Pullman Car Company
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission to discontinue their negotiations for the acquisition of the Pullman Car Company.
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission not to purchase the Pullman Car Company.
I have no power to give such a direction, which I could not regard as one of a general character and, even if I had, I should not think it appropriate in this case. The proposal is the result of negotiations freely entered into between the British Transport Commission and the directors of the Pullman Car Company, on the initiative, I understand, of the latter. The directors have commended the proposal to their shareholders, and it is now awaiting the shareholders' decisions. The main reason which has weighed with the Commission in making their offer to acquire the company is that they consider that this is the best way of ensuring the continuance of the Pullman car service on a sound long-term basis.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for that statement and recognising that he has no statutory power in this matter, may I ask him whether he is aware that the overwhelming majority of the general public will deplore the disappearance of the last vestige of private enterprise on the railways, and that we shall no longer anywhere be able to get a decent meal on long-distance trains?
Is the Minister aware that the overwhelming majority of the general public do not travel by Pullman?
In answer to both of these questions, this is now before the shareholders of the Pullman Car Company, the overwhelming majority of whom will now be called upon to make a decision.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Pullman Car Company during the whole period of the nationalisation of the railways before this Government took over was having considerable trouble, under considerable pressure, in carrying on its particular work, and am I to understand that my right hon. Friend, after all that was said during the General Election, has no power whatever to do anything to stop this ordinary private enterprise company being taken over? May I further add that the people in my constituency, to which most of these Pullman cars go, including the "Brighton Belle," will be horrified at this happening, because they do not wish to see nationalised railways taking over something that up to now has been so efficiently run?
My hon. Friend has asked me a number of questions. It is, of course, a fact, as is stated in the circular put out by the Pullman Car Company directors to their shareholders, that there are insuperable difficulties at the present time and in the foreseeable future for both parties to arrive at a worth-while solution. I do not believe that anyone on either side of the House seriously expects that the powers given to the Minister under the 1947 Act should be used in this way to interfere with the Commission's freedom to make commercial transactions freely entered into by both parties. If it is a fact that my hon. Friend's constituents fear that they will be prejudiced in this matter, I hope the advantages of the Pullman service, which are undeniable and which the Commission will continue in their present form, will be extended to other districts as well as to Brighton.
Is it not a fact that the company has said that it could not carry on in view of the very large capital expenditure which will be necessary to re-equip these Pullman cars, and is that not the reason why it is being taken over?
It is not being taken over. The question is now before the shareholders, who have to consider a freely negotiated offer. It is for them to consider the matter, but clearly the immense cost of re-equipping a fleet, which is getting old in parts and the franchise of which expires in 1962, must be ever present to the directors and the shareholders.
In view of the quite unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter as the subject of my Adjournment debate tomorrow week.
Level Crossing Keepers
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission to alter their present policy of dismissing level-crossing keepers and placing the responsibility of opening and closing gates on the engine fireman, in view of the unemployment caused and the fact that no economy is effected, since the extra consumption of fuel involved in stopping and starting trains outweighs the saving in wages.
No, Sir. This is a matter for the British Transport Commission. The cost of the slight increase in fuel consumption resulting from the stopping and starting of the locomotive is much less than the wages that would have to be paid if crossing keepers were employed.
Is the Minister aware that on one branch line alone from MacDuff to Inveramsay all three level-crossing keepers have been dismissed at a loss to British Railways of £1,965 12s. a year in order to save £450, that that is false economy, and will he now restore the three level-crossing keepers, who are on the spot waiting to resume their duties, and so save the nation money?
If I took any such step the hon. and learned Gentleman would be the first to point out that I would be acting unconstitutionally. I think that this is a matter which can be safely left to the commercial discretion of the Commission, which, in this and in other more important fields, is attempting to make the railways self-supporting.
On a point of order. The Minister has overlooked the fact that I merely asked him to give a direction to British Railways. I did not ask him to do anything unconstitutional.
The Minister has answered that.