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Charges (Increases)

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

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63.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will give an assurance that passenger and freight rail rates will not be further increased this year.

I can give no such assurance. I stated in February that the Charges Consultative Committee had recommended certain increases in railway charges, and that the Government had decided to review the position at the end of March in the light of further experience of the trends of receipts and expenditure. It now appears that, apart from the effects of the severe weather and the fuel crisis in the first quarter of this year, other factors are affecting net revenue adversely. To the end of March, the pooled net revenue of the railway companies fell short of the appropriate proportion of the fixed annual sums payable to them by about £18 million. It is estimated that this deficiency will increase to about £23 million by 30th June, and possibly to about £32 million by the end of the year. These estimates justify increases substantially in excess of those recommended by the Committee, and the Government are giving close consideration to the steps necessary to meet the position.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has just given an account of what is a most depressing future for the industry? Is he aware that under nationalisation the charges will be further increased, and, in view of the present condition of the country economically, will he give an assurance to the public and to traders that the charges will not be increased?

I have already stated that I can give no assurance. This has nothing to do with the form of control of the railways. The railways would have been in a worse position if they were not under control.

What becomes of the promise of cheap and efficient transport under nationalisation?

That is a question which, later on, the noble Lord might be in a better position to judge

Is my right hon. Friend aware that paying subsidies to private enterprise on this scale is not justified?

I do not think the question arises. The control agreement is in order at the present moment, and the State must meet its obligations, like everyone else.

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman's estimate takes account of the claim for about £70 million per annum extra pay from the railway staffs?

I do not quite see the connection, and, in any case, these are not my estimates, but the railway companies' estimates.