Class Iv, Vote 2
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Revised Supplementary sum, not exceeding £30,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968, for the expenditure of the Ministry of Transport in grant to the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board and the British Waterways Board in respect of deficits on their revenue accounts.—[Mr. John Morris.]
During the short time that I have been in the House, Supply days have been used, by and large, to discuss other items. We have taken that opportunity to discuss matters of very real and relevant significance for the country's future. On this occasion, however, we have decided to use the time, as it was originally intended, to discuss Supply. I believe that there is no more important or vital aspect of our present position than the economic crisis, and a Supplementary Estimate of the order of £30 million is quite clearly a matter of great significance.The total amount referred to in the Vote is £168 million, which is an increase of £30 million. When in June, 1967, we discussed the British Railways deficit of £153 million which makes up almost all this amount, several hon. Members on this side expressed alarm at what was taking place; at the sheer size of a deficit of £153 million; and, more important, at the fact that the Government appeared to be making no significant changes of policy which could reduce the amount. Sadly, our worst fears have been realised and, once again, we find ourselves with an enormous deficit. The plain fact is that the British Railways deficit is now assuming the dimensions of a national disaster. We have to consider that recently we hive been discussing a policy to reintroduce prescription charges which involved a great deal of controversy and trouble, and was related to a sum of £25 million. We have to consider the very real alarm and misery which will stem from the Government's decision to reduce expenditure on Scottish housing by £7 million over a period of two years, which is only one-fourteenth of the amount of this year's railway deficit. We have to consider the dangers to our national security and to our substantial assets east of Suez because of a recent Government decision in that regard; and that all our defence capability there could have been continued in the 'eighties, and not the 'seventies, if we were able to take the amount represented by just one year of the deficit. Consideration of all those aspects gives some idea of the amount of money of which we are now speaking. The fact is that this year's deficit is equivalent to 5s. per week every week for the average family. In effect, what we are doing is paying an extra insurance stamp of 5s. every week just because of the deficit. We on this side are not in any way trying to suggest that the elimination of the deficit is easy: on the other hand, when hon. Members opposite and people outside talk about the social consequences of action on the railways we should also remember the importance in social priority of a sum of over £150 million. It is a very substantial amount. We therefore believe that at a time of economic stringency, at a time when the Government are very carefully scrutinising all items of expenditure, when nothing is sacrosanct and sacred cows no longer exist, we should look very carefully at the deficit relating to this Supplementary Estimate and at all aspects of our policy. The importance of the amount is not just a question of money. In our debate on 26th June last, I was very impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), who often speaks in our railway debates. On that occasion he made a very sensible and important statement. The hon. Gentleman then said:
That is absolutely true. The existence of a substantial deficit has a very devastating effect on the morale of railwaymen. The one real asset the railways have are the men who work on them. There could be no greater body of people so committed heart and soul to the future of this great industry. We shall have to ask many questions about this Supplementary Estimate, and I hope that the Minister will answer them fully. The first and obvious one must be why there has been such a very substantial error in calculations, and what steps are being taken to prevent this happening in the future. We often have under-estimates—our debates in recent years have seen several examples in which the overspending of money has caused major controversy—but we now have a major overspending of £30 million in one year, and when we have such a major difference without any significant changes of policy taking place in between questions must be asked. These are not just my own fears. The Estimates Committee, when considering a memorandum submitted by British Railways only a few weeks ago, pointed out in a Report published in December that it was very alarmed. In page 7 of its Report we read:"The railwaymen would be jubilant if they managed a substantial reduction in the deficit. It would give them greater heart and give greater impetus to the success of British Railways than anything else."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1967; Vol. 749, c. 135.]
that is obvious—"Your Committee feel bound to point out that Supplementary Estimates for the British Railways Board are becoming a regular occurrence. Apart from the disturbing picture this presents of the failure of the railways to pay their way"—
That is a very carefully worded and very sensible comment. We might not think such a major mistake so disastrous if it had not happened before, but, as the Committee points out, we now have exactly the same question arising and exactly the same explanation given, though the same sort of disaster has happened in a previous year. Our first question, therefore, is: what steps are the Government taking to make sure that this will not happen again? When the Government are thinking in terms of very tight budgeting and of trying to work out amounts to the nearest £1 million in so many social spheres, we must know what steps they intend to take to make sure that a mistake of £30 million will not occur again. The Government's answer to that question is one in which every hon. Member and every taxpayer will have a very real interest. The second question that we on this side are entitled to ask is whether the Government consider that this is a matter that will not arise again, but that there will be an improvement in the financial position of British Railways. When we recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) pointed out in our June debate that we have made a capital investment of £1,200 million in British Railways over the last 10 years, it seems incomprehensible that we should have a deficit which has been growing under this Government and which, looking to the immediate future, appears likely to continue to grow. It is worrying if we take into account the reasons given by the British Railways Board in statements to the Estimates Committee. All the reasons given for this Supplementary Estimate and the size of the deficit would appear to be factors which are not improving, but are getting worse. We look at the four essential reasons which British Railways gave in the statement, contained in Appendix 2 of the Report on pages 44 and 45. The first reason was an absence of upturn in the level of economic activity. Do hon. Members on either side of the House, having heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers including the Prime Minister speaking in recent debates, consider that this factor will disappear as a result of the Government's economic policies? The slashing of Government expenditure and the further dampening measures on the economy which we all know are to come, but we do not know exactly when they will come, will unquestionably have a serious effect on the level of economic activity. I well remember listening to speeches by hon. Members opposite in which they said that it was possible to have a growth rate not of 5 per cent. such as we had in the last two years of Conservative Government, but of 6 per cent. by investment programmes. Then we had the National Plan, which suggested 4 per cent., and later the former Chancellor spoke of 3 per cent. Under the present Government the economy has hardly grown at all. On average, it has been a growth of 1 per cent. and the prospect for the future is that things will get worse. Do the Government estimate an improvement in this factor in the immediate future? I cannot see a remarkable upturn in economic activity. We must discount this factor when we are looking for an improvement. The second reason given to the Estimates Committee was that coal traffic has been hit. Hon. Members opposite are constantly reminding us that the future of the coal industry is not so bright as it once was. This is a vital factor for British Railways. As the Minister pointed out on 26th June, one-third of the freight receipts come from coal and about 90 per cent. of the freight total comes from coal and steel. Can we look for an improvement here? In all previous debates on the railways we have had the unknown factor of a White Paper on Fuel Policy, but this is now available. Despite devaluation, it seems that it will be the basis of fuel estimates at least over the next five years. The White Paper tells us that the amount of coal required between now and 1970 will fall by about 20 million tons per year. Here is another factor in which the coal industry is heading for a rapid contraction and this unquestionably will have a very considerable effect on British Railways. This was given as a reason for decline. The Supplementary Estimate this year and looking to the immediate future makes it a factor which can only deteriorate. Every estimate made by this Government about the amount of coal which would be required and consumed has, unfortunately, proved over-pessimistic. If we have the suggestion of a 20 million ton reduction over the next few years, it might be more serious. We can see no sign of improvement here. The third reason was that iron and steel has been seriously affected by the recession. I suggest that the recession will not disappear. From the meagre reports by the British Steel Corporation now that the industry is under public ownership, there seems no immediate prospect of a considerable improvement in the iron and steel industry. To that extent the Government cannot look for much progress. The fourth factor, a smaller one in total, is the question of industrial stoppages and disputes. It was pointed out to the Committee that £2 million had been taken up by disputes over freight terminals and also the dock strike and the A.S.L.E.F. strike. Although we have been given an assurance that industrial relations would flourish under the present Government, I think that it was right of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester to point out in a recent speech that industrial relations on British Railways are not flourishing and morale is perhaps at an all-time low. In all this tale of gloom presented to the Estimates Committee, there was one hopeful factor. It was the statement that freightliner business had been improving and the amount received from it in one particular case had been an underestimate. We on this side of the House have consistently pointed out that the whole freightliner network, planned and financed by the previous Government, offers an enormous potential for British Railways. Is it not a tragedy that tomorrow in Standing Committee we shall be starting proceedings on the Transport Bill which will take away from British Railways total control of the freightliner system, which is the one real growth factor? We can see on the basis of present Government policy no wonderful improvement in the situation; in fact, we see it getting worse. When we have a deficit of £150 million, when we see the situation getting worse at a time of economic stringency this is a matter of very real concern for every Minister, for the Cabinet, for every hon. Member and for every taxpayer. When he was speaking of the problem in the debate on 26th June, the Parliamen- tary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport pointed out that there were two essential tasks. He said that the first was a question of accountancy and how to look at the figures. The second was a question of remedying the underlying causes. There is no question that on looking at the accountancy the Minister has kept his promise, because in the Committee tomorrow we shall be starting on a remarkable Bill which will change round the accounts of British Railways very considerably. The best summary of this new situation was given in the magazine Modern Railways, in the January issue, by Mr. Fiennes, who is known to the Minister. The heading was:"there appears to be a continuing inability on the part of those concerned to make accurate estimates. For example, in their Eighth Report for Session 1966–67 the Estimates Committee reported to the House an increased deficit for the British Railways Board, due largely to a loss of freight receipts caused by the economic climate. This is virtually an identical account to that which Your Committee are now reporting. While accepting that the present economic situation was difficult to forecast, Your Committee consider that the British Railways Board should have been able, as a result of their experience last year, to make their estimates for the current year more realistic."
This is the whole basis of the policy which the Government are bringing forward under the Bill. They are changing the figures round. Instead of a deficit it will be called a loan or a grant."They have shuffled the deficit under the rug."
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder how far we can pursue the matter of legislation in this debate. There will be an opportunity in Committee in the next few weeks. I am concerned about, whether it can be discussed now.
In this debate hon. Members are entitled to discuss the Supplementary Estimates and anything which reasonably arises from the Estimates.
I am well aware that these are facts which the Parliamentary Secretary does not want to hear and matters which he does not want to have ventilated in the House. If he cannot see the relevance to the estimates of what I have been saying, the future of British Railways is much more gloomy than we thought.This matter is uniquely relevant to the question of the Supplementary Estimates and what the Government intend to do about the problem. Not only do we consider it directly relevant to this debate, but I hope that the Minister will reply to it. If he is to shelter behind a question of order to avoid answering questions, we shall take the strongest exception. The hon. Gentleman said that, first, we had to get accounting right; he is doing that by shuffling the deficit under the rug. What about the second thing he would do to remedy underlying causes of the British Railways' deficit? This is something we have not seen happening. All that has happened has been talk about new grants, loans and subsidies. There has been nothing about the fundamental weaknesses and causes of this trouble. Instead of taking no action, which would have been preferable in present circumstances, the Government have been taking actions which we believe to be entirely wrong. How are we to get rid of Supplementary Estimates such as this and of the British Railways' deficit? One way which the Minister suggested was by getting at underlying causes. There is another way; that is, to ruin those in competition and to try to make life so difficult for them to compete with British Railways that the deficit may be reduced by forcing traffic on to the railways. I look at the history of previous Budgets tax pressures, the £350 million annual extra tax put on road users and present plans for further taxes of £40 million on road users. It might seem to those looking at the Supplementary Estimates that this is what the Government have in mind—that they are trying to solve the problems of the railways by making life impossible and uneconomic for those who compete with them. This is the wrong course of action and one that we shall bitterly oppose. The National Plan, the most unique contribution by the Government to the wastepaper drive, surprisingly enough had some useful things to say about British Railways, the deficit and the Supplementary Estimates that we are considering. It suggested that the railways working investment might be eliminated by 1970 if certain things were done—if there was substantial progress in implementing the closure proposals, if a start was made on the process of concentrating on selected trunk routes and if there was co-operation with the unions in increasing productivity and on the question of train manning. We believed that it was a sensible policy and could have been achieved. But there was a fourth factor at the foot of the page, one which the people who drew up the National Plan con sidered uniquely relevant, the question of investment. They said that they believed that investment should be £135 million annually looking over the next few years, and that this would not be an enormous increase against the vast sums which were spent on investment in the railways by a previous Government. I put a third question to the Minister on the question of these Supplementary Estimates. Does he see any hope of Estimates like these not being brought before the House without a substantial programme of real investment in British Railways? The fact is that although the Government apparently have millions of pounds to spend on all kinds of nationalisation in the field of transport, when it comes to investment I believe that they have been starving the railways of much-needed investment which could lead to the kind of policies and service which could eliminate deficits and prevent this kind of Supplementary Estimate coming before us. I remember the Minister of Transport speaking about this crucial factor of modernisation which is vital for providing morale. At the conference of N.U.R. branch secretaries in June last year she said:
In the Second Reading debate I pointed out that the Minister had selected the framework of a glass coach, but, unfortunately, through weakness and obsession with ideology, had succeeded, where Prince Charming failed, in transforming the embryo glass coach into a pumpkin. We can see this happening no more relevantly than in the field of investment. The National Plan said on page 129 that £135 million of investment was considered in real terms to be the basis of the future. What has happened?"The railways have been the cinderellas of transport for a long time now. I cannot wave a magic wand and produce a glass coach or a golden crown for railwaymen."
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman was right in saying that he is entitled, in considering the Supplementary Estimates, to deal, if he thinks it proper, with any matters that may involve legislation, but it does not seem to me that in dealing with the Supplementary Estimates one can deal with the question of investment.
I can appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that at this point it might appear that I was going away from the subject.I was trying to point out that one of the reasons, I believe, for our having this Supplementary Estimate is a reduction which the Government made in the investment programme, and I am anxious that they should take steps to stop future Supplementary Estimates of this kind. We have recently had word of a further reduction in investment. It was that sole point that I was hoping to make, and also to give figures.
We cannot deal with hypothetical questions about possible future Supplementary Estimates. We can deal only with the Supplementary Estimate before us.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your guidance. The House of Commons is faced with a disaster, that it should be asked to provide another £30 million on top of the already very large estimated deficit. The House would surely, I submit, be grossly negligent in its duty if it did not ask for assurances from Ministers that this will not happen again. We are not here just to put a rubber stamp on a disgraceful state of affairs. We are here also to ask for remedies.
There are obviously some limits to what the House can discuss in debating the Winter Supplementary Estimates. As I understand the position, the House is entitled to discuss whether this Supplementary Estimate for £30 million is justified or not and whether the House should approve it or not. In considering that, it is possible to discuss whether any legislation is desirable or not. However, I do not think that we can discuss hypothetical questions as to whether future Supplementary Estimates may or may not be put forward as a result of the Government's present policy. We must confine this debate to whether the House should approve or disapprove the recommendation by the Government for a Supplementary Estimate of £30 million.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very sorry to have to pursue the matter. [Interruption.] Perhaps it would be better if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were in the Chair. My point—it comes very much out of what you have just said, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that we are dealing with this present Supplementary Estimate and the House has to decide whether to support it or vote against it.For my part—I do not know about my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench—I would willingly vote against the Supplementary Estimate unless the Government are able to adduce arguments to show that this disgraceful state of affairs will not be repeated. It is very much upon that that I seek your guidance.
Obviously, the Chair has to be reasonable in allowing limits of debate on Supplementary Estimates, and I will do my best in that regard. I think that we have to be careful not to go very much wider than the question whether this particular Supplementary Estimate is desirable or not. Within certain limits it is permissible, in my view, for the hon. Member to ask what the consequences of this Supplementary Estimate might be, but not to any great length.
I am extremely grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This has been due to my inexperience in the House and on the Opposition Front Bench. It is such a wide subject, on which we feel so strongly, that we are inclined to go outside the limit. However, I will keep strictly to what you have suggested.I believe that one of the reasons for the Supplementary Estimate was the cutting of the British Railways' capital investment during the year that we are considering, which I believe has reduced the competitiveness of the railways. When we consider that the 1967 Estimate was £104 million and that in July, 1966, the capital expenditure was reduced by £14 million, I suggest that this was directly relevant. What attitude should we take? We might be prepared to say that a mistake was made, but we would forget about it and approve the Vote were it not for the feeling that we have that exactly the same thing is being done again. Written Answers were given on 20th December last, particularly in column 414, showing that the electrification of the Crewe to Glasgow line is being indefinitely postponed by the Minister. We on this side believe that one of the basic factors accounting for the Supplementary Estimate was the postponement of modernisation schemes. Looking to the future, we are given no confidence when we see exactly the same thing being done again.
The hon. Gentleman talks about "the Estimate", but these Estimates are from three Boards. He talked scathingly about the Railways Board. Has he studied the position of the Waterways Board?
I have studied the position of the Waterways Board in some detail. Having taken half an hour to deal with one aspect of this matter, I am inclined not to go greatly into the details of the position of the Waterways Board. We have, however, looked into the matter in some detail, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends with special, interests in British Waterways will put forward our arguments.I understand that, as a result of actions which have been taken, investment in the current year will be about £100 million, which, unfortunately, is a substantial decline on what we have had recently. This is not the kind of policy which we should be adopting. It is not the kind of plan we need to modernise British Railways and give them a real future. I am afraid that many of the amounts contained in the Supplementary Estimates are due to the varied activities of British Railways, some of which are not really relevant to the running of a railway, and have diverted necessary management technique and interest away from the basic and essential job of running trains. We see in the Report to the Estimates Committee that the surplus on British Railways' hotels was only £700,000, compared with a budgeted £1 million. This is very unfortunate when we consider that the amount of profit made on the British Railways' catering services shows a return of less than 1 per cent. on capital investment invested. This was given as one of the side reasons for these Supplementary Estimates. This raises the question: is it sensible or reasonable in a major industry like this for the Government to divert so much of the activities of management into so many areas which could probably be more effectively operated by people outwith the railway industry? There is scope for diversification of management and ownership in this direction. If the Government were to come forward with sensible policies which would create capital by disposing of certain of these assets, or allowing private participation of capital in these ventures, we might have far more hope for the future, and the kind of difficulties we have had might not reappear. Can the Government tell us if they have any plans for the disposal of property by British Railways and what relationship such policies have to the production of these Supplementary Estimates? We see from the Report to the Estimates Committee a considerable excess on the sales of surplus property. There is far more scope in this direction and we hope that there is a great future here. There is no question but that morale has a very real influence on the profitability of any industry. I would be interested to hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the extent to which he felt that morale, particularly among management, was connected with the production of such substantial Supplementary Estimates. My hon. Friend and right hon. Friends have consistently pointed out the great importance of management morale to the whole success of British Railways. When we look back over the last year the tragedy is that the Government's policy on management, particularly top management, is shown to be almost scandalous. We now have a Chairman of British Railways in whom all hon. Members have very real confidence, a man who has made an enormous contribution to the industry. What is disastrous is that his whole authority within the railways should have been adversely affected by the scandalous series of events leading up to his appointment. It was a situation in which the job appears to have been hawked round the City of London and we finally ended up by refusing to pay this man the rate for the job. We certainly cannot hope to overcome management problems and attract forward-looking and progressive people into the industry so long as this is the Government's policy. No one cares more about management in British Railways than the former Chairman, Sir Stanley Raymond, who made a major contribution to British Railways. I was interested to read one of his recent speeches, made on 6th December, 1967, when he was talking on leadership in a changing world. He referred to the fact that if he had made any lasting contribution to the transport industry it was the British Transport Staff College at Woking, which has already had about 600 potential managers through its 13-week intensive course. Those of us who know of this college have the highest confidence in it. It would be interesting to know what the Government's future policy on management will be and, what is more important, what has happened to the 600 men who have been going through this intensive course? The morale of top management in British Railways has been seriously affected by the sad story of the appointment the Chairman and I hope that the Government will ensure that such a situation never happens again. Another factor which may be directly relevant to the Supplementary Estimates is the fall in railway receipts, particularly freight rates. I wonder whether the Government would be prepared to institute a real investigation into the relationship of this fall to the service provided by British Railways. Those of us on this side of the House who have the interests of the railways at heart, who believe that this great industry has a dynamic future, are extremely reluctant to make specific references to cases of bad service, cases in which we feel British Railways has failed the other industries of the country. We are very reluctant to do so, but some of these failures are so bad that they should be referred to. When we are considering the question of the speed, reliability and efficiency of competing transport services, then the speed, reliability and efficiency of British Railways is very relevant. I have many examples, but one which I want to refer to was brought to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair). He told me of a letter that he received on 11th January from one of the firms in his constituency, Kine Engineering Ltd., of Redhill, Surrey, concerned with making wood-cutting machinery. This is a firm with a wonderful export record which had gone to considerable lengths to try to expand its exports. My hon. Friend had been asked by the Board of Trade to congratulate the firm on its wonderful efforts. After six years of endeavouring to build up an export market in Holland it pulled out every possible stop to dispatch some machines to an exhibition in Holland. Normally, its overseas delivery was five to six weeks, but it did this within a matter of days. It then put the matter into the hands of British Railways. Sad to say, the machines were smashed before they arrived in Holland, and the result is that the firm believes that the export orders which they might have had have now disappeared. The firm also points to another example in which it suffered from British Railways. It said that to meet a special delivery in September the firm, with its own transport, made delivery to Reading so as to save time. The goods arrived by passenger train at the customer's destination four weeks later. There is not one hon. Member who does not have on his files a similar case, when British Railways have let someone down. There are many examples like this, directly affecting the amount of freight tonnage given to the railways, and these may result in further deficits. It is only fair to say that we also have many examples of splendid service on the part of British Railways, when they have gone to almost absurd lengths to ensure fair and good treatment to passengers. However, there are far too many cases such as those I have mentioned. I wonder whether any estimate has been made of the extent to which this kind of situation affected the production of these Supplementary Estimates. One important factor is the connection of safety with revenue. There has been a substantial reduction in revenue. We have been told that one of the main factors encouraging traffic and passengers is the railways' unique safety record. There is no other organisation which has such a good safety record as the railways. However, there have been certain distributing developments of late, which make us want to review the whole situation. There was a Parliamentary Answer to one of my hon. Friends on 17th January, column 576, in which the Minister pointed out that the number of derailments in 1966 was over 300.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is directly relevant, and that he ought to listen.The total was over 300, and, in fact, it was the highest figure for 10 years. When we are considering a Supplementary Estimate which relates to a considerable reduction in revenue and in freight tonnage, these are just the kind of factors at which we should look most carefully. I have given one example. There have already been some disastrous major accidents. In the Railway Review for 29th December, we read that the engineering staff of the Western Region is becoming more and more concerned about what it believes to be a deterioration in maintenance standards and practice. Taking all these matters together, with some of the alarming statements made at the recent Hither Green inquiry, there is a case for the Government instituting an inquiry into all aspects of safety in this great industry. It has had such a wonderful record that it would be a tragedy if an Estimate of the kind now before us were to be followed by others relating to the whole question of safety. I have referred to various factors arising on this Supplementary Estimate. The factor of morale is of great importance. The Government must look carefully at the state of morale on British Railways and its relation to this Supplementary Estimate. I apologise again for having spoken for a long time, and I realise that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire thinks that I should spend more time talking about London Transport and British Waterways, but the deficit on British Railways makes up such a considerable part of the whole deficit that I feel entitled to spend further time on British Railways. One of the principal factors affecting morale is the way that reorganisation schemes have been introduced and conducted. How many times have the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire and others concerned with the railways heard from railway men that the one thing they are fed up about is that, every two years, there is a reorganisation or a change round, with the result that management and men have to spend a great deal of time acclimatising themselves to a reorganisation or rearrangement which they may not regard as directly relevant to the future prosperity of British Railways? I have enormous sympathy with that feeling. There may be times when reorganisation must take place, but it is tragic that we have had so many. In these circumstances, when considering the figure of £30 million with which we are here concerned, how can we have any confidence in the Government's explanation? The most significant reorganisation is the establishment of a National Freight Authority, a factor of far greater relevance in reorganisation than any of the other internal changes we have had in the past. The Government ought to make an assessment of the effect on morale of what is covered by this sum of £30 million and the relationship of morale to the reorganisations which we have had. If they would allow the scarce management resources of British Railways to be concentrated on running the railways, without going in for some of the other strange, ideological exercises in nationalisation or the extension of public ownership, it would be far better for the future of our railways, and Supplementary Estimates of this kind would be far less likely to come before us.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not go on so when he talks about morale, making sweeping assertions and charges and references to the new legislation which is coming forward. Does he not realise that morale will be improved if drivers of road vehicles do not have to drive for such long hours? Does not he realise that this will make for more road safety? I am sure that he and everyone will agree with the part of the new legislation which deals with that matter. There must be a logical day's work for a man to perform in the conditions which we have on our roads today.
I was referring to the National Freight Authority. Does the Railways Board want the Authority? Does the National Union of Railwaymen want the Authority? Does the hon. Gentleman know anyone who wants the Authority? The whole world does not want it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's friends on the railways do not want it.However, what disturbed me in the hon. Gentleman's intervention just then was his suggestion that I was making assertions and charges. If he feels that I have been doing that, he has misunderstood my speech or I have failed to make the matter clear. The one point I am trying to get across is that this is not the time for assertions and charges. This is the time for the Government to look into these figures, realise their appalling size, and try to find a way to reduce them and ensure that Supplementary Estimates of this kind are not brought forward. It was on that basis that we initiated this debate, not to try to extract some mean party advantage but to find real solutions to the problems which confront transport and to elicit adequate answers to our questions. One of the directly relevant reasons for this Supplementary Estimate is the inflexibility of the Government's transport policy and their obsession with ideology. At about the beginning of the year covered by this Estimate, the Government decided that there would be a route mileage for British Railways of 11,000 miles. When we take that in conjunction with the various exercises in nationalisation undertaken by the Government since then, it is clear that Ministerial inflexibility is a directly relevant factor in this discussion. I am sorry to go on for a long time, but I have been repeatedly interrupted from the other side, though, admittedly, in a helpful way. One question which must be answered by the Government was raised with them last June. They have had notice of it ever since. In June last, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester made a most constructive speech in the railways debate and he put forward five points which he regarded as of direct relevance to the reduction of the deficit and the prevention of further Supplementary Estimates. I shall not mention all, five, but the one I raise with particular force now is the question of manpower policy. Many of us on this side have from time to time paid tribute to the way in which the number of men employed on the railways has been consistently reduced in a fairly short time with, generally speaking, the co-operation of the trade unions. The fact that manpower has been reduced from 500,000 to about 360,000 in three years, with very little industrial unrest, is something of which the railways can be proud and, more important, something of which the unions involved can be proud. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the various estimates which have been made and the studies conducted by people outside the railways, I wonder whether, even at the present figure, there is a great deal of waste of manpower on British Railways. A good part of the £30 million we are here considering relates to surplus capacity and surplus manpower on British Railways. On the question of surplus manpower, I appeal to the Minister not to think just of the vehicle repair shops and of the men who drive the trains. I want him to consider the administration as well. In London, we have the headquarters of British Railways and three regional headquarters. This part of British Railways does not seem to contract with the same intensity as does the footplate part. The time has come to review the whole manpower situation within British Railways, the administrative offices as well as the man on the footplate. When the time comes for my right hon. and hon. Friends to take responsibility for this great industry, one of the matters to which we shall give careful attention will be the whole question of manpower in administration as well as on the operational side of the railways. There is a great deal more which I should like to say, but, having already taken too much time, I make my final point. There is a great danger of it being said that this is just another Supplementary Estimate, the money has been spent, and there is nothing we can do about it. In fact, we can do a great deal about it. We can ask why. Why has it come about? Let us identify the various parts of it and see how we can prevent this sort of thing happening again. On many occasions, we on this side of the House are, quite wrongly, accused of being against the railways. We are sometimes said to have a prejudice which leads us to be regarded as enemies or opponents of British Railways. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not approach these questions from the standpoint of being against the railways. We are very much for our railways. We are on the side of the railways, wishing all the time to offer them a really dynamic future. We saw the beginning of that policy when we had Lord Beeching and former Conservative Transport Ministers who recognised that years of decline and despondency could be removed only if the modern railways were to face the reality of living with the car age. The task set by previous Ministers and Lord Beeching was not to destroy the railways, but to create a new system which was modern, efficient and dynamic. Enormous progress was made under our previous Governments which led to a substantial reduction of the railways' deficit and made a major change in the morale of those who worked on the railways. That was done by a policy of substantial investment in new equipment, in electric trains and in freight liners. Now, however, we see the situation being reversed. The deficits are growing, items of capital expenditure are being slashed and the Government are obsessed ideologically in introducing a Bill entailing £71 million to nationalise the bus companies and to take over Glasgow's transport. The policies put forward by the Conservative Government offered the railways a dynamic future with real progress and growth. It is because, we believe, those policies are being ignored and because the Government arc going in the wrong direction that we have this figure before us today and we can look forward only to mounting deficits. The time has indeed come for a change, and I fear that what we are about to hear from the Government will confirm that that time has come.
We have had a long and interesting speech from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). He was at times passionate, and I thought that he might explode, but I seemed to sense that some of his passion was slightly phoney in parts. We have had a long almost Cook's tour of the railways dealing with safety, legislation, investment, morale, as well as the things which caused plate cracks, and the ancient hobbyhorse of the need to examine manpower in administration.On one occasion, the hon. Member suggested that I might be sheltering under the rules of order in trying to evade a debate on legislation. I have no objection to having a full debate on legislation. Indeed, over the next few weeks—possibly, the next few months—we shall be discussing transport legislation at length. I imagined, however, that the hon. Member was straying somewhat in that he wanted to have a rehash of the Transport Bill Second Reading debate of a few weeks ago. It was only on 26th June last year that we had a full and wide-ranging debate over the whole of the railway deficit. The hon. Member suggested that the Government were not looking carefully into the problem of the deficit. On 26th June, I spelt out—obviously, this information has not sunk in—some of the things which we were then doing. The Minister and the then Chairman set up a Joint Steering Group under my chairmanship, comprising distinguished independent members, members of the Railways Board, a representative of the Treasury and other independent members, to look into these very matters and conduct a thorough inquiry into the whole of the finances of British Railways. Perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten the terms of reference of that inquiry. All I would say is that since the wide and full-ranging debate of 26th June, the Report of the group was published in a Cmnd. White Paper and his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) was kind enough to congratulate the members of the group on the work which had been done. The matters which were looked at included a suggestion that there was need for differentiation between the social services and the commercial services and the suggestion that there should be a specific grant tied to the working of the individual socially necessary lines. We have never heard from hon. Members opposite whether they are for or against that kind of proposal. There was an incentive for the reduction of the tracks of British Railways by a track rationalisation grant. Then we dealt with the need to ensure that the railways carried only the right kind of financial responsibilities for bridges, roads, museums, police and all the other things which historically they now carry; lastly, the inherited capital structure of the 1962 Act. When the hon. Member for Cathcart talks about the need for sensible and forward-looking policies, he must realise that whatever the difficulties and problems—and there are many—Brtish Railways are still operating under an Act of Parliament introduced by his right hon. Friends. I know that the hon. Member was not here in those days and, therefore, does not carry responsibility for it, but the deficit, large as it is, was £159 million even in 1962. What is obviously needed above all else is to ensure that the industry has the right amount of capital which it can properly carry and, at the same time, in respect of Ministerial responsibility, the right kind of board structure to ensure that it has the necessary financial control over this great industry and that those things which the industry has to carry and for which it should not be responsible should be laid at the door of the community as a whole. Those are the sensible proposals that we have put forward as against: first, the social services; secondly, the anoma1 lies of the past; thirdly, the capital structure; and, fourthly, the right kind of board with its emphasis on corporate planning and financial control. All these matters are gone into at some length in the Report which has been published. This, perhaps, is the attack on the under-lying problem to which I referred in the debate of 26th June and which is so necessary. Indeed, when one looks at the analysis made in the Report by a large number of independent commentators, the general view is that we have not been entirely wrong in our approach to this important matter. An interesting point made by the hon. Member was that the Government were starving the industry of investment. Looking at the situation objectively, over the years since 1962 there has been a very large amount of investment in this great industry. In looking at the national order of priorities, whether on this side of the House or on the other, perhaps one of the problems is to ensure that investment is channelled to the right purposes. Whatever be the actual amounts of investment, it is a new one on me that the industry has been starved of investment.
The point which I was making—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept it—is that the amount of investment in 1968 will be below the average for the last 12 years. Bearing in mind that we spent £1,200 million over the last 10 years, will he confirm that the figure for 1968 will be only £100 million?
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with the actual amount when he replies to the debate. If my memory serves me aright, however, the figure is £100 million. Looking at the whole of the investment of this great industry and its financial position today, however, no one could at any time say that the industry has been starved of investment. What is important is that investment should be channelled to the right purposes and that there should be the right kind of control over that investment. That is the point which we have made in our Report.
Order. I have already ruled that on this Supplementary Estimate we cannot engage in a prolonged debate on investment policy.
I agree entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely replying to a point which had been made by the hon. Member for Cathcart, who was given some latitude in regard to both legislation and investment.
The rules of order should be clearly understood. It is perfectly in order on a Supplementary Estimate to discuss, so far as may be relevant, what legislation may be involved. It is not in order, as I have already ruled, to discuss the question of investment policy.
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not pursue the point. I think that I have dealt by way of my reply with the point which the hon. Member was allowed to make. There is one other point I should like to make since the hon. Member asked me a specific question about it, and that is sale of property and other assets. I am not sure how far the hon. Member was suggesting it, but there seemed to be a suggestion that this was not being carried out as expeditiously as it might be. I am not sure that the hon. Member was making that point, but in fairness I will give the figures, which are that, in 1963, there were £12 million worth of sales of property and other assets; in 1964, £14½ million; in 1965, £22½ million; in 1966, £33½ million: and we have only an estimate so far for 1967, and that is over £20 million. Perhaps that information will be of some help to the hon. Member.Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to go very quickly into the background of the method of these Estimates. As is made clear in the covering memorandum dated 16th January 1968, the additional provision being sought in respect of the Transport Boards' revenue deficits is related to the outturn for the whole of the Exchequer financial year. In the past, it has been the practice to submit a Supplementary Estimate during the winter for only 75 per cent. of any additional provision necessary to cover the year as a whole, but on this occasion it has been necessary, for technical reasons which are nothing to do with the financial results of the Boards, to seek 100 per cent. provision during the winter, instead of leaving a further amount to be sought by way of spring Supplementary Estimates. This has come about because of the urgent additional requirements for funds, largely as a result of acceleration of the payment of investment grants and compensation for foot and mouth disease, which are pressing hard on the Civil Contingencies Fund, which is statutorily limited to a maximum of £75 million. The total supplementary provision required for the year is in excess of that figure, and it is, therefore, necessary to accelerate the customary Parliamentary timetable in respect of some of the Estimates so as to secure provision earlier than would have been possible if the customary procedure had been followed, leaving the balance of the provision to be granted through a March Consolidated Fund Bill. I want to emphasise this point since it is the sole reason for the increase of £6·8 million in the provision sought for payments of revenue deficit grant to the British Railways Board in the Revised Supplementary Estimate compared to the original Supplementary Estimate which was examined by the Estimates Committee and on which the Committee submitted a Report on 19th December last year. The additional money required is, therefore, not on account of any deterioration in the finances of British Railways compared to what was expected when the original Estimate was submitted. It is entirely due to the need for the Treasury to secure approval to additional provision in respect of the whole of the expected shortfall at this point of time instead of merely 75 per cent. of the shortfall. The House will have noted that the Revised Estimate also includes provision for payments of revenue deficit grant to the London Transport Board which were not provided for in the original Estimate which was examined by the Estimates Committee. Again, this does not mean that the provision now being sought relates to a sudden deterioration of the finances of the London Transport Board which was not foreseen at the time when the original Supplementary Estimate was submitted. The original Estimate concentrated on the provision necessary in respect of the deficit grant to the British Railways Board because this was by far the bigger sum and because, in accordance with normal practice, it was sufficient to seek 75 per cent. of this larger sum only and not to attempt to seek 75 per cent. of the additional provision necessary in respect of the much smaller deficit of the London Board. But now that the Revised Estimate seeks to secure 100 per cent. of the additional provision necessary in respect of the year as a whole, it is appropriate to include the additional money which is necessary to meet the shortfall incurred by the London Transport Board. The remaining item in the Revised Supplementary Estimate, relating to the deficit of the British Waterways Board, is, in fact, a saving on the original provisions obtained for the year 1967–68. It amounts to £100,000, and is a useful little offset to the additional provision now being sought for British Railways and London Transport deficits. The House might like to know that the saving is attributable both to increased revenues accruing to British Waterways and to cost reductions. I am sure that the House will wish me to congratulate the British Waterways Board on its achievement, in a particularly difficult field, in a particularly difficult year. I thought I would set out the background to all those complicated matters. I now turn to the main constituent element in the Revised Estimate; that is the Supplementary provision of £28·8 million being sought for increased grants to the British Railways Board in respect of its revenue deficit for 1967–68. The House will be aware that the existing provision for these grants was £127 million, which it is now proposed should be increased to no less than £155·8 million. By far the greatest part of this prospective overspending arises in relation to the Board's deficit for 1967, which the Revised Estimate assumes will be £153 million as compared with the original estimate of £128 million, an increase of £25 million in the deficit estimated for the calendar year. The Board's accounts for 1967 have not yet, of course, been finalised, and the actual result will not be known for some time. However, I am informed that any variation from the present estimate will almost certainly be downwards rather than upwards, and this is good news on a front which worries us all. The main element in the Board's deficit crises on account of railway working, and the Estimate assumed that this will amount to £91 million in 1967, an increase of £24 million on the provision made in the original Estimate. I can tell the House that the deterioration can be attributed almost entirely to a shortfall in gross receipts. Working expenses are almost exactly on target, being only £0·2 million out of a budgeted £535 million; that is a variation of only 0·04 per cent. And within the figure of gross receipts, passenger earnings are only £0·4 million cut of a budgeted £180 million; that is a variation of only 0·2 per cent. The House might be interested to keep these remarkably close estimates in mind when considering the discrepancy in freight receipts compared to freight estimates. Moreover, the House should know that the Board has not only absorbed increased costs of £17 million in 1967, but expects that its total working expenses will come out at a figure £6 million below that for 1966, implying a saving in constant price terms of £23 million. Thus, although the overall financial result is very disappointing, it is at least satisfactory that the Board has continued to release productive resources, particularly manpower, on a substantial scale. I dealt with this matter in the debate on 26th June. I now turn to the shortfall in total gross receipts, which the Revised Estimate assumes will be about £24½ million less in 1967 than was forecast in the original Estimate. This shortfall consists largely of the following main items. In the first place, there is the difference in passenger receipts to which I have already referred of almost £½ million. This is a particularly good result in a difficult year. Incidentally, hon. Members will, no doubt, have seen the Railways Board's statement that passenger journeys rose by 68 per cent. and receipts by 43 per cent. in the first year of operation on the London-Midland electric main line. This shows the remarkably buoyant future of main line inter-city services given the right sort of development. Next, there is a shortfall on coal and coke revenue of about £6 million. This category of freight traffic is particularly susceptible to the general level of industrial production, and the Board attributes the shortfall to the continued low level of industrial production compared to what it had estimated in its forward Estimates, which were, of course, made some considerable time ago when it seemed likely that there could be some upturn in the level of economic activity before the end of 1967. The House is well aware of the reasons why this has not come about—[Interruption.] I am dealing with each point in turn as objectively as the House would wish in considering the Estimates. Other factors influencing the level of coal receipts include the comparative severity of our winters, which cannot, of course, be forecast and where the Board suffered through a blessing to the rest of the economy of mild weather last year. Iron and steel is another sector which has been seriously affected by the continuation of the industrial recession, both as regards finished products and iron ore. British Railways' carryings of the latter have also been affected by a trend during 1967 towards the use of imported ores. One bright feature in steel carryings, however, has been the success of some of the freightliner services, particular on the Wales to London route. All in all, the Board attributes £2½ million of the shortfall to iron and steel traffic. On the issue of freightliners, perhaps the House would like to know some of the details of the development of this important system. There are now 15 terminals in service, which is the whole of the first stage. London has three, and Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Stockton, Newcastle, Hull and Edinburgh have one each. The Minister has also approved a freightliner terminal at Southampton, which is the first in the second stage, and proposals on the rest of the second stage have not yet been put to the Minister by the Board. There is a whole variety of traffic carried on the system. It includes meat, porridge oats, machinery, paper, books, gas cookers and sperm whale-oil. The first one from Edinburgh to London, on 8th January, 1968, included containers of whisky bound for Paris. Steel is carried from Cardiff to Willesden at the rate of 600 tons per week, and now dirty collars are sent to Scotland for laundering on a regular overnight service. The 100,000th container from London to Manchester on 8th October, 1967, was a load of Guinness. Perhaps the whole variety of freight being carried is a very great encouragement to the attractiveness of this important system to consumers as a whole.
This information about the alcoholic content of the freightliner traffic is very interesting. However, could the hon. Gentleman give us some figures about the revenue and the expenditure of the freightliner train service?
It is not possible to give such figures. The system is still in its early stages and, of course, the gross receipts, when looked at in totality, are comparatively small. I think that one should keep a sense of proportion about the importance of this growing trade.I think that I have dealt sufficiently with that important facet, and perhaps I might now move on to deal with the most serious—
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he cannot give any figures of capital expenditure for the setting up of the freightliner service?
The hon. Member for Worcester was on a different point. He wanted to know about the profitability of the service. I have not the figures of the capital expenditure involved, but I am sure that I can get them for the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), because the Minister's consent would have been involved. However, I do not carry the figures in my head. I will look into the matter.The most serious shortfall of all has been incurred in the category of traffic known as "other wagon load", which broadly represents miscellaneous traffics which often require much marshalling and sorting. The shortfall here was £6½ million while on the somewhat similar type of traffic known as sundries, there was a shortfall of £2 million. In both cases, the Board says that the economic situation was the principal reason for its estimates being so badly out, though exceptional factors were the direct interruption of services as a result of the guards' strikes in September and October and the London Rail Freight Depot strike earlier in the year, together with the loss of confidence in rail services which such strikes created. This also had something to do with the shortfall on revenue expected from parcels carried by passenger train, amounting to £3m. For the future, the reorganisation which the Board now has well in hand of its sundries traffic is expected to be of great value, beginning with 1968 and showing further reductions of the losses in the early years of the National Freight Corporation, who will take over responsibility for this particular traffic under the provisions of a Measure now before the House. The shortfalls that I have just mentioned amount, in all, to about £20½ million. On top of this, the original Vote Estimate estimated that further gross receipts would be received of almost £4 million. This sum was not broken down into the various categories that I have just mentioned and should, therefore, be added to the aggregate of £20½ million to give a total shortfall of £24½ million. Turning to the other activities of the Board—that is, other than railway working—the position is that it achieved a net working surplus of about £8 million as compared with a budgeted figure of £8½ million. This, of course, is a considerable improvement on last year's result—£.6·4 million—when the shipping activities were badly affected by the seamen's strike. Hotels results have been rather disappointing, merely maintaining their net surplus at about last year's level and falling somewhat short on Forward Estimates. On the other hand, the letting of non-operational property produced almost £1 million more than the Board had forecast. If I can summarise, the overall position is that, while railway working expenses were held to budgeted levels, despite increased costs, railway gross revenue was about £24 million down on the figure underlying the Vote Estimate. There was a shortfall of £½ million on other activities which was offset by a corresponding saving in interest. The overall deterioration was increased to £25 million by the expenditure of almost £1 million on redundancy payments to staff who took advantage of resettlement arrangements, compared to the estimate made in the Board's budget. Although this expenditure increases the deficit in the short term, the Board, of course, gains in the long term and it is to be congratulated on its success in decreasing its long term costs by running its business with less staff than it had thought would be needed at the beginning of the year. It had forecast a total reduction of about 15,000, and, in the event, it was able to manage a reduction of 20,000, which, I am sure the House will agree, was a notable achievement for a labour intensive business. So far, I have dealt with the deficit on a calendar year basis, but, of course, the overall provision necessarily has to be related to the Exchequer financial year, and this brings in the first eight weeks of 1968, when grant payments have to be made in respect of the deficit which the Board incurs during those weeks. The original Estimate made a provision of £14 million to meet such payments, but it now seems prudent, in the light of the shortfall in 1967, to assume that the first two months of 1968 will show a comparable worsening over the forecast made a year ago, and provision is accordingly sought for about £3½ million on this account. I have already taken up a good deal of time in dealing with the main element in the Supplementary Estimate, and perhaps the House would be content if my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were to explain the make-up of the supplementary provision which is necessary on account of grants to the London Board in the reply to the debate which he will be making later.
I think that the House would wish to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the skill with which he kept his head down and avoided trouble in answering the very able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor).The hon. Gentleman's modesty is a good example to some of his more arrogant colleageaues who habitually disregard their failures and never apologise. It is nice to have a Minister getting up and saying that the general view has been that they have not been entirely wrong. This is the sort of modest claim which, while I would not endorse it, as least I do not feel obliged to rebut with the vigour I would normally contribute to Ministerial assertions. The hon. Gentleman should be thanked for one of his contributions to the House—a charming piece of phraseology—when he referred to the useful little offset of the British Waterways Board. I would be highly ungenerous if I did not, with enthusiasm, endorse the little message of congratulation which he sent to the British Waterways Board. It is a wonderful thing to have this useful little offset of £100,000. If only other bigger creatures could follow that noble example! We were then given the assurance that any revision of these present lamentable Estimates would be downwards, not upwards. It is very nice, but I am not sure how one reconciles it with the last part of the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks when he told us that the first two months of this year had shown the trend of losses continuing, if not getting worse. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will not have to eat even those limited words which he uttered just now. A horrid suspicion came into my mind at one stage in his speech. It was that he had not composed every word of that speech himself. I would not ask him to confirm or deny this, but the words which particularly called this suspicion into my mind were when he referred to the upturn in the level of economic activity which has not taken place for reasons of which the House will be aware. I do not believe that any Member of Parliament could possibly have composed that sentence, because it was bound to be greeted in a fairly ribald way, as indeed it was. We are all abysmally aware of the reasons why the level of economic activity has now risen. It seems to me that the House of Commons is at its weakest and does itself the least service when we come to discuss Estimates such as these. We do not seem willing to see such matters in the general context of our economic affairs, even after the background of last week. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to call attention to this £30 million Supplementary Estimate we are now called upon to pass in contrast to what happened last week. If the House of Commons was doing its job properly, if it was really making a bid to earn public respect, it would be paying a great deal more attention to matters of that kind. It seems a very odd thing that when we come to discuss these issues—which are, by the way, Motions in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—that the Treasury, which is not really the most modest of beings, should be so shy as not to put a Minister forward to explain the details in such circumstances. The Treasury is responsible for the control of the finances of the country and it seems a very odd custom that no Treasury Minister ever appears even to hold a watching brief on behalf of his Department. Anyone who has been a member of the Public Accounts Committee has listened to the Treasury constantly saying that often a particular Department or particular nationalised industry is very closely examined on its figures. I never have much regard for that sort of argument—in fact none at all—but it would be nice if the Treasury were to show a little more interest in the affairs of these industries and Departments by having a Minister on the Government Bench in case Members of Parliament should be so impetuous as to wish to ask questions of the bankers. An alternative course of action which the House of Commons would do well to adopt from time to time would be, when we get an Estimate like this, to throw it back at the Government and say, "We will not pass it. We have not been told enough. We have not been given nearly enough evidence about the causes for this mistake in forecasting". The Government say that they trusted the National Plan, but that is a grossly overworked alibi. They should not be allowed to get away with constantly saying that they rely upon such monumental pieces of nonsense. This is a tremendously powerful argument against nationalisation. Had the railways never been nationalised, I have no doubt that by this time they would have slimmed down into an efficient and useful service. Once an industry is nationalised, one of the great tenets of Treasury policy since the war—or even before that, but more visibly so since the war—has been to reinforce failure and penalise success. It is one of the things for which this country owes the Treasury a debt of no gratitude. I find that these repeated requests, which everybody knows from start to finish will be rubber-stamped and proved, are excellent examples of the pitfalls and the thorns and the wretched miseries of the road of public ownership I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the management of the railways, particularly the appalling way in which the onerous and responsible post of the chairman was disposed of and handled. I should like to offer a word of good wishes—one would hardly say congratulations, but I do mean good wishes—to Mr. Johnson on assuming that post. My goodness, he is getting a job! As my hon.. Friend also said, one of his jobs will be to fight his so-called friends in the Government that set up the nationalised railways in the first place, because there is constant interference from the Government in nationalised industries, and particularly the railways. I am not here making a party point. Since the railways were first established in this country—I do not know why; perhaps the overwhelming desire of successive Governments to get down and play trains—no Government in the past, except one which was overburdened with the affairs of running a large war or something of that kind, has been able to resist the temptation to approach the railways like an amateur gardener approaches a garden bed, digs the whole blooming lot up, has a look at the roots, and then puts some of the weeds back and takes none of the proper action. It is this constant tampering and lack of modesty which one finds as the major characteristic in the Establishment in approaching the complex affairs of an industry about which individually they know practically nothing. I have not got a note of the exact words used by Mr. Gerard Fiennes, the ate General Manager of the Western Region, when he wrote that article for which he was guillotined, but it was something to the effect that only in the days of the great and good doctor had anybody got down to the business of how to make this industry into a national asset instead of letting it be a national millstone. That is the real point. One of the first things the Government did when they took office was to sack Beeching. I am not suggesting that they sacked Lord Beeching because they did not like his face, or he did not agree with them politically, or anything like that. They sacked him because the consequences of his policy were too embarrassing. The Government do not like facts. It was very difficult for the Tory Government during the period running up to the 1964 General Election, but at least they stuck to the plans. Exceptions were made here and there, but, generally, they pressed on with the policy laid down by Beeching, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) who had the guts and courage to go on with what he said he was going to do. He found a first-class man, and gave him a chance to get on with his job, and in that sentence one sets out how a Government should behave. This Government has behaved in precisely the opposite way, and the consequences were, are, and will be, disastrous. They fired Dr. Beeching because they could not face reality. I do not think that I need deal with the level of economic activity, because it has been referred to by my hon. Friend, but I would like to say something about coal traffic. I see no chance of reversing the trends. The largest market for coal is by a long way the electricity industry, and save where power stations are situated at the coalfields, the prospects of the coal industry supplying large quantities of its product are meagre indeed. The iron and steel industry has already been referred to as one reason for the disappointing freight record. I do not want to say much about a particular case, but I have written to the general manager concerned and received a courteous and helpful reply, and no doubt he will deal with the matter. This case illustrates a real sickness in the industry. A constituent of mine, a steel stockist at Andover, is building a works. Some months ago—I think that it was in September or October—he started discussing the matter with the railways. The traffic going through, both in and out, was between 75,000 and 100,000 tons a year of coil steel and plates, the sort of cargo which one would expect a steel stockist to handle. Not until now, when I have written to the general manager, was there any assurance that the railways were going to jump at this traffic, which is made for them. It is repetitive traffic. It is easy to handle. It is tailor-made for them, and yet they are dragging their feet, rather than saying, "Here is a customer whom we will pursue and encourage for all we are worth, because this is just the kind of traffic that we must get on to the railways if they are to be made to pay". My hon. Friend referred to morale in the industry. I do not want to speak for those who have not given me the authority to do so, but railwaymen in my constituency have expressed great concern about the sort of hazy plans now being indulged in, and I have the impression, though I would not, for a moment, like anyone to think that general managers are anything but loyal, or allow themselves to be tempted to say things which are hostile to the Government, that they have been driven to their wits' ends by this constant intervention by the Government, and in particular by the sudden production of this colossal great "heffalump", the National Freight Authority. I cannot see the justification for this. The liner trains are a splendid project. They show signs of success. I accept that the pay packet is the most important thing for those engaged in industry, but everyone likes a sniff of success now and again, and Ministers ought to be aware of this. The railways have produced a service which can compete with, and offer better services than, those available by road, and at a reasonable price. This is a first-class piece of successful planning, but it is being whisked away from them, and they are being left with their own operations. It must be terribly disappointing for anybody who looks at this problem from the point of view of a railwayman. I conclude by reverting to some of the remarks that I made at the beginning. I find it a crushing disappointment that more concern is not expressed about the expenditure of such vast sums of money as this. Having been worked into a state of frenzy last week by the charade in early January, both inside and outside Downing Street, the House should now be more willing to follow its proper path of duty, which is to supervise, examine, and stimulate into some sort of action, the Treasury, which is meant to be the banker. These are demands upon limited and over-pressed national resources. I cannot help thinking that if this is the best that this House of Commons can do in the present context of our affairs, in the performance of its duty of supervising national finances, the best thing that can happen is for it to be dissolved without delay.
I regret that I have come into the Chamber rather late in the debate—this is due to sudden enforced circumstances—but I think that I have picked up the drift of the argument so far. I confess that in following the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) I do not propose to go into his mixture of narrow political argument, with some impishness about it.I regret that year after year since 1953 there has been a deficit in railway receipts. This year's deficit of about £138 million is to be increased to nearly £170 million, by just over £30 million. I think that we must analyse this figure without too much party spirit, because I believe that on many occasions both sides of the House have not been helpful to the railway industry. This may be partly because of the narrow approach that is sometimes made and partly the question of cost deficits. I was a railwayman. I came here with the help of a railway union, but I am now completely free in that respect, although my associations on both sides are very friendly and intimate. I want to be frank and analytical. In my view, this is not a political issue; we ought to assess the changes that the internal combustion engine, with its great mobility, has thrust upon the railways, with their considerable rigidity. I have always felt that since the Act of 1947 one of the greatest disasters was that in the first few years we had eminent civil servants or ex-civil servants at the head of the British Transport Commission. Eminent though these people were, they had not been used to the railway environment and to taking decisive action. They had not been used to the environment of business—of making their minds up. Nor had they been used to the need to animate legislation. They were always more used to being influenced by one or other Government Department. It has always been my view that if the House sets out conditions under which a nationalised industry should operate, those in charge of the industry should regard as their bible the relevant legislation, and should retain vigorous and independent minds, running their undertaking without politics but setting out the hard economic facts and proclaiming them to whoever will listen. For the first few years—indeed, until the mid-1950s—there was a marked lack of interest in the public mind and in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House about the economic problems besetting the railways—not least the economic problems of built-in costs in competing forms of transport. During the first few days of 1968, after many years of Tory Government and about three years of Labour Government, we are still awaiting the essential prerequisite to any study of internal transport, namely, the basic costings. I am not happy about being asked to consider a major Bill, the principles of which are long overdue in their application, without any knowledge of what I call the major costings. Throughout my life—and the process is continuing now, in air transport—we have constantly paid subsidies in one way or another to various forms of transport. Then, in a few hectic moments, we have tried to compare the tariffs of the different forms of transport, or their respective performance, and then we have drawn narrow and limited conclusions, from false premises. The future of the railways is totally different from what it was in the past. I recognise that the rigidity of the track, except in respect of peak traffic, is bound to limit the degree to which railways can compete with the internal combustion engine. It is also my view that in the struggle of the railways to find their right Place in the future transport pattern they have been unfairly treated in terms of costings. Only in 1962 did we relieve railways of their common carrier liabilities. Only in the last few years have we begun to consider their real problem. I want to make a passing reference to the tragedy that occurred a few days ago in Staffordshire, and the inquiry that has been instituted concerning certain types of crossing. At Question Time the other day I had hoped to express the view that there should be a wider inquiry. From the supplementary questions and answers it would appear that the inquiry will be concerned only with examining existing forms of safety on both road and rail, where they run across each other. In my view, such an inquiry should be wide enough to consider the new forms of loading that both the roads and railways have to deal with, in the new circumstances, and to see whether existing arrangements should be modified to the new set of conditions. A few years ago we would not have expected. to see on the roads transformers of the weight which we see now, one of which was involved in the recent accident. There is also the question of greater weight and speed, as in the case of the train on which I travelled from Manchester this afternoon. These are all new elements, and I hope that the inquiry will be wide enough to examine them in order that recommendations may be made about them. The Minister should drop altogether what I regard as being a sheer waste of time in trying to identify the social costs of the railways. Before I came here I had some administrative responsibility on the railways. I know many middle-level management officers who are generally unconcerned with politics. If I dismiss from my mind any political view, as I want to do in this matter, and ask any of those officers, who have serious responsibilities to the public, if he is able to identify, in his day-to-day operations, that part of the costs he is incurring in providing a service which is attributable to social costings, he will throw up his hands in despair. I remember having discussions round a table in Manchester with regional railway officers. I was their guest and they asked if I would talk to them. Because of old personal relationships we were not talking about politics, but when I asked whether any of my colleagues—engineers, signal engineers, operating men and estate engineers—could, in his heart of hearts, begin to draw out from his costings those items which he could, with his hand on his heart, say were his social costings, nobody was able to do so. Excluding the present general manager of the new railways and a few others who are practical railwaymen, the people in charge, with their academic and economic knowledge, are less likely to be able to identify the social costings than are those who are on the job day by day. I have read with the greatest care the ministerial reports of the many meetings of committees and sub-committees involving railway officers, and I am totally unconvinced that the figures that will ultimately evolve will persuade me or anyone else who knows anything about the subject that the figures could form criteria that will last. Let us look at the costings between any two major cities—between Plymouth or Exeter and London, or between Manchester and London, or between Glasgow and London. The services have been costed on the basis of a certain volume of passenger transport and of freight transport. This is the acceptable method. If I were in charge of operations, I would be concerned not with costings but with moving trains from Manchester to London, or from Exeter to London, on their way North. I would not be concerned with the route, but with my manpower and the use or over-use of the tracks. I should use for freight the most serviceable route, which can and, occasionally, does change every three or four months. It changes between summer and winter and if there is a rugby football match at Twickenham. Bearing in mind that 60 per cent. of track costs go to freight traffic, where do costings get us? I would summarise to the Minister the arguments which I used in Committee in 1962. They are very simple. It is patently true that every railway officer can present a factual yearly statement of his track and policing costs. They are not estimates but pragmatic figures and the work can be set against the cost. By design or otherwise, year by year, the track and such ancillary costs of railways generally—the case of London Transport is different—equate the kind of subsidies which we have had to face. Let us be realistic. In many continental countries this problem is not the subject of exercises by a Minister and his staff. Until two or three years ago—I do not know the present position—the Minister had on his staff fewer than 20 people who knew the railways from having worked on them. In comparison, there are over 1,000 backroom boys dealing with road transport. If I were Minister and had such a paucity of firsthand knowledge of the railways, I wonder whether I would be satisfied with internal advice like that. I would constantly look askance at the railways information; this is what the Ministry has to do. The Ministry has always been satisfied to have only this slender advice—I would have grave reservations about that position of responsibility. I would be in the hands of either a set of railway officers who might consider matters in two different ways or of a very slender advice staff which, although academically and economically well informed was unable to set one set of operating conditions against another—
The hon. Member's point is very important. Is he suggesting that the Minister should have a railway equivalent of the Road Research Laboratory, so that she could test and cost innovations and experiments?
I am glad that I gave way.This is the fertile consequence of what I am saying. The basic study of new passenger trains now going on at Derby, of trains of 100 tons moving at speeds of 150 m.p.h., which some of us saw a few months ago, will come to the House and the Minister with all the boffin work done by railway headquarters. And the Ministry will have only this limited personnel. Apart from the safety officer, I doubt whether any of them has the day-to-day knowledge of balancing the claims of passenger and freight traffic and of how to get the most use out of a given set of men, locomotives and track. I am not asking for an increase in the number of civil servants, but an intake of 20 or 30 knowledgeable operating officers might be a first-class investment for the Ministry, bearing in mind that it has the right to approve or disapprove of major capital investments. When I worked on the railways I might have asked for a few thousand pounds when I was trying to fill wagons and trains and, in those days, make £1 million at my station into something more. Those of us who were near these problems did not see them in the same way as they are seen in the Minister's long minutes and social costings. Instead of wasting time on these academic exercises, the Minister might say frankly—I would hope with the approval of both sides of the House—that Parliament would be prepared to authorise the track, signalling and policing costs of railways each year and then say, "We are now putting you on a parity with the highways". What might follow? With some knowledge of operating, I would say that if, with track costings and policing being paid by an outside body, I were unable to get adequate passenger and freight traffic to ensure a continuing surplus after two or three years, I would have to decide, as a practical person, "This line is not being patronised by the public. They do not want it and there is a case for closing it." That would be a far better criterion than that written into the old Act, which will be extended in the new one, with its curious consultative committees and those inquiries which I have always attended in the knowledge that I and perhaps two or three others in the room were the only ones who could ask the real. awkward questions, because we had the experience to enable us to look behind the figures. Is it right, these days, that only one of our major industries should have to try to prove such things as the worth of a fine? This does not happen in coal, electricity or other industries. I am all for consultation within reason, but if we are to try to keep lines open, we must be practical. It is very popular to argue for one's constituents that a particular "tiddly wink" station should stay open for the benefit of a few people two or three times a day. This is a good constituency point, but it is not our whole responsibility as Members of Parliament. If we paid the railway people for their track and policing and put them on a parity with the roads, and if the people of the area do not patronise that form of transport then, in terms of national investment, we ought to withdraw it. Let us consider the consequences of doing so. First, we should avoid all the silly controversy which heats up in villages and towns which are struggling to maintain a service from the Victorian age which economically cannot be maintained. secondly, we should have automatic criteria. If we paid for the track, then it would become the property of the State and the Minister could use the vacant track, through the local authorities, for development, in many cases as additional roads. He could make use of the property through local government or in any other way that was suitable. That would be a considerable gain. In the Bill which is shortly entering Standing Committee, the Minister is pursuing a course which will show us, in a few years' time, that all the present exercises have been completely unavailing. It will be found to have been a waste of time to reach an equation of x when no one will know the meaning of x. I ask the Minister to reconsider the whole matter. She may take as much advice as she likes, but I have summarised today the argument which I used upstairs, and it is still valid. The system I suggest operates in a modified form in France and in another form in Holland—I have seen them both—as well as in other parts of the world. If we adopted it, it would save a lot of time. I do not mind being political on some issues. The hon. Member for Yeovil said in the latter part of his speech that nationalisation is always a disease and never brings success. From 1951 onwards the Conservative Government interfered with some parts of nationalised transport, but if they shared his views, why did they not examine the possibility of handing the railways system back to private enterprise?
Order. The hon. Member is going a little beyond the Supplementary Estimate in speaking of what happened and what did not happen in 1951.
I hope to keep in order, Mr. Irving. I was trying to make the point that we have had these deficits since 1953, 1954–55. If the hon. Member took the view that those deficits might have been avoided by some other course of action, then I remind him that his Government had all the opportunities to avoid them. In fact, they caused the deficits, which rose higher and higher.
I entirely agree with much that the hon. Member said. I have never tried to whitewash either the actions or inactions of successive Tory Governments. What I said at the end of my speech was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) very wisely appointed Lord Beeching and had the courage and wisdom to let Lord Beeching run the railways. In so doing he set a magnificent example for his successor in the Ministry of Transport, which unfortunately the right hon. Lady has not followed. She ran away from the consequences of Beeching.
I accept some part of the hon. Member's comment and I will give him a little succour in his analysis by telling him that I always looked upon Lord Beeching's contribution as very valuable and hoped that his services would continue. But I regarded him mainly as a catalyst. There were many problems which many railway officers had tried to hide under the carpet. He was a catalyst, and in a sense his service in bringing to light ugly, awkward facts was remarkable.I should have liked Lord Beeching to continue and possibly to have with him two colleagues who might perhaps have been able to marry with that catalyst mind a dynamic forward-looking policy and a belief that corporate collective action can work as well as, if not better than, the individual, private profit motive. We did not have the opportunity. I have said that other leaders were of the civil servant type—men too careful and too cautious. We needed an individual with the courage to face the Government, of whichever party, and to say, "My remit is laid down in the Act of Parliament." It has been done in the electricity industry. Apart from Lord Beeching, I believe that practically all railways Chairmen since 1947, while they were men of great character, were without the drive and the energy to tell those in Government what their responsibility was and what they would accept. May I turn to two services in which the railways have initiated developments which are worth while. Hon. Members opposite may feel that I am not as warm-blooded about liner trains as they are. That is probably because I know a little more about them than they do, because I worked with them long before it was popular to talk about them. The railways have had a working knowledge of liner trains for many years. For years a major power station in Liverpool has been so served by coal from the Yorkshire coalfields. There are, or were, four trains a day—liner trains is the modern term for them: 18-ton vehicles carrying 64-ton loads from outside Buxton to Northwich, carrying the basic elements for I.C.I. factories in Northwich. These are sound operating trains. The principle is not new. It is not necessary to tell railwaymen about them, for they can see these trains running from point to point and earning revenue. But, sooner or later, hon. Members of both sides of the House will understand that the volume of traffic passing between smaller towns is not necessarily large enough for liner trains. The amount of traffic between the smaller towns is such that it cannot possibly be suitable for the liner train system. In this conception of liner trains we are talking about the major centres of industry. I regret that the proposal for the liner train is not quite as I wished to see it. It has been encouraged by the Ministry in terms of investment and, with some reservations about terminal costings, by me. I agree that these trains have made an impact and are very profitable. But I regret that we are to have the clumsy and wholly impracticable arrangement by which the railway cartage fleet—and I do not know whether it applies to the containers, to—will be handed over, in a sense, to some other authority. At any rate, they will do all the terminal work. They will sell these container loads and will collect and deliver them. They will have the key voice in telling those railway people who are trying to operate trains night and day how much the fare will be. As one who is interested and who at one time had a railway fleet under my charge, I should like to know how people operating a fleet in the conditions in which they will operate liner fleets will be able to tell me and others who are railway operating officers what my freight costings must be. This is implied in the whole arrangement and I regret what is happening to this service—for reasons which I suspect but will not detail now. Suffice to say that I believe the reasons to be based on expediency rather than on practical working. I therefore regret that the Minister has felt it necessary to take this step. The same could be said of hovercraft, although I am not as well informed on this issue as I might be. What I know about the subject leads me to believe that the same arguments apply. A great deal of "know-how" and money have been invested. Railwaymen want to know that they are working in an industry which has a future. It is not encouraging for railway officers and others who have been in the industry for many years always to be told that they are in a bankrupt service. They want to provide a service which will be viable in the future and they do not want these opportunities to be taken from them. I do not see how railway charges of this kind can be determined by people who will be more concerned with collection and delivery than actually with haulage and freight. When one considers the loss aspect of the railways, one must admit that commuters are primarily responsible for a large share and that the same applies on the buses. However diligent one might be, I cannot see how, when operating a fleet of., say, 1,000 buses, one can carry every available commuter at the peak hours in the mornings and evenings and not lose money when most of those buses are otherwise virtually idle, eating into one's costs, for the rest of the day. Unless commuter fares are very heavily increased. money will continue to be lost. A greater realisation of the commuter problem should exist and this whole problem should be looked at more realistically. I agree that the problem bears more heavily on London than some parts of the provinces, but I regret the precedent which has been established of Looking at the problem in London without considering it in as much detail elsewhere. Regardless of whether I represent Oldham or London, this precedent should not be continued. While the problem of commuter fares in London may be greater in volume, it is similar to that in Birmingham, Newcastle and other major cities. These various problems should be looked at on their merits. I am not averse to an equiation or cross-subsidiation to solve this problem, although I accept that hon. Gentlemen opposite consider this with a good deal of reservation. I believe that cross subsidisation is inevitable. It exists in the postal services and in many other spheres. Indeed, if it did not exist in the Post Office, we in Oldham would pay about one-third of the present postal charges which we must meet. This happens to be the case because of the terrific volume of outward mail-order traffic. It is the cream of the business, but I accept that cross-subsidisation must exist. The principle that some other authorities should have an effective voice in deciding commuter fares in and out of London and should have some precept on their local authorities about the loss that exists in the fares structure for buses causes me to have great doubts in my mind. This is because there will be considerable doubt generally that local democracy will not be effective and—I say this having been a councillor—because I do not believe that the average councillor, whichever party he represents, is able to work out the sort of sums involved in this exercise. There will, of course, also be the claims of pressure groups. If my right hon. Friend wishes to avoid the kind of supplementary figures which are at present presented, she should be straightforward to John Bull and say, "I am putting the railways on precisely the same financial footing as the roads. I will pay their maintenance costs and the costs policing, either through taxes or rates". If, then, the railways powers that be cannot contrive a method of movement, wagons and trains, that works, and if they cannot encourage people to fill them, the British public might then have to face the closure sort of solution.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that the country should take over the railways and that the railways should be free in the way that the roads are free. Is he aware that the roads are not free, that people use the roads in cars and lorries but must pay a tax for doing so? Will he explain how a similar state of affairs could exist on the railways?
I am not sure to what extent that is relevant in terms of taxes. Being a driver, I accept that I pay a fee which permits me to be a driver. Purchase Tax must be paid when a car is purchased initially, and that is part of the national taxation system. I would agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that an argument could be adduced about the duty on petrol. I would also agree that, if parity existed between rail and road, the other taxation, which has been imposed over the years by Governments of both parties, should be given further consideration.My main argument is that the principle involved should be given first priority, and then our problems might be more easily solved. Railway officers and men would then be able to look forward without having constantly to face the charge that the railways are milking the nation, are a losing proposition and are never doing anything profitably. We must be realistic and accept that, faced with the commuter problems that exist, it is unlikely that the railways can become viable unless we tackle the problem realistically. If people engaged in industry believe intrinsically that there is a fair chance to sell their articles, utilities or services—and in this case a service—then that belief is half-way to achieving our objective.
I listened with interest to the thoughtful and helpful speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), although I did not entirely agree with his remarks about the taxation of the roads compared with the railways.This Supplementary Estimate represents an increase of £30 million in one year, the money to be produced by the taxpayer. This is where the roads and the railways differ. The roads produce money, while the railways use it up. This money must be produced by the taxpayer at a time when, according to the Prime Minister, Government expenditure should be cut. If Government expenditure has to be cut, why is it not cut in this Supplementary Estimate? We are told that the extra payment to the railways is necessary because of a reduction in freight receipts. If freight receipts have been reduced, why not reduce the service until it meets the requirement of the freight, instead of imposing on the public this fantastic increase of 33 per cent. for a service that the public clearly does not want to use? What is the purpose of doing this? How long do the Government intend continuing to maintain at public expense a system that is far too big for the requirements of today's transport clientele? The Government ought to accept the fact that the needs of transport users change—they are not the same from one generation to another—and instead of pouring this money into a system that has been proved not to be wanted, the Government ought to trim the size of the railways so that it approximates to the demand for the service. There is nothing sacrosanct about the figure of 11,000 track miles selected by the Minister as being the right size for the railways. The Minister just pulled that figure out of the air, as it were. The hon. Gentleman must know that that is what happened in the Ministry. Those concerned did not even use matchsticks for their calculations, far less slide rules —they just pulled the figure out of the air without having any scientific basis. If, instead of sticking to 11,000 track miles, the Government were to make economies, the money could be used where it is needed most—in the improvement of our road system. But it is expenditure on the roads, which are wanted, that is to be cut as a result of the Prime Minister's statement last Tuesday, while public money is lavished on the railways where there is no public demand. It is impossible to imagine a more topsy-turvy set of priorities. The commonsense, businesslike way of doing things would be to allow the railways to reduce in size as, in the past, the canals were allowed to reduce in size because there was no more demand for them at their former size. Unfortunately, that is not the way in which the Government have proceeded. The Minister hopes, without conceding anything to the changed requirements of transport, to get these figures—which must be a great embarrassment to the Government—to look a little better next year by two very dubious financial expedients which will merely conceal the burden on the public without removing or lightening it in any way. First of all, the Government intend to step up the cost of road traffics to such an extent that some of them may come back on to the rail, and this switch, let it be marked, will be achieved by penalising the roads, not by making rail more efficient. This switch will mean an extra cost to industry, not just of a financial nature but administratively and in reliability. The extra cost shown in this Supplementary Estimate makes utter nonsense of the Government's call for an export drive in the Dunkirk, back-to-the-wall spirit. It is quite impossible to respond to that kind of call from the Government when one sees the Government wasting money like this. The second way in which the Government hope to make the figures look a little better next year is to conceal them; and sweep them under the carpet by getting local authorities to pay some of the costs, but the bill will in any case be just as big—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting beyond the Supplementary Estimate. He is now talking of next year's Estimates and, indeed, of matters in regard to legislation now before the House. Neither is permissible in a debate on Supplementary Estimates.
With the very greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your predecessor in the Chair allowed a few remarks on these subjects. I am not really going very wide, and my speech is quite short. I was only indicating why I am opposed to this Supplementary Estimate.
I have read my predecessor's remarks to the House on these matters. Incidental references I would allow, but certainly nothing beyond that.
Naturally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will follow your Ruling, but we on this side want to know why there should be this great subsidy of £136 million, which is what the Supplementary Estimates amount to, for the users of transport. That is what the Government have to justify, and it will be very, difficult for them to do so.Just last week we were told that in Scotland only 7 per cent. of the population were using rail and that 59 per cent. were using buses, and I take it that the figures for England are very much the same. I do not know the exact cost to the country of maintaining this service for 7 per cent. of the population—perhaps the Minister can tell us—but it must be a very large percentage of the £166 million. Perhaps £50 million or £60 million is used to maintain railways that are not wanted—
I should like to be perfectly aware of where the hon. Gentleman stands. I seem to sense a difference in emphasis between himself and his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). Is he for or against investment in British Railways? Does he want to close a large number of railway lines in Scotland?
What I want—and if the Minister will wait a moment I shall come to my point—is to get rid of this waste of money. I consider a Supplementary Estimate of £166 million a gross waste of money, and the Minister, in- stead of looking so pleased with himself, should be hanging his head in shame.
The hon. Gentleman complained about the very large amount of railway lines in Scotland for the number of passengers using them. Does he want to get rid of a large number of railway lines in Scotland?
If the Parliamentary Secretary will just keep himself in control for one minute he will get an answer to that question when I come to that portion of my speech. This is an utterly ridiculous and unjustifiable extravagance. This indiscriminate subsidy policy of the Government is at the root of a good deal of the country's present economic troubles.There has been a lot of talk recently, and to a certain extent in this debate, on social benefits, but as the hon. Member for Oldham, East will be aware—and the Minister, too—the Geddes Committee, which went into the matter carefully, reported that
It seems to me that, like most of the concepts of economists, the concept of social benefit can be used to prove almost anything one likes, and I am not any more convinced than the hon. Member for Oldham, East is that this is a good reason for keeping lines open. Even more alarming than the rail figures are the figures for London Transport because they indicate the sort of burden which the Minister is preparing for other regions. A subsidy amounting to the colossal figure of £11 million is required to run in London what is very little different from one of the Minister's new P.T.A.s. With this costly example before us, why should the Minister think that the P.T.A.s will be a success? All experience in the past indicates that these will be an expensive failure, and that the public ownership which now exists in London is quite irrelevant to the solution of problems of transport. With these startling figures before us, Parliament should take a stand against the pretensions of the Executive and say that we will just not go on paying these indiscriminate subsidies."methods of calculating social costs are in their infancy."
Here I am quoting—"Travellers as a class are not particularly needy people any more than people who buy clothes, or kitchen utensils."
That piece of advice, curiously enough—and the Minister will be interested to know this—comes from Socialist Commentary. I wish that the Government would study it and take it very much to heart. If people want services they must be prepared to pay for them. This applies particularly to London Transport. To succour London Transport to the extent of £11 million per annum makes nonsense of any distribution of population policy, which I always understood some sections of the Government believe in. It is not so much transport that needs co-ordinating and integrating as the Government, because one arm of the Government does something entirely contrary to what another arm is trying to do. It is this sort of sentimental unbusinesslike approach to London which causes the growth of nationalistic feelings in other parts of the United Kingdom which is causing the party opposite so much trouble and harm. It is in their own party interest that they should look at this. The Minister will be well aware of it, because he comes from Wales, as I am and I come from Scotland. The country cannot go on paying a subsidy for railways amounting to over 6d. on the Income Tax, particularly when neither freight nor passengers require this colossal infrastructure any longer. This extravagance in transport represented by this £166 million extra has gone on for far too long. Until we get a great deal closer to a position where we can get what we pay for, I am very much afraid that this country will continue its unsuccessful struggle to get out of the financial quagmire which excessive Government expenditure such as this has landed it in. If I could get my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and other hon. Friends to stand by me, I would feel inclined to divide the House against the Government."On what ground should they, as a class, be subsidised? The fundamental principle must be accepted that transport is itself not a social service; it is a consumer good. To ensure that the produce is available in the right quantities with no shortages and no waste, it is essential to charge a price which, as nearly as possible, represents the true cost of production."
When listening to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary I found it very difficult to see the wood for the trees. He emitted so much smoke that I almost thought the railways were back in the steam age.I would be far happier if I knew that the admirable Dr. Beeching was still at the head of British Railways, because then I would be certain that we could be sure of getting value for money for this deficit of £153 million, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) who so excellently opened the debate, is a national disaster. Coming so shortly after the cuts in Government expenditure, and not being able to find further cuts, it is the bounden duty of each of us to inquire in great detail into the Supplementary Estimates and to get a far better explanation than we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary. One of the things which worries me, representing as I do Harwich which has a considerable railway population, is the low morale in British Railways. It goes right through from the top to the lowest-paid worker. How much more confidence would the lowest-paid worker have if he knew that there was at the head of British Railways someone like Dr. Beeching who had a knowledge of how a large business could operate. Much as I appreciate and know the present Chairman of British Railways with all the experience he has, I wonder if it is the kind of experience we need to administer a great industry, such as this man has to do, excellent man though he be in many respects. I am sure that the reason we have not the right man at the head of British Railways today is that the Government have not had the courage to pay the economic price for him. In the same way we see that there have been vast reductions in manpower on the railways and yet the wage bill is approximately the same. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if this Supplementary Estimate of £30 million is in any way connected with across the industry wage rises? I hope that it is not. We have had another explanation which I shall deal with in detail later. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that it is vital to support success and not failure. In my constituency there is one of the best railway ports. I welcome the investment which has been made in the port of Parkstone by British Railways, but what disturbs me is that we have not been ever able to get a detailed account of how the operating costs of that port works. I should like the men at Parkstone to be paid more because they are making a profit and not to be subsidising some other part of the country in making a loss. This is the way to success, pay for skill and hard work and for the men to see the result of that work in their own port. No wonder the private enterprise port at Harwich navy yard and Felixstowe port go ahead while the British Railways port at Parkstone goes down and as a consequence we have to face a deficit of £22 million in the Supplementary Estimate and £153 million on the railways as a whole. This is because, alas, we are too subsidy-minded and we are frightened to look at economic costs. We are frightened by the real price in the market place. We have to face competition in the world in order to pay our way and we have to look at the facts of reality in the face. Until we do so we shall have deficits such as the one we are discussing. Looking at the hard facts of reality I have considered the long-term trend of prices to see what was happening in the long term to British Railways. I see that the receipts from freight in 1957 were £353 million. Receipts from freight in 1966 amounted to £275 million. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what they were in 1967 or for the latest available date. The amount of tonnage taken by British Railways in 1957 was 275 million tons and in 1966 it was 213 million tons. British Railways has increased fares for commuters. These receipts are double what they were in 1957. Dare the railways charge a higher price for some of the traffic coming to them? If not, does this not show that the railways are not using the best economic way of carrying the load? I am rather in favour of what w as said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) about looking at facts in the market place. We cannot any longer be a country which subsidises this and that.
As the hon. Member is concerned with facing these realities, would he care to face the reality of the situation of the costs of the commuter services in London? If, as he suggested, fares were to be put up further what would be the effect on wages and salaries'?
I am saying that we have to improve the efficiency of the service. I am sure that if we could do that we should get things right. This is a small part of the revenue. The revenue from the commuter service increased from £16 million in 1957 to £32 million in 1966, but the revenue with which we are involved here was £353 million in 1957 and £275 million in 1966. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is right; it is the freight problem that is important and the crux is how we deal with it. It is because of failure to face the economic realities that we have to discuss this huge deficit.I am conscious that other hon. Gentlemen wish to speak and that we shall be discussing other very important Supplementary Estimates, for the Army and the Navy, and I am sure that in those cases also more reality is needed than we hear from Ministers at the moment. I am convinced that the Government must support success and not failure. As I did at the beginning, I stress the importance of morale in the railways and the importance of ensuring that correct leadership is there and that proper reward is given to management and lower-paid workers. When that is done we shall get an efficient industry, but not until it is done.
I am almost heartbroken that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) has at last left the Chamber. It appears that hon. Members opposite are not keen to take part in the debate. Indeed, there do not seem to be many of them present. One can perhaps assume that they are all in the Library writing letters to their Chief Whip, and that will probably explain his absence, too.The hon. Member for Oldham, East produced some very interesting ideas which I thought were of some importance and worthy of consideration. His remark that the heads of the B.T.Cs. after the 1947 Act were over-influenced by the Governments of the day was, I thought, true, and I think that that over-influence tends still to have its sway today. The Minister referred to the difference between the passenger receipts and the Estimate as being only marginal. This may be true; but a marginal difference on Estimates amounting to hundreds of millions of £s is nevertheless a large sum of money. I suggest that in this aspect of the railway service there are certain losses that could be made good. Passengers do not now travel by train as readily or willingly or as eagerly as they should do. The reasons are very clear. Certainly in the South of England passengers very often find that conditions on passenger trains are, to say the least, unattractive. The facilities are very often unpleasant. The sanitary arrangements on the trains are nauseous. The accommodation for refreshment is inadequate. One has to stand in a swaying coach trying to eat a potted meat pie of some description, holding it in one hand while clutching a gin and tonic in the other, and that at 60 m.p.h. is not good for one's digestion and cannot be described as comfortable. The British Railways Board spends a considerable amount of money on advertising. I believe that it would get better results if it cut the advertising and concentrated on making the passenger comfortable once he is in the train. I also believe that it would get far better results if it could get its trains to run to the advertised timetables. In recent months a new timetable has been introduced in the Southern Region, and it has produced some chaotic results. It is not to be marvelled at that the passengers have no confidence in the ability of the management to run its trains to time and that the staff have, very unfairly I think, had to take the brunt of the passengers' legitimate grievances, taking the kicks and not getting many halfpence out of it. There appears to be no real prospect of the passenger trains running to time. I think that the Minister will find that if the Board makes the trains reasonably clean and comfortable internally the receipts will begin to rise. One of the first steps in improving the deficit position should be to increase receipts where it can be done, and I suggest that the Minister should try this as a beginning.
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying and very conscious of its importance. None of us on either side would differ from her in what she is saying. But, after all, at the end of the day there is certain responsibility on the Minister and certain responsibility on the Board. I am sure that due weight will be given to what she has said, but I must point out that it is not the Minister's responsibility to interfere with management on this scale.
That is an interesting point. I will give the hon. Gentleman an example. Between the end of July and the beginning of December 177 trains that were scheduled to arrive in Alton Town from Waterloo got lost on the way and did not get there. The hon. Gentleman says that this is nothing to do with him. Is it not? Is not dislocation of service of this magnitude anything to do with him? I wonder.
I will tell the hon. Lady where the Minister's responsibility lies. The railways operate under the doctrine of the 1962 Act which charges the railway management with certain responsibilities and the Minister with certain responsibilities. I would be the first to concede, as we discussed at Question Time the other day, that there is an avenue through which passengers can make complaints, to the T.U.C.C., from which recommendations can be made to the Minister. Apart from these very narrow limits laid down in the Act passed by hon. Members opposite, all these matters are the responsibility of the Railways Board.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the T.U.C.Cs are an avenue for passenger complaints. But the T.U.C.Cs., I am sure he will agree, are inclined to examine the arguments for the closing of lines and the quality of service. I also think that he will agree that the T.U.C.C. in my area has a part-time unremunerated chairman who is an insurance broker by profession, and that he has 22 colleagues who are all unremunerated, and that they have all been swamped by the complaints that have been poured in upon them in the last six months, and that the problem has suddenly overwhelmed them.When the Minister says that the actual management of trains is a matter for the railway management, what he is really saying is that if 177 trains do not reach their destination he is still not involved with the actual management of the railways. But he also said that under the 1962 Act certain responsibility was laid upon the railway management and certain responsibility upon the Minister. Does he not agree that there comes a time when the Minister must look at her responsibilities under the 1962 Act?
I should have though that that is exactly what we are to do in the Transport Bill which begins Its pas: age through Standing Committee tomorrow.
I have a nasty feeling that if we were to pursue this debate for much longer you would rule us out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is now guilty of a real red herring, not a false trail. The point is that we have, as a nation, got a railway service in which it would appear that no one can influence either Board or Minister should the quality of the service fall below that which the passengers expect and have a right to look for. This is what the hon. Gentleman has implied. It is a constitutional matter of great importance, but I think that you would be leaping to your feet if we were to pursue it.I will not take up more time except to comment on the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), who called it the hard face of reality. The hard face is simply this. If the Minister will make the service attractive to the passenger she will find that the marginal deficit which she has on passenger receipts over estimates will evaporate very quickly. Give the people what they want and they will repay handsomely.
I am indebted to the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) for at least bringing one success story into this debate. Hitherto the debate has been unrelieved by any story of success by British Railways, apart from the charm- ing intervention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he revealed that, thanks to the freightliners, the Government were now able to send their dirty laundry to Scotland to be washed.I am reminded of the charming intervention made by the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) in last week's debate on the Government cuts, when he said that the Government had had so much bad luck that he was almost inclined to believe that God must be a Conservative. If we pursue this line of reasoning it must follow that God does not travel very often on the Southern Region of British Railways. Certainly by any standard Southern Region has had appalling luck in the last 12 months. As the management has said, the commuting public has had to put up with unprecedented burdens. In the last 12 months there has been a guards strike, there have been go-slows, there has been a new timetable which does not work, and there has been a work-to-rule. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us this afternoon, we were fortunate enough to have a mild winter last year, while this winter we have been unfortunate enough to have snow. So, one can see that British Railways' cup is filled to overflowing. Is it really all due to bad luck'? I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of the senior executives of Southern Region. They are men of charm and no doubt of great ability, but after one looks at the size of the deficit, and at the quality of the service provided, one wonders whether there is any reason at all why they should do better in the future than they have done in the immediate past. If private enterprise had been concerned with a fiasco of this proportion there would have been a major shake-up and heads would have rolled. But has anyone been dismissed because of the recent failures in Southern Region? Has anyone been demoted, or have their salaries been reduced in any way? The answer is most certainly, "No". The only way in which senior management in the Railway Boards can now be removed is by disagreement with the Minister, over questions of individual initiative and competence. It would appear that there is in this region, as regrettably there is throughout so much of nationalised industry, a lack of personal responsibility. This is reflected in the size of the deficits and the quality of the service.
In a sense of fairness—the hon. Member has said that he had seen, presumably with others, officials of Southern Region. In dismissing what they might have said, he is now, broadly speaking, censuring them. I wonder whether he would do a service to the House and be good enough to let us know what explanation the officials have given for this bad service to which he has referred?
The principal reason that is put forward, in public and in private, by the Southern Region officials, is that they are trying to carry more commuters in a more restricted region than in any other area in the world. They have tried to squeeze more trains into the proverbial pint pot.If this had worked it would have been a great feather in the caps of those officials responsible and all credit to them. But it has not worked; it has been a failure. In private enterprise one can reward those who succeed, and at the same time one can deal with failure. In the Southern Region there would not have been very much reward if this timetable reorganisation had worked. No doubt there would have been a good mark on the report sheets of these officials but there would not have been any substantial reward. At the same time one sees no penalty. It would seem that everyone goes on in exactly the same way as before. After the events of the last 12 months I do not believe that the Southern Region can give to the harried commuters of London a better service under the present system, under the present chiefs. What is needed is a new lead, new management at the top and, after all this, we desperately need more investment to try to unclog the crowded trains that for years to come will make daily travelling into London an obstacle race rather than a smooth passage.
I sympathise with hon. Members who have been discussing the problems of Southern Region, but I assure them that the Southern Region is now, like the Southern Railway before it, rather different from the other railway regions. The problems are quite different, Southern Region being the only region which depends on passenger fares for its revenue. The deficit which we are discussing now, however, arises not on passenger fares but on goods traffic. In my region, the Western Region, we have no complaints either as to unpunctuality of trains or as to their being dirty. Western Region's trains are clean and punctual, and they are running at greater speed than they did before the war.It is most regrettable that we have to debate these Estimates at all this week, after our debates of last week. We are asked to provide another£30 million in respect of British Railways and London Transport, a very large sum, and the Parliamentary Secretary has told us that a good part of it is due to a deficit on British Railways. These deficits are partly responsible for our need to have the debates last week, of course, because it has been excess Government expenditure which has largely contributed to the country's financial trouble. It could be said that any debates on Supplementary Estimates are debates about water which has already gone under the bridge. But the point we make from this side is that it should not have gone under the bridge. It should have been diverted into a more profitable irrigation channel. We object to these Estimates and criticise them on that ground. There is very little excuse for the railway deficit being as large as it is. The Parliamentary Secretary suggested several reasons why the deficit had arisen. Others were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who reminded the House of five different reasons which had been stated in the First Report of the Estimates Committee. But there is another reason which has hardly been touched on and not explicitly mentioned at all, namely, that the Beeching Plan was abandoned before it was fully implemented. I was interested to note that the Parliamentary Secretary chose the year 1962 and observed that the railway deficit then was£159 million. That was the year before the Conservative Act of 1962 came into force and before the Beeching Plan had come into operation. The Beeching Plan resulted in the deficit being reduced to£133 million in 1963 and to£120 million in 1964. Had it gone on, the deficit would, no doubt, have been reduced further. In other words, the Beeching Plan was working in reducing the deficit, and it is only since a change of Government and since Beeching went that the deficit has started to rise again, now reaching£155,800,000. Today, and in previous debates recently—the Parliamentary Secretary did it today—the Opposition have been challenged about subsidising uneconomic railway lines for social reasons. In fact, contrary to popular belief, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) appointed Dr. Beeching and asked him to produce a plan, he did not ask him for a plan to make the railways pay. The remit set out at the beginning of the Beeching Report shows that what Dr. Beeching was asked to do was to review the needs of the country's transport as it then was and to recommend what pattern of railway lines would be viable. Dr. Beeching did that in his Report, but he also made clear—this appears more than once in the Report—that he admitted that there would be cases where an uneconomic line might have to be preserved for social reasons, for instance, that it would be less expensive to maintain an uneconomic commuter service than to build a new urban motorway, or, in a rural area where there were very few roads, it might be cheaper to keep a rural line going than build the necessary roads, or, as a matter of strategic requirement, it might be advisable from a military point of view to keep certain lines open to supply certain depots, and so on. All these matters were mentioned in the Beeching Report, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey never dissented from them. It was always recognised that certain uneconomic lines might have to be kept open. But neither my right hon. Friend nor Dr. Beeching ever envisaged that any large number of lines or any substantial part of the railways would have to be kept as a subsidised service. We on this side have never accepted that the railways should be a social service. One accepts old-age pensions as a social service because everybody becomes old. We accept that the National Health Service may be a social service and be applied universally in the country because everyone may need it and it is necessary even in remote areas. But we do not accept that railways are a social service. There never was a time, and it is not such a time now, when everyone could have a railway service, and it is unfair to provide one for some people at the general expense of many people who have not got a railway service, never had one and do not want it. Yet this Supplementary Estimate does just that. It is to provide a subsidy for some people to have a service which is not otherwise paying. Transport is never an end in itself. It is always a means to an end. One cannot say that there is a need for a railway from London to Manchester or between any other two points. It may be a convenience. It may cost less to go by rail than by some other means, but there are many other means by which one can travel from one point to another. In that sense, one cannot say that it is a necessity. By and large, those who find it cheaper or more convenient to go by rail should be expected to pay for it. However, because this principle is not accepted, Supplementary Estimates such as these arise, and, under existing Government policy, they will continue to arise. Several hon. Members have observed that the Transport Bill which is to begin its Committee stage tomorrow conceals a lot of the costs which will arise out of railway services. But the costs will still be there, and, unless the railways pay their way or come nearer to doing so, it will be the taxpayer in the long run who has to find the money. Last Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) chided me for making a speech which, he said, he had heard before in 1950. He passed that comment because I was referring to certain historical events and experiences regarding the Great Western Railway. Of course he had heard it before. The trouble with right hon. and hon. Members opposite is that, although they know the facts and have heard them all before, they take no notice of them. Their trouble is not that they are stupid or ignorant but that they are inveterate deductive thinkers, judging what to do next not by their experience of what has gone before but deducing their policy from some slogan or other and trying to make the slogan fit the facts. In the case of transport, the slogan is usually either integration or nationalisation. Instead of seeing that the Beeching Plan was working and reducing the deficit, they abandoned it and then the deficits began to rise. They did not learn from that either. If they had appreciated the true state of affairs, they would have gone back to the Beeching Plan, and we would not have had these Estimates before us. We ought not to be called upon to find money to meet a deficit which has arisen out of a mistaken policy. The new Bill which is to go to Committee tomorrow contains all sorts of provisions which, as I say, will conceal the costs of running the railways. It is possible that we may not be faced with a deficit of this sort again and be asked to vote a Supplementary Estimate. But the deficit will still be there. Unless we get a better explanation than we have had so far, it is questionable whether we should support the Supplementary Estimate. At least, we have reason to criticise it thoroughly.
If I may speak briefly about an impression which has struck me from the debate, which is the first time that I have heard a debate on Supplementary Estimates on the railways, it has become clear as various hon. Members have spoken that the basic factor behind this new Supplementary Estimate has been the intervention of the Government in the management of British Railways. One of the dangers of intervention is not merely the deficit of£30 million, but the effect of the deficit on the operation of the railways.The deficit is bad as a deficit because of two effects which it has on management. It debilitates the management, and in part it arises from Government interference with management. The 1962 Act placed upon the Railways Board the objective of trying to be financially viable by 1970. It may well be that there are occasions on which a Government may decide, for one reason or another, to subsidise lines in certain parts of the country. They may describe it in their new Bill as being a subsidy for socal reasons. Even in their existing reports, however, British Railways make it clear that they are being forced to bear these costs for social reasons. The Bill, therefore, does not really make much change in that direction. What is happening now, however, is that we are taking away from the railways the objective of financial stringency and asking them to co-operate in devising a scheme whereby they may from the very beginning be loaded with social costs. The Supplementary Estimates fall into that pattern. Secondly, the deficit arises from Government interference with management. At some point in the debate, we heard about the 11,000 route miles. In my constituency, there is a line which the original plan threatened, would be a freight-only line and would cease to carry passengers. If that proposal goes through, I and hon. Members opposite who share the same line will make a fuss, kick up a lot of noise and hope to save the passenger side of the line. It is our job to do that. We will deploy the arguments with all the strength we can. It is not the job of British Railways to do that. It is their job to look at it as a commercial proposition and try to make sure that they are not called upon to bear costs which it is no longer possible for them to bear. The danger of the present approach is that British Railways are being asked to co-operate in a system which from the outset includes in their thinking the permanent carrying of lines which will no longer be commercially viable. One last example of the way in which the deficit and Government interference go together in British Railways, and the bad effect which there is likely to be on management, is the example, which has been quoted several times this afternoon, of the freightliner. It is clear that there are certain aspects of British Railways management which are the fruits of their imagination and are likely to be the growth points of the industry for the future. In the debate in June, also on the deficit, the Minister said that the freightliner formed a major part of the plan to divert resources from the traditional traffics which were declining to the new and expanding traffics which represented the future of the railways. Those are to be taken away. It seems to me, therefore, that not only are the Government imposing on management in British Railways burdens which it is not fair for them to bear, but they are also taking away from the railways the opportunities in which their future lies. Both of these arise because of the continuing deficit which Parliament is asked continuously to support and because Governments and Parliament still continuously interfere. One thing which has emerged today, perhaps most forcibly from the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), is that this debate goes on in generalities, whereas the future of British Railways depends upon detail and the detailed application or imaginative policies which are practicable to attract traffic, both passenger and freight, to the railways. Debates of this kind will not solve that. The solution lies in choosing the right men in the railways and allowing them to do the job with the minimum of Government interference. We are talking not simply about the£30 million of the Supplementary Estimate, but the effect of continuing to come to the House of Commons for authority to finance the deficit and the effect which this has on interference by the Government in the management of British Railways.
The few hours that the House has spent on this Supplementary Estimate have been of considerable importance. It was impressive to witness speech after speech from the benches opposite, crowded and seething with indignation that all this money had been spent and that if it had been saved it would have obviated the introduction of prescription charges. It has been impressive to hear the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and all his colleagues, one after another, pointing out that the railway deficit this year is equivalent to about six years of prescription charges.Likewise, it has been impressive to w to the deep interest of Treasury Ministers as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and several other Treasury Min- isters have been in constant attendance taking note of all the points which have been made and obviously expressing their concern and worry at£155 million of the taxpayers' money being spent on the railway deficit. Then there was the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. It was the best attempt to turn defeat into triumph since the Prime Minister's television broadcast on devaluation. As the hon. Gentleman went through his speech, he told us that it was extremely good that only another£30 million was needed and that it could have been very much worse. It is true, he said, that the Government have let the railways down badly but that the degree to which they have let the railways down is of such enormous proportion that it is remarkable that the railways have lost only£30 million more than they had budgeted for.
For the sake of the record, the hon. Member will, I am sure, be the first to concede that his last paragraph is a measure of all the other paragraphs that he has uttered so far in his speech.
I must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I thought I heard him say that the reason for this enormous increase in the deficit was that industrial production last year did not rise to the degree that the Government expected. Have the Government by any chance decided that besides having no responsibility for British Railways, they have no responsibility for the economy as well? I only wish that they did not have any responsibility for the economy, but, alas, they do and the nation and the railways have suffered accordingly.The hon. Gentleman showed his one great skill in the principle of selectivity. I am tired of hearing him and all his Ministerial colleagues mention only the one deficit figure for 1962. It is interesting that they never mention 1963 or 1964. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary well knows, in 1963 the railway deficit went down by more than£20 million. In 1964 it went down by another£14 million. Then came the Labour Government and the trend was vigorously reversed, and now it is rising steeply. What is frightening when we have Estimates like this is the appalling lack of reliance that one can ever place on Government estimates. The Report of the Estimates Committee particularly points out the number of occasions the railways have been wrong in their estimates and have come for more money, but the Government first of all in September, 1965, made in their National Plan a forecast for the railways. We were told off, chastised, by Ministers for not having the faith and belief in the National Plan which they thought we should have had. After all, it was to provide us with extra television sets and refrigerators! As for the railways, we were told that by 1970 we should get rid of their working deficit, and the Government listed the ways in which they would do it. That was September, 1965. In 1966 the railways' deficit rose. Therefore, the trend indicated in the National Plan looked, to say the least, suspect, but we thought, "Well, 1967 will be a better year. We have this rebust Minister at the Ministry of Transport, and all sorts of wonderful things are being said about the railways, and their freightliner trains, and so on, and about a new spirit on the railways." So we could have anticipated that 1967 would, perhaps, be a better year and that the trend would improve as it had done in the last two years of the Conservative Government. We were disappointed, therefore, when in 1967 the Minister said in the House of Commons that the railways' deficit was not going to improve during 1967 and that things were going to be about the same. I remember how disappointed we were when she told us there would be no improvement in 1967. If we had been told not only that there was to be no improvement but a considerable deterioration in the railways' deficit, that would indeed have made nonsense of all the boasts being made about improvements taking place in British Railways. What we are concerned about is that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech and the speeches of the Minister herself show no indication that the problem of this increasing deficit and of this enormous Supplementary Estimate is going to be tackled. Therefore I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his comments on a few major points. Firstly, on the labour force, which has been reduced over a period of years. There was recently the Government inquiry that took place and Cooper Brothers, the firm of City accountants, have reported on the financing of the railways and have made comments, I gather, in their report as to the labour force. Moreover, Mr. Fiennes has written an article and has indicated that the labour force could be reduced by 100,000 men. I want the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say what he considers will happen to the labour force of British Railways in the future, because this overmanning must be one of the great problems about the deficit. Secondly, will he take note of the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) and of everybody else connected with the railways and consider that, in the morale of the railways a salient point is taking away from them the freightliner trains. and will he consider keeping them with them? Thirdly, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave some figures about the sale of property assets, and, if I remember them rightly, they showed a quite big decline last year compared with the previous year. Will the hon. Gentleman say, when are the railways going to be able fully to exploit their enormous assets? I cite as one example of these the major termini in London, where we have London Bridge, Victoria, Euston, Paddington, St. Pancras and Kings Cross, at all of which there could be developed offices and hotels and arrangements whereby passengers could come straight into the stations without further congesting the streets of London. When will the railways be given much greater freedom to develop these enormous property assets? Finally—and this very much affects the Estimates for 1967—there is the question of top management. As for that, the Minister announced that she was not going to appoint the person she had as her first choice as Chairman of British Railways, because he wanted a higher salary than that which was available. Mr. Johnson is a very distinguished railwayman, and I want to wish him every possible success. Indeed, he made a very fine job of the work of electrification on the Midland Region. What I want to know is, having decided that Mr. Johnson should be Chairman of British Railways, are the Government going substantially to increase his salary, so that he can recruit underneath him men of high calibre with appropriately high salaries for managing this enormous industrial task? Or is it now the firm policy of the Government for the foreseeable future to peg the salary of the chairmanship of British Railways at this figure? The tragedy of the last year in which this enormous Supplementary Estimate is being asked for is the effect all this has had on British Railways. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor)—in his very able, held opening speech today—have all mentioned the adverse effects which have taken place in the last year on British Railways. They are of course deeply depressed at the thought that the British public are again being asked for another£30 million to meet these deficits, and that now for some months the railwaymen hive suffered the humiliation of watching the bickering over their Chairman's salary; and they have been able to read in the newspapers of the appalling manner in which the previous Chairman was treated by the Government, and the way in which he was taken out of a union meeting and told he was no longer to be kept in the job. Therefore, we have the picture at the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968 of the railways having a steep rise in their deficit with no sign in the Minister's statement of a turndown of this, with labour relations strained and at their worst ebb, with a great deal of confidence lost. I appeal to the Government really to set about allowing the railways to develop their assets, to retain their freightliner trains, to attract the best in management for this great industry. I appeal to the Government really to tackle these problems—not in a doctrinaire fashion, but by good, sound, practical administration.
I think everyone will agree that we have had a very full discussion of these Supplementary Estimates for transport, and I think that perhaps every- one will also agree that this discussion has taken rather more of the day than had been expected, and that there are some hon. Members who have been waiting very patiently to debate other important Estimates and that, therefore, I ought now to answer as quickly as possible.I will deal with as many of the points which have been raised as I can. I think it is important to realise that, although debates such as this have a great deal of value, it may be that in the future the House will find another way of looking at Supplementary Estimates, a way which, perhaps, will be more exacting and more streamlined than this. I am not by any means criticising anybody, but I have heard some hon. Members in the Corridor saying, "There must be a better way." The hon. Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) discussed the question of the rights of the Minister regarding the Board. I am not quite sure whether she wished almost to duplicate the Railways Board, a duplication to be created at St. Christopher's House to look after the questions which are raised and to reinforce the Minister in her decisions on railways—but, perhaps, if I continue much longer with the duet which the hon. Member had with my hon. Friend I shall be ruled out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I hope the hon. Member has not got me wrong. What I was trying to persuade his hon. Friend of was that if he improved conditions for passengers he would improve receipts.
I got the point, but, as I said, it developed into a duet between my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady, and, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I saw you edging towards the edge of your Chair to bring it to a close.The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith) spoke about services being reduced and said that, to some extent, there were falls in demands. But falls in services cannot all happen at once. Allowance has to be made for the estimated long-term demands. In the case of coal, for instance, there has been considerable co-operation between the Railways Board and the coal industry. From the point of view of railway receipts, no one can be happy about the fall in the amount of coal sent by rail and the new forecasts. From now on, the Government having established a target for coal, the Railways Board will be closely associated with all the developments to help it to estimate future demand. The Board is planning for a reduction in coal traffic in accordance with the declining forecasts in the coal industry. As the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) said, there is no doubt that the shortfall in freight is the key to the Supplementary Estimate which we are putting forward. Passenger receipts are remarkably accurate, being only 0·2 per cent. out, but it is important to realise that the railways cannot be divorced from the rest of the economy. The carriage of freight is very dependent upon the activities of the rest of the community. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) and another hon. Member spoke at length about the Beeching closures, as they are now known. Perhaps it would be valuable to give hon. Members the figure. The closures accounted for something like£17 million per annum. If the Beeching closures had still been going on, it is estimated that the shortfall would have been something like£17 million less. That, considering the upheaval which was caused, is not something which we should consider worth while in terms of the deficit which we have.
I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that the deficit in 1967 was£27 million. Is he saying, in other words, that, of that£27 million,£17 million was as a result of not carrying out the Beeching proposals?
The point is that the effect of the Beeching closures was that the saving achieved from them was at the rate of£17 million per annum.
That figure of£17 million is a very interesting one. I assume that it is£17 million multiplied by three; in other words,£51 million.
It would be£17 million now. The cumulative effect today would have been£17 million a year.Turning to the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), I will not deal with his question about track costs, which I have heard before and which my right hon. Friend the Minister has answered on a number of occasions. However, I will refer in passing to the very important inquiry which is to be held into the recent accident. Mr. Gibben's terms of reference are not only to investigate the accident, but also to look into the general safety of automatic half-barriers at level crossings. As for my hon. Friend's suggestions about the very big increase in speeds which is likely to affect questions of safety, without presuming to prejudge the reactions of the tribunal, I am sure that such matters will be taken into account in its deliberations. The other important point raised in the course of the debate concerned the labour force. There have been savings, and they will continue. The estimate for last year was that there would be a reduction of 15,000 in the labour force. In fact, the reduction was 20,000. In the course of the debate on the deficit of British Railways on 26th June, 1967, my hon. Friend gave some figures and said:
As many hon. Members have said, the industry has gone through a very difficult time in the changing circumstances of the modern world, with the introduction of so many other ways of travel. In going through those difficulties, it has been quite remarkable that the morale of railwaymen has been so good. I do not believe that it is quite as appalling as many hon. Members opposite would suggest. For the first time there is a feeling of hope in the industry, and railwaymen to whom I have spoken feel that at least they will be considered as an integrated part of a modern transport industry and not always be the little brothers of the business. They feel that they are able to do a job which will be of benefit to the entire community. I am sorry that in the course of the debate no hon. Member referred to London Transport, although it forms part of the Supplementary Estimate—"The industry has seen a massive contraction in its labour force, from 503.000 to 361,000 in four years, and further reductions are inevitable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1967; Vol. 749, c. 161.]
I was out of the Chamber for a few minutes and did not hear the hon. Gentleman. I will make a point of reading what he said and discussing it with him.It is part of the Supplementary Estimate, and an interesting point about it is that some of the increased deficit has come about due to an improvement in services given to the public. In the first place, there was a considerable easing of the chronic recruitment figures which the Board experienced during the year. That led to the tilling of vacancies at Underground stations and, more significantly, to a higher percentage of bus schedules being operated, particularly in the Central area, than was thought probable at the time that the budget was prepared. The increased services have had the effect of arresting the long-term decline in the number of bus passengers, and the Board estimates that it will finish the year having carried roughly the same volume of traffic as it did in 1966. I felt that some reference should be made to London Transport. The waterways have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, and the Railways have been dealt with very fully in the course of the debate. I am sure that everyone has benefited from the discussion. Finally, I want to stress the importance of keeping the Beeching savings in their proper perspective, important though they are. One of the threads going through speeches on both sides of the House has been that, if we had kept Beeching, all would have been well.
The closures are only a small proportion of the great problems of the industry, and they should be kept in perspective.I am confident that the remit under the new Transport Bill will be of benefit to railwaymen and to the rest of the nation as a whole. Sometimes, in these debates, we speak in too partisan a way or both sides of the House and denigrate an industry in an attempt to denigrate the party opposite. In today's debate, we have all learned something. In order to allow others to go forward with the subjects for which they have been waiting so patiently, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Class Iv, Vote 17, Subhead J
Assistance To The Coal Industry
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding£3,750,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1968, for the expenditure of the Ministry of Power for assistance to the coal industry.—[Mr. Marsh.]
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am not quite sure what the procedure is. As one of my hon. Friends said earlier, it is such an unusual occurrence to probe the winter Supplementary Estimates closely, and we are not sure about the exact procedure to be followed.In the Estimate now under discussion we are concerned with a Supplementary Estimate for assistance to the coal industry. The background to this particular Estimate stems from the Coal Industry Bill, which we were discussing shortly before Christmas, which depended upon the Fuel White Paper which was allegedly undergoing further examination with regard to revised figures following upon devaluation and the worsening balance of payments position. Therefore, it will be necessary to ask the Minister how his revisions of that White Paper are faring and what new conclusions he has reached, because it directly affects the Estimates which are before the House. I should be grateful if he could tell us what has happened to the White Paper and whether any of the figures in it have been altered. After all, if the Treasury could have a close examination of public expenditure figures and produce its calculations, I imagine that the Ministry of Power will also have had time to produce some conclusions as it was not badly affected by the cuts. That is one of the first questions arising out of the Supplementary Estimates I should like to ask him. The second question, to which I will refer briefly, concerns prices. The present Government have constantly talked about the need to keep prices down, but in one of these Estimates we are talking about electricity where the price is artificially higher than it need be because of Government action. One has there a commodity which is supplied to the public at a higher price because of action which the Government have taken. Therefore, they are not wishing to keep down electricity prices. On the contrary, they are raising them. I refer not merely to the recent rise, but to the policy behind the supply of coal to the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Scottish Boards. We pay on the present Estimate in taxpayer's money as well. The third background matter is that we have had an allegedly very searching review of public expenditure. If I may put it this way, the mining industry seems to be a sacred cow, because the greatly increased expenditure on the Coal Industry Bill of£133 million does not seem to have been touched; it has come through that public expenditure review virtually unscathed. Some of the expenditure which we approved in that Bill, and which is now the subject of Supplementary Estimates, is exactly the same as it was before the economic crisis.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady so early in the proceedings, but she and her colleagues approved the figures in the Supplementary Estimates, which in fact were the figures in the Coal Industry Bill after devaluation. What has happened since then that has changed the position?
The Minister will remember that we raised the Fuel White Paper matter during the debate. We were constantly asking him what had happened to his revised Estimates, and he was not in a position to give us a reply. He has now had a number of weeks more to find out what he thinks about it. I hope that he has now come to some conclusions and will tell us during the course of the debate. However, he will be the first to agree that he did not then know the answers about the revisions in the White Paper. Also, if he looks carefully at these Estimates, he will see that they do not give very much detail about the money which is to be spent. I will go into that in a little more detail in discussing each one of them.I put my remarks primarily on the Estimates under two heads. The first concerns pit closures, which is one of the subjects of this particular Supplementary Estimate. The first part of the Supplementary Estimate says:
by the 1967 Act, of course—"Grants under the Coal Industry Act, 1965, as amended"—
We are today voting an extra£3,750,000 to the National Coal Board in connection with pit closures. That is virtually all that it says, except that in a later subhead it refers to supplementary payments for certain redundant workers in the coal industry which will also be connected with pit closures. The Minister will remember that we did not quarrel in any way with payments to redundant workers in connection with pit closures; but we would like to know a bit more by having some kind of report from the Minister about the direction in which this money is going. He will remember that, in so far as it relates to Section 3 of the Coal Industry Act, 1965, money could be spent under a number of different heads. It could be used where a person from one pit which had closed down was going to work in another; it could be used for travel allowances; it could be used for housing; and it could be used by way of payment to superannuation funds, because a person having to retire early would not have had time to get the maximum number of contributions to qualify for his full pension. We are asking—and it is our duty to probe these Estimates—how much has gone on each and how is the whole scheme going? The Supplementary Estimate merely says, "Please we want£3,750,000." How did the Minister arrive at that figure? I hope that he knows or that he has someone in the Box who knows. The second head under pit closures concerns payments to certain redundant workers in the coal industry. The Minister will remember that when we had the debate on the Bill the redundant workers' scheme for coal miners had not then been published. He was consulting with the National Union of Mineworkers about its exact shape. It may now have been published, in which case I have not seen it, but I assume again that it is very nearly ready, because there is a token amount for it in this Supplementary Estimate. But does the Minister yet know the shape of hat scheme for which we are today voting a token amount, and presumably in the future will be voting rather larger amounts? We are voting blind. Surely the scheme has been fashioned. Ultimately I suppose it will come before the House, but we should have more news about it. The Minister should be kept up to scratch by keeping the House informed about matters which concern this important industry. The third matter under the head of pit closures—and perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me—is how much of this Supplementary Estimate is due to the 16 pits being reprieved. Does any of it came under this one?"to National Coal Board in connection with pit closures."
None of it does. Some of it must indirectly, because some of the pits that were reprieved will now be closed, and some of the pits now closed will have had redundant workers who will come under other heads anyway. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give us some idea of the indirect amount from the 16 pits which have been reprieved which comes in either the first or third heads of this Supplementary Estimate.So much for pit closures. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some of the details for which I have asked about the£3,750,000 extra that he is demanding. I do not want it in general terms. This is a kind of accounting to the House and I hope we shall have the details. We cannot be asked to vote large sums like this without having the right to ask for details. We are agreed in principle, as he says, but we now want to know exactly, not in general terms, some of the answers which the Minister could not give us at the time of the debate. The other broad head under this Estimate concerns coal for electricity and gas, generation. The Minister will be the first to remember that the Bill consequent on the White Paper provided that the C.E.G.B. and the gas boards should be asked to burn up to an extra 6 million tons of coal per year. I suggest to the Minister that the statements with regard to the use of coal for electricity and gas generation are in a contradictory state. The fuel White Paper which I have mentioned based the 6 million tons of coal on the broad general background that without this artificial boost the demand for coal by 1970 would be only 146 million tons in that year, plus a possible 3 million tons for export, bringing the demand to 149 million tons. As against that, production was expected to be 155 million tons, and therefore it was said that the difference of 6 million tons should be used by paying the electricity and gas boards to burn an extra 6 million tons of coal which they really would not choose to burn for commercial reasons. That is the broad background, and what we are concerned with is not only the amount, but the price, because this is important. Certainly there was a total sum, 6 million tons, and there was a global amount in the Bill for which the House voted, and of which this Supplementary Estimate takes a part, but the White Paper said that how much was taken of the 6 million tons would depend on the trends in supply and demand for coal. We are more than half way through the financial year, and we should like to know the present trends in the demand and supply of coal. From some newspaper reports it looks as though they have been falling as a result of devaluation, and in so far as one can gather the Coal Board seems to have been successful in exporting more coal. May we be told what contracts have been fulfilled, and how much extra has been bought in that way? I ask that because this also has an effect on the 6 million tons which the C.E.G.B. is being asked to take. We would also like some information about the price of this coal to the C.E.G.B. It is here that we seem to be in rather a contradictory state about what prices are offered, and what prices can or could be offered to various different concerns, of which one is the C.E.G.B., and another the Scottish boards. The Annual Report of the C.E.G.B. for 1966–67, the latest one available, says in paragraph 39:
Here is one of the sources of what I said, that the prices of electricity are deliberately being kept up because the board are deliberately being asked to burn higher cost coal while other people take the lower cost coal. The National Coal Board's Report for the same year says in paragraph 22:"The Board continued to assist the coal industry by holding coal in stock in excess of normal requirements; by burning higher cost coals where lower cost coals would have been preferred; by accepting price differentials on carbonisation coals between the Board and other users; by reducing their burn of fuel oil at a cost of between£2 million and£3 million a year …"
On the face of it, that seems to be rather against what the C.E.G.B. was saying, or at any rate it does not get any coal which is produced at a competitive price. One then goes to the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology and reads the evidence of Lord Robens, which is extremely interesting, and is very much tied up with this question of the price at which these 6 million tons are to be supplied to the C.E.G.B., and the price at which other coals are supplied to this Board and the Scottish Boards. In paragraph 1311 of that Report Lord Robens says:"Thus the Board have stressed that coal can continue to be made available in quantity at a price which is fully competitive with other fuels…"
There it seems that the Board has 120 million tons produced at 4d. a therm, but in the fuel White Paper one sees that the average price of coal supplied to the C.E.G.B. is 5d. a therm. We have recently had even more quotations, and I refer to one from the Prime Minister on 14th November, 1967, at col. 213 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, when the right hon. Gentleman invited the National Coal Board to see if it could produce fuel at comparable prices with what would be possible from a nuclear-powered station to enable a coal-fired aluminium smelter to be built. There we have a number of contradictions. It has always been the policy of the National Coal Board to have what is known colloquially as postalisation of prices. Lord Robens said in his evidence:"We have 120 million tons of coal produced at 4d. but we cannot sell it at that price because there is too much coal produced at higher prices and the reason why you cannot get rid of pits is because the social consequences are too great."
The Prime Minister said that the Board might quote for cheap coal for a particular project, but taxpayers' money is to pay for the extra 6 million tons used by the C.E.G.B. Can the C.E.G.B. have the benefit of coal supplied as cheaply as is at present apparently being quoted for other projects in the United Kingdom, or are the C.E.G.B. and the taxpayers to have to pay expensive prices for coal so that other consumers can have subsidised prices for coal? We are voting money for an extra 6 million tons of coal. Why cannot the National Coal Board have a commercial contract with the C.E.G.B. at a specific price which will compare favourably with the prices now being quoted for other contracts? What will be the position if there is an emergent deficit in the National Coal Board as a result of these contracts? I think that it is right to mention a possible deficit, because, if we are voting taxpayers' money, we want to know the price. There is, of course, another factor. Normally by this time of the year the interim report of the National Coal Board has been published. These are usually the worst six months for the Board, because it has the winter to come, and the year is roughly the same as the financial year. I have not been able to get the interim accounts. I understand that they have not been published, and we therefore have to fall back and rely on an estimate of this year's deficit of the Coal Board, given during the debate in Committee on the Coal Industry Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary rather shattered us by saying that the expected deficit was£10 million this year. He was cross-examined, because we were surprised, and he confirmed that that was the expected deficit. From reports in the Press it seems that coal sales have been going rather better than expected, possibly as a result of devaluation. We have also had two cold spells, and I notice that stocks are down. What is the position about this? If the position is good, we shall not need to have this 6 million tons extra burn, but this is being paid for, in part, by taxpayers' money. I should also be glad if the Minister would make clear the position with regard to the postalisation of coal prices. Is the National Coal Board free to negotiate fixed price contracts over a long period of years, as it would appear it is going to do in future in connection with the aluminium smelter project? I think that we are entitled to know before we vote this amount. In the Supplementary Estimate on the extra burn-up of coal we have a curious estimate, and I think that the Minister must give us some figures. The Supplementary Estimate says that the amount will be certified by the auditors, and so on. The last Estimate mentioned the figure of 3ë million tons—a nice round figure. It was almost a suspiciously round figure. But the one we are dealing with for the burn-up of extra coal is a particularly suspicious figure—£1,449,990. what happened to the extra£10 which would have made the £1½figure million? We have this very particular figure. Why? We should have some interesting arithmetical exercises about it. I understand that it is not known how much will be needed, so a specific fraction has been used based on the daily amount of the total voted. One of my jobs is to see that the Minister knows his job and has all the answers ready before we vote this money. I am looking forward to his reply, and shall have paper and pencil out when I listen to him. I hope that he will go into some of the fundamental questions which lie behind the Coal Industry Bill, a id this Estimate which arises from it."We cannot quote for cheap coal because it has to be averaged out with more expensive coal."
7 42 p.m.
The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has asked many questions, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do his best to provide her with the answers. She began by asking whether the coal industry was a sacred cow. That term is very familiar to us now. She will recognise that for generations it has been a very precious cow to this country. In these days we all argue about our balance of payments. There w is a time when coal provided our balance of payments. We would be a very happy country if that situation existed today.This Supplementary Estimate makes provision for the run-down of the industry. This is a test for the Government, for the House and for the country. We must see how we can manage this rundown with due regard to the human and social consequences. The hon. Lady referred to the provision under which, in cases where other industries take coal at more than its market value, the Government will make up the loss. I remind her that in the long period when the party opposite was in power and provided the Minister of Fuel and Power, and then the Minister of Power, it held down the price of coal below its market value. So it, too, has used the instrument of changing prices in the national interest, as it thought at the time. It was provided that the price of coal could not be increased without the consent of the Minister. It is on record that applications by the Coal Board for price increases were refused by the Conservative Minister of Power. Had the Coal Board in the late 1940s and 1950s been allowed to charge market prices it could have built up a big surplus to help it through this transition period. No new principle is involved in what the Minister is now doing, as outlined in his fuel policy. For a period the nationalised industries will take a certain amount of coal, and where they can prove that it has been purchased at more than market costs they will be reimbursed by the Government. In some small way this will help the mining industry through its difficult position and help to do one of the things that it is imperative to do, namely, to run down the industry in a civilised way and not one which brings calamitous consequences for men and communities. I want now to turn to the question of the provision for pit closures. I shall not argue the question of the figures in the White Paper. I understood that the White Paper was being re-examined in the light of the existing circumstances, taking into account devaluation. Has the Board any prospects of finding new export markets, particularly in Europe, as a result of devaluation? If it is possible to do this it will be a very desirable thing, not only for the Board and the industry but for the whole country. In those circumstances I should like to know what steps the Board is taking to promote and expand the export trade. I come from South Wales which at one time, at the peak of the industry, exported 36 million tons of coal. I wish that we could do that today. Our problems would be easily solved. We are geographically suited for this, and if it is possible for us to develop an export trade it will ease the situation in South Wales and in the industry, and this will help the nation. A certain sum is provided to meet specific costs connected with pit closures. I presume that part of this money is provided so that the cost of transferring miners from one pit to another can be met, as can the cost of rehousing, and similar problems. These problems will become aggravated as more and more pits are closed, with the consequence that when miners are rendered redundant in a certain mine, with fewer and fewer mines available for them to be transferred to they will have to travel further and further to their place of work. Miners are not compelled to take work in another colliery, and we must bear in mind the need for a viable coal industry for a generation or more. If the industry collapsed it would be calamitous. It is essential for us to handle these problems in such a way as to be able to persuade men to take work in another coal mine when they are offered it. I am an old coal miner, as are some of my hon. Friends. Transport can be difficult even when a pit is only two, three or four miles from a man's home, but when the distance is 10, 15 or 20 miles it means that men are spending a great amount of time each day first in getting from their homes to the pithead and then from the pithead to the places where they work. This problem must be looked at. I should like to know whether the present arrangements for the transport of men from their homes to the pits are the best possible. When consideration is being given to the improvement in road communications we must bear in mind the desirability of improving transport facilities in areas where men have to travel from their homes to their pits. I should like to know on what estimate of closures the present figures are based. The secretary of my union, the National Union of Mineworkers, Mr. William Paynter, said on Saturday at a conference in the Swansea valley, where a pit is under threat of closure, that the union had already been told closing dates for 30 collieries and that an additional 40 were in danger. What is the Minister's estimate of the number of closures and the number of men who can be given work at collieries within a reasonable distance and of the extent to which it is possible to slow this down? My right hon. Friend knows my view. I think that we have reached the point, with these closures and 5,000 redundancies a year, at which it is beyond our ability to provide alternative work. I hope, therefore, that he will carefully consider that, unless this rundown is accomplished reasonably satisfactorily, with the full cooperation of the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, we may in the end not have the basic mining industry which will be essential anyway. My hon. Friends tell me that, in every coalfield, it is becoming more and more difficult to get men to go in and to get those who are in to accept another transfer. The men's attitude is understandable. If I were 35 or 40 and learned that my pit was to be closed and I was offered a job in another 15 or 20 miles away, only to be faced in five years with another redundancy, I would consider, if I could get any kind of security in outside industry that it was better to start a new career. When we come to vote sums of this kind, unless we handle this problem in a civilised way and care for these men, even if it costs us subsidies, we shall be in a serious position as a country, lacking even the basic tonnage laid down in the White Paper, which many of my hon. Friends think should be higher. But what if we cannot achieve even that? The country will be starved of essential fuel. I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley and her party will understand that, unless it is done in this way, it will be serious for the country—
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on human grounds. I was only probing the expenditure. I want the details and I think that he would want them too.
I agree. I am probing also, but I want hon. Members opposite to realise that, if they complain about this, they may have to pay much more, especially if they allow the industry to run down too fast or in the wrong way, with consequences stretching far beyond the industry itself. I heard a reference o this last week.The White Paper, I think, said that there would he further consideration, in the light of the existing and developing situation, of the subject of opencast mining. Is there not a strong case now for refusing my more licences for opencast mining and keeping it in reserve? It was put to me at a meeting outside South Wales last week that something which affects the morale in the pits is the fact that the men think that they are closing to provide a market for the opencast mining. Some of my hon. Friends heard this with me last week. The Minister appreciates what the men in the coal mines and their communities think about this, if pits are closed and, shortly afterwards, the earth is torn up by enormous machines for opencast mining. My right hon. Friend should seriously consider whether we should not for the moment leave the coal where it is and keep it as a reserve. Once a pit is closed, it is very difficult to reopen it. We have heard about the cost of doing so. The coal in these open casts has been there for ages and it could be left there. That would be a very good reserve for the generations which will succeed us. A token—it could not be anything else—of£10 is included in the Estimates to provide for the payments, under the Act which we passed recently, for redundant miners. Under these Estimates an Order will be laid and we can discuss it then. When I went over this matter earlier, I made a suggestion which I will not develop further now since I would be out of order. The provision for miners of 55 and over who are made redundant by pit closures is financially very generous, but the more I think about it, against the background of my experience, the more I consider that this is not the right way to approach the problem. The proposal would provide men of this age with certain payments for three wars, at the end of which, under our present insurance system, they would not be entitled to unemployment benefit. Their earnings will certainly go down from what they are. Let us assume that they get £15 a week for three years. That is on the assumption that they will not get a job, and the chances of their doing so are not very rosy. At the end of that time, when such a man would be 58, he would have exhausted his unemployment benefit, and all that would be left to him would be National Assistance. He will have many years to go before being entitled to the National Insurance pension at 65. We are creating a very serious position for ourselves in three or four years. I have put forward this suggestion and I do so again. I do not know whether anyone supports me in this. I do not speak officially for my union but for myself. The right way is to use this money, plus whatever is required in addition, to retire the men at 60. I beg my right hon. Friend, the Government, the National Coal Board and my own union to think seriously about this. I am not without some experience in these matters and, looking ahead, I can see great dangers. We may argue and have great differences. I am sure that my hon. Friends will explain what the target output should be and the future basic for the coal-mining industry. But we all recognise that there will be a rundown. We shall argue about how much and how fast, but one thing is certain: it must be controlled, as otherwise it will create human and social problems far beyond our capacity to solve in the time. The least which these men, who have given great service to the country, can ask of us it that we handle their industry's rundown so as to do least harm to them and their communities, and also that, while my right hon. Friend presides over the industry, his colleagues in the Government will rapidly speed up the provision of alternative employment for the men and the communities who have rendered good service to the country in the past.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) made, as always, a most attractive speech, but it contained two rather curious points. First, he suggested that as the coal industry did not exact the maximum prices which it could have exacted in the years of a sellers' market, it was now entitled to the largesse of the taxpayer. I ask him whether that applies to all industries. For instance, as publicans have not exacted the maximum prices from the sale of alcoholic liquors over the years, should they be entitled to redundancy schemes and help now that they have fallen on hard times as a result of the breathaliser? Would he apply the same criterion to the oil industry? All industries, which go up and down in their prosperity, must take the rough with the smooth. The right hon. Gentleman slightly exaggerated his claims for the coal industry.The second point was his suggestion that all opencast coal mining should be stopped. I ask him to reflect upon this, because it is well known that opencast coal is cheaper to mine than deep-mined coal. Does it make sense to prohibit the cheapest way of producing a commodity in order to encourage an expansion of the most expensive way of producing it? That may make good sense to him, but it would not make good sense to those whom we are asking to lend us money and those who are our international creditors. It is this sort of woolly economic thinking which has resulted in the evaporation of confidence—
The hon. Member made an important point. Would he say that an opencast site on good agricultural land was a feasible economic proposition?
Yes. I have some personal experience of land which has been worked where I lived. Present techniques—it was not originally so—are such that they can even improve land. Provided that the work is done properly, as nowadays it is, there is little ground for complaint except during the time when the work is being done. The subsequent result is not too bad.I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in her comments about the extra coal burned in power stations. We have had the report that the National Coal Board has offered to supply coal at 3¼d. a therm to the new power station at Hartlepools, that is Seaton Carew. We have heard of the offer by the Coal Board, which has been accepted, for a large supply of coal on a 25-year basis for the new aluminium smelter in Invergordon. The price per therm in this case has not as yet been made public, but to be competitive with oil and nuclear energy it must have been between 3d. and 3½d. a therm. At first sight one welcomes this and agrees that it is a tremendous achievement by the coal industry. One welcomes the jobs which it may save in the North-East. But can it be true that the Coal Board has lowered the average cost of production to 3d., 3¼d. or 3½d. a therm? We know that the Coal Board is currently producing coal at about 5d. a therm on average and that the C.E.G.B. is buying coal on average at that price. It is surprising if there has been such an improvement in productivity that the average price of coal has fallen to 3¼d. or 3½d. a therm. It would be surprising, too, if this improvement could be maintained for the next 25 years so that the contracts for which the Board has tendered will he economic and viable.
Is the hon. Member aware that 20 million tons of coal is supplied to the C.E.G.B. at roughly the price which he is quoting? Does he know that that price has not been increased to the C.E.G.B. for over seven years, which means that in real terms there has been a reduction?
I am coming to that. The Coal Board's Report for the coming year states that the Board is producing 62 million tons of coal at 4d. a therm, 11 million tons of it at 3d. a therm, which means that about 100 million tons is being produced at much more than 4d. a therm. If the Board is to sell a large amount of coal at 3d.–3½d. a therm, it will have to sell coal at 7d.–7½d. a therm to balance the loss. The Coal Board is charged by the House with the duty of balancing its accounts taking one year with another and with not making a loss. But if the Board maintain an expensive capacity, that is bound to result in a loss to the taxpaper as a result of these cheap tenders.Nobody could complain if the Board were somehow capturing markets in which it could sell dear coal at dear price in order to compensate for the cheap coal which it is offering on tender. But I have not heard it said that that is happening. To me it is clear that what the Board is doing is picking out selected power stations in order to make an extremely cheap tender when it has no chance whatever of covering the cost of the dearer coal which is being sold at a loss. In the future there may be increases in the price of coal. Anything may happen in 25 years. I very much doubt whether a price of 3d.–3½d. a therm will be economic for the 25 years Of the tender. In the sub-head J(2) there appears the phrase,
I understand that this increased burning of coal will be certified by the auditors as having taken place. Presumably money will then be paid to the electricity or gas board which has burned coal instead of burning another fuel which might have been cheaper. If it is the policy of the House—as it is in the Coal Industry Act, 1967—to subsidise the burning of coal in power stations, then the money should be paid not to the Coal Board but to the electricity or gas board which burns the coal. It is not for the Coal Board to put in a tender which is known to be below cost, because if it does that, then it will be the Coal Board which needs to recoup the money and not the electricity or gas board. I may be wrong, and I shall be grateful if the Minister will tell me whether I am right in stating that the money will go to the electricity board. The phrase reads,"when the appropriate certificates of relevant expenditure have been given by the Board's auditors…".
If it is those boards which are to recoup the money, then the Coal Board has no right to put in cheap tenders at prices below the cost of production."Payments will be made from time to time in respect of additional expenditure by the electricity and gas boards".
I am trying to follow the hon. Member's argument. The Coal Board concludes contracts at many different prices with many different customers. The purpose of this provision is not to affect the finances of the Coal Board but to get additional coal burned. I cannot follow the hon. Member's argument.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman understood the point. If the additional sum in this Estimate—nearly£1½ million—is to be paid to increase the amount of coal burned, then it is presumably to be paid to an electricity or a gas board, probably an electricity board, which agrees to take coal when coal is not the cheapest fuel available. That is something which we accepted in the recent Act.However, the Coal Board is tendering below its average cost of production. Thus, in addition to whatever the Electricity Board might receive by way of public funds, the Coal Board will be able to say, "We have made a deficit"—and then this House will be asked to make up that deficit in the years to come, simply because it cannot be possible for the Coal Board to secure high-priced contracts for coal at, say, 6d., 7d. or 8d. a therm when it is making offers in the region of 3d. a therm. The principle is quite wrong and the scale of the loss—I have done my best to work out the figures—against the average cost of production for the tender to Alcan could be as much as£25 million over the 25 years, or £1 million a year. It cannot be right for the Coal Board to make a loss of this nature. What is there to stop the Coal Board from making tenders to supply 10 million tons of coal here or there at ld. or 2d. a therm? There is no ultimate discipline to force the Coal Board to tender economically. After all, one way of keeping the Coal Board afloat—and perhaps of returning to 200 million tons of annual production again—would be to allow the Board to put in cheap tenders all over the world, making a loss in the process, and at the end of the day merely asking for enormous sums to clear up its annual deficits. I hope that this policy will not be pursued because to do so should be a political decision of this House. Perhaps we want to sell cheap coal to power stations here and all over the world, but if that is so, it is for the Government to suggest that as a policy and not for the Coal Board to do it. There should be an investigation into the Coal Board at the end of each year—I would apply this to all nationalised industries—to ensure that this sort of thing is not being done. Otherwise this House has no control over the money it can be asked to fork out.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Coal Board should not enter into contracts which commit it for the future without seeking the consent of the Minister, who must in turn seek the consent of Parliament? Is he therefore suggesting that the Coal Boards should be debarred from entering into contracts of any sort without the Minister's consent.
I am merely suggesting that we take note of the fact that the Coal Board is enjoined by Statute not to make a loss. The Board should be held to that and, if it makes a loss as a result of reckless tendering, its membership should be changed. It should not be a good enough excuse for the Board merely to say to Parliament in two or three years' time, "We have made a loss because we are not making a profit on the tenders at Seaton Carew, Alcan and so on". Parliament must discover some sort of discipline to ensure that the Board will not, in a fit of enthusiasm, incur deficits over which we will have no control.We have just written off£415 million to the Coal Board. A further£133 million has been provided under the Coal Industry Measure. I support the expenditure of both sums because they are devoted towards reshaping the coal industry, towards helping it to become efficient and competitive and towards helping the miners to adjust to the painful and difficult change that is taking place in the industry. That is the right way to proceed. The wrong way to proceed is to have reckless tendering, with large losses being incurred for the tax payer to make good, remembering that those losses will not escape the notice of our international creditors.
I have been interested in the debate so far. Looking at the Order Paper, I thought that this would be a rather narrow discussion. Instead, we have had an excellent Second Reading speech, delivered from the heart, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), an exercise in elementary questioning by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) we have just received a detailed speech on an annual report of the National Coal Board which is not yet in existence.I come to the Estimate which is before us and my first remarks must be about the decided increase which is shown for oil storage. Does this increase arise because of my right hon. Friend's policy for the rundown of the coal industry, inevitably meaning further increases in the import of oil? If so, I contend that it is the economy of the madhouse. Why does not my right hon. Friend discuss with the oil industry—and, if necessary, if that industry is hard up, provide it with a Supplementary Estimate—the conducting of further scientific research into the breakdown of crude oil? I am told that the Americans are cracking down crude oil and are getting almost 100 per cent. of the refined product. However, the average yield of fuel oil from crude oil is only 15 per cent., compared with our 40 per cent.
I think that my hon. Friend will find that the subject to which he is now referring comes under a different heading than that on assistance to the coal industry.
I thought that I would follow the pattern of the debate so far. I have heard very little about the actual Estimate before us, so I thought that I would open my remarks by getting on the record something which we in the miners' group have been discussing for a considerable time.Certain figures have been presented by the Minister—he quoted them in Committee and on Second Reading—which I would like broken down. An important one concerns the benefits to be paid to redundant miners. How is the total sum arrived at, what are the benefits—I want them broken down in detail—to be paid to each miner who becomes redundant, how will the nine-tenths be compiled and what is the original figure before the nine-tenths figure is broken down? The estimates in this matter are vague. Do they contain any element of the allowances to be paid to redundant miners over the age of 55? Miners over that age who become redundant and who are compelled to seek further employment or go on the dole receive no further benefits under concessionary coal schemes. I am pleased to say that in parts of the country we have county court schemes under which able young miners may forfeit three to four cwt. per load of concessionary coal to provide coal for old-age pensioners who retire at 65. However, I have been unable to find any comments of the Minister, either inside or outside the House, to the effect that concessionary coal is a benefit that will be continued to men who are made redundant if they are aged 55. Concessionary coal is an important issue to the miners a ad I hope that my right hon. Friend v ill give an indication of whether his Department has seriously considered this vital point and what answers have been arrived at. Section 5 of the Coal Industry Act provides a certain amount of money for pit closures. If my memory serves me aright, 22 pits of considerable size, employing roughly 11,000 men, are to close by the end of February, and notice has been given for 69 pits to be closed by 31st December. In the meantime, anything can happen in the demand for coal or in the form of geological disturbances underground at any given moment in any given pit which can result in its going from the black to considerably in the red. The long-term, and even the short-termp prospects of that pit would be seriously affected. We know of 69 pits, but the number that could suffer in the circumstances I have outlined is unknown. In the whole history of the industry we now have the greatest number of pits ever given notice to close in one year. That being so, does the Minister consider the Supplementary Estimate is sufficient? My right hon. Friend will no doubt remember that in Committee we asked for the date of April, 1971, to be taken out of the Bill because we feared—I think, rightly—that Clause 3 would not provide sufficient money to pay the very welcome benefits to individuals or Clause 5 help the Coal Board's closure programme. Because of the terrific closure programme envisaged in the next year, neither Section of the Act appears to provide a great deal of money. I am afraid that before very long, perhaps even before the year is out, there will not be sufficient to provide the benefits necessary to make the men happy and to relieve the Board of the danger of falling into deficit. I believe that the Minister will have to come back for more in the not too distant future. One very important function of the Board is to see that after a pit has been closed, after the last ton of coal has been mined from it, the safety regulations are obeyed to the letter. Those regulations must be obeyed until the very last salvage worker is taken from the pit, however long that may be after closure. That means a considerable expense to the Board, because all those on the surface, the deputies and everyone concerned with observance of the regulations must be employed full-time. In addition, a considerable number of men must be employed on salvage work. Although the Board receives some benefit from salvage, it incurs a considerable loss on the salvage work that has to be carried out. Will compensation be paid to the Board for the very great amount of money required for salvage work and the maintenance of safety regulations at the 69 pits scheduled for closure in 1968? The Minister, in his statement on 18th July last, on Second Reading, and in Committee said, "Give us the Bill. We want to make the payments by Christmas." I do not know whether the Minister yet knows what payments will be made to the individual. If he does, I apologise to him for my doubts, and I look forward to his answer. Hon. Members on both sides co-operated on the understanding that benefits would start being paid by about Christmas, but many of these people were made redundant soon after 18th July. I hope that my right hon. Friend will expedite the system by which they are to be paid, and let us know the amounts and the categories. If that is done, I am convinced that the lot of those of us in the mining areas will be a good deal easier.
It is an interesting coincidence that this is the fourth occasion on which I have followed the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) in our coal debates. On each occasion I have agreed with his sentiments on the problems of the rundown of the industry, and particularly on the care and consideration we must give to the men who may lose their jobs.In part, the money about which we are talking is required to offset the hardships involved in the running down of the pits before other jobs are available. It is economic commonsense to say that, balanced against the payment of unemployment benefit, supplementary benefit or redundancy pay—not to mention the effects on local authority housing or other developments where pits are being closed—there is a strong case for postponement so that, in the meantime, industry can be attracted to the area. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), I am concerned about the administration of the money we are voting, particularly in relation to pit closures. I, too, would like to know where the money is to go. There seem to be far too many irons in the fire in making the decisions, as I know because I have been intimately involved in this matter recently. The Ministry of Power, the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Department of Economic Affairs—if it is in Scotland, the Scottish Office—the appropriate planning council—and a sub-committee of the planning council in Scotland—the divisional chairmen of the Coal Board, possibly the Chairman of the Board himself and, very properly the N.U.M., are all people involved, and we are taking an incredible time to get the answer from them. If at all possible, a decision on the future of a pit should be arrived at by the time we come to the jeopardy meeting, and not have the problem considered afterwards. At this stage the National Coal Board has a very clear idea of their intentions. So have the N.U.M. and the Board of Trade. They know the possibilities of industry coming to a district. but there seems to be a very misty area in which no Minister is quite clear about what advice should be tendered to arrive at a final conclusion for a closure date. While agreeing to this money for which the Minister is asking, I ask what steps are being taken before the final decision is arrived at and what is the time-scale in relation to the normal procedure for closing a pit. I want this money to be paid out in appropriate cases, but my experience referring to the pit in which I am particularly interested, Fauldhead, does not encourage me to believe that the Ministers and the Departments are in a position to give the right advice at the right moment. We have discussed the closure of this pit for three years, and with mounting concern over the last 12 months. It was due to close on 3rd February but, as the miners have not been given a month's notice, that is not a possibility. I have paid visits to Ministers, I have had phone calls and letters and there have been meetings of the planning council, of the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. in the last few weeks, but it is impossible to find what the position is. This uncertainty—Fauldhead is not alone in this respect—is intolerable for the miners whose livelihood is concerned. At the beginning of this month the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power wrote to me saying that the pit was being closed for economic reasons. Yet in the last few months it has been running at a substantial profit. There seems to be a great degree of misguided thinking somewhere in the Ministry. I appreciate that there may not be development there, but it appears that the pit could run for some months. There is a strong case for postponing under Clause 5, which is covered by the money we are talking about tonight, because the men will be put out of work.
I think the hon. Member will find on reflection that we are not in fact discussing Clause 5 under these Estimates.
That may be a matter of opinion. I have taken advice which was otherwise.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but there are three issues here. The first deals with Clause 2 of the Bill, the second with Clause 6 and the third with Clause 3, but Clause 5 is not dealt with in these Estimates.
We hope that the Minister will answer the debate and will cover some of the points which have been made by hon. Members. Wherever the money comes from, there is a case for postponement of this pit closure.Our attitude in Scotland to the money we are talking about is affected to some extent by the most interesting developments over the weekend in relation to the Alcan project and Invergordon. There is no doubt that this has received a most warm welcome in Scotland. The whole country is behind the efforts being made by Alcan to bring development in an area which desperately needs it. To everyone's surprise it was decided that it should be a coal-fired electricity generating station to provide the electricity for smelting. It requires 500,000 tons of coal in the early days and 1 million tons a year later. This must have an effect on the money we are talking about. If the coal can be provided by Scottish pits he closures should be postponed. It might he economic to reopen the Michael Pit in Fife. The Government have already earmarked Longannet, so there must be coal for this station. We noted over the weekend at a planning inquiry in Renfrewshire talk of three more electricity generating stations required in Scotland. This suggests that there is a chance of more coal being required. Therefore there should be postponement of the further closures which we in Scotland are worried about at the moment. I support my hon. Friends on the question of differentials. The differential is a big handicap in Scotland. We hope that it may be reduced following the developments of the weekend. I ask the Minister to be certain that under Clause 6 it is made clear to the House and the public that when coal is subsidised to electricity and gas boards it will be audited and shown that the public are paying the right price. There is concern that some inaccuracies and discrepancies could occur in the global figure and that in the end the public would be paying more through taxation than it should. I hope that the Minister, at a time when pit closures are giving such grave concern to many areas, will try tonight to set out some of the answers for which we are calling and indicate that not only is 3rd February an impossible date but also that 31st March is not a sacrosanct date, and that the 16 pits that are presently under sentence of death may have a postponement to the summer. I believe that this would be justified in view of the present high rate of unemployment in the country, and so I ask the Minister to say something about it.
It is with great pleasure that I follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). I wish that the sentiments that he uttered had been echoed a little more among hon. Members opposite. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the problem with knowledge and some compassion and understanding.It is very important, as the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said, that we should be very careful how we vote taxpayers' money and should be very searching in our examination. All of us in the House have a certain responsibility when looking at Estimates, but I do not think that we must all the time have the philosophy of the accountant. We should, indeed, take note of some of the expressions of opinion made during the debate. But we are not just discussing the question of approving a certain amount of money. We are deciding to some extent the lives of men, women and children in the localities where pit closures occur. This is why I could not understand at one stage during the debate—it has now been cleared up—that there appeared to be a lack of enthusiasm for the announcement at the weekend that there would be an aluminium smelter plant in Invergordon fired by coal. We ought not to be too sensitive about money for subsidy. It should be remembered that Governments of both complexions sold coal below the cost of production as deliberate policy. We may have a different philosophy now. We want to see profitability to some extent dictate our approach now to the fuel and energy market, but we ought not to be mealymouthed about it and suggest that the propositions which may be involved in relation to the losses of the National Coal Board, if there be any losses, mean that we are putting into being an entirely new policy. That would be hypocritical on both sides of the House. Therefore, the Invergordon project, however much it may be related to the Estimate, can only be welcome. Deputation after deputation has gone to the Ministry in relation to the closure of the Michael Colliery. I plead a vested interest. Some of my family are signing on for the dole as a consequence of that closure. The fact that the aluminium smelter plant is going to Invergordon is welcome because we have a railway and a sea port which can be used to run the coal to Invergordon. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make some comment about this matter if it is relevant to our present discussion. I am perturbed when I look at the Estimates. Reports are coming to me that in certain parts of the United Kingdom men over 55 have been refused employment by the Coal Board as a consequence of pit closures. When this House debated the issue, it was told that very careful consideration would be given to providing sustenance to men over 55 who, as a result of pit closures, had no other alternative employment prospects. It was never envisaged that there should be a deliberate act of policy whereby men over 55 should not be employed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) referred to this. I said that it was a very depressing policy to write off men over 55. We accepted this as part of a difficult situation, when there was no industry in the area, and hardship would be caused. This was in some way to help and assist the situation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have something to say on this. Is it a deliberate act of policy to refuse fit and able men over the age of 55 work in a particular area? He should tell the House this. If this is happening, then the House was misled to some extent when we debated this aspect last. Questions have been asked about the effect of devaluation on the economic prospects of the mining industry. The hon. Member for Finchley said that she had a shrewd suspicion that things were perhaps going better for the industry now than when we previously debated it. I think that her argument was that if this was so we ought to examine the use to which the money we are voting tonight would be put. My right hon. Friend has a responsibility to tell the House if this is so. I know it is irresponsible to some extent, but I am not so much concerned about the money as about my right hon. Friend making a statement about the effect on the prospects of the coalmining industry. Morale in the industry at present is very low and if the industry's fortunes have improved to some extent this will help to improve morale. As I said, we are concerned about the employment prospects of men, women and children. Would he care to comment about this? Have the fortunes of the coalmining industry improved to such an extent as I have read? The New Scientist said in November that experiments were taking place at coal-fired power stations to do with the extraction of sulphur. If hon. Members have been watching they will know that the costs of sulphur coming into the country have increased astronomically. It is important that if the fortunes of the mining industry have improved as a result of devaluation and we are able to get more from coal and its by-products, we should know. If it is true, the whole question of profitability in using coal must be looked at afresh. I shall not say more now. I intended to make a rather shorter speech, but I wanted to put those points to my right hon. Friend. I hope that he will answer some of the questions which I put and allay the anxieties which I have expressed.
I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate, and I wish now to make only a short intervention, putting one or two questions in support of what my hon. Friends have said. These questions relate to the special assistance under Section 6 of the 1967 Act to the electricity board and also, perhaps, to the gas boards. First, I should make clear that I entirely support the principle enshrined in Section 6 that assistance of this kind should be given under a general subsidy from the taxpayer and should not be a burden on the users of electricity or gas, provided always that the assistance is subject to the closest scrutiny by the House.My first question is about the volume of extra coal-burn which the Minister envisages for next year. I was interested to read his Written Answer the other day, when, in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), he said:
I hope that the Minister will tell us tonight rather more about how he envisages the application of practicability in this context. Although we accept the principle regarding this type of subsidy, as I have said, it is important to minimise the extra cost involved for the taxpayer. Further, within the total, can the Minister say any more than his officials were able to tell the Estimates Sub-Committee about the likelihood of extra coal-burn by the gas industry as well as the electricity industry? My other questions come under the heading of the average cost of this assistance. The figure for a full year was estimated by his officials last months as about£10 million. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to give a more precise figure than that? Second, have the negotiations with the Central Electricity Generating Board about which we were told last month yet been finalised? To what extent does the Minister see any possible rise in the long-term cost of oil affecting the annual total of estimates in respect of assistance under this Section? If the negotiations have not yet been concluded, what relevance does the right hon. Gentleman see for them in the announcement at the weekend about a possible long-term contract for the supply of coal to the Invergordon smelter, if it goes ahead? My last point is a rather wider one relating to the total cost of energy to industry. Since devaluation, we have heard about the extra burdens which will be laid upon industry, particularly the exporting industries, as a result of the removal of the export rebate and, alas, in a few months, the extra costs which will result from the passage of the Transport Bill. Depending on the Minister's estimates of the long-term trend in oil costs, there may be an opportunity here to offer some hope of compensation to exporting industries in an eventual lowering of their average cost of energy through a review of the present fuel oil tax. I know what he has said about it in the White Paper, but can he say anything more encouraging to industry now about lowering the fuel oil tax as soon as possible, if not removing it?"I have asked the C.E.G.B. to use as much extra coal as practicable in the current financial year, and I am discussing with them how much extra they will use next year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 624.]
I will endeavour to follow the example of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) in trying to keep to the points under discussion. This is difficult, however, after listening to the speech on the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). There is a theory that all hon. Members are equal. Each time that the hon. Lady comes to the Dispatch Box, she demolishes what is left of the theory. I wish that for equality of debate the hon. Lady would move back to social security, foreign affairs or some such subject. It is an unequal contest.The question of coal consumption comes within Parts I and II of the Supplementary Estimate. Time and time again, my right hon. Friend the Minister, either in the House or at private meetings, has asked us to tell him where he could burn more coal. During the Recess, I visited my old Bradford Colliery, in Manchester, and found a place close by where my right hon. Friend could burn a little extra coal. I refer to Stewart Street power station, where 18 months ago the consumption of coal was approximately 1,500 tons a week. The power station is now on part time and is used only at peak periods. The Central Electricity Generating Board may have good reason for this, but the result has been that the coal consumed from Bradford Colliery, Manchester—brought up from below the ground and over the conveyors to Stewart Street power station—has been halved during the past six or 12 months. This is one place where, I am certain, my right hon. Friend will make inquiries to see whether we could burn a little extra coal.
I remember the meeting in question and I am grateful for any additional holes which my hon. Friend has found for another 1,000 tons or so. He will recall that I was asking for another 5 million tons.
I once said,
Everywhere I went at home, I got that phrase. Every little helps. Whether it is 1,000 tons or 700 tons, it is not to be sneezed at. I make a point in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) when he drew attention to the doubts which some of us had about the wisdom of carrying on with an expanded opencast production at this time. The comment is made in the Fuel White Paper at paragraph 65 that"Mony a mickle maks a muckle."
"The case for continued opencast working, taken by itself, is quite strong, but it has to be related to the circumstances of the industry as a whole. At a time of coal surplus, account has to be taken of the effects on total production and on the level of employment in deep mines."
While we are on opencast mining, is my hon. Friend aware that of a total opencast production of 7 million tons, over half is already on the floor?
I was not directly aware of that, but I am now and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment.I accept that often the price of opencast coal production is less than the average price, but we should add to it the capital cost which may be incurred by the closure of a pit near where opencast coal is being worked. In the past week we have had an example from Warwickshire, where there is a distinct threat of closure to two collieries on economic grounds—not geological grounds, reasons of danger or because of loss of manpower—and where, within a mile or two proposals are being actively canvassed that 12 million tons of coal should be taken by opencast working over the next three, four or five years. When my right hon. Friend the Minister considers whether to grant permission for the extraction of 12 million tons from that area at this time, part of the sum involved in such a calculation which should be added to the bill is the cost of the inevitable closure of collieries in the area, which would follow. A token provision is made in the Estimate for redundancy. It is not often considered that a great deal of hidden redundancy is involved in the operations of the National Coal Board. It is not possible, as it is in many private industries, for a pit simply to be closed down. When a pit closes, it is regarded as being one of a large organisation and people are transferred from one part of that organisation to another. If a cotton mill or factory ceases to operate, however, the redundancy is clean-cut. Often there is hidden redundancy because the Coal Board, rightly, tries to offer employment elsewhere. Travelling becomes too difficult and the distances are too great, with the result that a job which is offered at a new pit is in many ways not satisfactory and a man therefore has to give up the job; he cannot work in the new pit. He is not then redundant. He goes voluntarily, and there is hidden redundancy. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the interest he took conecerning a point which I raised about redundancy on Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill, when I asked him to use his good offices to ensure that no one class or grade of staff of the Coal Board should be treated less generously than any other class or grade. I was referring particularly to non-industrial clerical workers, and officials of the Coal Board. I understand that negotiations have been taking place, and that the point of view which was expressed in this House has been taken note of by the Coal Board, and I am grateful for the help given in this by my right hon. Friend.
The new procedure, which the Opposition have taken, for examining the winter Supplementary Estimates is obviously proving a considerable success in that it has allowed us to have a debate this afternoon and evening on some specific extra expenditure. I think perhaps we have been able to have a debate which has gone somewhat wide of the items in the Estimate, but some of those wider matters have been quickly related back to these items as soon as possible. Therefore, I think that any criticism which has been made of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) is really quite unfair, because there can be no doubt that she stayed in order much more nearly than any other person who has spoken. Moreover, I would suggest that in her probing of some of the Estimates and by the questions she has asked she has made a very real and definite contribution to trying to get some information on how this money is being spent. After all, that is not a matter of dispute between the two sides of the House; we all want to know how the money is being spent, and we want to make sure it is being spent wisely.I believe a different situation has arisen since the passage of the borrowing powers under the Coal Industry Bill, which is now an Act, because we have how had, in only the last seven days, a major review of Government spending, and, therefore, on this Estimate certain questions arise in a somewhat different light from that in which they might have arisen a matter of only months ago, and in considering them I want to ask one n- two questions about whether there were not some savings which might have been made which could have been offset against the total Supplementary Estimate. My first major, direct question really sums up many of the points which have been made on this side of the House. Will the Minister say whether there has been any change of policy at all on closing inefficient pits since the review of Government expenditure? After all, it could be argued—I am not saying that I shall do so now—that the economic situation should demand that pit closures should be increased and that we ought not to afford some of this money. I want to ensure that the Minister will state quite plainly whether there has been any alteration. I will take up a point of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and I should like to know whether the figure which he gave to the House, of 69 pit closures scheduled for the next year, is the number of those which the Minister will be considering approving in conjunction with the decision of the National Coal Board. May I then ask him, if that is not the figure, whether he can announce the figure, because it is all tied up with this Vote? Will he also give me au assurance that, if this matter has be en decided as a matter of management between the Coal Board and himself, he will try to stop the Prime Minister from interfering in certain of these decisions, as he has done in the past? Let me return for a moment to something which has obviously created great interest and concern, and that is the announcement about the possibility of an aluminium smelter. coal-fired, being placed at Invergordon. I can understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and others have welcomed this, but it has considerable relevance because of the possibility of stopping pit closures. There are three questions which I want to put to the Minister. So much of this at the moment is supposition, although there have been a number of thorough reports in the Scottish Press recently. First, I want to ask him about the suggestion made by Sir Sidney Ford and the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) that it would immediately allow for consideration of the reopening of the Michael Colliery. It has aroused considerable interest in Scotland and has been the source of Press comment. At one time, it was implied that somewhere in the Coal Board a study of it was to be initiated immediately. Perhaps the Minister could comment. The second matter which is causing great concern is the thermal price of coal. It has been said by one of the Sunday newspapers in a fairly thorough article to be approximately 3¼d. per therm, and it is suggested that that is about£1 per ton below the average price quoted by the National Coal Board. If that is the case, I can understand why so many hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies are particularly incensed and wondering about the future of the Scottish coalfields, when it is suggested that the coal is coming not from Scotland but from the North-East. This is an important factor in terms of pit closures. Another point about it which is of interest to a businessman is that that price per therm appears to have been a contant one. If that is true about a 25-year contract, it is an amazing financial bargain for anyone to strike. In defending the rights of the coal industry, whatever the bargain is, I hope that there is some sort of price review carried on in such a contract. I want to draw to the Minister's notice a comment by Sir Stanley Brown, the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, which appeared in yesterday's Sunday Times:
It is obvious from that statement that the Chairman of the Generating Board is concerned about the possibility that the National Coal Board is making a direct contract at a price which the Central Electricity Generating Board would itself like to pay. This is the point made so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley in stressing that a strange situation exists when we are voting public money to pay for an extra coal-burn by the electricity industry, yet the industry would be happy not to receive that subsidy if it could contract to buy coal at the price rumoured in the deal between the National Coal Board and the Alcan Company. Perhaps the Minister will comment on whether such contracts will be openly available to other industries than smelting. I can think of one or two instances where the availability of such cheap power might well give the right hon. Gentleman some of the coal-burn that he wants. I turn now to one aspect in the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). We are always pleased to listen to him. However, there was one point where I had some slight disagreement with him. He suggested that stopping price rises in the past or having a policy of keeping prices artificially high at the moment was really the same principle, because Governments had interfered with the pricing mechanism. Whilst that might be true in one sense if carried to a conclusion, there are two major differences. The first was attempting to hold to a cheap fuel policy and ensuring a high level of consumption, whilst keeping prices artificially high does not hold to a cheap fuel policy by definition. Secondly, in the long run, it has the effect of ensuring that the high level of consumption is not maintained."I find it difficult to understand how the situation can be economic if in fact the coal offered is the same price as that offered to us, still more so as the smelter is to be in the North of Scotland."
If I understood correctly the speech of the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), she was querying, as is the hon. Gentleman, the fact that money is provided to enable the Government to help the electricity industry and others who are now buying an extra amount of coal up to 1970, or whatever it is, at more than they would pay for other fuels and, therefore, that the Coal Board is being subsidised. What I said was that in principle the position was the reverse in the 1950s, because other coal consuming industries were getting coal at less than the market price and coal was subsidising, for example, steel.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for again stating his position. We are not in disagreement about it. This seems to reinforce the point I made that keeping an artificially high price for coal, whatever it may do in the short run, does not ensure a cheap fuel policy and a high level of demand or consumption in the long run.I will try to bring together all the points on subhead II by asking just three direct questions. How much of this extra Estimate is being applied to the gas industry and how much to the electricity industry? Surely we ought to be allowed to have that figure. How much of the proposed 6 million tons per year will be consumed in the full year? The Estimate is for 75 per cent. of the year. How much of the 6 million tons will be consumed in the full year. Is the Minister able to say in this Vote how many pits have been or are being kept open because of this expenditure? I turn now to one other point which has not been raised. When considering the closing of pits, one must be concerned with the total overall expenditure. I am concerned, particularly in the economic position which exists today, at the immense level of stockpiling which we have. Can the Minister say whether there has been or is to be any re-examination of this high level of stock piling? It has gone down in the last few weeks to below 27 million tons. I see the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East referring to the statistics. I have done my homework. The last figure I have shows that it is down to 26·9 million tons. If one works that out on a capital cost basis at ordinary Bank Rate, one sees that servicing the capital tied up there accounts for £2·152 million. This is larger than one of these Supplementary Estimates will be in a full year. I suggest that this is a factor which the Minister will have to reconsider. This sort of money can be saved if there is a change in stockpiling policy. If the Minister is able to say anything about this, I think that it will be of assistance to the House. I conclude by agreeing with what the hon. Member for Midlothian said, that if during this debate we can do something to raise the morale of the men in the coal industry it will be a worthwhile proper thing to do. There is one way in which I think this can be done. I hope that the Minister will comment on the estimate put forward by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary during the Committee stage of the Coal Industry Bill, when he talked of a possible deficit for the N.C.B. last year of £10 million. We have not had the interim figures. There has been some play about whether this is important, and although the figures have not been published, I am sure that the Minister must be au fait with them, and he may be able to announce some goods news for the coal industry. He may be able to tell us t that the deficit suggested by his hon. Friend will not be anything like that figure. If he were able to give that sort of information to the coal industry I think it would help the morale of coal miners throughout the country. I am sure that they will be glad to hear that the industry is not running into a large-scale deficit.
9 12 p.m.
Far be it for me to speak at any great length and hold up the next and final instalment in this evening's saga of Supplementary Estimates, but a number of important points have been raised, and, as the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said, large sums of money are involved.The House should not lose sight of the fact that these large sums of money were approved by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The hon. Lady cannot get away with saying "Oh" about that. There is not much point in approving things in principle if one does not have a fairly clear idea of the extent of the legislation being agreed to. I am not criticising the Opposition for agreeing to the legislation. It is one of the few things which they have done with which I wholeheartedly agree. The 1967 Coal Act was agreed to in this House only a few weeks ago, and under this procedure we have Supplementary Estimates which flow wholly, solely, and directly from the three sections of that Measure which call for additional expenditure.I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I deal a little disjointedly with the debate, but a number of points have been raised from both sides of the House at various times. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) asked some specific questions, which I shall answer, and raised a number of points which had been raised by other speakers. He asked whether there was any change of policy in the closing of uneconomic pits as a result of our present economic difficulties. Though this is a highly emotive subject, he said quite fairly that an argument could be advanced that, faced with economic difficulties, it would be logical and justifiable to speed up the rate of closures because this would make available resources which otherwise would be denied to the nation. There is no change of policy here. I believe that the present closure programme and the policy outlined in the White Paper are designed to produce a rate of rundown which involves enormous social and human problems. but which I genuinely believe is the maximum that can be imposed in these circumstances. That is why these figures occur in the winter Supplementary Estimates—to enable us to pay for the cost not of running down the industry, as is occasionally said, but of preventing its running down as rapidly as it otherwise would. Without these large sums of money the industry would run down much faster. I do not believe that any civilised society could tolerate that, in terms of the human difficulties it would cause, or that it would be in the national interest, since there is a long future for the coal industry through the existence of many coal-fired power stations. The hon. Member also raised the question of the effect of the extra coal burned, as juxtaposed with Alcan, and we have had all sorts of other expressions of interest—I will not say doubts—about the Coal Board's accounting as shown in some of the figures quoted for the sale of coal. It must be made absolutely clear that in this Section of the Act the revenue of the C.E.G.B. is irrelevant to this protection. What we are trying to do is to get the C.E.G.B. to burn coal at the national expense. This is why It will not have any effect on electricity consumers. It is only 6 million tons a year, but It is designed to be 6 million tons above the trend in 1970. We are spending this to get that additional amount burned, and the extent to which we can obtain additional orders—I shall deal with the question of devaluation and increased export potential as a result—reduces the load upon the Exchequer. The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Honiton also raised the question of the interim statement. I have statutory responsibility for the form in which the Board's accounts are presented and I am still in the process of discussing the interim statement. I hope that it will be available in the very near future.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how he proposes to assess payments under subhead J(2) for burning extra coal? Will the payments be made to the C.E.G.B. or the Coal Board? It is the mechanics of the thing about which the House is in doubt.
Perhaps the hon. Member will forgive me on that point. The hon. Lady began her remarks by referring to the degree to which the general policy is affected by devaluation. This is fundamental, because it is a big thing. The 1967 Coal Act was passed in the full light of devaluation. I have always said that I did not believe that devaluation would have a fundamental effect upon the figures in the White Paper; indeed, had one believed that the figures would be radically changed after devaluation it would have been nonsense to go through with the 1967 Act.
If the White Paper on Fuel Policy represents the policy of the Government, will my right hon. Friend tell us when it was ratified by the House? He seems to be making great play about the White Paper. When did the House ratify it?
I am trying not to be controversial, if only because it spoils my digestion and prolongs the debate; I want to come on to that point. I am not making great play of the White Paper, but these figures come from three Sections of the 1967 Act and they are justified only by those Sections. That Act cannot be justified except in so far as it is to provide for the slowing down of the rundown and the social provision which arises out of the policies in the White Paper. I assure my hon. Friend that I do not want to bring the White Paper into every debate; I should like to get through one in which it did not arise. But the hon. Lady raised it and I am under some obligation to reply to her and others.She asked how it was affected by these factors and how it came about that these nationalised industries appeared to have come unscathed through the icy blasts which had blown through the Treasury in the last few weeks—
I am well aware that the nationalised industries had some of their capital expenditure reduced, but I said, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive the expression, that mining was becoming a sacred cow.
It is a sacred cow which has provided a pretty good yield for this nation over a long period. Without becoming too emotional, I must say that the figures involved are basically concerned with miners. Under straight economics, we would not have the over-55s scheme and would not be spending money on increased coal-burn or the social benefits under Section 2. All this money is concerned basically with miners. Before the hon. Lady led me astray, I was about to say that the National Coal Board has contributed its cuts, as have all the others, of£4 million.I have been asked about the effect of devaluation upon the White Paper. We have looked at this carefully. Clearly, it changes the relative prices of some fuels but it never seemed to me likely to make big changes, which is why I thought it unwise to give the impression that it would. The figures are as follows. The scheduled price of fuel oil—the big problem is the relationship between fuel oil and coal—has increased by about 0·75d. per gallon. This has to be compared, of course, with the Schedule to the White Paper in which we took as an example the doubling of the fuel oil tax of 2d. The effect of that, I think—speaking from memory—was to increase non-power station coal-burn by about 4 million tons, at a cost to industry of£90 million. Clearly, therefore, if this 2d. a gallon extra, which was postulated as a statistical exercise, does not affect it very much, then the 0·75d. per gallon is within those margins of error. But then there is the position in the export market. Undoubtedly, the Coal Board is in a better position here than previously. I said this in our previous debate. The nationalised industries generally get more brickbats than bouquets, and I think that the Board is to be congratulated in this instance on the speed with which it moved in to maximise its export opportunities. This is not easy, because the Continental industries have long-term contracts in many cases, and, of course, the Continent has much larger coal stocks than we have. However, the N.C.B. estimate is that it will he able, as a result of devaluation. to increase its exports by about 2 or 3 million tons per annum. There are therefore changes here. The potential change by 1975 is estimated, so far as this is possible, to be about five million tons of coal-burn—deep-mined coal—for inland demand. As I have explained many times, the figures in the White Paper are not production targets. The kind of figures which we are discussing are well within the margin of error of forecasts as far ahead as that. The effect of devaluation. therefore, is to improve the outlook for the coal industry, but the extent to which it does so is within the limits of the additional coalburn about which we are talking, and to that extent it is rather more, perhaps, of a net gain to the Exchequer.
This is an important point. My right hon. Friend appears to say that the 3 million tons of extra coal which the N.C.B. is exporting will be taken off the 6 million tons of extra coalburn. If that is so, it is unfortunate, because by the pricing of the coal system, we have the point in the industry about the 9s. a ton taken off the price of coal fetching it down to East Midlands prices. This 3 million tons is East Midlands and South Yorkshire coal. If that is taken off, it will have the unfortunate effect of speeding up the closures in other areas.
I appreciate that it is an important point, but it is not one into which I can go into great detail on these winter Estimates. I am seeking to justify these figures which are being challenged. The White Paper is Government policy, and if it is argued that the White Paper is not valid, then these figures do not stand up. As for the future of the industry, a production of 155 million tons of coal represents a very big coal mining industry indeed. The extent to which the industry is able to be more viable makes it so much less open to pressures from outside. But from the point of view of this exercise, the figures confirm the basic policy of the White Paper. The coal mining industry is made to look a little more attractive than it was before.The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley asked how we had arrived at the figure of£1,499,990 in item (2). I was tempted to say that it was because I had seen the original estimate and had pointed out that it was arithmetically wrong. In fact, it is merely that we have a token provision in relation to benefits for miners, and we have taken£10 for that. as is the normal practice, and assumed that no one would notice it. Indeed, no one but the hon. Lady would have noticed it. The main point made by the hon. Lady concerned the grants under the Coal Industry Act as amended by the 1967 Act. This is a simple arithmetical projection of the change from the previous basis of provision by which the Exchequer contribution under Section 3 of the 1965 Act would have been£3 million of the then gross expenditure estimate of£10 million the formula being 50 per cent. of the expenditure over the first£3·8 million. In the 1967A,ct we changed that to a straight two-thirds of the expenditure incurred. That is estimated at£9 million, two-thirds of which would be the Exchequer contribution of£6 million. Allowing for the delay in the submission of the final audited claims within the year, the provision has been made for an interim grant of£5·25 million. The hon. Lady wondered to what extent one could give precise figures about how this money could be spent in the course of colliery closures and so on. It is impossible to be so precise, because many unknown factors enter into this. These expenditures are dependent on, for example, the number of men who transfer to other collieries, the number of men over 60 and the number of men who will resign voluntarily. They are also dependent on the number of exhaustions in considering the number of pit closures. In other words, this must be based on a projection of the previous Estimates, with the changed formula which has been applied. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) pointed out that the rundown had to be controlled because of the size of this enormous problem. I entirely agree with him. However, he will accept that this has been the basic problem which we have discussed time and again in the last six months. It is desperately important that this industry should reach a plateau of stability, with men being able to work in the knowledge that they have a future. Until such time as we can get the industry in a viable condition, we shall stagger from Estimate to Estimate, with each year the men finding that the figures have been changed again. That is why it is justifiable for us to ask the House to deal with the rate of contraction in this way. If we were to keep in being many of the pits which are uneconomic, some of them grossly uneconomic, the effect would be to make the coal industry less economic and force it to face a crisis in the '70s, at the very period when its productivity should be at its peak. I have no doubt whatever that in the '70s this industry will have a level of productivity which will enable it to compete and remain viable. However, to reach that position it must shed some of its uneconomic sections—sections which it has been forced to carry for so long. For this reason we are trying to make this sort of contraction reasonable, if not completely acceptable. After all, measures which may be necessary may not always be completely acceptable. Nevertheless, we will have a better chance of meeting these problems if we take these measures. There were 16 postponed colliery closures last year and 14 more closures have been notified to the unions for this quarter. This is subject to deferment under the procedures which have now been embarked on, in addition to closures through exhaustion, although we cannot forecast this with precision. These things can happen quickly. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) asked whether there were not a great many people involved in the question of colliery closures. The answer is that there are and that it is right that that should be the case. It is vital, when considering this matter, to get some sort of co-ordination in the provision of the necessary social services, such as alternative industries and Board of Trade measures. There must be co-ordination between the overall planning of economic activities and the N.C.B's programme. We have devised a system whereby the Coal Board presents its closure programme to the miners and unions—that is important because they are greatly involved; they have representations and provisions to make—and, at the same time, presents its views to the regional economic councils. The idea is not that these councils will act as pressure groups to stop all colliery closures. In a particular valley it may be perfectly logical for a council to say, "We accept both of these two closures, but we think it wrong that the first closure should take place before the second. The second should be closed before the first." It might be best to proceed in that way. Often a closure can be delayed while an alternative closure takes place, perhaps enabling another industry to come into the area. Matters of this sort can make a big difference to the area concerned. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) started with a comparison between miners and brewers which, on reflection, he will probably regret. He will read it in the morning and find it hung round his neck for many years. There are quite significant differences between them, not least the wage packets. The hon. Member also referred to Alcan. I read the newspapers—there might be a lot less trouble in Parliament, perhaps, if people stopped doing that. The Board of Trade wrote to the companies in December saying that the Government would be glad to consider any proposals for a smelter linked to coal—a perfectly legitimate thing to do. Alcan has made it clear that it is very interested in a coal-based smelter. No details are available, and no contract has been signed. It is a question of straight, commercial negotiations between the two parties, and it would be quite wrong for me to disclose details of commercial negotiations. Nevertheless, the price is very competitive—it reflects the Board's judgment of future production costs, and the need for additional outlets in this part of the ountry—but I must make it quite clear that the Board is expected to pay its way in the '70s, when the smelter will be available. In these prices, whatever they may be, one has to take into account the very high level of stocks in Scotland and, to a less extent, in the North of England. In December, N.C.B. undistributed stocks in Scotland amounted to 2·7 million tons as compared with 0·9 million tons, and in the North of England, 2·5 million tons compared with 0·7 million tons at the same time last year. In those circumstances, it is obviously sensible and right for the Board to get what business it can, provided it stands up to close and constant examination. Some hon. Members opposite referred to the Michael Colliery. The choice of supplying collieries for the smelter, as for any other consumers, is a matter for the Board, but I do not think that the Invergordon smelter, whatever other arguments there may be, has any direct elect on the future of the Michael Colliery, given the size of the stocks a available generally. I do not say that there may not be other factors. A statutory duty of the N.C.B. is the
I did not write the Statute:"…making supplies of coal vailable…at such prices, as may seem to them"—
As the C.E.G.B. takes some 60 million tons of coal a year, over one-third of the of output, it seems that the price of coal for any individual industrial contract clearly can have virtually no effect on the prices charged to other consumers for 150 million tons of coal, or even on the average price for electricity coals. In that respect, this is a perfectly legitimate matter for the Board, and it is to be commended for having tried to take an initiative. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) moved us a little further into the winter Estimates on the question of oil storage. He asked whether the amount involved was due to a rundown of the coal industry. I can tell him that there is no connection between the two. The increase in the provision for oil storage is explained by the fact that essential renewals of pipelines were greater than were expected, and by the increased use of the facilities. The increase in expenditure on oil storage is largely balanced by the increased receipts from the increased use of those facilities. The hon. Member for Honiton asked what could be done about stock-piling. In my view, there is nothing we can do about it at the moment if we start from the basic proposition that we cannot run down the industry faster than is at present envisaged. This means that we have to carry coal stocks at the moment. I hope that with increased export opportunities and with increased commercial possibilities we shall get rid of some of these. There is some deterioration, but it will last for a long time. I have been under a great deal of attack for running down the coal mining industry too fast. I do not think hon. Members always realise the size of the argument which hon. Members opposite have raised in terms of stocks and these additional prices. These are very big sums. We are holding very big stocks of coal and they are costing the nation a great deal of money. It is a price which we are entitled to expect the nation to pay for people who have done a great deal in the service of the nation and who now find themselves in difficulties through no fault of their own."best calculated to further the public interest in all respects, including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference or ad vantage."
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Defence (Army) Supplementary Estimate, 1967–68
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding£18,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Army Services for the year.—[Mr. Charles Morris.]
I shall do my best not to talk this Motion out. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends has the least wish to prevent the Services getting the money represented by this Supplementary Estimate. We think that in the present climate of opinion they had better get anything they can for they have been cut short enough by recent Government decisions. But this is the second year running that the Government have asked for a supplement to the Army Votes of about£18 million and this in itself is something which ought to be debated.Before coming to one or two specific points in the Estimates, there are some general comments I wish to make about this state of affairs. It must look very odd to the country, and in particular to informed opinion, that the Government cannot get their estimates of the Army Votes right to within £18 million, to within 3 per cent. It certainly looks odd to a number of people, as hon. Members can judge from their postbags and as the House can judge from the letter which appeared in this morning's Times from no less an authority than Lieutenant-General Sir George Cole, recently Director of Staff Duties, and more recently Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Command. On the one hand, we have the Government unable to frame Army Estimates to within 3 per cent. of the total Army Vote yet on the other they quite happily take for budgetary reasons major decisions affecting the future constitution of our forces and in particular our Reserve forces where the order of magnitude of the sum involved is only about a half of 1 per cent. of the total Army budget or, in terms of the whole defence budget, as little as one-five-hundredth. I refer to the decision to scrap the T. and A.V.R.III and to do away with what remains of the Territorial Army. It is difficult for people observing these two contradictory factors in the Government policy not to have the feeling that there is a great deal of irresponsibility about the way in which these affairs are at present being conducted. My second general point concerns the extent to which the need for Supplementary Estimates of this size in two successive years appears to illustrate the strains that are being imposed on the Army Department by the Government's policies. It is fairly clear what has happened in order to produce this year the need for a Supplementary Estimate of this size. The Army Department was faced with the stringent cuts imposed by Ministers on next year's Estimates—those for 1968–69—which were announced last November. Faced with the need for very considerable extra expenditure in the short term on the Vote 10 items in these Estimates and up to a point on the Vote 7 items, what has it had to do? It has had to rush forward the expenditure into the present year.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He will have an opportunity to answer.It then had to come to the House for a Supplementary Estimate. All this, or so it appears, was so that the total of next year's Estimates should wear at any rate a moderately respectable appearance and that the increase in next year's figures should not appear to verge too much on the absurd. I make these general points not because my hon. Friends are in any mood to complain when the Services are going to get some money, but to illustrate the essential dishonesty of the Government's financial case in relation to the economies which are being proposed and which the Government have been trying to make, largely for the benefit of their colleagues below the Gangway. I think it fair to point out that the effects of asking for Supplementary Estimates of this size in two successive years on public administration are to be deplored, and one hopes that when the public Accounts Committee considers this, as no doubt it will, it will put the blame where it belongs, on Ministers and not on accounting officers, because all this stems directly from the policy in regard to the Army Department adopted by He Majesty's Government in the context of the recent cuts. I want to devote most of what I have to say to Vote 10, the initial expenditure on the Services emergency housing programme, but I should like to make a I related point in connection with Vote 7, Subhead C, where we see an increase of nearly£5 million in expenditure on vehicles. I presume that this is mostly attributable to the items which were referred to on 27th November by the secretary of State—the increased numbers of A.P.Cs, Chieftain tanks and so on, coming forward. If this is so—
—and the Under-Secretary indicates that it is—it is related to the consequences, financial and otherwise, of withdrawing large numbers of men from Germany—and also elsewhere, but I specifically mention Germany—and redeploying them in this country. We were given on 5th July a list of the various units that are being redeployed back into this country from Germany. I will not go through them now, but all of them, it seems to me, w ill have to be provided with a duplicate set of vehicles. The vehicles in Germany will have to be kept there in case the troops have to go back. They will have to be maintained there, presumably by civilians. Some provision for barrack accommodation in case of emergency will have to be retained in Germany, and that also will need maintenance, which will be expensive. Although the Minister of Defence for Administration, in the debate to which I have referred, made no reference to the armour, I presume that the necessary tanks for the armoured forces which are 'being withdrawn will have to be kept in Germany on a care and maintenance basis.I presume also that there will be, as a result of this policy, a great deal of duplication, and consequently a good deal of extra expense. In this context the House ought to take a pretty close look at the im- plications of this policy of redeployment. I hope that the Minister, in the eight minutes or so which I have left him, will do his best to help us understand the implications fully. To put the point as shortly as I can, there are two aspects to this question of the redeployment of our forces from Europe or elsewhere to this country. There is the foreign exchange aspect, the objective of saving foreign exchange, and there is the budgetary aspect, the question of the total cost of the new stance adopted. The foreign exchange aspect is one thing, its importance may be less now that substantial savings in foreign exchange in other parts of the world have been announced. It looks from the size of this Estimate and the scale of expenditure which the Government have had to go into—not only on vehicles, but more particularly in connection with the re-provision of married quarters and other accommodation—as though the budgetary cost as a result of this redeployment may be very considerably increased. In other words, it will cost, absolutely, more money to keep the same number of forces here than it would cost to have them in Germany. In the light of the last White Paper, Cmnd. 3515, and what is said in paragraph 26, about the main future stance of our forces being in Europe, I regard the implications of this as being extremely serious and I hope that the Under-Secretary will go as far as he can in setting out for the benefit of the House what this sum really amounts to in total and justifying, if he can, this redeployment in the light of the full budgetary cost as opposed merely to the foreign exchange saving. I have tried to put as shortly as I could what it is that bothers us in the main about these Supplementary Estimates. I should have liked to have asked the Under-Secretary at greater length how the re-provision of accommodation is proceeding, how far it has gone, what is the state of accompaniment for these units that have been brought home. compared with that which they enjoyed before their withdrawal. I should also like to know what effect this new stance looks like having upon recruiting. We shall wish to return to these matters, insofar as I have not been able to cover them, and insofar as the hon. Gentleman will not have time to give us a full reply, on the Army Estimates, if not before. I think that I have said enough to indicate our anxieties and for the moment I will leave it there.
The party opposite become curiouser and curiouser. The Government of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) took Supplementary Estimates in the spring of 1960–61, the spring of 1961–62, the summer of 1962–63, the spring of 1962–63, and the spring of 196–364. Then he talks in the way that he has done. This Supplementary Estimate is in Vote 4, Civilians at Outstations; Vote 7, Stores and Equipment; and Vote 10, Defence Lands. We need£5 million more for outstation civilians, largely because of increased costs due to pay awards. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would applaud that. His party have prayed against all the Prices and Incomes Orders, and I should have thought that they would have favoured pay awards for industrial civil servants.Next,£2¼ million more is needed for stores and equipment, for ammunition and armoured vehicles—I shall deal with the misleading point which the right hon. Member made about anticipating cuts—and£10¾ million is needed for defence lands and buildings because of the housing programme, which I should have expected every right hon. and hon. Member opposite to applaud.
I can put the matter in this way. The first general cause for the increase in cost was rises in pay and prices, mainly pay, accounting for£4·3 million out of the total of£18 million. This includes a very good pay award to industrial civil servants, good in the sense that it provided better incentives. There has been a complete reorganisation of industrial pay structure, and I should have thought that everyone would applaud it.The second general cause was a forecast loss of receipts of£3·65 million. This was a net figure.£4·4 million was due to delays in the sale of property, but it was partly offset by an increase on the sale of stores of£750,000. The main delay in the sale of property was on the sale of the R.A.F. aerodrome at Hendon, which is valued at about£5 million. The reason for this is quite easy to see. It is a large scheme which needs to be dealt with thoroughly and carefully, and the reasons for the delay are certainly not within the control of the Ministry of Defence.
No, I have only about three minutes.The third cause for the increase was the emergency housing programme. The original Estimate for 1967–68 was based on a requirement of 3,700 houses. The programme did not proceed as rapidly in 1966–67 as we had hoped, and to that extent the provision in 1967–68 was too low. On top of this, however, there was the accelerated withdrawal from overseas, so that it became necessary to increase the number of houses to 8,600. This is the main reason for the increase. I pay tribute here to the imagination shown by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works who, when chairman of the committee looking into this, drove through the scheme with great ingenuity and initiative so that, as it is running now, 80 to 85 per cent. of families coming home are together and move into a quarter almost at once. I pay tribute also to the Defence Lands staff who have really got to grips with the problem of buying houses; they are buying houses very well and most imaginatively. I should mention here—I hope the hon. Members opposite are not playing this one up—that in some areas there has been an outcry against the housing of soldiers. This is a most selfish attitude and quite unwarranted. I am pleased to say that in one case where an organisation was set up to resist Service housing, the people concerned saw the folly of their ways, turned round, and welcomed the troops in a suitable way. The right hon. Gentleman made a most misleading point about the increased cost in respect of tanks and ammunition. He knows very well that these things are planned a long way ahead, and the production period for a tank can last up to about 18 months. The record of the party opposite in the development of the Chieftain tank was not all that hot as regards production. Production line tooling began in 1960. First deliveries of Chieftain were expected in 1963 but were delayed. Production was, in fact, started in 1964. There was a whole background of pessimism about what money should be provided for Chieftain tanks. This has been shown over the years. However, we have now an estimated annual production rate of about 180, which is very creditable to the people concerned, especially to the Barnbow factory. In 1965–66, the Estimate was for 116 Chieftains, but only 29 were completed. In 1966–67, the Estimate was for 150, and only 124 were completed. 1 his year it will be about 180.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right that the Under-Secretary of State should talk these important Estimates out or take them right up to 10 o'clock, when there are many hon. Members on this side who wish to make a contribution? The hon. Gentleman is not answering the debate completely, and there are many matters involving a great deal of public money covered by the Estimates. Is it not up to the Government to provide time, if they wish to allow us to debate the matter further? The Estimates have been selected for debate by agreement between both sides. Is it not up to the Government to provide proper time?
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, though it is not a point of order. However, I believe that there will be other opportunities.
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Consolidation, &C, Bills
Mr. Ronald Bell discharged from the Select Committee appointed to join with a Select Committee appointed by the Lords on Consolidation, &c., Bills; Mr. Ian Percival added.—[ Mr. Charles Morris.]
I beg to move.
I always think that it is as well on these occasions, for the benefit of those outside this House who are not as well acquainted with our procedures as we are, to make it clear at the outset that when in cases of this kind the Opposition want to draw attention to a Statutory Instrument, the proper procedural way of doing so is to pray against it. While I appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary understands that that does not mean that we are hostile to the contents of the Statutory Instrument—indeed, there is no intention of seeking to turn it down—the only procedural device open to us is this one. That is the object of tonight's discussion. It is valuable for there sometimes to be opportunities in this House for discussion of what at first blush may appear to be detailed matters of this kind, and there is certainly great benefit in a close scrutiny of all Statutory Instruments. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary would not resent the close, watchful care with which, at least, the present Opposition watches all Statutory Instruments which emanate from his Department. It may be helpful if I first, however briefly, seek to explain what I understand, in heading only, to be the objects of this otherwise seemingly detailed Instrument. I understand that it has four objectives. The first is to extend the date a little, or to define it more accurately, by which an examinee for the final examination must have attained the age of 21 before he or she may sit. This is Rule 13, and I will return to it presently. The second objective is to remove the restriction at present applying on fever nurses which prevents their name being entered on the Register before they attain the age of 21. This is covered by Rule 16. The third objective is to shift the emphasis, as I shall seek to show, significantly where a nurse applies to have his or her name restored to the Register—that is Rule 38—and, fourthly, Rule 67 extends the category of those who may be qualified as nurse tutors. Since I am certain that this will be an agreeable and friendly discussion, I shall start by rapping the Parliamentary Secretary sharply on his Parliamentary knuckles. To thread one's way through the various matters which we are discussing, it is necessary to have before one no fewer than six Acts of Parliament or Statutory Instruments. One has to start with the Nurses Act, 1957; one has to go on to the Nurses Rules, 1961, which were made under that Act; one has to go on to the amendment of those Rules of 1965; one has to go on to the amendment of those in 1966; one has to go on to the Teachers of Nursing Act, 1967; and now here we are with the further amending Rules of 1967. I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that this is not just simply a debating point. Let me illustrate factually what I mean. There could hardly be a more detailed provision than that which, in this Statutory Instrument, further amends Rule 13, the very small point of the date by reference to which the age of 21 is calculated. One normally goes straight to the parent Regulation of 1961, but one does not and it there because Rule 13, which governs it, was amended in 1965; so one has to go to the amending Regulation of 1965, which one then finds has been further amended in 1966 and 1967. I really must say to him firmly that while he of course takes personal responsibility, and wishes to, as is normal procedure, I must ask his help in the ceaseless war which I wage, not merely with his Department but with others, to ensure that in intensely human matters like this we should have these things set out clearly and see that they do not get out of control, for this is a very good example of legislation, some of it at secondhand, which has got quite out of control. I hope, incidentally, that he will be able to tell us that he and the General Nursing Council will be issuing some simple explanation of the changes which are now being made in the Instrument before us. The first objective of this Statutory Instrument we need spend very little time over. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, if he will be so good, to make clear, what I think must be the case, that this is simply a matter of tightening up by definition; it is a simple and convenient method; there is greater precision of drafting in the Statutory Instrument now before us, so that the appropriate paragraph of the Nurses Rules makes it just that bit much clearer than it was before. I assume that the General Nursing Council has taken the opportunity to submit to him this matter to deal with anyway. This is a comparatively small and detailed matter with which I will not deal except to ask for that confirmation. The second is an equally small, detailed point. When I say that, of course it is important to those concerned. A fever nurse can take her finals before she is 21. As things are at present, there is exemption for her; but she cannot apply to go on the register before she is 21. That is the very small change which the Parliamentary Secretary is seeking to put More us as the second provision in this Statutory Instrument; it is the deletion of the proviso to Rule 16(1). The third is a more substantial point. This House is always very watchful and careful, and need not make any apology for that, when it is dealing with the rights of individuals. With the third object of this Statutory Instrument, that is to say, the amendment of Rule 38 of the Nurses Rules, 1961, we are dealing with the restoration of a nurse's name to the register. Clearly, this is a matter of the greatest importance to the nurse concerned. It is also a matter of importance to the great profession of which she is a number, and it is obviously right that there should be stringent requirements before her name can be restored. The House can understand that. It might be helpful to have a little explanation of the changes which the Parliamentary Secretary now puts before us. The nurse applying to have her name restored to the register will have to find two refereesThat an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Nurses (Amendment) Rules, Approval Instrument 1967 (S.I., 1967, No. 1704), dated 17th November, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th November, be annulled.
I do not quarrel with that, but the Parliamentary Secretary will understand that it places on such a nurse an additional burden. It may be perfectly right. It is done upon the advice of the Nursing Council, and that is very powerful advice, but I should like to feel that the Parliamentary Secretary and his Minister have applied their minds to this request as well. It is clearly nothing like so easy for a nurse in this position to find two or more persons who have to be within the class specified in the Order and, in addition, have knowledge of the facts found against her, particularly if they are facts found against her some appreciable time previously. I repeat that I do not necessarily quarrel with it, but I make no apology for looking closely at matters concerning the personal rights of individuals, as does the House. The second change is in her favour. Whereas before her referees had to be able to give a reference as to her character and the nature of her employment before the date of her removal from the register as well as after, it is now loosened slightly in her favour, but this is only where practicable, and this seems to be an eminently wise requirement. Third, the Parliamentary Secretary is removing a slight doubt which might apply in the rule as it is at present, where it is provided that, if necessary, the investigating committee may call for"with knowledge of the facts found against her".
Quite obviously, a nurse seeking to have her name restored to the register might be in doubt as to what evidence the investigating committee might reasonably require. As I understand it, the Parliamentary Secretary is now doing away with that proviso, which is a change within the interests of the nurse. I am not generally hostile to this, but in matters of such delicacy I should like to be clear that thought has been given, with particular reference to my first point. Perhaps I might leave it with a gentle and friendly dig at the Parliamentary Secretary. If he studies the Amendment carefully, he will find that whereas ministers of religion appear in small print in the Rule, the words have initial capital letters in his Amendment. I am obliged to him for his gentle bow to ministers of churches and his further blow to humanists in this House. I continue with my fourth point on this set of Regulations. It is perhaps the most important. It extends the categories of those who may be qualified as nurse tutors. The Amendments to Rule 67 which are now before us add three new categories to those who may be qualified as nurse tutors. The first is a teacher with three years' nursing experience. That is generalising the careful provisions which are set out in front of us. The first thing that we should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary, repeating again that we on this side are not hostile to this Amendment, is whether he can assist the House by telling us how many people, according to his information, will be affected by the Amendment; that is to say, those who will henceforward, if the House so agrees, be eligible as nurse tutors under this provision. Can he tell us how many teachers there are with three years' nursing experience? With, as I understand, a chronic shortage of nurse tutors, this seems a wise provision and one which certainly does not dilute the standards otherwise set out in Rule 67 of those who can qualify for this very important teaching and lecturing position. It would be helpful to have some idea of approximately how many, at the moment at any rate, are likely to be affected. The layman would suppose that however valuable—and they are immensely valuable in themselves—the numbers are likely to be comparatively small. Also, I should be grateful for an explanation about one of the requirements of these teachers who have had three years' nursing experience—I am using that phrase loosely—namely, that they shall have spent not less than a year in the teaching of nursing at an approved training institution under qualified supervision. I should like to know whether there is an appreciable number of persons teaching under supervision at an approved training institution and, if so, what their qualifications are. At first blush it seems a little unusual that they should be in this position. If the Parliamentary Secretary could assist further about this group of people the House would be much obliged. The second category of those added are the health visitors—again I am using shorthand—with two years' nursing experience. The House would be grateful for the briefest of indications about how many this is likely to cover. The third group is very wide; that is to say, those shown in paragraph 7(e),"such other evidence as the investigating committee may reasonably require."
in any of the provisions of Rule 67 as it will become amended. In other words, with this very important reservation that the Council and the Minister, as I understand it, must individually approve each case, he is taking unto himself blanket powers. The House is always watchful about this, quite rightly. Admittedly, in this case the safeguard lies in the immense standing of the Nursing Council which, if it does not agree, has the veto. The Minister would act only upon its recommendation. However, at first blush this is a fairly major step in a profession of great repute, the nursing profession. It might be helpful if the Minister would briefly outline the kind of person he has in mind and how frequently he would envisage having to use this power, or whether it is a reserve power so that he shall not frequently have to return to the House for Amendment of a detailed nature of the kind that we now have in front of us. One of the most significant parts of this Statutory Instrument is that which deals with those who may be brought in as nursing tutors and who have teaching experience. I must not explore this in any width, but does this presage a change in the Ministry's policy, and does the hon. Gentleman envisage that some of the future training of nurses, and in this case nurse tutors, is likely to be co-ordinated with the training of teachers? The Minister is taking power to allow teachers to become nurse tutors in certain specified circumstances. There have been some interesting developments here. We cannot explore them in any depth, but there have been some interesting suggestions for the combining of the training of certain people, including nurses, whose work among young people tends to have certain features in common. The hon. Gentlemant will be aware that in certain colleges of education there are proposals for bringing in nurses for this purpose, for parallel training and drawing on experience between both professions. It will be helpful to know whether the new powers in paragraph 7 herald a change, or whether they stand on their own. I make no apology, and I feel sure hat the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to, for having detained the House on a comparatively detailed matter. The House takes the deepest interest in, and has the greatest concern for, the nursing profession as a whole, and therefore the training of its members, or certain aspects of it, which is what we are discussing tonight, is an extremely important matter. I sometimes think that one of our difficulties is that we are so overborne and overburdened with great weighty national matters that we cannot always give sufficient time to exceedingly human and, some would say, detailed matters of this kind. I hope that it will go out from both sides of the House that we are never too busy to take trouble over and pause to do our duty in considering comparatively detailed instructions which deeply affect the lives of the members of a highly honourable profession."in any particular case she appears to the Council and the Minister to be qualified for the teaching of nursing otherwise than as mentioned…"
The House could not possibly object in arty sense of the term to the way in which the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) introduced this important matter.Last Session the Teachers of Nursing Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Tom McMillan). It was warmly welcomed by both sides of the House as a useful Measure to increase the supply of qualified nurse tutors. It was duly enacted, and it received the Royal Assent on 22nd March last year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I deal with the provisions of this Statutory Instrument in the reverse order to that which he adopted. To give effect to that Act a revision of Rule 67 of the Nurses Rules was necessary. The principal object of this Statutory Instrument is to make this Amendment, and the three minor Amendments mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, to which I shall refer later. Until the passing of the Teachers of Nursing Act the General Nursing Council could grant certificates only to those teachers of nurses who had undergone prescribed training in institutions approved by the Council. The powers did not permit the granting of a certificate to a person who had not undergone training in an institution approved for the purpose, even though the Council regarded the person as qualified to teach nursing. The aim of the Act was to enable the Council to recruit as qualified tutors nurses who needed no further training and could therefore be immediately available. It also removed an injustice from those nurses who had teaching qualifications which could not be recognised and who, if they nevertheless took posts as nurse tutors, could only be paid and graded as unqualified tutors. The Act achieved this by giving the Council powers to make rules prescribing qualifications which should be held before a certificate could be granted, and also permitting the granting of certificates to persons who do not possess the prescribed qualifications, but who, nevertheless, appear to both the Council and the Ministry of Health to be qualified to teach nursing. This latter provision should, we hope, permit flexibility in dealing with unusual cases or new qualifications. The House will probably accept the general proposition that with the development of the National Health Service, with new techniques and new uses of nurses, it has been probably a rather more necessary step to amend the rules in a shorter space of time than has been the case in the earlier history of the nursing profession. This does not denote any reduction in standards it just means that it has been necessary to make amendments rather more frequently than before. The amendment to Rule 67 is made under the new powers and adds to those who may be certified as teachers of nurses, nurses who have specified nursing experience and who either are recognised by the Department of Education and Science as qualified teachers or are on the roll of teachers of the Council for the training of health visitors. It may be argued that there are other qualifications which might equally well have been recognised and included in the revised rule, but the General Nursing Council takes the view at present that it has taken the steps as far as they can be approved. But it is always open to any nurse possessing any other qualification which she considers equips her for a teaching post to apply to the Council for recognition. It could be that as a result of considering individual applications the Council will decide that some other particular qualification is generally acceptable, and this can be added when the Rules are next revised. What I wish to say now in part answers one question put to me by the hon. Member, although on a matter of detail I shall have to look at the question again later. The effect of the changes should be to enable about 30 additional nurses to be given certificates as teachers of nursing and perhaps at the rate of a further 10 per year thereafter. This does not quite answer the hon. Member's question but it is interesting information. This will be a welcome addition to the numbers of qualified tutors. The numbers of qualified tutors in posts has varied very little over the past few years. In March, 1967, there were 1,110 whole-time and 46 part-time qualified tutors in post, compared with 1,097 whole-time and 41 part-time in March, 1964. During the same period there was a marked increase in the numbers of unqualified tutors, there being 738 whole-time and 99 part-time unqualified tutors in post in March, 1967, compared with 567 whole-time and 116 part-time in March, 1964. I fully recognise the great work and contribution made by unqualified tutors, but it is not satisfactory that they should form so high a proportion of the whole, and any addition to the number of qualified tutors is to be welcomed. There is no generally accepted figure for the number of tutors needed, nor general agreement on the optimum ratio of tutors to students. To meet this situation officers of my Department will be joining representatives of the General Nursing Council and Royal College of Nursing in a working party to look into the numbers and pattern of teaching staff to meet current and foreseeable needs for the training of student nurses. At present, there is a shortage of tutors, which is aggravated by maldistribution, but the position will be much clearer when the working party has done its work and it will then be pos- sible for both the Council and my Department to make a coherent plan for meeting the requirements of the service for teaching nurses. I am well aware of a feeling among many nurse tutors that their role and their problems in the training of nurses are not fully appreciated. To help overcome this, my Department has held two meetings with the representatives of the tutors at which their problems have been discussed, and I hope that there will be other such meetings. It is sometimes argued that the best way to improve the number of nurse tutors is to improve their pay. I would remind the House that the pay of nurses, including nurse tutors, is at present being considered by the National Board for Prices and Incomes, and we hope to have its report in the next few weeks. It would not be profitable, therefore, to discuss their pay until we do receive the report. It is also sometimes suggested that the posts of nurse tutors are undergraded and, in particular, that the Salmon Committee did not do them justice in this respect. But that Committee had a predominantly professional membership and four of the five nursing members were certificated teachers of nursing who had previous experience as nurse tutors. It considered the senior nursing staff structure very thoroughly and while its recommendations preserved approximately the present position of the basic grade of nurse tutors, they provided higher posts in nurse teaching than heretofore, with much better prospects of promotion, incidentally. The Minister accepted the Salmon recommendations, and these are now being tested in a number of pilot schemes. If these should reveal any anomalies in the grading of tutors compared with other nursing staff, remedial action can, of course, be considered. It is sometimes also argued that the teachers of nurses should be related for pay and grading to teachers in colleges of further education rather than to the generality of nursing posts—
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go too wide of his own Order. It does not relate to the pay of nursing teachers.
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to paint a rather broad canvas because, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the conscience of the House is concerned about the nursing profession and I did not want to leave any uncertainty. But I take your point, with great respect.I was saying that it seems to me that the current trend on basic nursing training is towards closer integration of theory and practice which, if it continues, seems likely to involve the teaching staff more closely and to enhance their links with the nursing administrative hierarchy. Many who serve for a time as nurse tutors subsequently move on to other nursing posts and may become matrons. I was very happy the other evening, incidentally, to accept an invitation from the Royal College of Nursing to meet a very large body of matrons. It was quite a formidable evening and I learned a great deal from them. I believe that we are now over the hump as far as the public attitude to matrons is concerned. They are very fine women, and, contrary to some of the old stories, they definitely march with the times: we owe them a great debt. There will be less difficulty in this kind of movement if the salaries of the various nursing posts are related to one another: that is why the idea of going outside the immediate nursing profession is probably not a good one. I now turn to the other three Rules which are to be amended—
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves Rule 67, would he deal with my point about whether this is a pointer towards a change in the training of nurse tutors? I ask for only the briefest of indications.
No. It does not indicate a major or significant change. It is to give more flexibility. I give that assurance.I turn to the other three Rules which are being amended. I take the hon. Member's point about the way in which the Statutory Instrument is drafted in respect of Rule 13. I will not conceal from the House that it took me a long time to understand it. It does not seem very good sense to have to go through six previous documents to achieve understanding. The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments queried this proposal. They wondered why it had not been possible to reprint the whole of the draft, possibly with the amending words in italics. We provided an explanation. It was not merely a question of an Amendment to the original 1961 provision, for there were the subsequent amendments of 1965 and 1966, and it was considered in this case not desirable to reproduce the whole Rule because that would have necessitated three forms of special lettering in the amendment. It is a nice point, and I feel that my Ministry is wise in accepting that, generally speaking, it will be desirable to reintroduce the whole Rule with the amending words, perhaps, in special type. No one has suffered more than I have in trying to find out where the truth lies in amendments over the years. The need for amending Rule 13 arises from a change in the General Nursing Council's timetable for examinations. These were usually held in February. June and October, but in future it will sometimes happen that the written examination will be held on the last day of the preceding month—for example, on 31st January for the February examination. This arose from the fact that the examining authorities needed a little more time to bring together the necessary examining staff. Since Rule 13 required a student nurse to have reached the age of 21 years and to have completed a specified period of training by the last day of the month in which the examination is held, bringing the date of the written examination forward a couple of days could have involved a student nurse in three or four months delay before she was eligible to take it. The best way to work that out is to get a calendar and to work it backwards. By relating the requirement instead to the month in which the examination was completed, this is avoided. Similarly, nurses taking an 18-month course of training to obtain a second qualification would also have been held back by the change in timetable, and their position is likewise safeguarded. The Amendment to Rule 16 arises from the closure of the Fever Register as from 31st December, 1967. Under the old Rule 16 a student fever nurse could take the final examination at the age of 20 but could not be registered until she was 21. The Amendment was designed to enable any who had passed the examination but who had not reached their 21st birthday before 31st December nevertheless to be registered. The Amendment to Rule 38, on which the hon. Member spent some time, is designed simply to correct a fault in the drafting of the original Rule. As it was previously worded, Rule 38(2) required applicants for restoration to the Register, where practicable, to submit two character references. This was never the intention. The Council's intention was that an applicant must submit two references and that the referees should, if possible, have knowledge of the applicant before her name was removed from the Register. It is this latter requirement which is not always practicable, and with the Amendment the Rule correctly states the Council's requirements. I hope that I have made that point clear because restoration to the Register produces understandable anxieties in the public's mind. Nevertheless, it seems to us that a change which is fully approved by the General Nursing Council should receive the approval of the House.
It is important that we are clear on this point. I thought I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the Rule, as it will be if this Order is approved, will say that a nurse who applies must find two referees with knowledge of the facts found against her, if that is possible.
I suggest, however, that the words "if possible" are not to be found in the Rule.
Nevertheless, that is certainly the intention of the redrafted Rule. If it is capable of the doubt which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, we will have a look at it again, although I am advised that that is not the case. The real intention is that two witnesses must be provided in the circumstances I have suggested and that, where practicable, the nature of the employment before removal should be known to those witnesses. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that reasonable doubt may exist and I assure him that we will look into the matter.The hon. Gentleman went on to refer to teaching experience and he asked whether colleges of education could provide the sort of facilities for at least part of the training which these people should undergo. I am advised that no such proposal has yet been made, but we will be happy to look at the matter in conjunction with the General Nursing Council. Provided a scheme fitted in with the general interlocking of these provisions with associated professions, we would certainly be sympathetic to these ideas; provided, of course, that the proposals were approved in principle by the General Nursing Council. I am advised that, while there is no intention of integrating courses with teacher training courses, there is a course running now at the Technical Teachers' College at Burton, which we are watching carefully. I hope that I have been able to allay some of the hon. Gentleman's doubts and have answered the points he raised. Accordingly, I ask the House not to approve the Motion.
The whole House is obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his careful explanations and for the interesting statistics which he gave, which, if nothing else, undoubtedly justifies the Amendments before us. I hope he will feel that, apart from the important nature of these matters, my intervention—in which I pointed out that the phrase "where practicable" refers exclusively to the employment before the date of removal of the nurse's name—justifies our going into the subject carefully.If it is the Minister's intention that the Rule, as amended, shall do what he said it should do, he will, with respect, have to return to the matter again. But, in view of his undertaking, and of what I sought to say at the outset, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Education, Strensall (Primary School)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Grey.]
I wish to raise the urgent question of the need for a new primary school at Strensall. I do so for two reasons: first, because of the denial of adequate facilities for education for primary children in my constituency—an inadequacy which will grow much worse in the next few years—and, secondly, because this case illustrates the lack of co-ordination of information within the Ministry, a lack which makes the Department disregard local know-lodge of educational needs in different parts of the country.Strensall is a village of about 1,000 inhabitants, just six miles north of York. There is a large military camp near the village and the children there would, if conditions were adequate, like to attend the local primary school. The primary school building is over 100 years old. It was designed to accommodate 100 children, but there are at present in that school about 170 children. The building cannot take that number. Therefore, at some period of the day, 140 of them are crammed into the school—and I use the word "crammed" because, to do this, the teachers have to use a passage room to take one class. That means that the teaching there is constantly interrupted by people going to and fro on their normal business. For the remainder of the children, for the last six years one class has been taken in the village hall. It happens that the playgrounds here are inadequate. They are divided into three small sections where the children cannot possibly be properly supervised. They are also dangerous. So the P.T. class is taken in the village hall, thereby upsetting the provision of the pre-school training. The nursery school ought to be going into the village hall, but that is interrupted by the school having to be there. As there is no dining hall at the school, the children have their dinner in a dining hall which is about a quarter of a mile away in the opposite direction. There is, therefore, the position in which the village hall is a quarter of a mile from the school in one direction and the dining hall is about the same distance in the other direction. Again, as the conditions are so inadequate, the dining hall has to be used for a class directly the dinners have been cleared. That is the present inadequacy of the school. The teachers have to cope with the problem of a primary school dispersed over three separate places, the very point which paragraph 1083 of the Plowden Report brought out as being such a great drawback. This is a growing problem. The development of Strensall has been delayed because there have been no adequate sewerage facilities. None the less, in the last two years 65 new houses have been built there, and at the moment planning permission has been granted for another 61 houses, making 126 in all. The sewerage scheme will be completed early next year, and plans are being made for the expansion of a village of 1,000 inhabitants to one of, on various estimates, 8,000 to 12,000: it will be expanded by, perhaps, nine or ten times. In view of these facts, the North Riding County Council, the education authority, in its 1968–69 programme, put Strensall down for a new primary school. Unfortunately, it was struck out by the Minister. North Riding County Council estimated that if the school was in the 1968–69 programme it would be built in time for the new expansion. Not deterred, the county council put the school in its 1969–70 programme. To its consternation it was again struck out by the Minister. The President of the Board of Trade, when Secretary of State for Education and Science, wrote to me on 8th August last explaining this decision. He said:
As the new sewerage scheme is being completed in 1969 and as, already, plans have been made for a large housing estate in the area something appears to have gone wrong with the Minister's information. Even on his own figures, if he admits that there is to be an expansion of this village in 1970–71, he should have allowed North Riding County Council to put the scheme in its 1969–70 programme because a school takes at least a year or 18 months to build. North Riding County Council, meeting this difficulty, has decided to place, as a temporary measure, a mobile classroom next to the dining hall. This proposal is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by my constituents. Although they welcome it as an alleviation of the present inadequacy, they fear that it will be used as an excuse for ministerial inaction. One mobile classroom will not meet the problem of the expansion of the village after 1970. My requests tonight are two. The first is that the right hon. Lady will look into this matter and give us, tonight if possible, a clear assurance that this school will be put into the 1970–71 building programme, and if possible that she will allow the start of the school to be put in hand earlier so that it can be built in time for the expansion. I believe that this school is at the top of the North Riding County Council requirements for the 1970–71 building programme. Secondly, I ask her to look into this problem of the co-ordination of information and her Department's use of local knowledge. This is the second case I have had in recent years in this area around York where the local education authority has been pressing for the building of a new school because of inadequacy of conditions. The last was at Oswaldkirk, where conditions were very similar. I brought this to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), then Minister of Education, and I got him to look into it. He immediately authorised the Oswaldkirk new school to be built. I ask the right hon. Lady to follow his example."I am told that the new sewerage scheme is not likely to bring more people to Strensall until 1970–71."
I am aware of the poor conditions at the school, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has brought to our notice on a number of occasions. I sympathise both with the local parents and with the teachers who are working under such adverse conditions. I agree that it would be to the benefit of everybody if this mid-Victorian school could be replaced on a new site. Our problem, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise, is that resources are limited and that priority has to be given to the projects which are most urgent.As the right hon. Gentleman knows, authorities are invited to submit to my Department proposals for major buildings, and these are considered in the light of the national as well as the local priorities. First and foremost, it is necessary to meet essential basic needs arising out of the rising and shifting population; in other words, providing school places for children who would otherwise have no school to attend. Projects over£20,000 are allocated specifically by my Department. We all know that there are many old buildings which ought to be replaced, legacies from the 19th century, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, this school was built in the middle of the 19th century. Since the war, the House will recognise, there have been great movements of population and increases of population. New housing estates have arisen. Even new towns have been built; and as the homes have gone up so we have had to provide schools. Otherwise, there would have been many children without any school at all. So all Governments since the war have had to give priority to these new areas and provide schools for the new populations rather than the replacement of unsatisfactory schools. I wish it had been possible for all Governments to do more in the second direction as well as the first, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the priority has had to be to provide schools where there were no schools for children to attend. The right hon. Gentleman raised with me on one occasion the provision of hot water at the school, and it was provided about a year ago. But with regard to schemes of this kind every local authority gets a block allocation annually from which it is free to select its own projects that cost less than£20,000. So the right hon. Gentleman will see that a project of this kind, the provision of hot water in a school, is entirely one for the local authority to deal with out of its minor works programme. As I said, we have to provide for these new areas, and it is only after the overriding needs of the new areas and the areas with increased populations have been met that improvement projects can be considered. Unfortunately, there are a great many old schools throughout the country which are working under conditions which in their various ways are as had as, and a number even worse than, those at Strensall. Since we cannot do everything at once, priority in major building programmes has to be given to the most urgent cases. These include some where adverse conditions in old schools have also been aggravated by rapidly increasing numbers, and some where the children are also suffering from educational handicaps arising out of bad housing, overcrowded urban conditions and other forms of social deprivation. We thought it right to give some priority in the 1969–70 major building programme to the replacement of very bad old buildings in what are called educational priority areas; that is where the children suffer the double disadvantage of attending very poor schools and of coming from rather unsatisfactory housing conditions. I am afraid that Strensall does not qualify for special consideration under either of those headings. I am sure that no one who knows the area, least of all its inhabitants, could claim that children are labouring under additional handicaps of the sort encountered by children in some of the most socially deprived areas in our large cities and conurbations. Neither, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is there as yet evidence of substantially increasing pressure of numbers. The number of children on roll this January, 163, is only one more than the number on roll a year ago, and considerably less than the average number on roll for January in the previous four years. It is true that numbers are expected to rise slightly over the next few years, from small housing developments already approved, but no really significant increase is expected unless further housing developments take place. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is a lack of communication and knowledge. We are dependent on the local education authority for our information in these matters. I understand from the local education authority that these further housing developments are dependent upon the new sewer, which is again dependent upon the decisions on the ultimate size of the village, about which no firm conclusions have yet been formulated. On existing estimates of housing, the local authority has informed me that it thinks that the numbers will rise to about 190 in the summer term of 1971, and drop again to about 180 in the summer term of 1972. It is true that this school was first submitted by the North Riding local education authority for the 1968–69 programme and was resubmitted for the 1969–70 programme. I make no point about that because I know that every local authority has to have its own priorities within an area just as my Department has to look at the priorities of one local authority against those of another. In the bids that the North Riding County Council made for its 1968–69 programme and 1969–70 programme, this particular school was not high on the projects submitted to my Department. Although it recognises that this school was particularly bad the authority considered that further projects were more urgent. I make no point on that except to say that I am sure that within the authority's area there were some of these areas that I have described, where children had to have roofs over their heads because there just was no school at all. As the right hon. Gentleman says, the council has given a high priority to this school in the coming year's programme. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say that I would immediately say that we could put this school in the next year's programme. As he realises, my Department is now sifting through the various bids which have been made by local authorities throughout the country, and we shall be looking at every one, trying to sort out some priority as between one local education authority and another. I cannot go any further than that tonight, except to say that I have noted everything that he has said. The local authority has now given the school a higher priority and we shall be looking at it with all the other very urgent cases that we have to take into account.
Would the right hon. Lady consider coming from Leeds to Strensall to check on whether I am right or the local authority is right about the expansion?
I cannot promise to do that, much as I frequently enjoy going into the area. This is something that we should sort out with the local authority. This is my information and the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we have to take account of what the local authority tells us.In the meantime, the authority is doing what it can to ameliorate conditions at the school. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is providing a mobile classroom which will be sited, I understand, next to the dining room. I know that there has been some apprehension among the people in the village lest the provision of a mobile classroom should in any way militate against the provision of the new school at a later date. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that will not be so. I cannot at present give any indication of when we shall be able to approve the replacement of the Strensall school, because we have to look at all the projects, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are aware of the problems there and I shall be very pleased when we can agree to this project, which will be, as I said, when circumstances permit. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has brought the matter to our notice. I know he will understand that we have a great legacy from the past, and I should be only too happy if we could get rid not only of the Strensall school, but of all schools of this kind in the country.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Eleven o'clock.