerable impact on the minds of the railway men if they could see that the Government were, in fact, using the tools which are at their hands to deal with this problem; particularly in the areas where there is already high unemployment or, because of scarcity of houses and industry, there are so few jobs available. It is quite wrong for this House to hear that the unions are taking an obstructive attitude towards the plan.
On this matter I would join with all in hoping that the unions will decide that the strike is not necessary. I think it was my noble friend Lord Lindgren, who said yesterday that this is a political matter. This has arisen by a political decision of Her Majesty's Government. Let it be fought out on the Floor of this House. I believe that, apart from noble Lords on this side, the railwaymen have friends on the other side. I believe there are many noble Lords opposite who would insist, even if it meant going into the Division Lobby, on ensuring that there was adequate compensation, adequate treatment, for these men.
My Lords, I have spoken for too long, but this has been a big subject. I would come back, finally, to a point that I made earlier, which has also been made by my noble friends on this side of the House. Transport is an essential service. Whether or not it is profitable, it is a service. It needs to be efficient; it needs to be adequate; and, as the noble Lord opposite said, it must keep to a timetable. I do not believe that, in this complex society in which we live, this can be attained by letting matters ride. The word "planning" is becoming rather popular on the other side. Perhaps the Government now realise that planning is 390 an essential factor in civilisation. If we can bring about a proper plan, one that is acceptable not only to the nationalised industries but also to private enterprise, which may have its part to play, then we can provide a service to industry. But, my Lords, a plan will not come unless we have a Government which believes that a plan can be made and which, above all else, is determined to see that it is effective.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE EARL OF DUNDEE)
My Lords, I also should like to begin by congratulating the two maiden speakers in this debate, one of whom, my noble friend Lord Mabane, was known to many of us so long ago in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, congratulated Lord Mabane on his cunning. I was going to congratulate him not on his cunning concerning the last part of his speech, but on what I thought was his simplicity and his ingenuousness, in expressing the hope that all these holiday makers might acquire health and happiness with comfort and convenience, and that the baby would not be thrown out with the bath-water. I also am glad to extend your Lordships' congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, who has come here to speak for the first time. He has come a very great distance and I think we all agree that his journey was well worth while. We hope he will often come again. And, of course, we must all do our best to see that he is provided with some means of getting here.
My noble friend the Leader of the House in his speech uttered a formidable threat, which I am afraid must have filled some of your Lordships with dismay. He said that I was going to reply to this debate in detail. As there have been 34 or 35 speeches, I think I must interpret the word "detail" in a somewhat liberal manner. But I shall write to a great many of your Lordships—some of whom are still here and some not—on many of the more particular points and questions of fact which you have raised. I think that nearly all of your Lordships' speeches have conformed to two or three, what I might call, salient features in this debate: first, the problem of redundancy; next, the problem of the closures and the local or individual hardships that might arise 391 from them; and, finally, co-ordination between road and rail transport, the relative expense between the two and its bearing upon the economic growth of the country in general.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I spend a little time on the question of redundancy, although a great deal has been said about it, because, although it may in this context—and I hope it will—turn out to be economically trivial, it is not humanly trivial. It is a human problem to which we must give all the attention of which we are capable. I think that this would be in accordance with the desire of all of us, whether we know a great deal about transport or not. Many of your Lordships must, I think, at one time or another, have sometimes felt a little sad at the closure of some country station of which we may have been fond ever since we were children. But although, I am told, and I have no doubt it is true, that station-masters move about more often than any other kind of railway workers, they do not always do so. And it is even sadder, I feel, that the station-master and porter, who may have been there a long time and have many friends in the district, should also have to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, with his very much wider experience, spoke on this subject yesterday in a much more comprehensive way and in a manner which, I think, appealed to your Lordships. There was only one point on which I did not agree with the noble Lord, and that was when he said that he thought the Government might be making this problem of redundancy too easy; rather playing it down. I felt rather the other way. I think that both my right honourable friend the Minister in another place and my noble friend Lord Chesham yesterday almost leant over backwards in order not to ask your Lordships to take it for granted that the very favourable mathematical aspect of the question would represent truly what would happen in practice. I think both my noble friend and the Minister asked Parliament and the public to be prepared for a somewhat larger number of cases of men who might have to get new jobs than we might legitimately hope would be the case from the figures which we have at present. 392 There was some confusion yesterday at one point about some of these figures. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes—I am sorry he is not able to be here again to-day—interrupted on one occasion to give rather a sudden mathematical sum in addition. He took the figure of 46,000-odd, which was the Board's estimate, not of redundancy but of the number involved in the natural wastage which was likely to take place last year. Then he took the estimate of the number of jobs which were likely to be done away with as a result of the Beeching proposals if they were carried out in what was estimated to be the peak year, September, 1963, to September, 1964, which was 26,000 roughly. He asked whether these should not be added together to give the figure of 70,000, which was an entirely different and quite irrelevant figure, because the figure of 70,000 to which he referred was the Board's estimate of the total number of jobs which would be eliminated over the whole period—three, four or five years, or, as he put it, "over the years" however long the scheme takes. It is purely coincidence that two figures relating to one year should happen to add up to 70,000.
Of course, what you ought really to do is to subtract the 26,000 from the 46,000 and the result on paper looks wonderful. It means there are 20,000 unfilled vacancies. So, if there were no recruitment, if no new apprentices were taken on and it were possible, without difficulty, to move any man who needed a job from one area to another, then, so far from having any redundancy, you would have an additional 20,000 jobs which you would need to fill. Of course, that could not give a true picture. For one thing, it is always necessary to recruit some new apprentices to keep the rotation going. Although you control recruitment in order to deal with redundancy, you must take on a few; and, of course, the redundancies not being all in one place, it is not physically possible to fill every vacancy which is caused by natural wastage by moving in a man who has lost his job in another area.
That was why my noble friend and the Minister gave the further estimates, which have been properly worked out, dividing the country into 28 areas, in which it was assumed there would be 393 no net redundancy in 22 and that in the other 6 there would be small figures, the largest of which was 261 in the South-Western area, the Plymouth area. My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Chesham said, those figures—not more than 261 in any one of 6 areas—were assuming that everybody would be willing to move. We hope that many displaced railwaymen will be willing to move, but we cannot assume that they all will; and therefore my noble friend was very careful not to ask your Lordships to take that very small estimate as the actual figure which would be realised in practice.
But whether a relatively large figure or a relatively small one, whether it is a few hundreds or a few thousands, it is, in my view, and I am sure in your Lordships' view, equally important that the utmost care and trouble should be taken to see that any displaced men are fairly treated. May I just briefly recapitulate the points of the agreement which was arrived at between the Board and the unions in February with regard to displacement? A man moving to a new job on the railways will keep his old rate of pay for five years, even if he transfers to a lower-paid job. He gets a lodging allowance until he can move his home. He also gets free removal, disturbance allowance and financial assistance towards the cost of selling or of buying a house. If he goes to a new kind of job in the service—not outside the railways but a new kind of job within the railways—they will arrange for any necessary training; for example, in the provision of such courses as they provide to teach drivers of steam locomotives how to work diesels.
What I think impressed many of us was that part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, in which he urged that, if it were necessary for an employee to find a job outside the Railways Board altogether, as much care should be taken in helping him as is taken when a soldier is discharged from the Army. I hope that that will be done. The Railways Board have announced the appointment of a director of resettlement, a senior and experienced officer whom I think the noble Lord mentioned. His job is to ensure that all the resources of the railways and the Ministry of Labour are made available to assist men 394 to find other employment, and he will also maintain contact with other employees and with the trade unions. The person who has been appointed to this post is Mr. David Robertson, who is at present the Board's director of establishment. He is a Past President of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
Furthermore, railway management, at both national and divisional level, has also been asked to give every help to men leaving the service. It has been impressed on them that every railwayman affected by redundancy must be seen personally and must be given help and guidance in his own and his family's problems. That is through the Railways Board; but the Government will also play their part to the greatest extent possible. The Minister of Labour in the debate on the Budget in another place on April 8 announced a very substantial expansion in the training facilities provided in Government training centres. We have already 13 of these in the main industrial areas. We are now going to provide 18 new training centres, and a number of existing ones are being enlarged so that we shall more than double the present facilities.
These new centres will be widely spread throughout the country, and in locating them special regard has been paid to the areas of relatively high unemployment, particularly Scotland and the North-East and North-West of England. I think your Lordships are aware of the special conditions which prevail in Government training centres. Allowances are paid to the trainees at the rate of £7 10s. a week for a single man and £9 a week for a man with a wife and child. This allowance is not subject to deduction for tax and National Insurance; and lodging allowance is paid in addition. I think it is important that we should emphasise this and give your Lordships every assurance that both the Railways Board and the Government are determined to do their best to see that the men who have to leave the railways are trained for, and placed in, new jobs as soon as possible and that they do not suffer hardship in the meantime.
The question of redundancy which we discussed and which I put first, for I think it is most important, is concerned with hardship to a man who may lose his job. The next feature of our discussion has been concerned with hardships to 395 individual travellers which may result from some of the closures recommended by the Beeching Report. The provisions in the Transport Bill that was discussed last year are probably still fresh in the minds of many of your Lordships. As noble Lords are aware, no railway can be closed down to passenger traffic until the opportunity has been given, through the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, for objection. They have to publish notice twice, with a week between the two publications. Then they have to wait for another six weeks after the second publication to hear objections. After that they have to give advice to the Minister on two questions: the question of hardship and the question of alternative services—whether, for example, existing bus services will be enough; whether new ones are required (and, if so, whether it is better that the railways should be asked to provide one which the Government will pay for), or whether a bus company can give a service to meet the need; whether any Government subsidy is required, and if so, how much it would cost.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, towards the end of his speech, raised a proposition which I will certainly consider. I cannot answer it now. I doubt very much whether the composition of the T.U.C.C. is of such a nature that it will be useful or appropriate for them to consider wider economic matters which the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland have to consider anyway. The T.U.C.C. can make proposals for alleviating hardships and the Minister or the Secretary of State consulted can take other factors into account: for instance, the effect on land use which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and about which the Minister would no doubt consult the Minister for Housing and Local Government.
A great many questions have been raised by your Lordships about the manner in which these possible objections to railway closures might be conducted and the time they might take. The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, who wound up last night's debate, said a good deal about this topic. He pointed out one case at Porthcawl, in Wales—which is a case with which I am not familiar—that had taken nine months to consider. I have made what inquiries I can. Apparently 396 it is the first case of a seaside resort being considered, and there are special difficulties about it. We do not contemplate that it should be normal for applications to take nine months; although there may be some, of an exceptional character, which may take longer. We do not know. It is all based on general probability; and it is not possible to give, nor is it desirable to attempt to give, a comprehensive preview of a vast number of hypothetical objections which may or may not be made. I should have thought personally that there was a possibility in nearly every case of some individual making an objection through the T.U.C.C., and in a large number of cases they might consider them trivial, and might not forward them to the Minister at all. But many other cases would be much weightier, whether they originated from the representations of a single individual, of a public corporation or of any other body.
It is not correct to say that either the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland has prejudged any of these cases in any way. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made one allegation which I thought (and I am sure it was not intended to be misrepresentation) was a very narrow interpretation of the meaning of an English word when he said that the Minister must have decided in advance that, whatever happened, he would close down the line from Stranraer to Ayr because the Minister had said there will be consultations "before the Stranraer line is closed down." But the word "before" does not necessarily have that connotation. Supposing I said to the noble Lord, "You must look before you leap!", does that mean I have taken it for granted that he is going to leap? Or, if I say, "You must mend your ways before it is too late", does that necessarily imply that he is never going to mend his ways until it is bound to be too late? I do not think that the word "before" has that meaning in English at all. Of course a strict pedant might not say "Look before you leap". Instead, he might say "Look before you decide whether you are going to leap or not sooner or later". It might be said that the Minister ought to have said, "…before we decide whether Stranraer will be closed down or not". This is an interpretation that any reasonable and 397 sensible person would give to the observation.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the Minister said, "We shall consult before we close it". That is exactly what he said; and, if English means anything at all, it means he will close it anyway; and that is what was thought in another place.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
This is not the interpretation of the word "before". I would put it the other way round. Surely, "look before you leap!" does not imply that the person addressed is necessarily going to leap. To say that you will consult before you close does not mean that you are going to close.
It is not true that the Minister has partly prejudged the issue. It is the other way round. The Secretary of State for Scotland said last July that no Scottish railway would be closed until there was an adequate road service. In the debate in another place two days ago, he made the obvious remark that the railway from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh, about which the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, was chiefly concerned when he made his maiden speech yesterday, clearly could not be closed down for a considerable time, because it would be a good many years before an adequate road, and bus service, could be built to the Kyle of Lochalsh. We are not asking your Lordships to accept any definite estimate of what the number of closures will be. That must depend in every case upon the merits.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, also asked me particular questions about holiday traffic on which I think, if he does not mind, I had better write to him. Of the two specific things he asked, the first was when the damping down, as he called it, was going to begin. It has been going on for a long time. It is largely a natural process, because fewer people are using the trains. As for the other question, about whether there was going to be a big reduction in stock, the answer is that there will not be a big reduction this year. It will only be about the same as it was last year. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Molson, who made a most useful speech last night, emphasise the fact that the Beeching Report referred to the waste of rolling stock which was kept for only a small number of runs in the year.
398 Many of your Lordships have spoken on the general economic question of the co-ordination of roads and railways and of the effect on our economy as a whole. I would remind your Lordships that we are not averse to planning in this respect. On the contrary, our road programme is one of the most outstanding examples of progressive planning of any country in the world. Plans are made for a period of five years, but a year after the beginning of the five-year period, the plan is reviewed for a further five years. In 1961, when the principle of the road programme was extended to motorways and trunk roads, the Exchequer expenditure on road construction over the period 1962–63 to 1966–67 was £540 million in England and Wales and £67 million in Scotland. A year after that, it was reviewed for the period 1963–68, and the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that Scotland would get £71 million over that period, and the Minister of Transport announced that English expenditure would be £590 million. So it is materially increasing every year. Of course, in making this road programme, both the Secretary of State and the Minister take full account of railways, of industrial development, of the desirability of having growth points and of helping the better distribution of industry for the benefit of development areas.
EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, what is the real proportion of that expenditure at present borne by the industrial users of the roads?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I do not want to spend long on this question. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, asked what was to be spent on the maintenance of roads every year. The figures I have just given are for new construction. The figure for new construction in England and Wales for next year is £130 million. I got the annual figures for road maintenance in England and Scotland together for the noble Lord and they come to almost exactly £100 million. So we are going to spend £230 million on these two counts altogether.
I am not arguing either for the roads or for the railways. I think that the railways are better for some things and the roads for others; and I like to use them both. I am merely trying to
399 give the facts which some of your Lordships have asked for. The amount of revenue contributed by private road users is £402 million in motor fuel tax, £140 million in commercial vehicle duty and something like £170 million in purchase tax, making a total of well over £700 million. Last night the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, expressed doubt as to whether road users were contributing their proper share.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I think that it applies to both. The argument is that these sums which are contributed in revenue are vastly in excess of the expenditures which I have given. In order to show that they are not paying enough you have to take the capital value. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, sometimes takes capital value as replacement value, which is not the case in regard to the railways. Your Lordships will remember that a good deal of railway capital has been written off. In the Transport Bill last year, £475 million of debt was wiped out and another £675 million was put in a suspense account, which pays no interest.
We are not trying to penalise the railways at all. We want to improve the railways. I want to emphasise to your Lordships that it is not a necessity for the survival of any railway line that it should show a profit. The criterion should be, not whether it makes money, but whether its contribution to the general economy of the country is sufficient to justify the expense. That does not mean that every railway line which loses money is a justifiable social service. If there are ten carriages running twice every day and only carrying two people for a distance of 40 or 50 miles, that is not only a question of losing money. What it means is this: the nation's material and labour resources, which go into that effort, are largely being wasted. It is a drag on our general economy, a hindrance to our industrial efficiency, and it is in that light that we have to judge whether a railway line is going to be improved, maintained as it is, or closed down altogether.
The first question that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, put about the Beeching Report was the first one 400 which occurred to me when I looked at it. It does not say anything about freight. It tells us which passenger lines are proposed for closing down, but it does not say whether they are going to be continued for freight traffic or not. The British Railways Board have not taken any decision on that. In the case of lines which have been closed down in the last twelve or thirteen years, some of them have been continued to be used for freight traffic for a good long time after they have been closed down for passenger traffic. Certainly I know one or two that have done so. After a period the railway has closed down; the line is taken up and the bridges demolished, which could be an economy on the road-making, and sometimes not. It depends, in the long run, on whether the Board believe the freight traffic will be justified, and sometimes they keep them going for quite a long time.
But you could not justify maintaining traffic which was not being used much, possibly in the hope that some future generation might come to make use of it. However, it has not yet been decided what lines will be closed to goods traffic, and none of them will be closed immediately they are closed to passenger traffic.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, may I emphasise that I was not making a criticism at all. I was only asking a simple question.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
And I was trying to give a simple answer. I hope it did not sound as if I was replying to a criticism. It is a question that I asked myself when I first read the Report, and that is the answer to it.
Book-keeping and profitability are not the main criteria, although they must in some cases be important, of the standards that will be applied in implementing or not implementing the particular proposals of the Beeching Report. I am glad that many of your Lordships, and particularly, if I may say so, my noble friend Lord Aldington, in his most admirable and eloquent speech, put so much emphasis on the constructive side of this Report. This Report is not merely a plan to close down a lot of unwanted lines and do nothing more. It is a plan to modernise British Railways; to facilitate 401 more electrification and the operation of more diesel trains instead of steam engines, with greater speed, greater comfort and greater efficiency; and to recapture by means of the new proposed fast liner trains a large proportion of the heavy goods traffic now carried by road and whose carriage by rail would be in the national interest.
Some of your Lordships—I am not going to argue that it is necessarily a bad principle—suggested that we ought to induce people to use the roads less and the railways more by making them contribute a fairer share to the cost of the roads. That must be by higher motor taxation, higher petrol taxation, higher purchase tax or something of that kind. Of course, every Government must always be ready to consider whether it is in the national interest to try to divert transport from one kind of track to another: by more severe licensing, by higher taxation or by any other method. That is something which every Government must be free to consider. If we did try to divert a substantial proportion of road use to rail use by extremely high taxation or extremely severe licensing, I do not know how successful we should be. No doubt we should get a little more traffic on some of the main lines that are being kept, but I doubt whether we should get a great deal of traffic transferred to many of the lines which the Report proposes should be closed down. But surely we must have regard to the prevailing desires of the people who use the roads, both for personal transport and for goods traffic. That is undoubtedly the direction in which we want to go. We do not want to reverse the trend, because it would be reactionary and useless to do so. We do not want to stop everybody from having private cars instead of going by train.
I think that, on the whole, there has been a measure of agreement in this debate which has altogether outweighed any element of controversy to which we have listened in the last two days. There have been some differences. Of these, I thought the two most typical examples, both from noble Lords' speeches yesterday, were those between the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I think they typify this difference of outlook between some of your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord 402 Lindgren, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249 (No. 76), col. 224]:If you are going to have transport integrated…if you are going to be able to treat 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.The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said (col. 238):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.I think these two opposing statements more or less typify the underlying division of opinion among some of your Lordships about this question. But the Motion is,That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the Beeching Report…and to the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable".That, I think, is a proposition with which all your Lordships agree, and, in view of this, my noble friend the Leader of the House has thought it right to advise your Lordships to accept this Motion.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
The Motion begins by saying that there be laid before the House Papers, and we shall, of course, have to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, exactly what type, variety, size and quality of Paper it may be necessary or appropriate to lay before your Lordships in connection with this Motion. But, subject to that, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and others who have spoken on both sides of the House for the moderation with which they have discussed this question and for the constructive spirit in which the debate has been held; and with that expression of gratitude, I would advise your Lordships to agree that this Motion be agreed to
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl for having offered to send so many letters to noble Lords on this side of the House, and perhaps that will comply with the laying of Papers. But, of course, as to some of the things the noble Earl has dealt with in his interesting speech, the public might like to know as well, and therefore it is not always satisfactory to write to a noble Lord rather than to publish them in the public Press. But that depends on the value of the things. On this point about the Papers, the Paper I should really like to have would be the one I referred to in an exchange with the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I should like to congratulate on making an able speech yesterday, even though the policy and direction of it was wrong from my point of view. It was a good speech, and I do not say that in any condescending spirit. But I did say then that it would be nice to know how much was contributed to the central Conservative Party Funds by the road haulage people in certain General Elections. Noble Lords opposite know perfectly well that it was done. If I could get them to lay Papers showing the amount that was contributed, I should be grateful.
On the other hand, I do not want to part company with the Parliamentary Secretary, about whom I have just said some nice things, because he said that if ever the Conservative Party divulged their financial accounts he would resign the Party.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I thought the noble Lord did; but if he says he did not, then he did not: he has spoilt my story. But there it is. Now we come to the end of the debate, and I must say that my noble friends on this side of the House are delighted at its outcome. This is a Motion which I admit is in moderate terms, but clear terms, and it expresses a Socialist principle in relation to the organisation of transport:… the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable.It is the reverse of what the Government have been doing. They have been doing their best to damage the railways and elevate the roads, irrespective of the contribution that either could make. 404 Therefore, this again is in conflict with Government policy.
Now we understand from the Minister of State, Foreign Office, who speaks very appropriately on this matter, that the Government have now decided to alter their policy and that therefore they accept this Motion. I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and to the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and, indeed, to the whole Cabinet, including even the Minister of Transport, for having at last seen the light and for having accepted frankly, openly and without reservation, this Motion. I want Ito thank them on behalf of my noble friends, to whom I am indebted for the excellent support they have given to this Motion. I want to thank the Government for this change of policy which we have brought about. This is a great Labour victory, in the House of Lords, of all places. It will show the other place how to get victories over the Government. It is a great triumph, and this is a day of history in your Lordships' House. I thank noble Lords opposite for their consideration and their willingness to confess their sins and to see the light.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.