[14th ALLOTTED DAY], considered.
Dock Work And Port Reorganisation
I beg to move,
This debate takes place against the background of the publication of the consultative document, the recent dock strike in London, the state of the economy and tomorrow's Budget. I have never been one of those who wished to minimise the problems of the Government. I have generally tried to give Labour Ministers the benefit of the doubt. But I must say that after recent days and weeks I am disposed to do so no longer. What is the Secretary of State for Employment doing at the Dispatch Box? Why is he here in view of his known attitude over the European Community? I presume, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's known views about his being overpaid, that he has now taken a voluntary reduction in his salary? After all, he said he was being paid too much. Presumably now that he is doing only half a job—That this House rejects the Consultative Document, Dock Work, and the further proposals for ports reorganisation.
Go and bake some biscuits.
—he has taken a reduction in pay accordingly. [Interruption.] I always used to admire the right hon. Gentleman's integrity, if not his politics. When he sat below the Gangway he would state his views clearly. That is no longer the case. I do not think that many of us ever thought he would prove to be much of a match for those tough negotiators in the unions but we expected the right hon. Gentleman to act with true parliamentary dignity and his usual honour. I regret to see him where he is today. I do not think he should be here.
Get on with it.
It is no good the Chief Whip telling me to get on with it. I will make my own speech in my own way. I believe very strongly indeed that there ought to be collective responsibility on the part of the whole Cabinet, and I do not any longer respect the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for Employment, for remaining a member of a Cabinet which is behaving in this manner. It is about time right hon. Gentlemen knew how much we on the Conservative benches and people in the country despise the attitude of the Cabinet. It thinks it can have its own view—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to start a debate in this way when what he is saying has nothing to do with the subject under discussion?
I deprecate personalities and personal allegations. However, the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the Secretary of State for Employment, who is to reply to the debate. I do not think I can rule him out of order.
Let us hear about the docks.
We will come to the docks. I want to tell right hon. Gentlemen that I do not see how—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot and would never seek to disagree with your ruling. May I give you notice, however, in view of what you have said, that I may want to denigrate and question the honesty and integrity of a former Leader of the Opposition and a former Minister and call into question some of their statements and actions? Will I be allowed the same opportunity as the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior)?
I deprecate personal attacks or reflections. As regards the hon. Member's question, I shall deal with that situation when it arises.
Perhaps I can deal with that point. I had not noticed that Government supporters were backward in criticising the Opposition. I do not see why Government back benchers should resent it when I say what I feel. It is a disgrace to the House of Commons that some Ministers support a policy which is not that of the Government while continuing to be members of the Government. I think that the honourable thing for them to do is to resign. I think that many hon. Members on both sides take that point of view.
That is my point. However, many Ministers of the Tory Government said that they were not in favour of the wage freeze. Yet they remained in the Government and caused the confrontation and the three-day working week. Therefore, to be fair, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft must take into account the actions of Tory Government Ministers who remained in the Government whilst they said they were not in favour of the three-day week.
I hope that in the interests of the debate we can now move off this point. There are to be eight Front Bench speakers in the course of today. I therefore hope that we can resume the subject of the docks.
There is a considerable difference between an hon. Member voting against the recognised wishes of his party and Prime Minister and saying afterwards that he may not agree with every facet of Government policy.Today we are discussing the threat of unemployment to dockers and inefficiency in our docks system. In the old days of casual employment the threat was the trade cycle. The system was humanised in the 1940s, and was ended eight or nine years ago when casual employment was abolished. Today the threat is the technology of containerisation. In 1972 that resulted in strikes in the docks followed by the Aldington-Jones recommendations, which boosted the recruitment of dockers in container depots and resulted in a generous redundancy pay scheme for a large number of dockers. Following that, there was a lull in strike activity and there was full employment in the docks. In 1975 the trade cycle again turned down. There was new recruitment in the docks in 1974. All the old problems are now once again on the boil. There are fears of loss of jobs and of unemployment, which run very deep in the docks. Those fears are easily whipped up by unscrupulous men. That is what happened on this occasion. If evidence was required, the statement made by the Prime Minister in Parliament on Thursday in answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) made that abundantly plain. The Prime Minister said:
He went on to say that he felt that nothing could be done because of the deep sensitivity in the docks at present. I felt that that was a total negation of Government responsibility. Let us examine one or two of the men who have been behind the recent troubles, such as Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Billy Powell, Mr. Eddie Prevost, Mr. Light and Mr. Turner. I understand that some of them are members of the Institute for Workers' Control, which aims to overthrow capitalism and achieve complete workers' control of all industry. I would have thought that they were not greatly interested in the workers. They are much more interested in the control which they might exercise thereafter. The International Socialists are also stirring this up. I know that some Government supporters will not like this. However, a group of dedicated International Socialists and Communists in the docks have acted in such a way in the recent strike that a large number of decent dockers will lose their jobs. I hope that the Government will inquire why Mr. Nicholson has been on the sick list for all these months. Has he been drawing supplementary benefit? Has he been examined by the regional medical officer of the Department of Health and Social Security? If not, why not? This man is able to play an active part in stirring up trouble in the docks, but is unable to do any decent work."It is true that for a time the militants got control dishonestly and deceptively and gave false tallies of the numbers who were voting."—[Official Report, 10th April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 1409.]
I know some of the individuals concerned. I think that it is very unfair to use the privileges of the House to make a statement which I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman would make outside. The employers of Brian Nicholson have never queried the position or been in any doubt. I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman casts those aspersions on persons who cannot defend themselves.
I have not found Mr. Nicholson unable to defend himself so far. The employers have said nothing. All employers in the docks know what happens if they say anything. If we cannot raise these issues in the House, where can we raise them? What have I said about these five characters which is so defamatory to their records? I have said that they are International Socialists and Communists. Is there anything wrong in saying that? That is what they are. Some people would be proud of that fact.On 1st January 1975, before the dispute began, there were 1,000 surplus dockers in London. Since that time, as a result of the dispute, 1,500,000 tons of cargo have been lost to the Port of London, probably for ever. That represents 15 per cent. of the total cargoes passing through the Port of London. It is likely to mean a further reduction of 15 per cent. in the number of dockers required. That is what Mr. Nicholson and what the Prime Minister calls "militants" have managed to do on behalf of the decent dockers of London. There is a great deal wrong with the efficiency of our docks. In London a 12-man gang moves 50 tons per shift. The equivalent gang in Antwerp moves 350 tons per shift. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which cargoes?"] I refer to equivalent cargoes in London and Antwerp.
The United Kingdom has the worst record for dock strikes in Western Europe. Rotterdam has experienced no major strike for 30 years. Antwerp has not had a strike since 1955, and that strike lasted for only a few days. It is calculated that if dockers worked normally for their full shift, productivity would increase by 25 per cent.
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I represent a dock workers' constituency.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.It is not as if the situation were a happy one. It is most unhappy. It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to expect that in the present economic situation the Government would come forward with some sensible modernising proposals—sensible, perhaps, until one considers the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to these matters. There is no mention in this disastrous document of what should be the prime and overriding objectives—a reduction in the cost of handling exports, efficiency and speed, freedom of importers and exporters to choose how and where goods are handled, and more competition instead of less.
I am sorry to interrupt; I know that the Chief Whip should not speak in a debate, but I am a Dockland Member of Parliament and I cannot take much more of the rubbish which we have just heard. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman got his figures about cargo handling and output. In the dock industry in the last few years the labour has been halved, and this has happened without any disputes. There has been a good deal of injustice. If the right hon. Gentleman wants examples of the most appalling behaviour by dock employers I can give those to him, but I will not do so now because it would not help. Much of the output of our dock workers compares more than favourably with that in other ports. If the right hon. Gentleman wants proof of that, he should ask the ship owners.
The right hon. Gentleman, of course, is right to defend his constituents but he ought to have more knowledge than he has of what is happening in the London docks. If he wishes to know where my figures come from, I can pass to him a copy of Accountancy, which produced those figures some while ago, figures which no other publication has made any effort to refute. It is time that we came out with the facts for a change and faced up to the problems.What do the Government intend to do? They have taken the most extreme demands of the Transport and General Workers' Union and have proceeded to put them into this document. They have taken the views of one small section of the Transport and General Workers' Union as against the rest of that union. Proceeding by new legislation, they will seek to avoid the need for a public inquiry during which all the points which have been mentioned could come out into the open. That opportunity is denied by having new legislation instead of proceeding under the old Act. The interests concerned will be denied the opportunity of submitting their views to an independent tribunal. If those views could be submitted to an independent tribunal, we might get much nearer to the facts than has so far been possible in this House. The dockers are trying to claw back or obtain jobs which are now being done by other workers who are members of their own union. How unfair can one get? Let me read the dockers' viewpoint as expressed in the Port newspaper of 9th April:
"these places" referring to work which is not at the moment carried out by official dock labour. Let us have no more mealy-mouthed talk about it. The dockers are after the jobs of their fellow workers. Where this did happen under Aldington-Jones and registered dock labour was put into, for example, a container company, Chobham Farm, this is the view of the employers as expressed in a recent report issued by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, in paragraph 79:"Some method must be found to put registered men into these places and to phase out the men currently employed there"—
It is grossly unfair, to put it at its lowest, that the thousands of people who at the moment are in work in places just outside the dock area and work in perfect harmony with their employers should now be pushed out of their jobs so that dockers can have them. If there is a problem about the employment of "cowboys" in the loading of containers, why could it not be dealt with under a licence, which was one of the recommendations put forward some while ago by the port employers, so that it could be done if there was a desire to do so? The truth is that there are no extra jobs available. All that would happen would be that jobs which at the moment are carried out by people who are not dockers would be handed over to dockers, and I do not believe that we should permit such a state of affairs. More jobs would be lost. If the right hon. Gentleman had consulted the profession of commodity markets he would have learned why merchants avoid storing goods in premises staffed by dock labourers at the scheme ports. They do so because of the fear of strikes, higher costs, lower productivity and general inefficiency. I am in a position to speak with authority and knowledge because, as a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I know something about the food distribution problems of Britain. I am aware that our efficient food distribution network is due to the fact that depots and warehouses are outside the control of the docks. I now turn to the subject of the non-scheme ports, where there has been great development in recent years. One reason for this is the bad labour at the dock labour scheme ports. They now carry one fifth of the traffic, and in the live years from 1966–71 they increased the tonnage from 45 million to 70 million. The main objection to the non-scheme ports was that in a few cases there were the remnants of casual labour. The National Ports Council's survey, which looked into all this, came to the conclusion that of the people employed in the non-scheme ports 357 were employed casually and 2,553 were regular employees. We are dealing with a situation where the Government wish to bring the non-scheme ports into the dock labour scheme because 357 out of 35,000 dockers have been treated as casual employees. In other words, if ever there was a case of taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut, this is it. The only trouble is that when one has cracked this nut, one cracks a hell of a lot else with it. This will only make industrial relations worse. The non-scheme ports would suffer all the worst problems of the scheme ports. If one wants evidence of that, why do not hon. Members opposite take the trouble to ask the dockers of Felixstowe or Shoreham whether they wish to join the dock labour scheme? They do not wish to have anything to do with it at all. Why do we have all this talk from hon. Members opposite about participation? Have they asked the dockers of Felixstowe or Shoreham or other non-scheme ports whether they wish to join the scheme?"… the company had subsequently agreed to employ registered men for cargo and container handling whilst still retaining its current work force. Those of the original work force who had remained had lost the jobs they had been engaged on since these jobs were now designated as dock work. All attempts by the original work force to register as dock workers had failed—they could not register through the trade union, since the TGWU had a policy of nominating only the sons of registered dock workers, and the employer could not nominate them since he was not a member of the relevant employers' association. Many of the original employees were now still engaged on menial tasks."
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the National Docks Conference in 1972 the unregistered ports representatives agreed to the registration of their ports and of their jobs.
We have heard all that before. What we on this side mean by participation is people joining in and saying what they want to do, not just a few people who, by one tactic or another, have got into a position where they can say what they want to do. If the hon. Gentleman goes to Felixtowe—I hope he has been there as he talks with so much authority—and asks the dockers there what they wish to do, he will get a very clear answer. The answer is that they do not wish to join the scheme. They are happy with their conditions of work and pay. In fact, some are amongst the highest paid dockers in the British Isles today. Therefore, there is no reason why they should be taken over and brought within the dock labour scheme.In the old days the Labour Party used to say that organisations had to be nationalised or taken over by the Government because they were failing the nation. Now the situation seems to be the other way round. These are the only ports which are helping the nation. It is the nationalised ports which are failing the nation. However, rather than do the right thing, the Labour Party insists that they must be taken over. This is a hopeless proceeding for the future of this country. What about the future? I hope the Secretary of State will allow more time for proper consultation with all the interested parties than he has shown any indication of allowing so far. When some of those who will be affected have written to the Department, they have been told to submit their written evidence, if possible, within four weeks. The right hon. Gentleman knows that by this document and the legislation he will be taking away the right of objectors to put their cases to proper tribunals. Therefore, he has an even greater responsibility to see that there is ample time for consultation, to see these people himself and not to fob them off with some Under-Secretary in his Department. The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to see these people and to hear their objections. I hope that he will give us an unqualified statement this afternoon that he will be prepared to see the people who wish to put views to him. The Secretary of State knows perfectly well—he must have been told by his officials, not by other interests because he has not bothered to consult them at all —that the extension of the dock labour scheme is not the answer. In fact, the scheme makes matters worse rather than better. Indeed, the scheme needs to be made more flexible, not extended, for London. Surely the right hon. Gentleman recognises that the right answer to help the dockers who are bound to be made redundant is to concentrate on providing and making new jobs, not trying to take jobs away from those who already have them. If the Secretary of State comes to this House with a scheme for re-employment or for spending cash to provide new jobs in the docks, we will wholeheartedly support him. We will also wholeheartedly support him if he brings forward a redundancy scheme to thin the industry down to the right size. We cannot turn back the clock. We must go forward and provide new jobs rather than try the whole time to take away jobs from some people to give to others. That is no answer to the problems facing Britain. It is not right for us to feel that we are barred from discussing and stating plainly and bluntly the problems in the docks. Right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite delude themselves if they think that there is no problem here. Much of the problem is caused by the militancy of a few acting against the interests of the many. I believe that we shall have done a duty to this country and to this House by stating these facts as plainly as possible. I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends, when the time comes, to reject this disastrous document.
At one point in the proceedings you, Mr. Speaker, complained that the House would have to endure four speeches from the Front Benches today. I can understand the feelings of any of those—
Order. I do not wish to interrupt, but I said eight. It is eight.
Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, we shall have to endure only four. We will watch carefully to see whether you endure the whole of the eight speeches. However, I grant that it is a difficulty for the House.The motion contains two parts. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has not referred to the second part of it. I am not complaining on that score. That will no doubt be dealt with by another of his hon. Friends and will be answered by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport when he replies to the debate. However, I must start by underlining the fact—I hope to underline it much more severely at the end of my remarks—that this is a most curious motion with extremely serious implications. I should like to spell out to the House at the end of my remarks what I think will be the consequences if the House is unwise enough to adopt the motion. First, I will do my best to reply to several of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. For example, he mentioned, as have others in these controversies, that what should be at stake—I am not denying the importance of the matter—is the efficiency of the transport system generally of this country. The right hon. Gentleman tried to claim, as have others, that the evidence shows that the non-scheme ports have shown themselves to be more efficient than the scheme ports and that that is proved by the general increase in traffic that has taken place over recent years. If the test of efficiency is to be applied in that way, the facts do not prove it because they are neutral on the subject. The scheme ports and the non-scheme ports increased their traffic between 1969 and 1973. Some of the non-scheme ports have increased their traffic dramatically: Felixstowe 88 per cent., Harwich 43 per cent., Mostyn 76 per cent., Portsmouth 46 per cent., and Shoreham 38 per cent. Those are quite considerable increases. But the scheme ports have also increased their traffic: Immingham 80 per cent., Great Yarmouth 66 per cent., Fleetwood 361 per cent., Sharpness 60 per cent., Southampton 118 per cent., Lowestoft, even with the sour and melancholy presence of the right hon. Gentleman to discourage it, 60 per cent. The 60 per cent. at Lowestoft compares roughly with the average at the other ports. The figures show that 30 scheme ports have gained traffic and 17 scheme ports have lost traffic and that 27 non-scheme ports have gained traffic and 13 non-scheme ports have lost traffic in that period. The figures are roughly the same. I am not sure what the goal average on those figures is, but only the goal average between them would test the matter. Therefore, the figures do not bear out what the right hon. Gentleman said. I suggest that people should be a little more careful than the right hon. Gentleman has been in using these figures.
The right hon. Gentleman is right in what he said about percentages. May I give him a fact and ask for his comment? In the non-scheme ports the average time taken to clear goods varies from five to six days. In the scheme ports the average time varies from 13 to 20 days. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on that comparison?
I should like to see, first, how the comparisons are made and, secondly, where the figures are tested. What I was doing—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not blame me for this —was to take the precise test selected by his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft of the growth of traffic. I was making a comparison in general terms, which I think is a better comparison. I do not claim to be a statistician, but I should have thought that it was a broader and more apt comparison than that made by the hon. Gentleman.The complaint made against me by the right hon. Gentleman is peculiar. What Tory Members are saying is that the Government's crime is that we are proposing to take action. I fully agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the seriousness of the recent strike in the London docks. It was a most serious and regrettable strike and, I believe, a most unjustified strike. We have to see how we are to avoid such perils in the future. I therefore claim that what the Government have done and, despite all the attacks which have been made upon myself, what I have sought to do is to see haw we can take action to deal with these problems. It is not just a matter of having more inquiries. The right hon. Gentleman talked about having fresh inquiries. The dockers have said to me clearly "We have had 17 or 18"—whatever the figure is—"inquiries. What has happened about them?" I remind the House of one very important inquiry which was held. It was not conducted by some International Socialist or member of the Communist Party. It was the inquiry into the London docks in 1960 and 1970 by Mr. Peter Bristow, an eminent Queen's Counsellor. He produced a report which made many suggestions for dealing with the problem, suggestions not so different from those we have incorporated into our own document. He called for a new definition of "dock work". He made proposals somewhat along the lines contained in our document, although we have elaborated them further. That was way back in 1969 and 1970. Many dockers have put it to me that they believed that the Bristow Report, which came after so many other reports by Lord Devlin and other eminent people, should have been carried into effect. The Bristow Report was presented to the previous Labour Government, who went out of office within a few weeks of its presentation. Thereafter nothing whatever was done about the report.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) was in power.
The right hon. Gentleman had not by then arrived at that eminent office, but there were several others. The right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) was there for three and a half years. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was at the Ministry of Transport. The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who is now Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was there for a few months. There was also the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan). Nothing was done to deal with the dock situation in any radical way.Nothing was done to deal with the dock labour scheme. The right hon. Gentleman asserted today that the dock labour scheme is an appalling disaster. Tory right hon. and hon. Members had three and a half years in which to think about the matter and act. Today the right hon. Gentleman did not have a single good word to say for the dock labour scheme. Indeed, he denounced it in every sentence he uttered. Such behaviour is not the best way of going about changing the dock situation. Right hon. and hon. Members who are not so familiar with these matters, like myself, should he more reticent when speaking on these questions. If the dock labour scheme was such a disastrous affair as the right hon. Gentleman asserted, why did not the Tories do something about it in their three and a half years in office? They did not propose to do anything. Now they denounce us because we propose to do something about the 20 per cent. of docks which are out of the scheme. If it is such a disastrous scheme, why would they propose to leave 80 per cent. in the scheme? After all, for decades to come that 80 per cent. of docks will probably deal with the mass of traffic coming into and going out of this country. As I say, for three and a half years the Tories were in a position to take action but took none. It was not for lack of anybody making suggestions. Mr. Peter Bristow's Report following his inquiry in 1960–70 was there when the Tories came into office in 1970. That proposed action. Then the National Ports Council recommended action and an elaboration of the scheme. Then the Tories had recommendations for action following the Aldington-Jones investigations. I know that some action was taken about severance pay and other such matters, but as regards extending the scheme, which is what we are doing, and seeing how it should be carried into other fields, nothing was done in the whole of that period. Now when we come forward with proposals for action—this is a great crime, in this Government, of course—the Tories hold up their hands in horror and say "No, let us have some more inquiries."
What I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman was that at least he should allow those who have objections to an extension of the dock labour scheme the rights they have always had in the past to present their case. This will not happen under his proposals.
If the right hon. Gentleman will preserve his patience for a few minutes, I shall try to explain to him what will happen. I listened to him carefully.I said, first, that the Tories had three and a half years in which to take action. Although they claim that the dock labour scheme is disastrous, they did not do anything about it. They can be condemned on that score. On the other hand, if the dock labour scheme is working successfully, why do the Tories make these comparisons? If the scheme is successful, what is the debate all about? If the Tories will admit that the scheme is going well, as many dockers think—not perfectly, of course—we shall have made some advance in this debate. I will deal now with the question put to me about inquiries. It is true that under the 1946 Act, and as the dock labour scheme is operated under it, there can be individual inquiries if there is to be an extension of the scheme. That is the procedure in the Act. When we sought to take action originally, because that is what we wanted to do and what we felt was required by the situation in the docks—action, not another inquiry —we considered whether the problem could he dealt with speedily by inquiries under the 1946 Act. The more we considered the matter the more we came to the view that, so far from that process being speedy and effective, it would hold up the possibility of action, which is what we are all concerned about, for many years, and it would also hold up the possibility of tackling the problem of the definition of "dock work", which must be tackled at the same time. It was no good dealing with one half of the problem and leaving out the question of the definition of "dock work". We had to combine the two. I do not think that the House should object to what we proposed. I am a strong believer in the supremacy of the House of Commons. We said that the matter must be decided in the House. That does not mean that the parties concerned will not be able to make representations. Of course they will. We have already sent out 10,000 copies of our proposals to some 400 bodies throughout the country. They will be able to make their representations to the Dock Labour Board, to the Secretary of State —myself—both before the operation and afterwards, but, most important of all—this is where I believe the supreme importance of the House of Commons resides—during the legislative process. When the Bill is going through the House every interested party will be able to see that the case it has submitted will be deployed. I cannot see that anybody can object to that, unless the objective is to do away with the dock labour scheme itself. I greatly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will repudiate any such suggestion, because that could have dangerous consequences and would fly in the face of the recommendations of every important inquiry that has taken place into the docks. The right hon. Gentleman's speech did not seem to take account of what was reported by those who made the investigations. He seemed to argue that all we had done is to take the views of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Of course we respect the views of that union. Why should we not? It is the union which has had the longest and strongest experience in dealing with this whole matter. However, our views are not based on that alone. They are based upon experience, history and report after report on this subject. I could cite many examples, but I mention what was said by Lord Devlin in his report of 1955. It is still valid. At page 18, paragraph 33—I shall not read the whole paragraph, although to do so would not diminish its significance—it says:
and that is how the right hon. Member for Lowestoft sometimes spoke—"The fact is that, if the Scheme expired"—
That is not Mr. Brian Nicholson talking, it is Lord Devlin."the first and most urgent task for all concerned would be to devise another one with all the essential features of the original."
Everyone knows how eager Labour Members are to support moderate men, but it is no use threatening to destroy common property. Threats of this sort act as an irritant and disturb the minds of moderate men without deterring the extreme. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is disturbing the minds of moderate men because he and the Conservative Party suggest that we should not proceed with our plans to extend the dock labour scheme. We have sought to find a way of dealing with the problems of dockland by methods of peace and persuasion. It will not be easy. No one can be foolish enough to think that it will, after all the recent experience we have had, including the last dock strike. Under the provisions of the scheme there has been a reduction in the number of dock workers employed. [Interrupt.] My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), says that there has been a reduction of 50 per cent. The figures are quite startling. The number of dockers has been reduced to some 30,000 compared with 70,000 or 80,000 some years ago. It would be utterly scandalous for such a reduction to be carried through under the general arrangements of the scheme and then, when the scheme was brought to this House, for anyone to say "Now we will discard it". Dockers would justly regard that as an outrage. The Government had to make up their mind. They had to act on the basis of whether to extend and fortify the scheme or whether to discard it."The Scheme must now be regarded as part of the structure of the industry. It is no use threatening to destroy common property; threats of this sort act as an irritant and disturb the minds of moderate men without deterring the extreme."
The right hon. Gentleman may say that he is not proposing any alterations in the operation of the scheme but that it is the extension of the scheme he does not like.
It seems that the Minister prepared his speech before he heard mine, because so far he has not addressed himself to anything I have said. He has spent the whole time talking about our proposal to get rid of the dock labour scheme, although I never even mentioned it.
The right hon. Gentleman has not followed the argument. If any hon. Members imagine that I came to the House with a prepared speech and did not listen to the right hon. Gentleman, they could not have listened to his speech or mine.First, I applied myself to the right hon. Gentleman's claim about the comparison between the scheme and the non-scheme ports. I then applied my mind to what he said about inquiries. I now apply my mind to the implications of his motion. The dock labour scheme cannot stay still. Every docker I have spoken to in recent months agrees with this. Many employers wish us to go back on the scheme. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that that is not the case, because it has been advocated in many quarters. Some people say that we have reached the stage where we could abandon the statutory protections of the scheme and return to some other form of collective bargaining. Quite a number of people advocate that, even if the right hon. Gentleman does not. A vast majority of dockers agree that if we are to keep the scheme and make it work effectively we must extend it and ensure that we shall not be undercut by unfair competition from other ports. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition.
I hope the hon. Gentleman's processes of lucubration have gone far enough for him to interrupt with a momentous interruption.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the action he proposes to take. Under that action, if there is a strike it will be "one out, all out" There will be no competition within the docks. Furthermore, at present there are competitive docks which, without any action by the Minister, have better strike and better productivity records. Why does the right hon. Gentle- man wish to change that? Some people think that if the Government were to take no action it would be better.
I have already dealt with some of the questions which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I have dealt with the comparison between the scheme and the non-scheme ports. There is no suggestion under the dock labour scheme that if there is a strike in one port, there is bound to be one in another port. The last strike was an illustration of that. The hon. Gentleman does not have accurate facts.I turn to the central question on the motion. It is not a question of the Government wishing the House to support their proposals. We ask everyone in the country to study them carefully. They are proposals for action. We want that action to take place as speedily as possible. We know, better than some dockers, that the legislative process takes some time in this House. The dockers are even more impatient than I am to see this legislation on the statute book. It can make a great contribution to industrial peace in the docks. I do not say, and no one could possibly claim, that it will do away with all the difficulties. It will not. I am not claiming that peace will be ensured for ever once this consultative document is translated into legislative form. This document provides the means whereby the extension of the scheme and the changes necessary in dockland to bring the docks into conformity with modern technological and industrial conditions can take place. Those changes can take place peacefully by people appealing to a proper system of procedure and by dockers looking to the House of Commons to provide them with some redress. It is no good saying that dockers do not follow these matters carefully. They do. Some of the most serious strikes in the London docks since 1945 have been over the detailed wording of a clause in some new provision. Therefore, they are studied extremely carefully. We believe that this document provides a method of making the change in a peaceable and sensible manner. I hope that everyone will study it carefully and make their representations, and we shall proceed to produce a Bill as speedily as possible and present it to the House in order that it can become the law of the land. I should have thought that the Opposition would at least have reserved their fire until we came to the legislation itself. I say this most seriously. If the motion were to be carried—Heaven forbid!—it would cause a disaster in dockland. I said at the beginning of my speech that I thought that the strike which took place recently in the London docks was unjustified. But if the motion were to be carried, it would almost make that strike retrospectively justified. [Interruption.] Yes, that is what hon. Gentlemen are saying. [Interruption.] It has nothing to do with blackmail. If the House of Commons says—and this is what the motion asks—that we reject this scheme for strengthening and extending the dock labour scheme, if the House says "No" and puts up a bar to that, it is an encouragement to the dockers to do something different. I am in favour of the doctrine of the dockers looking to the House of Commons for redress. But it is right hon. Gentlemen opposite who, in their slipshod motion, are interfering with that. A vote for this motion put down by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends—they should have been more careful—is a vote for disruption, chaos and despair in the docks. If the news went out from the House of Commons that at the first opportunity we had slapped down the proposals for dealing with the problem, we would indeed have played into the hands of the very elements to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. At the beginning of his remarks the right hon. Gentleman made some references to me. He is perfectly entitled to do so. I am not complaining on that score. However, recently the right hon. Gentleman was making some comments in another sphere.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am concluding my remarks. I dare say that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to intervene in the debate.However, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft intervened in another sphere. I gather that he appeared on 11th January 1975 on the radio programme "Desert Island Discs". He was asked the question:
His answer was:"What are your feelings about, in due course, leading the party?"
There is something in that."Well, I was Mr. Heath's Parliamentary Private Secretary for the whole time that he was Leader of the Opposition and I think that being Leader of the Opposition is the most difficult job in British politics."
All I can say is that if the right hon. Gentleman is entering the competition in a few years' time, let him learn from the motion today. If ever a fatuous motion was tabled by an Opposition on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, this one could take the prize. Here is a motion designed to say to dockers up and down the country that this document, which at last promises some action, is to be repudiated by the House of Commons. If the House did that it would be taking a step which would have consequences of the utmost seriousness for the docks of this country."It's much easier to be Prime Minister than to be Leader of the Opposition. I think that having been with him has taught me that it is a job, perhaps, that I could do if I were asked to do it in a few years' time."
I should perhaps begin by declaring an interest, which is well known to the House, in that I am associated with a major British shipping company which quite obviously has an interest in the docks and dock work. But in this context I think I can do no better than to read a general declaration of the interests of British shipowners, who have been mentioned in the debate, which I take from the annual report of the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom. It reads as follows:
This section concludes:"The importance to the United Kingdom economy of an efficient port system cannot be overstressed. We as a country live by our exports and imports. Port delays and interruptions, excessive costs arising from restrictive labour practices, or inefficiency on the part of port management, all undermine the efficiency and economy of shipping services—so dependent upon quick ship turn-round—and this becomes even more vital as ships become more sophisticated and expensive. Shipowners, by reason of their experience of ports worldwide, are in a unique position to appreciate this and to assess comparative performance in this country."
That is a specific and, indeed, a general declaration of interest. I make this further point. Every one of my constituents and every constituent of every hon. Member has a real and specific interest in this matter today. Perhaps I may for a moment divert the attention of the House to the origin of this dispute by taking the House back to the year 1957, when the technological device which gave rise to this dispute was first created or produced at Port Newark, an auxiliary port of New York, by a man by the name of C. S. McLean, who invented this device. He was what is known in the United States as a trucker. In the United Kingdom he would be known as a lorry operator. He found that his lorries were being delayed for 10, 15, 24, 48 or 68 hours in Port Newark. The idea occurred to him that it was technologically unnecessary for large lorries to be driven either to warehouses or to the dockside and, piece by piece, physically unloaded or, piece by piece, physically loaded into ships. He thought "Why not lift the back of a lorry straight off and put it straight into a specially designed ship?" That was the beginning of containerisation. Mr. McLean said "Let me take a considerable sum of my personal money in doing this. "All of his friends said "You are a fool. You will lose your shirt." He said "No, I shall not." He bought five surplus wartime ships—C3s—and adapted them for the carriage of containers. He adapted a considerable number of his lorries for containers. He started the first major ocean-going container service in the world. I was fortunate in visiting Port Newark in 1958. I saw this service, and one which followed shortly on its heels, between San Francisco and Hawaii before I returned to the United Kingdom. At that time the capacity in which I spoke was as chairman of the United Kingdom Committee of the International Cargo Handling Association. I warned everyone—because this was a public organisation—that this device would reach the United Kingdom and extend itself gener- ally throughout all our deep-sea and coastal shipping. I made this point impartially. However, I was regarded as being very far-fetched and illusionary. It was said that this was something peculiar to the United States and that it would not spread. But it has spread. However, one other piece of information that I returned with is particularly relevant to the argument today. I was told by the employers on both the east and west coasts of the United States that there was one most important consideration in the successful operation of container shipping as it then was. They said "For Heaven's sake keep the loading and unloading of containers outside the docks." That was their specific and unequivocal advice. The reason was simple, namely, that the productivity which they were achieving outside the docks was about two and a half to three times that which was achieved inside the docks."Shipowners do not view the extension of public ownership of itself as providing any magic key to the comparative efficiency which is essential to the national economy."
The wages were about the same, and there is no reason why that should not be so. However, the real point is that this is a new technological device, developed to meet a specific need —the tremendous growth of world trade —up against a conservatively-minded mechanism at world-wide ports. In a space of time far shorter than I and many other people anticipated, it has become the major technological method of handling high-value bulk cargo.In presenting this document to us with a good deal of enthusiasm, the Secretary of State made some remarkable statements. He said that we should be doing something about this document. If one is making general comments on the basis of the record of this Government over the past year or so, about doing something or not doing something, in this sphere or in any other, I know what my choice would be. The Government are not doing something. The Secretary of State asked us to compensate by action. How can we compensate by any legislation in this House for what, essentially, is docker inaction or obstruction? The Secretary of State said that nothing was done by the Conservative Government. Does he know why nothing was done by us? This is one of the most dangerous centres of irresponsible power in the kingdom. The Secretary of State knows it, and he himself is most reluctant to confront and to handle this centre of irresponsible power. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had no intention of extending the scheme. That is a fair criticism. Of course, I was not privy to Cabinet decisions on this matter, but I know that there were grave reservations throughout the shipping and docks industries about the implications of the dock labour scheme as it operated in 1971 and 1972. What is it about dock work that it must be uniquely defined? Why do we not have to define the work of a compositor, and pass legislation so that the interests of compositors may be safeguarded? Why do we not legislate to define the rôle and work of a nurse, so that nurses may be safeguarded by legislation in this House? This case is not made at all. This is a uniquely dangerous sector of irresponsible power. That is why the House has found it necessary, down the years, to deal with it by legislation. The Secretary of State went on almost to ring the roof—which would not be unusual for him—when he said that we were afraid to disturb the minds of moderate men. Who is talking? The Secretary of State for Employment in a Government who, in the past year, have done more to disturb the minds of more moderate men than have almost any other Government in our history. If five dozen immoderate dockers—which is the ratio that we are discussing—are to command the attention of the legislative machinery of this House, as opposed to 5 million moderate men who are not dockers, what sort of balance are we considering? The problem is essentially a fundamental and simple one. There is an unavoidable clash in this sphere, as in any other, between progress and security. Progress demands the adoption and widespread implementation of a new technology. Security demands that the process of achieving that change should not be too damaging to the men involved in the old technology. This is widely recognised. But these problems are not solved by legislation. Legislation can only restrain and impede the pace of change. It may be necessary that it should impede the pace of change, or reduce it. The damage done by change to important and significant groups in society may be considerable. But when the point is reached at which the legislative machine is used to such effect that change is seriously and severely diminished, the price that we pay for security greatly outweighs the advantages that we take from progress. If nothing else, surely we have learned that both objectives must be approached simultaneously. Neither one nor the other, if it is allowed to dominate 100 per cent., is likely to be effective, because it will be self-destructive. We cannot say that security shall be the 100 per cent. paramount consideration for any one working group. That security can be achieved only at the price of slowing down the pace of change throughout the rest of the community, and the rest of the community pays. Equally, there is no point in saying that a given type of technology should be the overriding consideration in determining our policy. The effect of that would be to produce such obstruction and reaction that no change would be possible. The twin horses must be ridden together. Only then can we make progress. The Secretary of State knows in his heart that we shall not make progress in this area by following this extraordinarily destructive document.
This is a short debate. Several hon. Members wish to speak. Therefore, being a selfless man, I shall make only few brief remarks rather than deliver the speech which I had prepared. However, I want to make one or two points in reply to some of the statements which we have heard so far from Opposition Members. I want also to make some exhortation to my right hon. and hon. Friends.We have heard talk today, especially from the right hon. Members for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), of Communists and International Socialists and a very small gang of people persuading thousands of dockers to go on strike. In other words, they rigged the ballot. The chief reason why I intervene in this debate is that I represent Tilbury, which is the largest and most important container dock in the United Kingdom. In addition, it has more than 20 other sheds where conventional docking can take place. Unfortunately, most of them are not being used at the moment. No one quite knows why, but many people make guesses. Somewhat belatedly, the workers at Tilbury were involved in the recent strike in London. It is suggested that the voting was rigged. I think that there were about half a dozen meetings, though I was not present at them. But I can say on good authority—of men whom I know and whom I can trust—that at most of those meetings the majority voted to stay out. I underline the word "majority". The majority of men who voted to strike unfortunately were not a majority of those entitled to vote. At the end, when something more like the majority of dockers attended a meeting, they voted to return to work. In Tilbury, they returned at once. Some went back to work that very day. So I hope that we shall not hear any more about votes being rigged. It has been said—I have said it myself —that the dockers should have been satisfied with the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Employment about a five-mile corridor where they could work and not the road hauliers. Some people have taken the dockers' refusal to accept that as meaning that they had no confidence in my right hon. Friend. This is not true. My right hon. Friend recently visited Tilbury and there met the employers, trade union officials and shop stewards, and he knows very well that they were as impressed by him as he was by them. What makes the dockers suspicious is that they are tired of being given assurances. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft talked about independent tribunals, but over the past 20 years there have been nearly as many inquiries. Most recently, we have had the Aldington-Jones Report, the Report by Professor Hunter and the Bristow Report, as well as the report of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. They have all been expertly and expensively done, but, although all of them were almost totally in favour of the dockers, that was the end of it and nothing else happened. The dockers now want an assurance written into the law. Other people do not need such an assurance. There is no need to assure a nurse that a navvy will not do her job, for she already knows that very well.
It is a fact that the size of the work force in agriculture, coal mining and the railways has declined percentage-wise over some time by more than has been the case in the docks.
That may or may not be. The hon. Gentleman must excuse me if I cannot see the relevance of that.
Why single out a tiny minority when it is only symptomatic of a much larger and more general situation in which no other particular protection has been sought?
I am singling out the dockers because other people are taking the jobs that they think should be theirs. That does not apply in other industries.
Over a decade 50 per cent. of the names of commodities in international trade are totally new because they are made by totally new processes and totally new occupations.
Once again, I do not see the relevance of that remark. These men are saying that containers should not be handled by other people who are brought in from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Middlesbrough or somewhere else just to do that job in London or Tilbury. That is what they ask, and they are not asking too much. That is what the row is about, and that is what the strike was about. Like my right hon. Friend, I think that the strike was unfortunate, but I understood it and I understand the suspicions of the dockers, as will anyone who knows the dockers.That is why I urge the Government to implement this legislation as soon as possible. The dockers will not be content with an assurance for much longer. The last time I raised the subject in the House, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport told me that I was too impatient, that the legislation needed great preparation, that the drafting was complicated, and so on. I hope that he remembers that I reminded him that there was no difficulty, because several years ago a Ports Bill passed all its stages in the House of Commons and would have become law within a few weeks had there not been a General Election. All we are asking is that that law should be extended and should include the unregistered ports and a firm definition of what a dock worker's work is, as my right hon. Friend has said. If those things are done, I feel sure that there will be peace in the docks for years to come. There is an idea of mine that will not please everyone and may displease some dockers in London and not every docker in Tilbury, but it is worth considering. It is that Tilbury should be separated from the Port of London and become an independent port. When we come to the great debate, in which I hope to take part, I shall give my reasons for saying that. I repeat that if the Government hurry this legislation and include those matters that my right hon. Friend has mentioned —the unregistered ports and the definition of a dock worker's work—there will be a long era of tranquillity in the docks, and that is important for the whole nation.
The Secretary of State has restated the intention of the Government to ensure that the coverage of statutory control of the employment of dock workers should be appropriate to modern conditions. That is something that I personally would not dispute—indeed, it is something that my hon. Friends would not dispute—except perhaps to say that some sections of the dock workers have shown considerable reluctance to reveal an equally appropriate awareness of the need to change their attitudes to meet modern conditions and the way in which these affect the industry. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that many of the difficulties with which he has to deal stem from this substantial, if minority, point of view among dock workers.The consultative document rightly reviews the benefits that dock workers have received from the employment scheme over the years. Although accepting the need to keep these matters up to date, it seems to me that a review of dock employment should include some assessment of the reasons why some work previously regarded as traditional dock work has gone to other areas outside the main ports and why some ports outside the dock labour scheme have expanded at the expense of ports within the scheme. If the Secretary of State considers that new types of employment have deliberately avoided dock areas, he should be able to state clearly and from independent sources why that has happened. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have criticised the large number of reports that have been presented on this subject, and I do not dispute their criticism, but the kind of report to which I am referring would not be protective of the type of work but would analyse and criticise the ports and the method of work within ports within the scheme and ports not included in the scheme. There is nothing to be gained, at least in the longer term, by continually talking of the rights of dockers, on the one hand, without, on the other, stating their duties and responsibilities, particularly in the light of the work that our larger ports have lost to European ports. The Secretary of State might find that an ounce of frankness today would save him a ton of trouble and disappointment in future and that it would be better if he took a more imaginative line on this subject rather than constantly putting on a pair of protective spectacles when looking at every labour problem in the ports. Ministers should look at the situation objectively before yet again seeking a remedy in legislation, in compulsion, in restrictions and in reducing the choice and freedom of movement of management and workers in an essential industry. The Government should say why, in 1975, it is necessary to force employers into this scheme, and why it is necessary to force members of one union to make way for members of another union or for a different section of the same union. The only likely result of the Government giving preference to one trade unionist over another must be to set a match to an already explosive situation in inter-union relations. Certainly it will do nothing to improve industrial relations or the essential freedom of other trade unions to negotiate employment for their members. If warehousing and container companies prefer to operate outside the dock areas, they and their employees must have good reasons for doing so. These companies enjoy good industrial relations with their employees, many of whom are former dock workers who have moved voluntarily, without compulsion on either side, into this new employment. The Government should be aware of their responsibilities towards companies engaged in warehousing, cold storage and container work, many of which play an important part in the preparation and distribution of food supplies at competitive prices to consumers. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has dared to calculate the inflationary impact of his proposals. I should like to comment on the consultative document because I believe it could provide the basis for a further storm of inter-union dispute. What I say may help to answer some of the points which obviously the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has difficulty in understanding. If it is conceded, as the consultative document recommends, that a specific section of a union has a prior right to replace trade unionists who are happily employed elsewhere in a different, if related, type of employment, why should this principle be confined only to dock workers? Should not the National Union of Mineworkers have a similar claim to the work of drilling for oil in the North Sea? Should not redundant car workers have a statutory right to replace traffic wardens—at the same wage rates as those car workers enjoyed in the car manufacturing industry? This is the sort of dangerous nonsense which the Government are indulging in with the complacency of yet another "peace in our time" approach to industrial relations. I am sorry to say to the Secretary of State that yet again this policy is bound to fail. It will not bring peace in our time, or even in the near future, in solving problems in the docks—because a protective policy will not work compared with a fair policy involving competition.
The House will welcome this opportunity to debate the docks if only for the purpose of remedying some of the distortions and misleading statements made by Opposition Members.Central to those Opposition arguments has been the challenge whether the consultative document is necessary, or even desirable. The Conservative contributors to this debate have spoken of the long history of troubles in dockland, but, unfortunately, they have not given the reasons for those troubles. It is for the precise reason that the Labour Government wish to alleviate the situation that they have outlined action in the consultative document. From the time of decasualisation the docks industry has gone through many dramatic changes. Conservatives well know that during the period of casualisation the conditions and wages in the dock industry were among the worst in British industry. The hiring system that obtained in the docks industry was similar to conditions in a cattle market. Such a system had the effect of squeezing several hundred men into a pen where they were driven to holding up their books to the hirer to show him that they wanted work. If there was no work, home they would go. Dock workers rightly organised themselves in trade unions to fight those conditions. Ultimately it was a Labour Government who ended the casual nature of the industry's work. That was the beginning of a new era in dockland. Since those days a number of events have occurred which have caused some concern to dock workers—and I emphasise that they are matters of real concern to those who work in the industry. Opposition back benchers did not mention the fact that most of the work previously was performed on the site of the dock. Since much of that work has now moved elsewhere, men are concerned about their future, and, indeed, about their jobs. The people responsible for the movement of that work were the people who managed a large section of the industry. I worked in the dock transport industry for 28 years, and therefore, I know something about problems in the industry. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) mentioned warehousing and cold storage. Following negotiations, the London dockers reached agreement with the cold storage employers. That agreement was to the effect that those employers would not set up cold storage facilities in areas outside the docks. But even the then Prime Minister was unable to find out that the Midlands Cold Storage Company which developed outside the docks industry and employed non-dock labour was part of the same company and that it had closed its operations in the docks industry. Those employers entered into unfair competition against those who were employed in the industry. That was a clear example of the devious role played by employers. By an act of deliberate policy they moved work away from dockland—work which was previously performed within the confines of the docks. I should like to get one thing clear in view of what has been said by Opposition Members about inter-union disputes. Inter-union disputes occur only when unscrupulous managers and employers bring about situations where work which normally would be performed in the docks is taken away from the docks. When the practice over the years has involved the transmitting of cargoes from the point of production or manufacture to the dock, the dock worker has not claimed that work as his. I should like to refer to "groupage" work, which dock workers claim to be their work—in other words, work involving the stuffing and stripping of containers which do not go from manufacturer to the docks but are loaded at places outside the dock industry, in conditions which are by no means comparable with those obtaining in the docks and at quite different wages. The situation reached such a point that at one time we were stuffing and stripping containers with prisoners. Is it any wonder that dock workers became concerned about developments? Against that background dock workers began to seek some form of legislation to protect existing jobs and, if necessary, to bring back work to the industry which had been taken away. The best way to deal with this is by extending the scheme. This does not mean that the dockers are saying that non-registered workers who are doing the job now should become unemployed, except in those circumstances where the employer has established a "cowboy" outfit in order to undermine the position of dock workers and their employment. One reason why they are asking for an extension of registration is so that the conditions that prevail in their industry can be guaranteed outside dockland. I turn to the question of the container base versus the registered dock worker. After proper negotiation and consultation with the workers through the trade union machinery, the container base at Aintree on Merseyside ultimately became a registered base. It now employs registered dock workers. That position was not reached without pain, but certainly there was no upheaval for the two sections of the industry. The trade union movement and dock workers have proved that, given the right sort of climate and the absence of ruthless employers, they are able to get together and decide these issues to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. The Aintree container base and the Speke container base are examples of where workers have come together and considered a problem, with the result that the problem has been reduced to nothing.
In a sense the hon. Gentleman is making a case for the specific guarantee of the dock worker against technological change. Why should the guarantee given to the dock workers be so much greater and more specific than that given to employees in the aerospace industry, and be enshrined in legislation? Many of the aerospace workers had to move under difficult conditions when there was a large decline in our missile industry.
I do not accept the analogy drawn by the hon. Gentleman. The dock industry has recently gone through a dramatic change. We are talking of an industry where, by acts of deliberate harassment, the movement has been away from dockland. I worked for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company for 28 years. I know the practice that prevailed amongst the management there. The ports were left in a derelict state. Reinvestment in them was running at a low level. The profitable side of the ports, the cargo-handling side, was being taken over by private enterprise. Is it any wonder that the ports of this country are in such a state that there is a need for massive capital investment to update them and make them competitive with countries where this advancement has already taken place?The managers of the ports—I am thinking particularly of Merseyside—were the main customers. Therefore, the customer ran the outfit—for whose benefit? He ran it for the benefit of the customer. We have heard of examples of the 1964 rate for hiring a crane, at 12s. 6d., still prevailing in 1971 and 1972. The people who at that time were in charge of the port authorities and the docks boards were satisfying their own vested interests in the ports and not the well-being of the ports throughout the country. That is why the Government are saying that we have reached the point where, first, there is a need to clarify the position of dock workers in relation to their employment. We must not permit the jungle that occurred recently in the docks industry. Before we proceed to the question of public ownership and the establishment and strengthening of the National Dock Labour Board, we must ensure that the definition of "dock work" about which we have heard nothing from the Opposition benches—is established so that dock workers have a clear definition of what their work is. Secondly, we must introduce, through a later Bill, the public ownership of the ports. We must bring sanity into what has virtually become a jungle. The debate will be of value. Because of what has been said from the Government Front Bench, it will give confidence to dock workers that the Government intend to carry out what they say about the definition of dock work. It is not going to be an easy job, and nobody here should think that it will be. There has to be a bringing together of the conflicting industries and a solving of the stresses that are present in the industry. If necessary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment should be involved, so that some of the areas of conflict can be hammered out and we can define the future of an industry which not only will become more efficient but must offer greater security to the dock worker. He must work in an industry in which he knows that his future is safe.
I feel particularly privileged to be called to speak, because I represent Sudbury and Woodbridge, and however remote and rural that constituency may sound it embraces the port of Felixstowe, to which reference has been made frequently, in terms of praise, not just today but on other occasions.However much I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who has just spoken of the turmoil of dock history—and I concede the obscurantism of the ship owners and the port operators in the past—I can look at the matter only through the eyes of Felixstowe dock. I am talking not only about employers but about the whole complex. When I was first elected to represent Sudbury and Woodbridge, Felixstowe was a silted harbour with one 1,500-ton coaster lying there. I visited it on another occasion and found that in addition there were a couple of barges. It is now a port which handles 4 million tons of cargo per annum. So far as I am aware, there is no body of opinion in Felixstowe, be it management or labour, which is so desirous of achieving what the Secretary of State proposes in the consultative document that it thought to turn out in either of the last two General Elections in any strength to make its views known to me. The proposals were all adumbrated in the last Labour Party election manifesto. In the course of my canvassing in Felixstowe and my frequent contact with the Felixstowe dock, I was asked searching questions expressing the anxiety of dockers employed in Felixstowe as to what the consultative document would mean and how it could possibly improve their own status and security. It could be that there is something in the document which assists in guaranteeing employment. We shall have to look at the legislation. It may be that security will be bought at the expense of ossification of traffic. Perhaps some traffic that quite properly should come to Felixstowe will be prevented from doing so—even though Felixstowe can handle it better than Avonmouth—because the interplay of the National Dock Labour Board in the different ports would preclude that. It is clear from correspondence with the Transport and General Workers' Union that there would be an averaging out of the employment factor throughout the region. The guarantee of employment might be underpinned, but we shall have to see what is in the Bill. It must be remembered that I am concerned not about the factual background—I can see all the points and disputes there—but have a legitimate interest to protect a port that has come into being in the last decade. That is not humbugged by other ports' inheritance. We have not got this kind of albatross. We are looking to the future. We do not want to chain ourselves to something that relates to the past and is irrelevant to our prosperity and progress. Perhaps there will be more job security, but there has been no threat to job security so far. One deduces that such job security could come about only by spinning work out among other ports in the estuary or East Anglia generally, or parcelling the work out to different ports in the country, perhaps to the severe disadvantage of Felixstowe's natural and proper rights. The second ground on which I, representing Felixstowe, wonder why we have reached this conjunction arises from a circular front the Department of the Environment, signed by J. E. Sanderson of the Ports Directorate. I presume that on this matter I address myself to the Minister for Transport, who is responsible for the organisation of the ports. Paragraph 8, headed "Port Businesses", speaks of the nationalisation proposals for the docks. They follow on from the 1970 Ports Bill. The Minister will recall our encounters over that Bill and our wasted endeavours. The paragraph says:
Although that is shorthand, one is entitled to ask precisely what it means, because it postulates a distinct overlap between the two situations. Or is it that one is working within the other? If so, what is the intermeshing? Perhaps we have today blundered prematurely into a debate that should properly have been confined to the London situation. But we have arrived at this point, and I hope that I am putting my questions properly and pointedly. Some specific points arise on the document entitled "Dockwork". Admittedly, it is a consultative document, and as it extends to a mere seven pages it cannot spell out many details. One wonders about such matters as specialised cargoes, such as wine. What about bulk liquid storage, tank farms and the like? There is no mention of that kind of topic. In relation to the consultative document and the proposals for port or dock nationalisation in the circular from the Department of the Environment, it is most important to stress the grave uncertanties. I hope that I carry both sides of the House with me in this. We have been told by the hon. Member for Garston that there are uncertainties and anxieties among the dockers. They have been waiting and worrying. Equally, there are uncertainties among port owners, ship owners and all those who are involved in the operations of port traffic. The documents, which were promised some time ago, have taken a long time coming, and are still extremely vague, leave the whole matter in limbo for a considerable period. For example, the consultative document talks about the five-mile corridor, with appeal, yet the other document provides for bringing cargo-handling activities under public ownership and control. One can read into that something which is not restricted by five miles but extends almost throughout the country generally. On behalf of Felixstowe, I repeat my deep concern that there is no apparent demand for these proposals. We are a healthy, thriving organisation."The proposals would also provide for bringing cargo-handling activities under public ownership and control."
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his turn. Many hon. Members want to speak.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman briefly.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be speaking on behalf of Felixstowe dockers. When the Aldington-Jones agreement was reached, it was reached with the consent of scheme and non-scheme ports. That document included the extension of the scheme to cover ports such as Felixstowe.
I was speaking on behalf of my constituents, on behalf of 20 per cent out of a constituency of 85,000, vastly exceeding in size many of the rotton boroughs of dockers' constituencies, including that of the absent Government Chief Whip, which I believe just about tops the 20,000 mark.Twenty per cent. of my votes are in Felixstowe, and I perforce pay close attention to developments in the docks and to feelings at all levels. I am not conscious of any deep or widespread demand by dockers in Felixstowe for the extension of the scheme to Felixstowe. I have discussed the matter quite freely and openly, and I should be only too glad to take part in any meeting organised by the docks or the Transport and General Workers' Union. I am their representative in the House. They knew that the debate would take place today. We have discussed the matter previously. There may well be an ultimate advantage in security or guarantee of employment. But we have still to see that and its full implications spelt out. Felixstowe is doing extremely well, and it has done extremely well precisely because it has been free from all those inhibitions that have so constrained and constricted the activities of Liverpool, London and Hull over recent years. That may be an accident of history. I do not care. The fact is that we are a thriving undertaking at Felixstowe. We shall watch the proposed legislation on dock labour and nationalisation extremely carefully, and if it contains anything that does not please us we shall shout out loud.
First, I declare an interest as honorary national officer of one of the unions that organise workers within the National Docks Board.I am disappointed that there has not been more discussion about the consultative document in the debate, but I am not surprised that the Opposition have not taken the opportunity to deal with it, because they have had no alternative proposals. When they were in Government, they did nothing about the situation in the docks. For the first time, we have concrete, sensible suggestions which are worthy of consideration by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We all want to try to achieve a situation in which there will be peace in the docks. It is ruinous for our economy when we have the difficulties and troubles that we have had in the docks over the years. The consultative document, which will receive further consideration, is worthy of much more attention than it has been given this afternoon. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) had the nerve to suggest a lack of consultation over the proposals. On many of the previous Conservative Government's proposals—particularly the Industrial Relations Act—there was practically no consultation. Yet the right hon. Gentleman complains about the lack of consultation on this matter. The document explains that the Government took so long in drawing up the proposals because they wished the document to be fully discussed before specific proposals on nationalisation were brought to the House. This consultation is absolutely vital. The Government have not brought forward their concrete nationalisation proposals because they wish to allow time for full discussion of and consultation about the document. We all know the difficulty of bringing forward legislation for the nationalisation of other ports, which is bound to be controversial. I ask my right hon. Friend in drawing up the legislation to pay specific attention to the position of the workers within the nationalised industry. This time there must be full representation of the workers on the board. I will give an example of how worker representation can benefit ports. I had the honour to go as a representative of the House on a visit to Malta a few years ago, and I took the opportunity of going round the docks and ports. The docks in Malta at one time had the worst strike record of any docks in the world. Since there has been full workers' representation on the board—about six from either side, with the managing director in the chair—Malta has not had one major dock strike. I ask my right hon. Friend to take account of that in setting up the new board. In that way a much better atmosphere can be created. In the set-up of the National Dock Labour Board there is provision for a part-time chairman with non-executive power. The managing director runs the board. I do not want to be unfair to the chairman, who cannot be here to speak for himself, but that set-up gives him the opportunity to opt out of his responsibilities in a difficulty which the organisation of which I am a member has within the nationalised docks section. The chairman says that he has no executive power to intervene in what could be a major dispute. As a result of the action which has been taken by my organisation, there will not be a strike because we have agreed that the matter shall go to arbitration. That is the responsible reaction of my organisation, not the result of the intervention of the part-time chairman of the board. It is wrong that a part-time chairman of an executive board should be able to opt out of his responsibilities when the going gets tough. I ask my right hon. Friend to take note of the position of the workers within the present set-up. For example, what proposals are there for the Forth Ports Authority? Will the authority remain in its present position with the power it has at present, will it operate as a separate unit or will it be part of the overall nationalised board? The Tees and Hartlepools Authority and the railway traffic ports could be included in the same proposals. The Government may decide that the Manchester Ship Canal, with which the Manchester Corporation is involved, should be broken up rather than left in its present state. It is imperative that the workers within these groups should know precisely where they stand, and I hope that these questions will be answered when the nationalisation proposals are drawn up. The consultative document goes a long way towards satisfying the aims and aspirations of the people who work within the docks. When the proposals contained therein are implemented there is likely to be a period of working together within the docks which will be of great benefit to the nation. I hope that consultation will continue and that the Government will bring forward their nationalisation proposals quickly, because nationalisation is the real recipe for peace in the industry.
It is true, as the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) said, that this consultative document must satisfy the aims and aspirations of those, but only some of those, who work in the docks. The criticism that I level at the document is that it is far too partisan a document in that sense. It is directed to the aspirations, ambitions and interests of only one group of workers in and around the docks. To them I shall return.It may be said, as the hon. Gentleman and others of his hon. and right hon. Friends said, that the document will achieve peace and tranquility, but I believe that it will be the peace and tranquility of death—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, the death of vital, energetic, efficient ports, one of which I have the privilege to represent. I am concerned with the document and with any legislation that may follow it because I have the privilege to represent a non-scheme port run—it may surprise Government supporters to know—by a statutory authority of great antiquity and great efficiency. Noticeably missing from speeches from the Government side is any emphasis on efficiency or the national interest. The hon. Member for Derby, South said that the Opposition had not studied the proposals. I like to think that I have, and I break them down into two—and that must be non-controversial. First, the proposals are to redefine dock work so that it shall embrace a whole range of activities that have, at any rate to my unbiased eye, only a tenuous connection with dock work as properly understood. Secondly—and this touches my constituents much more directly—the proposals are to extend the national dock labour scheme to non-scheme ports. The first proposal must involve the extension of a monopoly. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be extremely chary of extending monopolies. We should look with extreme distaste and suspicion on any monopoly, particularly on any extension of an existing monopoly. I challenge the Minister to say why he has not referred this redefinition to the Monopolies Commission. Why do we not allow the Monopolies Commission to apply the test of the national interest—not just the interest of the Transport and General Workers' Union —to these proposals? I am happy to stand by the result. If the Monopolies Commission says that it is right in the national interest that this monopoly should be extended, so be it; we must order our affairs accordingly. But I doubt whether either the Minister will have the nerve to do that or the Monopolies Commission would come up with that conclusion—
Or whether the Transport and General Workers' Union would permit it.
As my hon. Friend says, or whether the TGWU, or part of it, would permit it. A point that escaped the right hon. Gentleman is that not all branches of the Transport and General Workers' Union will necessarily find themselves unanimously supporting these proposals.The second aspect of the consultative document is the extension of the national dock labour scheme to the non-scheme ports. In, I hope, not too naïve a way, I ask a simple question. I have no doubt that I shall be mocked by the intellectual mercenaries of the extreme Left. Are the non-scheme ports noticeably less efficient than the scheme ports? Do they serve the country less well? I look for the answer to that question, in part, in the right hon. Gentleman's own document. Paragraph 12 reads:
There we have it. It is only the smaller, non-scheme ports, such as I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) have the privilege to represent, which have had the flexibility, the skill and the forward thinking to adjust to the changes in the pattern of trade. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to shake his head, but why have not the ports of London and Liverpool adjusted? I shall willingly give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he will give a short succinct answer, but I suspect that that is beyond even his capabilities."A number of ports which were previously very small and therefore not covered by the Scheme have expanded significantly because of changes to the patterns of trade and shipping and in the techniques for handling cargo."
I have already read out a list of scheme ports where there has been a considerable extension of trade. That refutes the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making.
If we consider the ports through which the greater volume of trade is carried, we find, I suggest, that the larger ports have ossified under the impact of the scheme. It may be that there are other factors, but it can be said without fear of contradiction that the scheme has done nothing to make those ports more flexible in adjusting to changes
[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's document. If his hon. Friends do not like it, no doubt they will be able to say so when they catch the eye of whoever is occupying the Chair. I have the privilege to represent a small and historic port that has expanded considerably. It is now the premier passenger port of the United Kingdom. Even in terms of trade it rates about third or fourth. I am worried that the ill-judged proposals of the right hon. Gentleman may damage its present well-justified position. I say with utter confidence that if the national dock labour scheme were extended to Dover the costs of handling freight would increase by at least 50 per cent. What is the real reason for the extension? I believe that it is in deference to the susceptibilities of registered dock workers. Of course we are entitled to consider their susceptibilities. They are an important section of our community and they make their contribution. What are the other factors and groups which we should take into account? What about the national interest? What about the consumers? What about the importers and exporters? What about the shipping lines? I heard no reference to any of those considerable bodies. They have been brushed aside in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and in the speeches of his hon. Friends. It seems that they are of no account. It seems that the docks are to be run by and for registered dock workers. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the ports over which registered dock workers have exercised their sway during the past decade or so have been undercut by unfair competition. They have certainly been undercut, but why has the competition been unfair? There are considerable practical problems which the consultative document and the right hon. Gentleman have glossed over. I instance the handling of freight, for example. I have no doubt that these problems occur in ports represented by hon. Members from both sides of the House and maybe even in the port represented by the Patronage Secretary. Freight is handled in the port of Dover by at least three sorts of unionised labour —namely, the National Union of Railwaymen, the National Union of Seamen and the Transport and General Workers' Union. Even in the Transport and General Workers' Union there are those who carry a dockers' card and there are those who do not. How is the right hon. Gentleman to reconcile the aspirations of those four or five groups? Indeed, is the port of Dover within the scheme and, if so, to what extent? It is in part run by a nationalised industry, British Rail. Is Folkestone to be in the scheme at all? Is Dover to be split down the middle? Is one half of Dover to be in the national dock labour scheme and is the other half to be outside it? These are practical problems which the right hon. Gentleman has glossed over. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is not to be any inquiry because the time has come for action. Those are fine words but they will butter no parsnips in East Kent. I want to know what representations the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept and the time limit that will be imposed. What will move him? What kind of advantage does the right hon. Gentleman look for in the extension of the scheme to a port such as Dover? He and his document remain obstinately silent on all the points I have mentioned. I suspect that the only justification for the consultative document and for any legislation that may follow is the ambitions and aspirations of the registered dock worker members of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I suspect that this is just another clause that is being written into the social contract at the behest of Mr. Jack Jones. Perhaps he has been encouraged to make another importunate demand to the right hon. Gentleman as a result of the experience of Mr. Shelepin. For all I know that gentleman may have been organising the docks in Odessa and Leningrad. Maybe we should be drawing on their experience. That is the kind of experience that may get a warm and emotional response from the right hon. Gentleman. Over the years I have admired the right hon. Gentleman. I have admired his oratory and I used to admire his principles. I admired them at a distance because I was not then a Member of this House. I admired his defence of a bicameral legislature. I am sad to have watched him bend under the pressures of office."to the patterns of trade and shipping and in the techniques for handling cargo."
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have never defended the other place in this place. I thought that it was ridiculous to try to make the other place respectable. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not make such wild attacks upon me.
Perhaps I have not followed the right hon. Gentleman's constitutional theories with sufficient care. I hope that I shall have an opportunity to do so in the near future. I have admired his grasp of history. It may be that he sees himself as a leveller. I must tell him that levellers were followed by military government. But now I must say something different to him. In so doing I borrow the imagery of someone whose oratory and radicalism even the right hon. Gentleman himself would respect. I say that he has ceased to be the watchdog of the House of Lords and has become Mr. Jack Jones' whippet.
Due to the limited time that is available, it is difficult to know where to start in this debate. Many accusations have been made which can be proved to be totally incorrect merely by stating the facts.The claim has been made that it has been decided by the Government that the time has come for action and that there has been no representation. It has been said repeatedly by many bodies representing both sides of the industry that something should be done. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) did not spend much time dealing with the issue before us. He seemed to want to get a number of things off his chest. Not all of those issues were pertinent to this matter. We are discussing the extension of a scheme that deals with the conditions of service and the welfare of dock workers. We are dealing with an industry that has had to face considerable changes in technological and social terms. Many of the social changes have had ramifications not only in the docks but in many other industries throughout the nation. In many ways we have witnessed the holding back of industry arising from the difficulties that have faced the dock workers. Many of the dock workers in my constituency have pressed me strongly to urge the extension of the scheme. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing this scheme. It is not before time. There are a number of precedents on which he can rely. There is a clear difference between the two parties. On the one hand the Government are bringing forward this measure in an attempt to redefine dock work while the Opposition say that the measure should be delayed. They point to the inadequacy of the scheme. It is not only today that we have seen this attitude. There has been inaction by Tory Governments in the past which has led to total frustration. If there is one industry which has been plagued by history, it is the docks industry. My right hon. Friend made a fair comparison of the difference between the two parties. Our approach is to seek a peaceful solution to a difficult problem. Pursuing the policies put forward by Conservative Members would lead to confrontation. We saw what happened when the five dockers went to Pentonville Prison. The solution to that problem found by the then Tory Government was to discover an Official Solicitor whom no one had found before. We seek to deal with the fundamental problems of the dockers. It is possible to see the difference in attitude between the parties through their approach to the inquiries that have taken place over the years. We have asked for support and co-operation. The response from the dockers is to the effect that there have been all these reports, co-operation has been given, but nothing has happened. The national dock labour scheme was born in 1947. That was an attempt to regularise the employment situation which was plagued by casual working. It was an attempt to do something to prevent the exploitation of labour in the industry. In 1951, with the advent of a Tory Government, there came the Leggett Report which looked into the unofficial London dispute. In 1956 there was another report into the workings of the national dock labour scheme. In 1961 there was a joint industrial review on the conditions and problems in the industry. In 1962 the then Tory Government set up the Rochdale inquiry into the ports. Every one of these reports came to similar conclusions. This was shown in the report of the Devlin inquiry which was set up in 1964. It was made clear then that many of the industry's problems were due to the lack of security in the industry, to deficiencies in management and to the operation of the "blue-eyed" system. Those in the industry know all too well the bitterness that arose from that. There was also a deficiency in welfare conditions. All these factors were identified by Devlin, as they had been identified earlier. Tory Governments have done nothing. The industry has done nothing. It is therefore incumbent upon us to impose a solution. The Government are taking the initiative today since the industry has patently failed to do anything. All these reports, confirmed by the Devlin inquiry, show that there were bad industrial relations and bad conditions generally. Devlin reported that there was a failure by the bodies concerned to do anything about decasualisation. Instead, these bodies spent too much time emphasising restrictive practices. That is an interesting comment in view of some remarks today. Conservative Members should read some of those reports instead of relying on the consultative document. They should look at the National Ports Council's Report, the Devlin Report or the Rochdale Report. It took years to compile them. All the answers are there and they confirm my right hon. Friend's position. The Devlin Report recommended that the first principle must be the preservation of the dock labour scheme. It also recommended an end to decasualisation. The Government sought to do this through a number of measures in which they were supported by the dock workers, who praised their efforts. The results of these efforts were higher wages and better working conditions. As soon as this happened, the dock employers decided to get off the docks and to go where the labour was cheaper—to the small wharfs and the container depots. This was recognised by a Labour Government, who set up the Bristow Committee, which in 1969 recommended that the dock worker extension areas should go to five miles with a secondary recommendation of 10 miles. This principle is what the Government are attempting to implement. The then Tory Government could have implemented that recommendation, reached by an impartial body. But they refused to do so. All that we got from the then Tory Government was the theory that the docks should stand on their own and that competition was to be the key. A number of us attacked that policy in 1970 and 1971. The then Government soon got rid of that policy generally, but they kept it for the docks. The White Paper dealing with financial obligations created severe problems for scheme ports. When the Labour Party was in opposition I tried to make that point. The non-scheme wharves grew up all over the country. There were a number of them in my area which took millions of tons of traffic away from Hull. A port such as Hull which has spent £20 million of public investment and which has to cover the interest charges on that money cannot compete with such small wharves, where the comparable investment figure might be £30,000, particularly when those wharves receive subsidies for setting up. Taking no account of labour charges Hull cannot compete on equal terms if all costs must be recovered. The National Ports Council made it clear that the labour costs in the non-scheme ports were half those in the scheme ports. Further, the non-scheme ports did not have the same good social conditions. The scheme ports had to pay a levy to cover pensions and provide for proper working conditions. whereas the non-scheme ports did not. That made the position even more unfair. What did the Tory Government do? They set up the Aldington-Jones inquiry and the National Ports Council inquiry. Both confirmed the national dock labour scheme. Both said that the other ports should be brought into the operation of the scheme. When Conservative Members talk about efficiency they should remember that it is not just a question of whether it is cheaper to unload in one port as compared with another. There are social costs involved. The authorities in my area are complaining about some of the large lorries which are passing through because some farmer has decided to establish a small wharf. Conservative Members should remember that £20 million of public money has been spent on our docks and that we are allowing traffic to be diverted elsewhere to save a few shillings. There is also the conference system which plays off one port against another for the sake of a penny or so. All this disrupts the transport system of our country. The ports are but links between transport systems. We must not think of this in strict efficiency terms. The social costs are just as important. This should be appreciated by Conservative Members because the former Tory Government spent almost £50 million on redundancy payments to reduce the dock labour force. At the same time, they were allowing private investment to develop. The dock labour scheme cannot be divorced from the proposal to nationalise the docks. If there is a possibility of these common user wharfs setting up outside the nationalised sector, our problems will proliferate. There will be the same insecurity and its ensuing problems. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us how the dock labour scheme will fit, into the nationalised industry. Will it apply to all the people involved in the industry or only to the dockers? I hope that the common users' business will be brought into the nationalisation plan. Dockers have made a contribution in the fight against the low wages paid to workers on foreign ships coming to the United Kingdom by withdrawing their labour. In so doing they have broken the contract law. I hope that legislation will be passed incorporating the right of dockworkers to do that, so that they may persuade foreign ship owners to increase the wages paid to their seamen. That is the only way in which we can help the international brotherhood of labour and improve conditions of seafarers and dock workers in Britain and abroad.
It is a pity that we have not been able to distinguish between the problems of the major ports and of the smaller, efficient. non-scheme ports. The means proposed by the Government to solve the problem of the dock labour scheme for the non-scheme ports will cost the country at least £100 million. That disturbs me, since I am sure that the Government are trying to solve the problem in the wrong way. It is wrong to say that the Tory Government did nothing between 1970 and 1974. The ports industry is capital-intensive, not labour-intensive.The objective of the Aldington-Jones Report was to modernise the industry. It included a generous redundancy payment scheme, providing for over £5,000 per head. Within one year of the publication of that report 2,500 dockers accepted the conditions. We wanted to continue that. Having heard the views of all those concerned in the industry, it was realised that imaginative solutions to the industry's problems should be produced. However, in order to do so is it necessary to cut out the efficient non-scheme ports? I represent the British Railways port of Parkeston, to which the Government have not extended the dock labour scheme. During the dock strike of 1972 the port remained at work in spite of picketing by Transport and General Workers' Union militants. It is wrong to be vindictive to the non-scheme ports in an attempt to solve the problems of the industry as a whole. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) spoke about conditions in Hull. Harwich is a privately-owned port. Although the dock labour scheme has not been introduced there, all the conditions recommended in the Devlin Report have been implemented. As a result, workers and employers feel secure. Most of those improvements were introduced before the publication of the Devlin Report. A great number of the workers do not want the dock labour scheme to be introduced in Harwich. At non-scheme ports vessels' turnaround is only six days, compared with 20 days elsewhere. The cost per ton is lower at non-scheme ports. The people at the non-scheme ports feel that the Government are being vindictive in not producing imaginative solutions to the problems of the ports industry. The Secretary of State should read the excellent report of the Touche Committee, which deals with the problems faced by the continental ports and mentions the subsidies received by them. The Government should attempt to solve the problems of the bigger ports along those lines, at least to see that the EEC competition is fair between the major ports.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the experience in Harwich and Felixstowe is that men and management work together as a team? Therefore, both productivity and labour relations are good. It is ironic that in the State-owned and publicly-run ports, which are often much larger, there is not the feeling of working together as part of a team. In other words, participation is not achieved by public ownership. Indeed, the opposite applies.
I agree. However, there are good labour relations in the private ports and in some of the British Railways ports. But why are the Government trying to solve the problem in the nationalised sector by being vindictive against the private sector? It will cost the housewife and the country money. The Secretary of State has failed to deal with the problem. The scheme is becoming a number one enemy, not only of the balance of payments but of the British housewife.It is important to realise what is happening in the continental ports. Hamburg received extensive help by way of capital grants and free dredging. That port would need to increase its port charges by 78 per cent. to cover its true costs. That is what the Touche Committee said. Antwerp, which is marginally less favoured, would need to increase its charges by 67 per cent., while Rotterdam and Dunkirk would need to increase theirs by 29 per cent. Capital resources are scarce. We must try to assist the major ports by ensuring that the proper capital investment is made. The Government must look at the more realistic means of dealing with the problems of the larger ports. The problems must be separated. There is no need to turn on the smaller ports which are running efficiently and which enjoy the best labour relations, besides enjoying competitive costs. I trust that the Government will look at the report of the Touche Committee and at other means of solving the problems rather than extend the dock labour scheme, which goes back to Methuselah.
I support the motion.At the beginning of the debate we listened to the rhetoric of the Secretary of State. We were not disappointed. He made one or two surprising announcements. He agreed with the supremacy of Parliament and thought it inopportune that we should have brought forward this motion before the appearance of legislation. That is a new assumption. We make no apology for bringing this matter before the House on a Supply Day. We believe that it shows the hypocrisy of the Government. Tomorrow we shall hear from the Chancellor. It is not a Budget leak if I say that he will announce a massive deficit in our balance of payments and the need to take action. However, the Government are pursuing policies which will increase our indebtedness. It is no wonder that very few people now take the Government seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) spoke of efficiency. I did not hear that word mentioned by Government supporters. We heard a lot about political dogma and party advantage. We heard much about pandering to the militants but nothing about the supremacy of Parliament. We heard about the supremacy of the docker. If the Government put the national interest first, they would give a decent burial to these proposals. It is not, and never has been, our intention to attack the dock labour scheme in its entirety. We are attacking the extension of the scheme. If these two proposals are given a decent burial, there will be few mourners—not the exporter or importer, not the man who works in the independent port, not the taxpayer who always foots the bill and who is getting rather sick of it, not the customer abroad who, if these measures go through, will have another reason for finding it more difficult to buy British. Our case is simply one of common sense. We find the one-sided attitude of the Government disturbing. It puts the trade union in a very privileged position. The Government seem to have paid scant attention so far—though there may be time for a change of heart—to the port user and the employer. The weakness of the Government's case is instanced by the fact that they are legislating in this matter. They are afraid to seek an extension of the scheme under the existing Act because that would lead to a public inquiry. Hon. Members can imagine what would happen if the Government tried to move into Felixstowe, Dover, Harwich and Shoreham. My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) made this point clear. Would the net result be that industrial relations were better in the larger scheme ports? Far from it. The opposite would be the case. Try as one will, it is difficult to make out a case for the proposal to absorb these ports and wharfs into the dock labour scheme and further to extend nationalisation. I should like to refer the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to the National Ports Council survey of 1973, in which Mr. Jack Jones played a prominent part. Paragraph 42 of the report, under the heading "Reputation for Productivity", stated:
This is what the Government are afraid to do. The least they should do before embarking on this course of action is to establish the facts which the nation has a right to know. Could it be that to Labour Members comparisons are odious—indeed, embarrassing—and that the non-scheme ports would come out of this far better than the larger ports?"It has proved virtually impossible so far to establish exactly comparable hard factual evidence about the relative performance of different ports. What is certain is that ship-owners and shippers are given to making wide-spread assumptions and assertions about less flexible and so financially more onerous conditions, including overtime arrangements and rates, manning scales, and about the state of industrial relations, etc., at the major ports: in short, the image of the major ports as it appears to many customers, actual and potential, is bad. Both employers and unions at these ports must recognise the effects of these assumptions, even if they challenge their legitimacy. It is clearly in the national interest that some independent assessment be made which would help to prove or disprove these statements and lead to whatever comparisons are possible on an inter-port basis, both nationally and internationally."
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Many of his hon. Friends have assumed that many of the larger ports are nationalised and State-owned and that the smaller ones are privately run. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) in particular made that point. Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Royal Docks, in the Port of London, over half the dockers are employed by private employers? Many dockers on the river are employed by private employers. In fact, private employment has found its difficulties in all sorts of docks, large and small.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to wander down that path. Of course we are aware of those facts, and the situation should be examined as fully as possible. All I suggest is that we should discuss all these anomalies and see which is the best and most beneficial system for the nation.Many examples could be given to prove the amount of time that is saved by shippers using the non-scheme ports. I am told by a shipowner in the Baltic timber trade that in six voyages to major scheme ports the average turn-round was 141·95 hours in port. Most of the trade is to the Trent Wharf, and the maximum time taken by any of the shipping, from arriving at Hull Roads to leaving the Trent Wharf, is 60 hours. Is it any wonder that employers and shippers prefer to use the non-scheme ports? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, taken as a whole the turn-round at non-scheme ports is five or six days as opposed to 13 or 20 days in the larger scheme ports. Comparing our ports with our overseas competitors, the situation is far worse. Compared with Antwerp, Liverpool needs to treble its tonnage per gang; London needs to quadruple it. To save embarrassment, I shall not bring Rotterdam into the equation. Suffice it to say that every time the London docks are brought to a standstill the dockers in Rotterdam must be drinking champagne. As has already been said, it is estimated that 15 per cent. of the traffic will now move abroad as a result of the recent tragic strike in our docks. The Secretary of State on 15th July 1974 intimated his intention to extend the dock labour scheme, and he said:
"I am taking into account partly the recommendations of the Aldington-Jones Committee. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that its report was a minority report. In its final report the Committee said:
I take it that the Secretary of Statae believes that that situation still applies, otherwise he would not be contemplating legislation. I hope that the Minister will tell us what is the up-to-date position, particularly with regard to conditions of employment, wages and pensions. My information is that in the vast majority of these non-scheme ports conditions are as good as they are in the scheme ports. As for casual labour, to talk in terms of 200 or 300 out of a total of 30,000 seems to me to present a very weak case for these proposals. Is it not a fact that we in this country are failing to accept certain home truths? For the Secretary of State to tell us that we should be careful of what we say in case we stir up trouble is a very dangerous doctrine. Let me say what I believe to be the case and why the non-scheme ports are more efficient. In the non-scheme ports the men will work week-ends. They will work to suit the shipping and the tides. There are no restrictive practices. The men allow interchangeability between jobs if necessary. They allow interchangeability during all hours between ships. The men will discharge one hold and load another simultaneously. The ships are not undermanned. Under the conditions in the scheme, however, ports would require extra men not fully employed. We all know that in London, Hull and Liverpool there is rigidity of hours of work especially at weekends. There is adherence to historic and outworn practices, and rotation of labour across the broad spectrum of activity dilutes efficiency. I am sure that the Minister, if he wishes, can reply to this in full. How can the Minister for Transport possibly justify his statement on 20th August 1974 outlining his proposals for public ownership? The right hon. Gentleman said:'It is wrong that the scheme ports should continue to be exposed to unfair competition on terms and conditions of work from certain ports and wharves outside the scheme. In particular the Committee were at one in deploring the practice of casual employment which is still in evidence'."—[Official Report, 15th July 1974; Vol. 877, c. 33.]
Those are all the old worn-out clichés to justify State control. The public are sick and tired of all these explanations. If the right hon. Gentleman reads his own proposals, he will know full well that the National Ports Authority, which he intends to set up, will be able to dictate to port authorities how to run their undertakings. How can that lead to initiative and competition? I move quickly to a constituency point. The Government Chief Whip led me to think of this. I do not suppose that the Secretary of State will support me, but the largest employer of labour in my constituency is the wool textile industry. Times are not easy. That is why the Leader of the House found time to debate that industry a few days ago. A number of Labour Members supported our plea about dumping. I am surprised that they are not in the House now to draw attention to the serious matter of delay in exporting the goods of that industry. The wage levels in Ebbw Vale are much higher than in my constituency. I take it that the National Coal Board or the British Steel Corporation is the largest employer in Ebbw Vale. But my constituents have a very low basic wage. What happens? As a good Socialist, perhaps the Secretary of State will support me. My constituents produce the goods on time. The wool textile industry exports about as much as the Scotch whisky industry. That is not a bad record. The goods get to the docks on time. Then what happens? Two or three weeks go by and they are still there."The Government consider that this scheme would combine the advantages of comprehensiveness, efficiency and flexibility. It would avoid over-complicating the structure of the industry and minimise the diversion of management resources. Ports would continue to compete on service and on price."
If the hon. Gentleman wants the evidence, I have a lot upstairs. There is a delay of seven or eight weeks in London, Liverpool and Hull. I challenge the Minister for Transport to deny that. He will know this from the letters he has received from many hon. Members.Let me move away from the Secretary of State for Employment. Where is the Secretary of State for Industry? The right hon. Gentleman should be deeply concerned and ought to be here.
He is fighting the Common Market.
The Secretary of State for Industry is always fighting losing causes. Instead of giving subsidies, the right hon. Gentleman should be here opposing this kind of measure, which will delay and hinder our export performance.From my experience in the Whips' Office, I know that many Ministers travel abroad and are paired, but they must know that the biggest criticism directed at Great Britain and at buying British is the uncertainty of delivery dates being met. That is where this legislation comes completely unstuck. It will do nothing to help in that respect. That is why, in winding up the debate, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the motion in the Lobby and show our contempt for a Government who pay lip service to a mixed economy, in which private enterprise is supposed to have a place, and yet in practice show themselves to be the most Left-wing administration under which this country has ever suffered.
I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment was in any sense complaining about the Opposition having chosen this or, indeed, any other subject for debate. The debate is welcome because it will clear up a number of misunderstandings. Our complaint is against the attitude to the serious problems of the ports industry which is exhibited in the terms of the motion before the House.I do not want to follow the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) in the kind of compliments that he introduced into the debate. I want to pay a genuine compliment to the Opposition. They are to be congratulated, at least in this area, on consistency. They have consistently criticised and opposed every measure that the Labour Government have sought to take to improve the situation in the ports industry, and when they have had power have done absolutely nothing about it. The motion exactly reflects that attitude today. I bow to the master of the art if the clichés of my consultation document offended the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox), but there were complaints earlier that the word "efficiency" had never come into our consideration. First, as they are two distinct and separate matters, I should make clear the difference between the document "Dock Work", my right hon. Friend's proposals which are concerned with the security and conditions of port transport work, and the proposals for the reorganisation of the industry, for which I am responsible, which are concerned with the management, ownership and control of the ports. The two schemes are distinct but complementary. It is recognised in all quarters that in many respects my right hon. Friend's problems are more urgent than mine and should take precedence in legislation, but both are directed to the enormous changes which have occurred in the port transport industry in recent years. In the first place there was the Devlin Report, which, in the 1960s, finally achieved the end of decasualisation. I hope that no hon. Member would now seek to defend the system of casual labour. There has been a change in the pattern of our trade. The hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) put all this down to far-sightedness on the part of port operators. One significant change is that people are buying more of our goods nearer to us in Europe, affecting the short sea trade, while the volume of deep sea trade, which has been the basic concern of our older ports, has declined because of the way the trade between this country and other parts of the world has gone on. There has also been the technological development of very large ships—for example, in grain. The practice has been to break down the load into smaller ships or barges, and that has made possible the use of the smaller harbours.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have very little time.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I merely want to make the point that the port of Dover was in a position to respond to that demand. But I query whether it would have been able to do so if the dead hand of the dock labour scheme had been laid upon it.
I shall be coming to that point later. Much as I usually like to give way, I agreed to take only 15 minutes because so many hon. Members wished to speak in the debate.There has been another important change—containers and roll-on roll-off. That has meant a great change in the pattern of trade for our ports. Yet the proposition in the motion is that the Dock Workers' Employment Scheme, which has been virtually unchanged since 1947—nearly 30 years, for the majority of which time, sadly for the country, the Conservative Party was in Government—should remain unchanged. The motion says that we should not even look at it. Yet we have before the House a consultative document inviting anyone interested in any aspect to make representations with a view to bringing these practices up to date. At the end of the period in office of the 1964–70 Labour Government Mr. Peter Bristow, QC, issued his report. If the proposals in that report had been implemented by the Tories, we might not have suffered the 1972 national dock strike and the present situation in the docks would have been much better. Then there was the Aldington-Jones Report. The report of the National Ports Council on non-scheme ports came in March 1973. Nothing was done to bring the ports up to date. My right hon. Friend made a penetrating point when he said that the crime that he and later on, I, I hope, will be perpetrating is that we shall be trying to do something. Britain's tragedy often is that for every one person trying to do something there are two people trying to prevent him. This may be reflected in the Opposition's attitude to our efforts in this direction. The logic of the matter is this. If 80 per cent. of the port industry is in the scheme and if broadly—here I agree with the hon. Member for Shipley—wages at scheme ports, because of trade union organisation and not for other reasons, are broadly comparable in most cases, what can be wrong with bringing in the other 20 per cent.? The Opposition do not want that. It was nonsense of the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) to say that we are being vindictive. His solution was massive subsidies for our ports on the lines of continental ports. I should be interested to know whether this is an official Opposition view, because it may have a bearing on the debate which is to follow. If it has been so bad for scheme ports over the past 30 years, why did not the Tories do something about it, when they had power? As my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), with their great knowledge and experience, have indicated, all the talk and lack of action have exasperated and frustrated the dockers and caused them to put more weight on the protection of the scheme than perhaps it justifies. There have been prevarications over the years. This is why it is important to act quickly. The legislation which will have to be introduced by my right hon. Friend and myself will inevitably be more complicated than my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock suggested. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) said, full consultation is both desirable and necessary in respect of both schemes. The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) said that in the first consultative document on ports organisation issued last August there was a phrase about port businesses which he did not find clear. Any port which is not a statutory port is at law technically a port business. The hon. Member and other Conservative Members who spent so many hours with me in 1970 on another piece of ports legislation will recall that there was the most frightful and fierce opposition from the Conservatives to the concept that port businesses should be brought under any form of public ownership. In the last five years one port after another—nationalised and private—has been acquiring the port businesses in its ports and running them because it knows that this is the most efficient way of operating and because the profit is not in the dues and the rest of the port undertaking but in running the port businesses. That is why we have always taken the view that it is essential not only to have the ports as ports within the framework of public ownership but that the major port businesses involved should be similarly owned and should be part of the port undertaking. That, broadly, is what my proposals set out to do. Through hon. Members every citizen will be aware of what we do We are carrying out the policy set out in "Labour's Programme 1973" and in our two manifestos last year, namely, that we would bring all the commercial ports under public ownership and control. This means 200 to 300 ports. Clearly it would have been wrong to try to bring these within one enormous administrative umbrella. We seek to retain the ownership where it is already, under public ownership—that is, a nationalised board, a local authority, or a public trust—but we shall also acquire the ports that are now in private ownership. As is widely accepted within the industry, we want to extend the powers of the National Ports Council, to which I pay tribute. With its limited powers it has done an extraordinarily good job in its advisory capacity in recent years. We want to build that on to a national ports authority so that we can have central strategic planning of the requirements for our ports industry and yet, through having the quality of local management, retain that initiative which we agree is important in achieving both the representation of the workers in their place of work and also the sense of competition which is often a spur to efficiency. If hon. Members have not had the second edition of my consultative document which takes account of the proposals we have had put to us since last August and which was published a few days ago, we shall be happy to send copies to then and to receive any observations about it. Copies are in the Vote Office. What is involved in the two schemes will make an enormous contribution to the health, efficiency and better industrial relations in the ports industry, which, we all realize, is absolutely central to our position as a trading nation.
The Opposition, in proposing that the House should reject the proposals before
|Division No. 166.]||AYES||[7.00 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Eyre, Reginald||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fairbairn, Nicholas||Jopling, Michael|
|Alison, Michael||Fairgrieve, Russell||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Fell, Anthony||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Arnold, Tom||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Kimball, Marcus|
|Awdry, Daniel||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Baker, Kenneth||Fookes, Miss Janet||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Banks, Robert||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Bell, Ronald||Fox, Marcus||Knox, David|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Fry, Peter||Lamont, Norman|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Lane, David|
|Biffen, John||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Blaker, Peter||Glyn, Dr Alan||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Body, Richard||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Lawson, Nigel|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodhew, Victor||Le Merchant, Spencer|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Goodlad, Alastair||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Gorst, John||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Britten, Leon||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Lloyd, Ian|
|Brotherton, Michael||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Loveridge, John|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Buck, Antony||Gray, Hamish||McCrindle, Robert|
|Budgen, Nick||Grieve, Percy||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Griffiths, Eldon||MacGregor, John|
|Burden, F. A.||Grist, Ian||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Grylls, Michael||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Hall, Sir John||Madel, David|
|Chalker. Mrs Lynda||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Channon, Paul||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Marten, Neil|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hampson, Dr Keith||Mates, Michael|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hannam, John||Mather, Carol|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Maude, Angus|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hastings, Stephen||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Clegg, Walter||Havers, Sir Michael||Mawby, Ray|
|Cockcroft, John||Hawkins, Paul||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Hayhoe, Barney||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Cope, John||Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Cordle, John H.||Heseltine, Michael||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Cormack. Patrick||Hicks, Robert||Mills, Peter|
|Corrie, John||Higgins, Terence L.||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Costain, A. P.||Holland, Philip||Moate, Roger|
|Critchley, Julian||Hordern, Peter||Molyneaux, James|
|Crouch, David||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Monro, Hector|
|Crowder. F. P.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Morgan, Geraint|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Hunt, John||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hurd, Douglas||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Durant, Tony||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Mudd, David|
|Dykes, Hugh||James, David||Neave, Airey|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Jessel, Toby||Neubert, Michael|
|Emery, Peter||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Newton, Tony|
those to whom the consultative documents have been sent have had a chance even to comment upon them, show that consistency in talking plenty and doing little which is at the base of many of our troubles today and which we inherited from the Conservative Government. I call upon my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the motion with the contempt that it deserves.
That this House rejects the Consultative Document, Dock Work, and the further proposals for ports reorganisation:—
The House divided: Ayes 251, Noes 282.
|Normanton, Tom||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Nott, John||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Royle, Sir Anthony||Tebbit, Norman|
|Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Sainsbury, Tim||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Osborn, John||Scott, Nicholas||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Page, John (Harrow West)||Scott-Hopkins, James||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Trotter, Neville|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Penhaligon, David||Shelton, William (Streatham)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Percival, Ian||Shepherd, Colin||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Shersby, Michael||Viggers, Peter|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Silvester, Fred||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Sims, Roger||Wakeham, John|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Sinclair, Sir George||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Skeet, T. H. H.||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Raison, Timothy||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Wall, Patrick|
|Rathbone, Tim||Speed, Keith||Walters, Dennis|
|Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Sproat, Iain||Wells, John|
|Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Stainton, Keith||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Stanley, John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Stokes, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Stradling Thomas, J.||Mr. Adam Butler and|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Tapsell, Peter||Mr. Cecil Parkinson.|
|Abse, Leo||Cronin, John||Golding, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Gould, Bryan|
|Archer, Peter||Cryer, Bob||Graham, Ted|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Ashley, Jack||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Ashton, Joe||Dalyell, Tam||Grocott, Bruce|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Davidson, Arthur||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Hardy, Peter|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bates, Alf||Deakins, Eric||Hatton, Frank|
|Bean, R. E.||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hayman, Mrs Helene|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Delargy, Hugh||Hooley, Frank|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Horam, John|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dempsey, James||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Doig, Peter||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Boardman, H.||Dormand, J. D.||Huckfield, Les|
|Booth, Albert||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Dunn, James A.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Dunnett, Jack||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Bradley, Tom||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Hunter, Adam|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Eadie, Alex||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Edelman, Maurice||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Edge, Geoff||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Janner, Greville|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Buchan, Norman||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Jeger, Mrs Lena|
|Buchanan, Richard||English, Michael||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Ennals, David||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||John, Brynmor|
|Campbell, Ian||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Evans, John (Newton)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Cant, R. B.||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Faulds, Andrew||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Carter, Ray||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Judd, Frank|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Cartwright, John||Flannery, Martin||Kelley, Richard|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Kerr, Russell|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Lambie, David|
|Cohen, Stanley||Ford, Ben||Lamborn, Harry|
|Coleman, Donald||Forrester, John||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lester, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lewis Arthur (Newham N)|
|Corbett, Robin||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||George, Bruce||Lipton, Marcus|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Gilbert, Dr John||Litterick, Tom|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Ginsburg, David||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Loyden, Eddie||Parker, John||Swain, Thomas|
|Luard, Evan||Parry, Robert||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Pearl, Rt Hon Fred||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Pendry, Tom||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Perry, Ernest||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|McElhone, Frank||Phipps, Dr Colin||Tierney, Sydney|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Tinn, James|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Prescott, John||Tomlinson, John|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Tomney, Frank|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Price, William (Rugby)||Torney, Tom|
|Maclennan, Robert||Richardson, Miss Jo||Urwin, T. W.|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|McNamara, Kevin||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Madden, Max||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Magee, Bryan||Roderick, Caerwyn||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Mahon, Simon||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Ward, Michael|
|Marquand, David||Rooker, J. W.||Watkins, David|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rose, Paul B.||Watkinson, John|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Weetch, Ken|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Rowlands, Ted||Weitzman, David|
|Meacher, Michael||Ryman, John||Wellbeloved, James|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Sedgemore, Brian||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Selby, Harry||White, James (Pollok)|
|Millan, Bruce||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Whitlock, William|
|Molloy, William||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Moonman, Eric||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Silverman, Julius||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Newens, Stanley||Skinner, Dennis||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Noble, Mike||Small, William||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Ogden, Eric||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Snape, Peter||Woodall, Alec|
|O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Spearing, Nigel||Woof, Robert|
|Orbach, Maurice||Spriggs, Leslie||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Ovenden, John||Stallard, A. W.||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Owen, Dr David||Stoddart, David|
|Padley, Walter||Stott, Roger||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Palmer, Arthur||Strang, Gavin||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Park, George||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
|Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
Question accordingly negatived.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Pendry]
There are by general consent a number of subjects which receive too little attention in this House, and transport is certainly one of them. At present public spending on transport is heading towards the £2,000 million a year mark. The figure in the White Paper on public expenditure for the current year is £1,765 million. That is an enormous sum of money, which at any time would be well worth debating but there are particular reasons why we have decided to have a debate on the railways this evening.The fact is that there is growing evidence of a very serious situation indeed on the railway side. What are the ingredients in this situation? First, by any normal standards British Railways are quietly going bankrupt. It is estimated that British Railways will cost the taxpayer about £770 million at least during the next year. Second, there is a serious lack of clear objectives in the railway service, which gives the management of British Railways an ever more difficult job. Third, as we know, pay claims are now being lodged which are clearly beyond the capacity of the industry to meet. It is said that wages alone are reaching the point when they exceed revenue from charges and fares. Fourth, there is, of course, very serious overmanning in the railway system. Fifth, as I am sure some hon. Members will point out, some of the services, the commuter services in particular, face extremely grim conditions. Those conditions, which are bad enough when the services are running so-called normally, are, of course, being repeatedly aggravated by quite unnecessary industrial disputes. I do not intend to be polemical in approaching the debate. We do not propose to divide the House at the end of the debate. I acknowledge perfectly well that any Government in power today would have to face up to these very serious problems. Therefore, I shall not make a swingeing attack on the Minister. Essentially, I shall concentrate on asking him some questions about the management of the services for which he is responsible. The first thing one has to say is that under the Railways Act 1974 the Minister was given additional responsibilities. There is no doubt that he has a clear duty to look after the basic principles of our railway system, and it is he who must stop the drift which is taking place at present, either to financial disaster or to allowing the railways to become a burden on public expenditure, which is unacceptable. If one looks at the Department of the Environment—I am glad that the Secretary of State is present—one is bound to say that there are other areas, notably housing, where every penny that can be scraped is desperately needed. This in itself is a good reason for trying to stop this ever-increasing subsidisation of the railways. The essence of the present situation is that the railways are increasingly becoming a social service rather than a commercial undertaking. I should perhaps add that as a social service they are not actually redistributive, because the Family Expenditure Survey figures show that absolute expenditure on railway fares increases with income. Indeed, it is perhaps fairer to say that the railways bear the mark of an increasing number of industries under Socialism—that they are run not for the benefit of the public but for the benefit of those who work in them.The Economist of 1st February pointed out the seriousness of the present situation. It said:
This ignores the very great contribution made to the Exchequer by road traffic. I accept, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in the previous Conservative Government, that there has to be substantial support for the railways. Clearly, they cannot pay their way as a whole. We cannot denude all the rural areas of the lifeline of public transport. We must keep the commuter services going. We must try to stimulate freight traffic on the railways where that makes sense. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to recognise in November 1973 the need for a sustained investment programme to make these things possible. But the fear is mounting that the situation is getting completely out of hand and that the Railways Act 1974 is providing a bottomless pit of subsidies. The first need now is for a coherent policy for transport as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, in his November 1973 statement, promised a White Paper which would set this out. Anyone with any memory of Labour Party speeches and Labour Party documents, and so on, would say that there has been a constant refrain on the Government side of the House about the need for integrated transport policy. Over and over again we have heard the cry "When will there be a White Paper?" I believe that the time has now come when we can fling that cry back to the Minister. When will there be a White Paper? When will the Secretary of State come up with some kind of coherent transport policy? At present there is no sign of this happening. Why have we not got this? There are probably two reasons. First, I suspect that any integrated Socialist approach would be infinitely costly at a time of something approaching a public expenditure crisis. Second, I am afraid that the railways in particular would not come out well in any objective analysis of comparable forms of transport. I am afraid that the sad truth is that the basis of a move to achieve a major switch back to the railways proves to be based to a great degree on emotion rather than on logic. There are great difficulties facing the railways in providing a competitive servce. They may be obvious, but I summarise them briefly. The first is the fact that railways have fixed routes and tend to require road journeys at either end. The second is the fact that with cars at least the passenger is also the driver and that as a result there are far smaller labour costs and problems. The third, surprisingly perhaps, is that the energy situation does not so far seem to have spelt out a real advantage for the railways. The Government's Transport and Road Research Laboratory recently issued a report suggesting that, despite everything, car ownership and use are likely to rise to the end of the century at rates not far different from those anticipated before the energy crisis arrived. I may be wrong. It may be that there are energy advantages for the railways which have not so far been disclosed. But I ask the Minister to set out clearly what the comparative energy costs are between the different forms of transport. Fourth, even the environmental factors are mixed. Certainly excessive road traffic in the wrong places is hell. But many of us feel that it is better to face the facts of what is happening and see that we have effective road networks to keep lorries out of town centres and villages, rather than seek to wish away the whole problem. I repeat that I believe in a railway system. But it must be set within a reasonably objective overall approach to transport. The railways themselves do not wish to have their position based on a sentimental approach. If one asks the management of British Railways, one finds that what they want is to be in a position to manage as a commercial operation. That brings me to what is a crucial point. British Railways must be given a clear remit. They must know what we expect of them. That is not the case at the moment. Looking back, the error of the 1974 Act was the abandonment of any notion of defining the subsidy element and the switch to open-ended support. I understand the reasons for it. However. I believe that in present circumstances this position is proving untenable. Whether or not the old method of defining the socially needed services in the railways was perfect may be argued. It may be that the Cooper Brothers formula was not right, and so on. It is interesting, incidentally, that the Minister said in his Second Reading speech last year"The railways have won their battle for a major switch of resources from road to rail: they will get over £500 million from the Government in the next financial year, at 1974 prices. So although they provide only a tenth of Britain's transport, they will get more than half as much public money as is spent on the roads."
What has to be faced now is that under the present system there are signs that Exchequer support for the railways is getting out of hand, and the chief purpose of this debate is to find out what is happening and what, if anything, the Government are prepared to do about it. Recently there have been a number of Press reports indicating that there is great concern among officials, anyway, in the Department of the Environment. There is talk of emergency plans and so on. Parliament is entitled to be told what is going on. The 1974 Act provides a variety of forms of support for the railways. I am concerned with three of them today. First, there is the increase in borrowing powers to finance investment. Secondly, there are the compensation or subsidy provisions under Section 3. Thirdly, there are the grants for freight haulage provision. As to the investment programme, the last Conservative Government, as I have said, recognised the need for a major investment programme as the only alternative to serious decay or cut-back. We would still like to see that going ahead, though we have to accept that public expenditure considerations must affect its rate. I want to ask what is happening on the investment side. Specifically, what changes, if any, have there been since the public expenditure White Paper in January? In passing, I might say that in my view the public expenditure White Paper was extremely meagre and oblique in what it said about the railways. In the Second Reading debate on 24th June last year the Minister said:"The real trouble about the accounting procedures for individual grant-aided lines was not that they could not be worked out according to the Cooper Brothers formula but that in all public discussions about closure proposals the public were never prepared to accept the very large figures which were always involved".
What is the position now? There seems to be some argument in the Press as to what the investment position is. May we be told? Secondly, we have the problem of the current rate of subsidy. This is the crux of the matter. The position was summed up clearly and effectively by Mr. Colin Jones in the Financial Times of 24th February. He wrote:"For the present year the level of investment will be that set by the last Government, as modified by the then Chancellor last December."—[Official Report. 24th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1010–16.]
If what he says there is true, it exposes a very serious problem. As he says, the sum of money meant to last for five years or so is being expended at a rate which indicates that three years would be an optimistic target. We are entitled to ask what the Minister proposes to do about it. Since Mr. Jones wrote his article, there have been reports that the figure of £360 million which he gave for the current rate of subsidy, which was about £340 million in the White Paper, is now soaring towards the £500 million level. I submit that this places the Minister in a position where he must tell us."The most visible sign of strain is the mounting escalation of the railways' deficit. On a broadly comparable basis the total, including grants, rose from just under £80 million in 1971 to nearly £150 million in 1973 and probably to about £250 million to £300 million last year. For the present year the current esti- mate is at least £360 million. At this rate, the revenue the railways earn from fares and charges will soon be insufficient—if it is not already—to meet the weekly pay bill; the taxpayer will be paying more in subsidy than in passenger fares; the £1·5 billion that Parliament set aside last year to provide for five years of deficit financing will be exhausted in less than half the time; and, because of the squeeze on public expenditure, a rushed reappraisal of the post-1973 policy towards the railways will become unavoidable."
I can clear up one particular immediately. Although it is not a subsidy, under the 1974 Act there was provision for settling the historic position of the pensions fund, which this year is £97 million. The £340 million, plus the £97 million, plus the £30 million or so which comes from local authorities cause one to talk in round figures of £450 million to £500 million.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. However, I hope that he will say to what rate he expects the £340 million—the genuine subsidy—to rise if the pay claims that we face come into being.Thirdly, we have the freight subsidy. Again, we are entitled to ask what is happening about the grants for freight haulage and about the approach initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil to the 100 big firms to see whether they would be interested in setting up facilities for freight services. This was an initiative which was accepted on both sides of the House, and we should like to hear from the Minister what is the position about this. At the same time, we would like to hear the current position of the Freightliner service. There are signs that it is running into very serious difficulties. If the financial position of the railways has become critical, so has the problem of management. I am not critical of the management itself. Mr. Marsh and his colleagues are doing a good job in very difficult circumstances. But they must be allowed to make genuine commercial decisions within the overall strategy. I have a great deal of sympathy with them in their plea for greater freedom over fares and charges. Subsidising fares and charges indefinitely does not help the industry. It does not even help the social contract.
If the hon. Gentleman disagrees with subsidising fares on British Railways or declining to allow the management to raise fares to economic levels, perhaps he will say why the last Conservative Government, with regard to the railways and to every other nationalised industry, prevented their financial management from being adequate for what appeared to many people to be purely electoral purposes.
I will tell the hon. Member. The reason is quite simple. When we were in power, we had an overall strategy for prices and incomes that was a tough strategy and that went a long way towards working. The present Government have a very loose strategy. I am not concerned to argue over the past in the sense that I am not trying to say that everything that happened in the past was perfect and everything that is happening today is imperfect. I am simply trying to say that we are faced with a very serious problem and one of its ingredients is that the people who run the railways, Mr. Marsh and his colleagues, need a greater degree of commercial freedom than they are getting. Whenever Governments try to delay increases of charges, particularly in the context of an incomes policy that allows incomes to soar ahead of prices, they aggravate the difficulties of the railway management.The financial crisis ties up with all sorts of other important ingredients—pay, labour relations, overmanning and the grim conditions on some lines. I should like to say a word about these matters, but I shall be brief because I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to hog the time. I come first to pay. Clearly, the current pay negotiations are crucial. It is now accepted that manpower accounts for about 68 per cent, of total railway costs. These negotiations are clearly crucial to the social contract, but I shall not go into that here. They are also crucial to the railways. The Secretary of State was absolutely right when at Grimsby on 21st February he said:
to achieve a healthy railway industry. I am sure that that was true. I will not go into the negotiations in detail because they are under way and it would not be helpful to do so, but I am glad to note the efforts of the Trades Union Congress to point out to the railway unions the gravity of the situation. I would simply say that this is clearly a moment of tremendous importance to the railways. It follows from that that labour relations generally are vital to the solution of the problem. The NUR has on the whole a responsible tradition, and I urge as strongly as possible that in these negotiations it should live up to it. As the Secretary of State points out, it is not only the NUR that has a responsible tradition. The union that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) represents also has such a tradition, one is bound to say. However, I cannot necessarily extend that compliment to ASLEF, which I believe the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) represents, because over the past few years there have been a number of occasions when the actions of ASLEF have driven millions of innocent people to sheer despair. If it happens again, ASLEF will be helping to destroy the service that we want to keep going. The truth is that public opinion has been driven to intense anger by some of the things that have happened on the railways, especially on the commuter lines, in the past few years. Again, I do not want to go into this in detail, but the railways will have no worthwhile future unless industrial self-discipline improves. There was a horrifying list in the Daily Telegraph today of the disputes that have taken place in the London region. On Southern Region there were stoppages in 1973 in February, March, May, June, September, November and December and in 1974 in January, February, June, October and November. The Southern Region has only just seen the end of the signalmen's dispute, which began last October and hit the region almost weekly. The Eastern Region—and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) is here—has been worst hit. In 1973 it had one-day strikes followed by the drivers' and guards' work-to-rule. In 1974 there were the drivers' one-day strike and the overtime ban, which crippled services in January and February. From October onwards the signalmen halted trains in rush-hours, escalating to one-day strikes which ended last month. For the past three weeks services on both the Southern and the Eastern Regions have been cancelled, late or shortened as the railway workshop supervisors staged a work-to-rule and ban on overtime and rest-day working. This is clearly something that cannot go on indefinitely. Overmanning is plainly of paramount importance. I do not for a moment underestimate the difficulty, especially at a time of high unemployment, but it has to be faced. In particular, I think that the Railways Board is entitled to ask the Government for real backing in facing it. There has been a good deal about this subject in the Press recently. For example, on 26th March the Daily Mail had an article by the editor of the Railway Gazette that was headlined"Any excessive wage settlements would undermine our efforts"
In The Guardian of 7th April there was a piece by Dr. Richard Pryke and Mr. John Dodgson, of Liverpool University, who, I suspect, are both well known to Ministers, foreshadowing their forthcoming book on the railways problem, saying:"When 7,000 men are still paid to sit doing nothing and there are 60,000 too many workers."
I think that British Railways do not accept that everything in the book is accurate, and it may well not be, but it cannot be avoided that the two authors are serious academic contributors, and if the Minister has reason to believe that their statements are wrong he should tell the House tonight."… in spite of reductions in rail employment. BR remains badly overstaffed and the position is likely to be even worse by 1981. It still has about 7,300 former firemen who can be dispensed with, as they have been already by a number of other railways. About 6,000 men are employed as freight guards, many of whom are superfluous and travel along with the drivers and 'firemen' in the locomotives. … Where passenger trains have power doors, BR can follow the example of London Transport and dispense with the guard. It should also be possible to greatly reduce the number of drivers by, for instance, speeding up freight trains which only average 22½ miles an hour and by reducing the amount of unproductive time. At present on the London Midland drivers only spend an average of 3¾ hours on the move out of an eight-hour shift."
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not expect me to spend all my time reading books, no matter from what source, and correcting the manifold errors likely to be there. I hope that I can follow his earlier advice as to how I should conduct myself. Certainly I take no responsibility for correcting academic errors. I shall have a word to say about discussing industrial relations in newspapers.
It is up to the Minister, of course, but I do not believe that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will approve of his anti-literate approach. Statements in the book are serious. I am asking the Minister not to go through the book line by line and clause by clause but to address himself to the crucial problem of overmanning on the railways and to face his responsibilities.
Some astringent comments have been made about ASLEF. Would the hon. Gentleman accept that ASLEF has accepted many reductions in staffing against its better judgment? Would he confirm that he would oppose any manning reductions that would jeopardise the enviable safety record of British Railways?
I certainly do not think that we should have any manning reductions that would jeopardise the safety record of British Railways. I cannot accept that the record of ASLEF is impeccable. I am not making these comments in a party sense. If I were, we should be having a Division tonight. I am simply saying that by any standards there are grave problems that have to be faced by the Ministers responsible, and it is up to the Minister to tell the House what he proposes to do.The Minister must accept that under the 1974 Act he has the ultimate responsibility for the appalling conditions that exist on some of our lines today in East and South-East London and so on. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will be talking about those conditions later, but I hope that we shall have a serious answer on the problems that I have raised. I do not want to be hypocritical. If we are to hold down the subsidy rate, some services are bound to be less than perfect. There is no point in pretending that we can have the best of all possible worlds. But the present policy makes efficient management impossible and overmanning has to be considered. With the money available, the emphasis must be on investment rather than open-ended subsidies.
Is the hon. Member saying that if there were a Conservative Government their policy would be to make 60,000 men redundant?
Of course it will not happen overnight. We must have a Government who will support the Railways Board in attempting to get the matter right. Of course one cannot sack 60,000 men just like that. However, there is a good deal of natural wastage and there have been big reductions over the last two decades. That process must go on, and there is no reason to think that it should not do so.Finally, policy must be realistic. It is no good pouring money into aspects of the service which will never attract custom so that there is nothing to spare to provide, for example, an adequate level of service to commuters. I hope that we shall have from the Minister a frank statement of how he is approaching this intensely difficult problem.
I know that the House will join me in welcoming the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) to our transport debates. I think that it is the first time he has taken part in such a debate. I certainly endorse his view that only rarely do we have an opportunity to discuss this very important aspect of our national life. and of course it also has a public expenditure relevance.We were all impressed with the searching and responsible way in which the hon. Gentleman began his remarks. However, he got rather carried away by mention of Dr. Pryke. He gave a trailer for a book which I understand will not be available until the autumn. However, I do not propose to await that book before replying to the points to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention. The hon. Gentleman raised some serious points, but he cannot have things both ways. He cannot criticise me and the Government for not giving the Railways Board commercial freedom and at the same time say that it is our fault that commuter trains do not run properly or that we have to deal with allegations about overmanning. Clearly there has to be a division of responsibility. By the provisions of the 1974 legislation it is quite clear that, although greater powers were sought and although the House is entitled to more information in the new circumstances, it was not sensible for the Minister or the Department to try to run the railways. I receive advice from many quarters, academic or otherwise—and in view of what has been said about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State being involved in academic matters, I should inform the hon. Gentleman that I had a fellowship in Cambridge and hold degrees from three universities. It can perhaps be said that I take a more objective view than the hon. Gentleman thinks. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Aylesbury is new to this area of activity, but I hope he will not take too much notice of what he reads in newspapers, particularly when they mention allegations of overmanning. If there is one industry whose industrial relations are troubled and whose activities are bedevilled by overmanning, it is the newspaper industry. The Daily Mirror dispute in recent days illustrated this only too clearly. This is nothing new in the newspaper industry. Fifteen years ago the commercial manager of one newspaper told me that it cost him more to get his newspaper from Fleet Street to the main line station than it cost to get that newspaper from the main line stations in London to Glasgow and other parts of the country. In those days—the situation may have changed by now—some of the newspaper workers were engaged in wrapping string around parcels of newspapers, which was a waste of time anyway because the newspapers were automatically wrapped in brown paper. Therefore, I do not think we should seek advice about overmanning from that quarter. Since the 1974 legislation came into force at the beginning of this year, we have entered into full discussions with the Railways Board, although we have made it clear that it is the board's responsibility to run the railways and to deal with the serious points which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The hon. Member mentioned the subject of a White Paper. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will wish to issue a White Paper as soon as that is reasonably possible. If the hon. Gentleman will examine the statement made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) on 28th November 1973, as the then Minister, he will realise that the right hon. Gentleman was in office for over three and a half years and did not produce a White Paper, although the matter had been mentioned on many occasions during his term of office. Furthermore the figures given by the then Minister, following a three-year review of the railways in the form of a joint exercise by the board and the Department, were cut within a fortnight. Therefore, although I pay a proper tribute to the work undertaken by the Conservative Government, without which the 1974 Act could not have come into being, the hon. Member for Aylesbury should appreciate that the present Labour Government have had less time than did the Conservative Government to examine all the important issues which have been raised today. The basis of the 1974 Act—a measure passed by the House without a dissenting voice—was that the railways needed large and continuing support for the whole passenger network. There is no doubt that public opinion supports the railways. It is equally clear that the running of the railways is a very expensive business. It is highly labour-intensive and nobody can expect to obtain rail services on the cheap. As we have often said, we believe it would be wrong to assume that the workers in the industry should subsidise it. If it is the national view that for economic, social and environmental reasons the railways should be kept going, clearly it is a national responsibility to find the necessary funds. We all realise that the extent of subsidy cannot be unlimited. The hon. Member for Aylesbury was right to draw our attention to increasing costs, which in a labour-intensive industry have grown faster than in other sectors. It is likely that in the first year under the legislation the passenger system will require a grant of about £340 million on top of the £30 million from local authorities under the passenger transport executive system. We accept that this involves the Department in exercising adequate control over this expenditure without becoming involved in day-to-day management. We and the board have been working out the budget and a system of monitoring the board's expenditure so that we can have an early warning of difficulties which are likely to upset the budget outturn. It is a form of budgetary control which is familiar to industry; on the other hand, the previous system involved specific grants and, in addition, the previous Government had a non-statutory responsibility in respect of the cash shortfall at the end of the year. These two grants together in 1974 under the old system accounted for nearly £400 million.
Is the right hon. Gentleman giving the House the assurance that the figure of £340 million revenue subsidy is not likely to rise appreciably in the current year?
No, I can give no such assurance. We are in the process of working out the system. Prolonged industrial disputes are bound to affect our calculations. Does the hon. Gentleman. with his wide contacts in industry, believe that in April any of his business friends would give similar assurances about their budgets and that they could be said to be dead on target at the end of the year? In an uncertain world one has to make provision to deal with uncertainties. However, this is the first year of a new Act, produced as a result of the review conducted by my predecessor. We shall have to see how it progresses. It is clear that the support cannot be unlimited.On the question of commercial freedom, the board has increased its fares already by 27½ per cent. in the last year. It currently has an application before the Price Commission—I expect it will shortly be making a statement—for a further average increase of 15 per cent. in passenger fares. It has already increased freight charges to what it thinks the market will bear. As freight is not subsidised in the same way as passengers, there is a probability that freight will be "in the red" this financial year. It is not popular to put up fares, but the board has met the needs of a great number of people by the introduction of the old-age pensioner reduced fares and the students' reduced fares during midweek and off-peak. Such provisions will add to the revenue rather than reduce it. Another possibility is that the board should seek to reduce costs. I assure the hon. Member for Aylesbury that it is far from easy. There are many hon. Members on the Government benches who have long, first-hand experience of railway operation. It is not easy to see how large savings could be made without drastic surgery of the railways system. Measures such as chopping off the odd line here or there are not likely to produce the sum which the hon. Gentleman clearly has in mind. We all regret the industrial disputes that have led to great difficulties for consumers and railway users generally. All railwaymen, not least the leaders of the unions, realise that as well as causing hardship disputes tend to lose business for the railways and, in the long run, affect the livelihoods of their members. The hon. Gentleman was fair and made the point that there was a longer list of disputes in 1973 than in 1974. He will know which Government were responsible in which year. However, no Government can do a lot to deal with wild-cat or unofficial strikes. Industrial relations were poisoned during the term of the Conservative administration because the railway unions were chosen as the guinea pig or the first victim under the Industrial Relations Act. Relations are much better now, but they were a problem. The restructuring which has recently taken place, and which rightly was given special priority, led to problems about differentials which are serious matters on the railways. These, together with the size of the settlement, are relevant considerations.
I must get on. I should have preferred not to make a speech, so that there would have been more time for other hon. Members to speak. However, the hon. Member for Aylesbury reasonably said that he thought it would be right for there to be a speech at this stage setting out the Government views. I should have preferred that there was only one Government speech. Much as I normally like to expose myself to cross-examination, I must consider hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak. I shall soon come to a conclusion.I turn to the pay issues. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury, I do not want to say anything that will make them more difficult. There has already been one meeting and the next is due on Friday. The Government fully support the board in seeking a settlement within the guidelines. The Government fully support the board in pointing out, as it has in very clear terms, that the amount of Government subsidy cannot be regarded as unlimited, and that if the claim rises to an unreasonable level it will present problems concerning the grant on the one hand and possibly future employment for railway workers on the other hand. I accept that all the railway unions are being responsible. Over the past 20 or 30 years the railways have had a good record both for industrial relations and for reduction in manpower. In one of the newspapers today there were odd references to 7,000 men. One should realise that the railways have halved their manpower in less than a decade. They have a real sense of responsibility and of dedication. I hope that there will be a satisfactory outcome to the current negotiations. The House accepts that the problems of the railways are very long-standing. I should like to hope that by the autumn I could put those problems right, but I cannot promise the House that we shall find the easy and immediate solutions that have been suggested. It is for the railway management and the Government, acting together within the new powers of the Railways Act, to settle the policies and strategies. A debate of the kind we are now having can only do good, because people outside will then realise that maintaining the railways is expensive. What must be understood by so-called subsidy—the grant—is the difference between the railways' costs and their revenues. If it is not forthcoming, there will be no wages at the end of each week to pay the people who work. As I have said many times, especially to railway unions, there are occasions when they decide not to work when the pay is there. However, it is certain that they will not work if they are not paid. When we talk about cutting subsidies, we have to face the fact that the money has to be found to pay the wages bill week after week because the revenues, even with the increased charges, are not likely to come anywhere near the outgoings in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we must accept that if we want to maintain a railway system of the present character and present level of services, it will be extremely expensive.
Mr. Speaker has asked me to point out that in the last debate nine hon. Members who spoke from the backbenches took a total of 94 minutes to make their contributions, which is an average of approximately 10 minutes each. It would be helpful to all hon. Members if the same precedent were continued during the present debate.
I shall certainly do my best to keep within your 10-minute ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.I agree with a certain amount of what the Minister has said; namely that the problems of the railways are long-standing, complicated and will not be resolved quickly. However, those of us who represent, as many hon. Members do, large numbers of constituents whose livelihoods depend upon their being able to travel with reasonable certainty and adequate comfort by rail will not be unduly comforted by what he has said. In view of the time, I shall concentrate on only one point. I represent a constituency with thousands of commuters who come into London every day. I cannot recall a time when feelings have run higher than they do now. I hope that the Government will bear this factor in mind. The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) have referred to the appalling conditions that have been experienced on British Rail over the past few years, particularly on certain commuter lines. My hon. Friend was right to point out, and the Minister was right to take up, the fact that no one pretends that these are simple problems that can be resolved by an incoming Government with a new magic potion. But the facts remain, and are relevant when considering the future of British Rail and what will happen to it in the context of the present enormous wage demand. Not only the railwaymen and the taxpayers are concerned about the result of the pay demand. Those who are perhaps most concerned are the poor people who have to travel every day in conditions of great discomfort, and who will have to pay the increased fares to compensate for the pay increases. In the past two or three years rail fares have risen by an average of about 60 per cent. We have heard from the Minister that there is a further increase in the pipeline, and there may well have to be more increases if there are substantial pay increases. I agree that one cannot indefinitely subsidise rail transport, that one cannot keep costs down artificially for an indefinite period. But what one must do, if one is to insist that the rail traveller pays the largest share, is to acknowledge that he is at least entitled to know that his services will arrive. In the past 18 months or two years we have seen on British Rail the ASLEF dispute, which caused appalling hardship to hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions; the more recent dispute by the signalmen; and, in the past week or two, the dispute which has caused the shortening of trains. The total result of all that is that hundreds of thousands of people have had to travel nearly every day in conditions of great hardship. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) does the journey and knows the lines to which I am referring perhaps better than anyone. Eastern Region has had some of the worst examples of the conditions I have described. Conditions there have probably been worse than anywhere else. More disruption and more inconvenience have been caused. These are difficult problems, but I hope that the Government will do their utmost to see what can be done to bring back more industrial peace on British Rail. The poor commuter can do nothing about the situation. His representative in the House of Commons can do precious little. At the end of the day, it is a problem for the management of British Rail, or perhaps in the last resort for the Government. It is intolerable that the people who travel on British Rail have to face the possibility of disputes, which, let us pray, will be avoided as a result of the latest wage negotiation, and have already had to face two serious disputes this year and the ASLEF dispute not long ago. My constituents travel to London by British Rail in their thousands. When the service works, they travel reasonably speedily. When it does not work, they spend many hours a day in uncomfortable conditions attempting to get to their work, with the knowledge that after their day's work they have to return in similar conditions. This morning I received by chance a letter from a responsible organisation in my constituency, a letter typical of many that I have received in the past two weeks. It said:
"In addition to the normal situation of dirty, unheated, crowded trains, the commuter has for months now had to endure even worse conditions brought about by the industrial action of first the signalmen and then the workshop supervisors.
[Interruption.] The organisation is not saying that that is normal. It is speaking of the conditions of the past few months in the disputes. If hon. Mem- bers challenge me, perhaps they would care to accompany my hon. Friend and me.We are told that we should not use our cars. Indeed, the taxes being levied already on petrol and those threatened for people taking their cars into London make it prohibitive to do so. There are only the trains. And they are so bad that, if animals had to travel in such conditions, there would be cries of public outrage."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall finish my quotation from the letter, and then give way to the hon. Gentleman. The letter continues:
"How can men and women working in London be expected to do an efficient day's work when they have suffered in the morning and are faced with the prospect of another tortuous journey in the evening?"
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because the reference to dirty trains is not accurate. When the trains leave, they are spotless inside and out. If there is any filth in the trains, the public are responsible for it, not the railwaymen or the Railways Board.
I do not wish to make a point about dirty trains. I was quoting from a letter in which that was a small point in relation to the more important matter. The organisation concerned is complaining not about the dirt on the trains but about the shortness of the trains and the intolerable conditions in which people have to travel, almost as if they were cattle, because industrial disputes have led to the number of coaches being reduced. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should not interrupt unless they know the conditions on the line. That is the situation which has occurred in the past few months. If I am interrupted, I shall have to give chapter and verse, but I am trying to be brief.What I am saying is the truth. Conditions are very difficult for tens of thousands of people, not only in the part of the country that I represent but in many other parts around London and in other areas where people commute into others of our cities. The problems that I am describing are serious. I hope that the Government will take them seriously, and do what they can to help. The solution must lie in better industrial relations on British Rail. When those who are only travellers on British Rail and who are not concerned in the industry look at its organisation and the structure of its trade unions they see complexities of an almost Byzantine nature. The proliferation of disputes seems more rather than less likely. As an outsider, one wonders whether that is part of the problem. Whatever the cause of the problem, I do not believe that if the present conditions continue for much longer the British public will be prepared to tolerate them. I hope that, whatever may be the outcome in the next few months, and whatever happens in all the other important matters affecting British Rail, everyone concerned will be conscious above all that the people who matter most are those who travel regularly on British Rail, who have many other financial and other difficulties, and who have been terrified by increased fares in the past few years. They will be terrified still more by the prospect of more fare increases, unless they have the certainty that they will be able to travel on the scheduled services without frequent industrial disputes which make their lives even more difficult than they otherwise would be.
I have recently been the chairman of an independent committee financed by the magazine Socialist Commentary. The committee, which has recently submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment a report on transport policy, was initiated by him about two years ago. I have been the chairman of this committee of academics, trade unionists and transport specialists for the past year.The chief recommendation of my committee is that there should be a national co-ordinating body along the lines of a national transport authority, which should have the overall duty of co-ordinating and integrating basic investment and pricing policy decisions. That is why I am surprised that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has again chosen to talk about the railways in isolation from the overall transport system. I wonder how much longer we shall go on talking in the House about just railways and not about the other parts of the transport system. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a difficulty, because the Tory Party when in Government pretends to be pro-railway, but when in Opposition it pretends to be pro-road. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulties in trying to match up the various obligations which the Conservative Party builds up for itself whilst in Government and in Opposition. As long as we consider separately the £500 million which may have to be paid to the railways this year and the £1,500 million net gathered in road taxation in various forms, we shall never have a transport policy. The hon. Gentleman stands further indicted by the fact that most of the mounting losses which he decried occurred within a period of Conservative administration. He seems conveniently to ignore that after the passage of the 1968 Act and the reorganisation of railway finances, the railways made a profit in 1969 and 1970. After grants and subsidies to unremunerative social services totalling £94 million, which were specifically provided for in the 1968 Act, even in 1973 the loss was only £52 million. Those losses which the hon. Gentleman now decries built up when the Conservative Government deliberately told the Price Commission, and the Price Commission deliberately told the Railways Board, to keep fares down. If the hon. Gentleman decries the mounting railway losses, he should look at the actions of his own Conservative Government, actions taken usually for the most political of motives. We have a problem with mounting railway losses and with the financing of the railway investment programme, but these difficulties cannot all be laid at the door of the Price Commission. Some of them have to be blamed on railway management. For example, I cannot understand how it is possible for railway management to say that no sized railway network can ever be made to pay, at the same time carefully omitting to publish the route strategy decisions on which that conclusion is based. We have been told countless times that no sized railway network can ever be made to pay but we have never seen, because they have never been published, alternative route strategies upon which that gigantic, momentous conclusion is based. We have been presented with the 1973 interim rail strategy plan. How can the board in submitting an investment programme to the Department of the Environment calculate that the railways will be carrying less freight in 1981 than they did in 1971? Why is it that about 40 per cent. of that original investment submission would not have returned 10 per cent. on capital employed? The forecasts and prophecies made by railway management do not give railway workers much optimism or much encouragement.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the forecast made by British Railways was based on estimated coal carrying before the oil crisis and before the heavy increase in the amount of coal carried?
That is precisely the point I want to make. Although changes have been made in the forecasts for the carriage of coal, steel and basic commodities, the railway freight strategy has still not been published. We still do not know the plans which have been made. What confidence can railway workers have in railway management in the light of the Field Reorganisation Scheme fiasco? In 1968 and 1969 and every year since, railway unions were told consistently and continuously that devolution of power along the lines of the Field Reorganisation Scheme was absolutely essential. It was so essential that the board, after spending £6 million on new buildings and £1 million on new telecommunications and computer systems and telling the unions every year that this reorganisation was intrinsic to survival suddenly, without explanation and without consultation, cancelled it all. What optimism, what confidence and what encouragement can railway workers have with railway management like that?One is taken back to the great marshalling yard decision. Whatever became of that? One is taken back to the great decision not to equip railway wagons with air brakes but to stick to vacuum brakes, and now, much later, the brakes have all had to be changed, much more expensively, to air brakes. Look at the great Channel Tunnel fiasco. One minute British Rail management gave a figure of £120 million as the cost of the railway link to the Channel Tunnel, and six months later we were told that the cost would be £500 million. What confidence can railway workers have in a management like that? The hon. Member for Aylesbury has gone away, presumably to take up his interest in roads. He referred to overmanning on the railways. He should remember that in 1948 the railways had a staff of 600,000, by 1963 that had been reduced to 440,000 and it is now down to 190,000, excluding the workshops figure. It is estimated to be 190,000 overall by 1981. That is the railway management's plan. I should like to know where is this overmanning? I keep hearing about the number of trains which British Rail cannot run because they do not have the footplate staff. I keep hearing about the number of tickets that cannot be collected at night because there is no staff. I keep hearing about the number of tickets that cannot be sold because there is no staff. Where is this overmanning? Those are the facts. On the other hand, as the hon. Gentleman is new to his duties, I suspect that this is the sort of thing we can expect from yet another academic or armchair railwayman. The hon. Gentleman does not know his facts. He should know that in the past 10 years the rate of natural wastage on the railways has been about 15 per cent. per annum. He should know that even to maintain its present complement of staff the railways would have to recruit about 30,000 new men every year. I speak as the parliamentary spokesman for the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. The hon. Members for Aylesbury indulges in the time-worn sport of ASLEF-bashing, conveniently forgetting that between 1955 and 1972 ASLEF was involved in no official dispute, and forgetting that from 1968 the footplatemen had been promised restructuring of their pay but the Railways Board would not talk. I do not want to start any inter-union rivalry, but it is interesting to note that when the workshop supervisors took action a couple of weeks ago, even while that action was taking place the Railways Board talked to the men. If the Railways Board had been as anxious to talk to the footplatemen, some of their working to rule might have been avoided. That was not a strike; it was a working to rule—another example of the fallacy of the overmanning which has been referred to. Why was it that in 1972 and 1973 when the working to rule was taking place British Railways Board could not talk to ASLEF? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we talk to one union we should be able to talk to another. However when we have certain senior sections of railway management saying almost publicly that they hoped that the ASLEF work-to-rule would smash ASLEF, is it to be believed that those senior sections of British Rail management would like to see industrial peace on the railway? I understand that railway negotiations are taking place at present and I would not like to prejudice them, but how can we come to a conclusion, before the negotiations have been completed, that the railway unions will obtain an increase of 30 per cent. which will smash the social contract? As far as I know the talks are still going on. As far as I know a conclusion has not been arrived at? However, almost every newspaper and many Conservative Members are talking as though the railwaymen had already obtained a 30 per cent. increase. I say that we should let the talks continue. Let us see what they produce. The railwaymen have a responsible negotiating tradition. Let us see what the negotiations produce rather than what the Press produces. My right hon. Friend is one of the Ministers who have managed to get through the eye of the public expenditure needle. He managed to get the Railways Act on the statute book last year. Much credit is due to him for that achievement. I only hope that he manages to get the railway investment submission through as well. I believe that as a Government we should have a much more coherent railway policy. The Conservative Front Bench is right to say that the railways still do not know what is expected of them. That can still be said despite the fact that on the passenger side Government subsidies amount to more than fare revenue. Despite that, the board still does not know what its task is for the future. I say in blunt terms to my right hon. Friend that I do not think that we have a transport policy. It is about time we had one. I am not suggesting that the report which I have submitted to the Secretary of State and to my right hon. Friend should in all respects be automatically adopted. I say that the suggestion that has been put forward for a national transport authority to try to co-ordinate all forms of transport investment and pricing policy is one which took a long time to arrive at and one which is worthy of serious consideration. When we consider the London-Glasgow situation we see that we have a British Airways shuttle service, the National Bus Company motorway express service and the British Rail Electric Scots service. They are all competing with one another. That kind of competition is not desirable, particularly in terms of energy saving and public expenditure restraint. My committee has recommended that we should have a national transport authority which should review annually the economic, the social and the environmental costs of each mode of transport. Given that policy review, it would adjust the costs, the charges, the taxes and the levies on each mode of transport accordingly. We should also have a policy for fares and rates for freight which reflect the costs which they impose. They should reflect the costs that they impose not only upon scarce resources but upon the whole community. For far too long transport pricing and transport policy have been based upon private costs. It is about time that we had a transport policy which counted social costs in terms not only of the community as a whole but of railway workers.
I am grateful to be called now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I may follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). I have read a great part of his report and I have brought a copy into the Chamber. It is an excellent report on transport which should be read by everyone who is interested in the subject, irrespective of political affiliations. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his team on the work they have done. I hope very much that the Government will base part of their White Paper on some of the wider aspects of what is contained in the report.The Liberal Party, no doubt along with other political parties, believes that we should have an integrated transport policy. It is that for which we should be aiming, but I am not qualified to say whether it is necessary to set up a national transport authority. I hope that we shall consider integrating our transport policy in regional terms. I hope we shall have more regional government. It seems that Scotland and Wales will be having their own Parliaments, with regional assemblies in England. I believe that we should integrate our transport policy in a way which will not mean setting up a huge bureaucratic body with London offices. I find little to quarrel with in the section of the report that deals with the railways. I think that it is a fair commentary on the present situation.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his praise, but I hope he will not praise the report too much.
I shall try to avoid doing so. I support the call for greater worker involvement and participation in management. That is to be applauded. I hope that that involvement and participation will be introduced without delay and in a meaningful form in spite of the turn-around to which reference has been made.The loyalty of the staff of British Rail has been stretched by some stupid decisions at top level. I suspect that management has been pretty abysmal. It seems to be too remote and cumbersome. That is something from which we are suffering generally at the moment. When we consider our national bodies, it seems that we have far too many administrators. It is time we did something about that. My hon. Friends and I wish passionately to see British Rail succeed. It is only common sense that they should be able to do so. I congratulate British Rail on the Inter-City services from which I benefit. To travel to Southampton non-stop from London in just over an hour is a very good service. I make use of it two or three times a week. I also congratulate them on some of their fare structures, especially those for old-age pensioners and those that apply at cut rates for midweek travel. I wish that they applied in my constituency. When my constituents go to Ryde Esplanade, they are told that such services do not apply to offshore islands such as the Isle of Wight. No doubt I can do something about that. It is a tragedy that we should have the present situation of disputes and unrest on the railways. I have mixed among railwaymen for many years. I consider that they are sensible and responsible people. What has gone wrong? Why is it that signalmen—they are probably the most responsible of all people on the railways—should have taken the action which has been so vividly described to us? I suspect that that action has resulted in part because of some feeling of unrest with the actions of management. It seems that some railwaymen do not see a future in their jobs. They want to know what the future holds for them. One or two anomalies have been put before me recently. For instance, on arriving at Portsmouth Harbour passengers are taken on to the boats by means of a hydraulic lift. The man who operates the lift is paid £5 a week more than the man who does the same job at Ryde Esplanade. He operates the same machine but because he is a member of the National Union of Railwaymen he is paid £5 a week less. It is understandable that there is ill feeling when such anomalies exist. It seems that I can do little for the man who is employed on the hydraulic lift at Ryde. I hope very much that the leaders of the various unions will moderate their claims if what we are told is true. I hope that a settlement will be achieved that is within the social contract and that both sides will be able to work together. It is desperately important for the future of British Rail that both sides should do so. Whatever economies may have to be made, I hope that we will press on with electrification. This seems to be sensible. We should consider cutting back on the advanced passenger train with its attendant high costs. I am not quite sure why anyone wants to go at 150 miles an hour. When we were examining the Channel Tunnel and the connecting link, there were great problems about the noise levels. Some hon. Members may have seen the television film which dealt with the Japanese experience of some of their fast trains. The long-term aim should be to have rail transport, passenger and freight, as the normal mode for hauls of 400 miles or more. As members of the EEC, and I trust we shall remain so, we should have an integrated European policy, ultimately with a rail-only Channel Tunnel. That is why I support those who say that we should not abandon the workings that have taken place on the tunnel so far. I am not quite sure what the Government's policy is about further closures. I hope that there will not be any, although I know that some are pending. Whatever the Minister does, I trust he will ensure that track and buildings are maintained rather than abandoned. Why not let some of the private operators who want to operate these lines come in and do so? They have proved pretty successful up to now. There has been the example at Ilfracombe. The track is there and people have tried to purchase it. Buildings are being ruined. The sort of obstacles they are facing should be removed so that people can get on with the job. I was chairman of a group which tried to reopen some of the lines on the Isle of Wight. I know all the complications that can arise, as they did in our negotiations with Southern Region. In the end we never got off the ground. This is quite wrong. Now we have the situation where we have an abortion of a line which finishes at Shanklin operating with 1927 stock, Piccadilly Line railway trains, pulled out of the Science Museum. British Railways should be made to tidy up some of the buildings and railways they have abandoned. They are a scar on the countryside. Why should they be allowed to leave these buildings in their present condition? Why should they not make better use of existing assets, particularly stations? On the Continent they are places of enjoyment where people go to spend an evening. Why cannot we have the same thing here? Why must it be that Nottingham station on a Sunday afternoon is a place to be avoided at all costs? Why must Portsmouth Harbour at ten o'clock at night be such a ghastly place? Why cannot British Rail make some use of their assets? If they cannot do it, they should let someone else do so. I make a plea to the Minister about the future of Seaspeed. This comes under the ægis of British Rail. The right hon. Gentleman will have received a letter recently from seven unions working in British Hovercraft in my constituency. This is a matter of great concern to us. Since the Channel Tunnel has been postponed or abandoned, the chance is now there to stretch the two SRN4 hovercraft run by British Rail as well, I hope, as those run by Hoverlloyd. I gather that Hoverlloyd makes substantial profit. British Railways, perhaps because of overadministration—I have had some correspondence recently with the Chairman of British Rail about this—make a substantial loss. The right hon. Gentleman has final sanction, and I hope that he will allow me to bring a deputation to see him. We were the first country in the world with this development. It has been allowed to slip back. The United States is building 2,000-ton hovercrafts, and all that we are supplying are the skirts. Now the French, of all people, are taking over where we left off It is important that certain facts should be made known to the right hon. Gentleman. They can be provided by my deputation.
I am always ready to meet hon. Members and deputations. However, the hon. Member must understand the great difficulties which this causes for me with the board. The board is charged with day-to-day management. Often it is not possible to provide the board with all that it might like to have. If I start telling the board that it should do this or that, I shall be getting into a situation in which, among my other occupations, I shall be running the railways. I would not mind that, but I should not like to look after my constituency and be a Minister at the same time.
I have always felt that I could run the railways—and I do not have degrees, only a few O-levels. I appreciate that this is a decision for British Rail, but there are facts which I should like the Minister to know. The deputation would understand the situation about British Rail.I echo the plea for a consensus approach to the railways. They should not be allowed to become a political football. There must be long-term plans for them on which all sides can agree. I hope that we shall very soon have the White Paper and that we can reach an agreed basis. As the hon. Member for Nuneaton has said, the basis is in the article to which he referred.
As a member of the National Union of Railwaymen I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I feel that we discuss transport affairs far too infrequently, and when we do we usually talk about the money which public transport loses. We do not seem to talk about railways at all.I come first to the question of overmanning. The hon. Member for Aylesbury referred to the report published in the Daily Mail on 26th March which stated that there were 60,000 workers too many in British Rail. The report was written by Mr. Richard Hope, who is regarded as an authoritative source. He is the editor of the Railway Gazette. I do not intend to indulge in any academic-bashing this evening, although as an ex-railwayman I have no objection to any enthusiastic amateur making a contribution to the debate on the railways. I would not object even to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) running the railway. Most other people have tried. Why not him? It is always a matter of consternation to railwaymen that everyone, from country people to the man who buys a cheap return to town every day, feels that he knows far more about the railway system and can run it far more efficiently than those who are paid to do so. I shall give some statistics concerning the staffing of British Rail and overmanning. If the railway industry suffered from overmanning, we would not find men in the signals grade working an average of 12·1 hours overtime per week. That is the average figure for that grade. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) has ably pointed out some of the problems in running British Rail caused by the shortage of footplate men. If the footplate grades are overmanned, it is surprising that it should be necessary for footplate men to work an average of 4·2 hours overtime per week to maintain the present services. Many of those services are inadequate. The railway staff would be the first to say that they should be strengthened, that there should be additional services and that more freight should be carried. At the beginning of the Beeching era it was said that the only way to make the railways pay was to sack 50 per cent. of the staff. The sackings have taken place. In addition, most of the facilities have been closed. Yet after 15 years we are further away from making the railways pay than we were when we embarked on the process. The railway unions—which are mostly ignored—pointed out what would be the result of the wholesale closures which took place in the Beeching era. The unions were right. The Tory Government when in office were inept at managing the finances of the nationalised industries, yet they told us which railways in Western Europe paid their way. Frequently they say that British Rail should be more like the French, the German or even the Japanese railways, yet they cannot produce one example of a foreign railway which pays for itself in purely financial terms. The railway industry can make a great contribution in social terms, although that principle has no place in Tory Party philosophy.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. I neglected to make the point that the subsidies enjoyed by the French and Italian railways are roughly twice those which we expect to give to British Rail, while the German railways enjoy a subsidy nearly three times as great. It is difficult to make comparisons because of the writing off of interest. However, when I meet my opposite numbers at various European bodies I hear that they have the same financial problems.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I trust that he will remember the generosity experienced by his continental colleagues next time the Chairman of British Rail calls on him.The problems connected with freightliners have been mentioned. Many people have been affected by them in the past few months. I am not alone in feeling that the right means of ensuring profitability in the railway industry's affairs would be to place them under the umbrella of British Rail rather than leave them with the National Freight Corporation, which is an error perpetrated by the Transport Act 1968, a point which I hope my right hon. Friend will remember in the future. At present the railway unions are embarking on their annual round of pay negotiations and once again Conservative Members give the appearance of knowing far more about Labour Party policy than some members of the Government. We have heard a great deal about the importance of the railway unions' pay claim to the social contract. Hon. Members opposite may be interested to hear some evidence offered recently by the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen in pursuit of the current pay claim. Among the points raised under the social contract by Mr. Sydney Weighell, General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, were, first, the need to maintain living standards. I do not think that even hon. Members opposite would object to that. The second point is the need to improve the position of the lower grade workers. Hon. Members opposite might have something to say about that after all, they quoted a figure of 30 per cent. They seem to think that the attainment of a basic rate of pay of £35 a week would push the country over the precipice of bankruptcy. The next point is progress towards equal pay for women. I do not know whether Conservative Members agree with that principle of the social contract but it is in the contract anyway. Next, there is the need to improve sick pay and holiday entitlement. Not even the best friend of British Rail would say that the sick pay scheme at the moment is over-generous to the great majority of conciliation staff employees. The next point mentioned by Mr. Weighell was the need to improve productivity and efficiency. Railwaymen themselves are interested and anxious to improve both, but it is a little difficult to do so when they have to turn traffic away for one reason or another. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said some harsh things about the management of British Rail, and many railwaymen will agree with them. It is demoralising for railwaymen to have to say to different companies "We must turn your traffic away because we do not have the staff, the locomotives or the rolling stock, and in many cases these days we do not even have the line to carry your goods to their destination." Obviously, in such conditions the railwaymen justifiably feel extremely demoralised about the future of the industry. I should like to say something in answer to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) who, like one or two other hon. Members opposite, assured himself of a nice story in a local newspaper and then left the Chamber. He read a letter from one of his irate constituents who used the old familiar phrases about dirty coaches and people travelling like cattle. Probably the only cliché he failed to use was the reference to sandwiches tasting like blotting paper, having spent most of their lives under a glass jar. The hon. Gentleman, like many other hon. Members opposite, wants it both ways. He wants the railways to pay, yet he wants greater investment in rolling stock on the Southend line. Does he or, indeed, does the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) think that the Southend line is the only overcrowded line in the country? Does he believe that this city is the only city in the country where commuters are forced to travel in discomfort?
Some suffer more than others.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, he is free to do so. Many commuter lines have the same problem. Are hon. Members opposite asking British Rail to invest a considerable amount of public money in rolling stock which will spend 70 per cent. of its working life waiting in a siding for the morning and evening traffic peaks? It is not the responsibility of British Rail that so many firms operate between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.It is an unfortunate fact of life that rolling stock has to be made available to transport workers both to and from work, but it is not used for the rest of the day. The days when British Rail could afford to have millions of pounds in capital investment tied up in sidings from morning till night are gone. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East would agree with that policy, but he cannot have it both ways. Finally, I turn to the question of staffing. It is a fact that in the peak hours all regions of British Rail, but particularly the Southern and Eastern Regions in the London area, cannot run regular booked-service passenger trains. We are back to the problem raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury of productivity. We have locomotive and footplate men and others tied up all day doing very little other than drive peak-hour trains. It is not the fault of British Rail.
The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but these are facts. They might be unpalatable in Southend, but they are facts. We cannot expect railwaymen to drive trains when there are no trains for them to drive. We cannot expect British Rail to renew rolling stock and have it standing idle in sidings. These are facts of life. If the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West wishes to do anything for his constituents other than provide them with a good story in tomorrow's newspaper, he ought to be pressing British Rail to make greater investment in its commuter stock, which, I concede, has been sadly neglected for a long time.British railwaymen are of the opinion that, through their own poor working conditions and relatively low rates of pay, for too many years they have been expected to subsidise the railway traveller. There is a different mood abroad these days. At the risk of being labelled a Marxist, a Trotskyite or any one of those other labels which Conservative Members like to hang around the neck of anyone who gives them the facts about industrial relations, I suggest that if railwaymen are expected to carry on with their present low rates of pay my right hon. Friend can start shutting down the railways next Monday. Railwaymen are no longer prepared to work 12 or more hours a day, seven days a week, to subsidise either the commuter or the inter-city traveller. Our railwaymen are entitled to demand a wage comparable with that of other industries. They do not seek comparability, for example, with the mineworkers, despite propaganda to the contrary, but they seek comparability, rightly, with the surface workers, many of whom work alongside railwaymen in collieries. If we are saying that a British Rail shunter must accept, as he now does since the miners' pay claim, £8 a week less than a National Coal Board shunter working next to him, we are providing a recipe for even more industrial trouble in future. The social contract is about many things, particularly justice, and Britain's railwaymen no longer want the burden of subsidising British Rail's debt through poor wages.
Some hon. Members have made fairly astringent criticisms of British Rail's management. I do not sympathise with the management of British Rail in many of the decisions that it has taken. However, in its defence, considering successive Acts of Parliament, White Papers and changes in investment policy that have occurred during the last 10 to 15 years, we should have a great deal of sympathy with the management of British Rail in the difficulties that it has encountered. I criticise many of the policies adopted by British Railways, but I acknowledge that it is to a large extent a shuttlecock of economic policies: it is a victim rather than a culprit. I suspect that many of British Railways' problems arise not because of management but despite the efforts of management.I do not intend to deal with the question of overmanning at any length. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and his colleagues know much more about this subject than I do. However, I cannot help making comparisons on figures which are available. Statistics which I have studied bear out the assertion that the railways made a magnificent effort over a 10-year period to reduce their total manning levels. From a total of 440,000 in 1963 the staff had been reduced to 250,000 in 1970 but since then the figure has remained constant. In the post-Beeching era there was a massive reduction in staff, but there has not been a reduction in the past four or five years. From a recent answer given in Hansard I make a comparison —admittedly, it is the one most favourable to my case—showing that British Railways with about 11,700 route miles have a total staff on all operations, including workshops, of 268,000, whereas the French railways with a route mileage of over 22,000 have a total staff of 290,000.
I accept that there are differences between British Railways and French railways, but there seems to be a case for saying that there is substantial overmanning on British Railways. We read that there is a large number of firemen whose services do not seem to be essential and there is a large number of guards on passenger services whose services I do not consider to be essential. We are entitled to ask whether there is not considerable scope for further manpower reduction.
The hon. Gentleman insists that there is a great deal of overmanning, but why is it that the railways cannot be run when the members of ASLEF work to rule but do not go on strike?
It is self-evident that when the staff withdraw their services—
The staff do not do that. They just do not work overtime.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the travelling public—commuters in particular—suffer just as much from the pestilential rule book as they suffer from a full-scale strike. There seems to be evidence of overmanning. If there is scope for a further reduction in manpower, it is as much in the interests of the railway staff as it is in the interests of the travelling public and of hon. Members opposite—the members of the railway lobby, as I will describe them—to try to bring that about without any reduction in services. It is as much in the interests of the staff as it is in the interests of the travelling public to get the most streamlined and efficient railway system that we can get.When hon. Members seek to defend the interests of their constituents and complain about bad industrial relations and such things as dirty trains, it is depressing when hon. Members opposite, instead of trying to improve the lot of railway employees and of the travelling public, leap to the defence of the staff as though we were making a dreadful attack on the railway unions.
Surely the hon. Gentleman understands that we are bound to jump to the defence of those who must work hard for their living. Some would argue that this place is overmanned. There are over 600 in this place. It could well be that some of those 600 are doing a useful job just like many of the railway staff of whom the hon. Gentleman's complaining. It could well be also that many of those 600 have gone home.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has only just entered the Chamber and has made a typical offensive remark. If he is suggesting that it is only the railwaymen who work hard and that the commuters who travel to and from London do not, it is an offensive and rather pointless interjection.Many speeches from Labour Members have given an appearance of total complacency about the present situation, and this is equally depressing. It may be that all is well, that there is no financial problem and that industrial relations are perfect. If so, it is strange that nearly every informed critic in the Press, the travelling public and Conservative Members feel that there is a sense of financial crisis and that British Railways are in trouble. However, there has been not been a suggestion by Labour Members that that is the state of affairs. Recently Mr. Farrimond was quoted as saying that British Railways were bust and bankrupt to an extent never before known. It was only the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East who made the slightest concession to the situation when he said that the morale of employees of British Railways was low. Other Labour Members and the Minister have given the impression that the situation is not too bad.
Where have you been?
We have had two years of disruption on the railways due to bad industrial relations. Recently we have had the signalmen's dispute, the strike of supervisors and the train drivers' dispute.
The supervisors did not strike. It was a work-to-rule.
I stand corrected. All the working to rules, the go-slows, the inter-union disputes and the strikes we have had in the past few years add up to a major body blow at the railways themselves. It should be in the interests of Labour Members and their union connections to try to improve industrial relations in the railways.The simple point is that industrial relations in British Railways are at a pretty low ebb and something has to be done about them. Commuters see the prospect of a major dispute over yet another pay claim, with the possibility—I hope it is no more than a possibility—of even further disruption. The commuter has to stand by and see this happen. He has no control over the situation whatever. It has been suggested that British Railways are in more serious financial trouble than ever before. We have had statements that the total Government support this year could exceed £500 million and that the money that was to be allocated over a five-year period will be exhausted in half that time. This is despite the fact that the commuter is facing a massive increase in fares. I do not say that the commuter can be insulated from the true and fair costs of operating the railways. Certainly it is acceptable that the fair and true costs must be passed on to the commuter.
I said "fair and true". If this latest fare increase goes through, the total increase during a 12-month to 15-month period will have been about 43 per cent. to 45 per cent.—over a period when inflation would have been about half of that.
Tell us about the years before.
The commuter is a victim of these circumstances. Although true costs must be passed on, what are the true costs? There is no discipline and no constraint upon a nationalised industry of this kind. There is certainly no parliamentary control over the way this money is spent.I deplore the fact that it is now 15 years since a Select Committee of this House investigated British Railways. In effect, there is an open-ended commitment from the Government to support the finances of British Railways. The Government do not exercise any financial displine. There is certainly no market discipline because the long-distance commuter is a captive of the railway. He has no choice but to travel by train. Now we have the phrase that he must have imposed upon him "the costs that the market will bear." He has no choice but to pay whatever is demanded. Therefore, what is happening is that the member of the travelling public is now the victim of circumstances totally beyond his control. If there is overmanning and if there are bad industrial relations, there is no way whereby these matters can be controlled. All that the Government have to say is "We accept a 30 per cent. wage claim", and that will be passed on in almost exactly the same figure to the travelling public. We now know that the wages bill of British Railways is roughly equivalent to its revenue, so a 30 per cent. wage claim is likely to mean 30 per cent. fare increases. Here we have a deteriorating financial situation, a record of very bad industrial relations and, apparently, an attitude of complacency on the Government benches —that things are going along quite smoothly although perhaps there might be a few troubles. Basically, however. there has been no attempt to deal with this situation. That is certainly the impression given by Labour Members. I want to make two particular pleas. The first is that the House of Commons should try to reassert some control over British Railways finance. Second, a public inquiry should be set up into industrial relations on British Railways. That would be in the interests of every person in this country, including Labour Members who say that they are supporting the interests of the unions. British Railways finances are going out of control. The public can see that they are going out of control. The public are prepared to see reasonable financial support, as provided for under the Act of 1974, as long as they can see reasonable working conditions, good industrial relations and trains that are clean and punctual. At present, however, the situation is deteriorating, fares are escalating rapidly and industrial relations are poor. It is about time that the Government and all Labour Members saw the truth of this and tried to do something about it.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) spoke in a very different voice from the voices we heard in 1974 during the debate on the Railways Bill and, indeed, voices used by Conservative Members when in Government in 1973. I hope that it is not a sad retrogression of their views.The hon. Gentleman was critical, for instance, of the railways being run as a social service. That was not the criticism last year and the year before. It is very significant that the two services that the hon. Gentleman wants to maintain most of all—I can understand this, he being the Member for Aylesbury —are rural services and the commuter services. All that Conservative Members seem to bother about are the commuter services. These are the most expensive of all the services and they are run at the greatest deficit. The hon. Member has been complaining about deficit financing, yet most of it will be required for these services. If we were to charge the true costs, there would be few commuter services left.
It is rather remarkable that the hon. Gentleman, who is now present for the first time since the debate began to listen to a back-bench speech, wants to stop a back-bench speech. I should feel more inclined to accept an interruption if the hon. Gentleman had been present for any of the rest of the debate.The hon. Gentleman also gives the impression that Great Britain is the odd man out and that we are the only country financing railways. In fact, we are one of the smaller contributors. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, we subsidise our system much less than France, Italy or Germany subsidise theirs. In France and Italy the subsidy is over £600 million a year. In Germany it is over £1,200 million a year. The hon. Gentleman will not find commuter services to be better in France—I should like him to board a commuter train to Paris—and even less so in Italy. Today, even in America, with all the advantages which American railways have of running more profitable freight services because they are long-haul, like those of the continental countries, the railways need massive State aid to keep going. A correspondent who travelled recently on the American commuter services said that if any British commuter suffered an attack of British Rail nerves the best antidote for him would be to take a trip on American commuter services. They are very much worse, and we have something for which to be thankful. I do not suggest that the management of British Railways is all that it should be. It is still suffering from the Beeching era when the Conservative Government backed Beeching to the full and he introduced a great deal of new management more concerned with building up empires than with expanding the railways. Indeed, their chief concern was to close railway lines as quickly as they built up their administrative empires. The demand that we switch more freight to rail is regarded as an emotional one, although it is in line with what every foreign railway is doing on the instructions of their Governments. This is one of our chief demands, and I have no doubt that the Minister sees that. It is shocking that, despite all the debate about this and despite the consensus among the various parties, we should be neglecting freight and even talking about a reduction. The Opposition seem to imagine that there is something inherently inefficient about the rail system. It is not so. In terms of labour, energy and everything else, it is still the most efficient way to carry freight and passengers. Per unit carried, it is still the most economical means of transportation. The disadvantage with which railways have to contend throughout the world is that the commercial road user has a cross-subsidy from the non-commercial road user and, in this country, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer because about 40 per cent. of the cars on the road are company vehicles which get tax remission. This encourages competition against British Railways. A study undertaken by the State transport authorities in the United States some years ago at a cost of $200 million came to the conclusion that the wear and tear on the highways varied according to the weight on the axle to the fourth power. It worked out that 1,000 12-ton lorries were more damaging to the road than 160 million motor cars. This theory, which was based on practical research, has never been denied by any authoritative body. Commercial road users are subsidised heavily by non-commercial road users, and this is probably the main reason why railways throughout the world find it very difficult to compete with road services. I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury, however, that there is a need for greater investment in British Railways, although I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can hold that view when he disagrees about the financing of the railways. The point is: what are we to do in the meantime? With services running at a deficit, should we allow them to stop, rejuvenate them, and then restart them afterwards without meeting the deficit for this period? Such a policy would be more expensive than keeping them going for a while. I was extremely disappointed when the Channel Tunnel project was abandoned by the Government. The rail link proposed under the Channel would have done a great deal to help long-haul freight, which is the basis of freight viability. It would have enabled us to link up with the continental rail system and thereby to get the advantages of long-haul. Much more investment in and much more spending on the railways than is envisaged for next year are needed. That would enable us to use our labour more efficiently. Let us not forget that one way in which to increase productivity on the railways is to use the services to capacity. That is very much the best way. A lot of nonsense has been talked about overmanning in the context of how much the rail force has been cut. The silly academic exercise that refers to firemen still being employed on British Railways ignores that, although they are not employed as firemen, they are employed perhaps at firemen rates, because that was one way in which to get the union to agree to reduce the work force as it has been reduced. The hon. Member for Aylesbury does not realise that in the United States, for instance, firemen are still employed in the locomotives as the result of an agreement with the unions made many years ago—although the United States was the first to use diesel locomotives. It is sometimes economic to negotiate in such a way as to ease the burden on the labour force. In view of what has been said in recent years in the House and outside about the environment and the need to save energy and make labour more productive, everything points to the need for more investment in and greater use of the railways. If we talked less and provided more money, we should reach that objective, and I hope that we shall see a great improvement in investment in and expenditure on the railways.
Transport communications are at the heart of the infrastructure problem that is fundamental to the failure to develop, in Wales at any rate, a strong and balanced economy. In Common Market jargon, Wales is a peripheral region, and although it is unusually rich in human and natural resources it provides a classic example of the economic consequences of being a peripheral region of a huge State.A part of this situation is that in rail, road and air transport we have a system geared to the metropolitan centre. Ever since I remember, nationalists in Wales, with the support of Welsh railwaymen, have been calling for a Welsh transport board, in the hope that such a board could construct an integrated road and rail system for both freight and passengers that would be designed to serve Wales. My main plea tonight is that we may soon see this board established in Wales to match the coming of the measure of political decentralisation that we are to have. If we had done that in the past, our economy would have been considerably stronger and our situation happier. I have no doubt that this board would have encouraged the use of our own fuel in Wales, particularly of coal-generated electricity, and that would have been a lot better for our balance of payments. Rail traffic could have been more actively developed, so easing the congestion on the roads and discouraging pollution and injury to the environment. But no Government have attempted it. The attitude of Governments to railways in Wales has been much the same as their attitude to roads in Wales. We still have no north-south Welsh main highway. When we have pressed for that, the Government have said that there was no industry there and, therefore, no need for a road—very different from the attitude in Italy, where the Autostrada del Sole was built through the centre of Italy because there was no industry there. The attitude to railways has been very much like that, and much of our railway system has been destroyed. In passing may I say that in the destruction of stations and so on the British Railways Board set an unhappy example to vandals in the destruction of very fine stone buildings in stations that have been closed, and that sort of thing it still going on. I wonder whether it is necessary to pull down the stations at Pontypridd, Bridgend and Neath, which are very good examples of architecture of that type in the last century. I am sure that there are better ways of spending £500,000. The British Railways Board reduced passenger mileage in Wales from a figure of 1,500 miles in 1950 to a figure of 665 in 1970. That was done without any proof that the rail system in Wales was losing money. That may sound strange, but it is true. I published two articles on this matter in the early 1960s in a Welsh daily paper and the facts in those articles were not denied by the board. They set out figures showing that at that time the Cardiff region, which extended from Aberystwyth to Craven Arms, was making a gross profit of £13 million. Lucrative freight traffic accounted for 84 per cent. of that income. Had there been a Welsh transport board at that time, the story would have a different and certainly a happier one than the situation today. But if it is said that we are losing money on these lines, should we not consider to a greater degree the social costs of closure? I live in a rural area, and in many Welsh rural areas unemployment has been accelerated by closures, depopulation has been caused and closures have added to congestion on our roads and discouraged the development of light industry and tourism. The recent closure of the line from Carmarthen to Newcastle Emlyn and Lampeter is an example of that trend. That line runs through the most beautiful country and has a tremendous potential for tourism. But for that closure, Wales could have a circular rail route which would be used by tourists who like to do that sort of thing. In that way we could make excellent use of one of the loveliest lines in Wales running through large parts of central Wales. The line in that area has more than once been under the threat of complete closure. It is no good appealing to the British Railways Board, because it has a well-tried technique of running down lines. However, the board failed to close the line in central Wales, but little effort is being made to attract custom to the line and to make journeys in Wales pleasurable. The multiple diesel units now being used are elderly, noisy, shaky, smelly and hot. The railway could be a great attraction to tourists as well as to local users, and it is true that the line is used by local people on a considerable scale. It would certainly assist if the line could be provided with better rolling stock. I hope that better provision will be made for north-south traffic in view of the development of the Welsh National Assembly at Cardiff. It should be made possible for people to travel easily to Cardiff from areas in Gwynedd, for example, and for them to carry out business in the city and then to travel easily back home at night. It is easier for people to travel from Dyfed to London than for many people to get from parts of Wales to Cardiff. I hope that something will be done to alleviate the system in future. British Rail must respond to the growing national consciousness in Wales in making greater use of the Welsh language, but I shall not expand on that point now. I should like to conclude by referring to the complete lack of electrification on the Welsh railways. This is a great scandal. Even the rest of the United Kingdom railway lines are backward in this respect in comparison with other countries. Although Wales is a country which exports coal and also electricity, it has not a single mile of electrified railway. We all know that Switzerland, which has no coal, has an entirely electrified rail system, and railways in Denmark, Austria and Holland are extensively electrified. Why is it that we in Wales have not a yard of electrified railway? I am sure that a Welsh Government would not have permitted this scandal. If we had a Welsh transport board it would have fought very hard. One hopes that the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Development Authority, which are soon to be established, will have adequate powers and finance to develop the infrastructure of Wales, with the railways playing an important part, in order to implement at last a national development plan for Wales. The decentralising of railway transport control is needed with a powerful national elected body to tackle the problems of Wales with vigour, vision and determination.
It is an extraordinary coincidence that the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine) should be here tonight when we are having a debate on railways. He will recall that 25 years ago I made my maiden speech in which I advocated certain principles by which the British Railways Board should be guided in the decision which it took.Those principles were thought to be rather revolutionary at the time. I suggested that it should be recognised that the railways' job was to conduct passengers and goods from place to place as speedily, efficiently, safely and economically as possible. The provision of jobs for railwaymen was incidental to the provision of the service. In the same way Tesco, J. Sainsbury and Lipton provide groceries for people to buy, and the provision of employment for people stocking the shelves and handing out the goods is incidental. That was thought to be revolutionary, but in my view it was rather simple. I hope that will be borne in mind in future decisions which the British Railways Board may take. The board has forgotten that the satisfaction of the needs of its customers happens to be one of its jobs. It seems to concentrate on satisfying the needs of those who work in the industry. It is important that it should do so, but that is not its only job. Unless it satisfies the needs of those who use its services there will be no jobs for the people at present engaged in running the railways. The position is not as immediately obvious in a nationalised industry. With an industry which is in private hands, as Labour Members well know, it is enjoyable to indulge in wage negotiations when that industry is making a profit. If an industry is making a profit one knows that one has a better chance of securing improved conditions for the people for whom one is negotiating. However, if one is negotiating with the nationalised industries there are no inhibiting conditions, because at the end of the day the taxpayer will foot the bill. In those circumstances we require better industrial relations than we have now. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has presented a catalogue of the troubles from which we have suffered on the commuter line from Southend to London, which makes it unnecessary for me to repeat it. We have suffered tremendously, although we are the people who provide the cash to run the services as best we can and although that line happens to be profitable. We are paying not merely the economic cost of transport from Southend to London but more than the economic cost. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who laughed uproarously when my hon. Friend said that people were being treated like cattle, should travel on the line, as I do. He would know that people are being crammed into railway compartments because at peak hours when there should be a 12-set train it either does not run or is reduced to a four-set. In those circumstances 20 to 25 people travel in a carriage and there are people standing in the toilets. If that is not travelling like cattle, I do not know what is.
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman had a great deal to say, and I have only a few minutes.
The people should have larger toilets.
It may be the hon. Gentleman's view that people from Southend should travel by train in bigger and better toilets. He may believe that the people of Clay Cross should do the same. Why does he not say so? If such conditions occurred at Clay Cross in his constituency, he would be the first to complain.My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West did not exaggerate the conditions. Day after day, peak-hour trains were cancelled and 12-sets were reduced to four-sets. People had to travel in insufferable conditions. All that was due not to any disagreement that the railwaymen had with the travelling public but to arguments between the unions. It is unfair that those conditions should occur because ASLEF or the signalmen disagree with the NUR, or because they disagree with the structural agreement and want bigger differentials. It always amuses me about the egalitarian party which says that we should all be equal that I have never seen so many class differences as exist between the different grades of workers in the various industries in which they are engaged. There is far more class distinction between an engine driver and a porter than there is between Lord Derby and me. The unions are anxious to preserve those differentials at all costs. Why do they go through the humbug of saying "We are all equal" when they spend the best part of their time seeking to preserve the differentials? My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) on the Front Bench is becoming restive, I am sure not because he disagrees with what I am saying but because he has a speech to make. I welcome the fact that we have had an opportunity for the first time in a very long while to say a word or two about the railways. It is the first time my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West and I have been able to say something in the House about the disgraceful conditions in which our constituents have to travel. We pay higher and higher fares for worse and worse service, because trade unions cannot agree among themselves and British Rail is incompetently run.
Ever since I entered the House I have been a member of my party's transport committee. Therefore, I have taken part in many debates on the subject of the railways.I say at once to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) that I am not anti-railway, and never have been. We on this side of the House are certainly not anti-railway. Ali hon. Members should sympathise with those who work in the railway industry, because over the years they have had to suffer a great deal of interference by successive Governments of both political parties, with major changes in transport policy. Management is doing a good job in difficult circumstances. I pay my tribute to the Chairman, Mr. Richard Marsh, who has shown considerable flair and imagination in a challenging task. It is easy for us to criticise individual aspects of railway operations.
Or the workers.
Hon. Members are entitled to criticise those aspects, because we represent the feelings of our constituents, but we should all recognise that an industry of the railways' size and complexity faces great and difficult problems. One which has been mentioned several times concerns long-term investment plans. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) made the point that in such an industry those plans must look ahead for many years. I believe that we need 10-year plans rather than five-year plans.Let us take, for example, electrification, which was raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). The rate of conversion in Britain has not been high. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said that it was even worse in Wales. In Britain, between 1968 and 1969 it averaged about 200 miles a year. With the present energy situation, more electrification is vital, and decisions must be taken now. I speak with some feeling on this because in my constituency of Chippenham there is a large Westinghouse factory which for many years has manufactured equipment for the railways. Companies like Westinghouse require firm and continuing orders so that they can keep together their specialist teams engaged on particular projects. Of course, I realise that Governments have to cut public expenditure—no doubt we shall hear something about that tomorrow—particularly in these times of inflation. I believe that transport is a special case and that an industrial country will not be successful unless its basic transport system is modern and efficient. It is probably false economy to make major cuts in transport investment. The second major setback which the railways have encountered—again referred to by the hon. Member for Preston, North —is the decision to abandon the Channel Tunnel. The building of the Channel Tunnel would have given a tremendous boost to the railways, in increased passenger and freight traffic. The possibility of through traffic from Glasgow to Barcelona and from Liverpool to Milan would have been very exciting, and the tunnel would have offered immense opportunities for Freightliner services from all parts of the United Kingdom to the Continent. It is tragic for the railways that this opportunity has been thrown away. It is probably not the appropriate time to discuss the implications of the political decision to abandon the Channel Tunnel. It has not been much referred to tonight. I deplore the decision and particularly deplore the way in which the cancellation was handled by the Government. I feel bitter about it because every time the House of Commons discussed the Channel Tunnel project the ratio of those in favour was 5:2. Yet at very short notice and with the minimum of discussion the whole project was abandoned. I hope that we shall find an opportunity before long to have a major discussion and an inquest on the implications of that decision. Further difficulties have been caused to the railways by the major changes in transport policy over the years. A major change was the Transport Bill of 1968. I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. In passing, anyone who was on that Committee should have a long-service medal. It was the longest Committee stage in the history of Parliament. The present Chairman of British Railways was on the Committee.
What about the Housing Finance Bill?
Those who served on that Committee should also have a medal.It was a controversial Committee but on one thing we agreed, that it would be possible to make the railways pay and to get away from deficit financing. We were all very pleased after the Transport Act 1968 that for two years, 1969 and 1970, the railways actually made a profit. But by 1971 the profit became a loss, and today I very much doubt whether anyone in the House of Commons believes that there is such a thing as a viable railway network. That is why last year, with some reservations, we supported the Railways Bill which abolished the existing subsidies for branch lines and made £1,500 million available for the general subsidy of passenger services over a period of five years. Incidentally, the Bill also wrote off £189 million capital debt, which saved British Railways about £15 million in annual interest charges. As I say, we supported the Bill, and we have not changed our tune, which to a great extent follows the thinking of the previous Conservative Government and the previous Conservative Minister. We had certain reservations, of which I will mention two. First, we emphasised, as we do today and as my hon. Friend for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) did in opening, that it was wrong to deal with railways in isolation. The previous Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) had promised a White Paper to deal with the whole subject of transport. During its period in opposition the Labour Party frequently called for an integrated transport policy. Yet today we have heard practically nothing from the Government of their attitude to overall transport planning. The hon. Member for Nuneaton, having complained that some of us had not stayed, has himself gone. He agreed with the need for an overall transport policy. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight also made the same point. It is disappointing that the Minister said nothing about an overall transport policy. He said that he had not had time to produce one. We hope that such a policy will soon appear. It is time that transport was considered as a whole. On that basis I put in a plea for the development of inland waterways. I believe that they could make a major commercial contribution to transport. At the same time the use of inland waterways would help the country deal with amenity and pollution problems. With modern equipment it would be possible to transport heavy goods traffic to and from the Continent by using canals on both sides of the Channel and by using the same vessels on the Channel. That would eliminate a great deal of labour and handling costs, apart from the many advantages that would accrue in environmental terms. I am sure that insufficient study has been given to the development of inland waterways. I hope that the Minister will refer to that matter tonight and give us a little encouragement. The truth is that as a nation we need urgently to review all forms of transport and to produce an overall balanced policy which harmonises commercial and social needs with the needs of safety and a good environment. A reservation that we expressed last June—and it has since become a far more serious matter—concerned industrial relations. Several hon. Members have raised the matter tonight and I do not apologise for raising it again. Last June my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said:
I referred to industrial relations when I wound up for the Opposition on the Railways Bill last year. I also referred to the issue in Committee. When I had the temerity to refer to it in Committee in remarkably mild terms—I am a remarkably mild and moderate man—I was immediately pounced on by Labour Members. I think that they are a little oversensitive about industrial relations on the railways. I realise that it is a delicate subject and I am deliberately not trying to make political capital out of it. However, I make no apology for returning to the subject tonight. Of course, the railways are labour intensive. I think that nearly 70 per cent. of their costs relate to wages. I believe the precise figure is 68 per cent. The increase in pay and the salary structure changes which took place in 1974 cost over £200 million. We are told that losses on the railways may reach £340 million to £350 million this year. The Minister rightly said that he did not know what the losses would be. He asked what business would know the extent of its losses so early in the year. Does he think that next year, after another pay increase, the losses will reach £700 million? That figure has been put forward seriously by many experts. It is said that losses in 1977 may be over £1,000 million. It seems that the £1,500 million, which was meant to last for five years, may well last for only three years or less. What control is there? What control does the House exercise? What control does the Minister have over this vast expenditure? He has said very little about the matter tonight. The public are entitled to be concerned about expenditure on such a scale. We know that a new wage claim is on the table. The hon. Member for Nuneaton says that we must wait and see what the size of it is before we say anything further about it and that we must be careful about the figures. I should be surprised if the claim were not in the region of 30 per cent. A number of people have said that that sort of increase is quite possible. I believe that it will be a large claim. Where will these matters end? Since September 1972 fares have increased for the travelling public by about 60 per cent. Presumably there will be more pressure for increases in the autumn. This will inflict some financial hardship on the travelling public who have already suffered for many months from the disruption caused first by the train drivers, then by the signalmen and recently by the workshop supervisors. The unpleasant fact is that those large increases awarded last year and meant to bring peace to the industry have brought inter-union rivalry and discontent. I also believe that no one seriously doubts that some saving can be made on the railways by better productivity and more modern methods."The commuter well remembers the almost total dislocation of services last winter during the ASLEF work-to-rule when the passenger was expected to suffer, and did suffer, intolerable conditions. … Before we give this Bill a Second Reading we shall want to he assured, on behalf of the travelling public, by the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Employment that there will be no repetition of those events."— [Official Report, T4th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1017.]
I realise that the number of footplate staff has been greatly reduced since 1962. I remember trying to make the same point in last year's debate and the hon. Member for Nuneaton leapt to his feet and interrupted me. The management of the railways carried out a study six years ago and said that it expected that the total number of employees by 1974 would be 200,000. The size of the force last year was 228,000. We know that management was totally unable to carry out its plans to streamline management, reorganise the regions and boost efficiency. It had to abandon its whole scheme on which it had been working for many months in January because of the opposition.
That is true. Yet these problems have to be solved. Is it true —we do not seem to have discovered this during the debate—that 7,000 former firemen are still employed and are travelling in the cabs because there is no job for them?
We must have the truth about this. If the footplate is so overmanned, why is it that when footplate staff do not work overtime the railways grind to a halt?
I said in Committee that the rule book needs to be looked at. I do not think that the British public understand this. I am sure that we could get better productivity. We could get freight trains to move faster than an average of 20 miles an hour. We could arrange for drivers to spend more than half their time on the move. These are detailed points. The fact remains that there are a number of firemen who are still employed but have no job to do. Why do we have freight guards who are completely superfluous and who, anyway, often travel with the driver and fireman in the cab? Do we need so many people checking tickets at the barrier particularly on Inter-City trains when the tickets are checked again during the journey by the guards?Parliament and the public have a right to receive answers to these questions. There has been none tonight. We like the Minister but I feel that his speech was remarkably complacent. He seemed to suggest that it was a problem that we all had to face, that the railways would cost a great deal of money and that there was little—
I tried to explain earlier that Opposition Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot criticise us for allowing the Railway Board to manage the railways and then ask us to intervene at every detailed point.
I understand that. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and the Minister have said that there is no bottomless pit of money which can be used endlessly to pump finance into the railway system. I was glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who attended our debate briefly tonight, said recently that any excessive wage settlements in the railway industry would merely increase fares, make rail journeys less competitive and ultimately result in a smaller railway industry, with fewer jobs for railwaymen. It is a matter of the highest priority for the whole industry that the unions should understand that it is in their interests to promote a better attitude towards each other and the general public. If this debate has made any contribution to that end, it will have been thoroughly worth while.
It is pleasant to follow the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) again, as I did during Second Reading of the Railways Bill on 24th June 1974. We are both interested in the problems of transport, especially those of the railways.Last June, by means of the Railways Act, we started what we hoped would be a new basis for the operation of the railway system. We accepted that the previous concept of an essentially viable passenger rail network, with subsidies for a few loss-making lines, was no longer an effective method to use and that instead the passenger network must be looked at as a whole. In so far as the cost of operating that network cannot be met through fares and charges, Government support is required. That support cannot be attributed to particular lines or services. We further accept that passenger business forms the main core of the railway system and that the basic cost of track, signalling and the other infrastructure factors of the railways should be charged against it, leaving the freight business to bear only the cost of those parts which it uses. On that basis we expected the business to be able to break even. We also expected it to be able to contain the passenger subsidy. As my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Transport said, the position has changed. The railways, like other businesses, have suffered from the effects of the increased costs which they have not yet been able to recover through higher fares and charges. As a result, their financial position has deteriorated. I confirm the figures given by my right hon. Friend. We expect that Government support for the passenger system in 1975 will amount to about £340 million, in addition to which grants from local authorities will contribute a further £30 million. One of the problems which has brought the industry to its present state was undoubtedly the restraint that was imposed on the Railways Board by the previous Government. For instance, in 1973 the then Government directly restrained the board from increasing its fares to a level allowable under the provisions of the Price Code, so that increases were held to 5 per cent. on passenger fares and to about 2 per cent. on freight charges. Those increases were not sufficient to contain the on-going deficit, neither did they cover the increases in allowable costs. This is part of the greasy pole which the railways have since been trying to climb. The sums are vast—£340 million this year. How shall we be able to contain this large requirement for financial support? My right hon. Friend spoke about passenger fare and freight increases. I shall not deal with those. There is then the question of management action to improve the efficiency of the railways and to cut out activities which give the community poor value for money. A good deal has already been said about the British Railways management during the course of the debate. Everyone knows how to run a railway much better than those who do it. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) made the point that British Rail deliberately run down a line so that it can be closed. I know of no railwayman who wishes to close a railway line. Railwaymen lean over backwards to keep lines in operation. I have said to some senior members of the railway manage- ment that they are still running the toy railway which they ran as children. However, they do not like to see railways reduced. They are interested in railway lore and in the operation of railways. It is not my experience that British Rail try to reduce and artificially cut down on lines.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a publication entitled "The Great Isle of Wight Train Robbery", which is still on sale at the bookstalls? He will find therein good grounds for backing up what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said.
I have read a good many railway books, but that is one I have not read. I am sure that if I discussed this point with some of the people involved I would receive a slightly different slant on the matter. I do not want to appear complacent in any way. I am aware of many of the problems and shortcomings of railway operations and, indeed, perhaps of railway management, but we must not get the matter out of perspective.
On the subject of whether the Government are complacent, may I remind the hon. Gentleman that in the Second Reading debate on 24th June the Minister said:
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that control system has been set up, and, if not, when it will be set up?"we need to set up a control system which will provide a means by which we can monitor the grant expenditure."—[Official Report, 24th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1008.]
This is a complicated business. The reorganisation of the grant and the support for the railways was not an easy job, but it is going through and a control system is in course of being set up. I hope to refer to it in future debates.The hon. Gentleman raised the question of complacency. I think we are entitled occasionally to have a slight change in emphasis from the continual complaints that one hears about the railways and to show how they have used some of their resources. The resources of the railways have been used much more intensively in the past decade than before. For instance, passenger miles and freight ton miles are at the same level as in 1965 while substantial savings have been made. The number of locomotives has been reduced by 50 per cent. and carriages by 45 per cent. while carrying the same number of passengers and freight tons. Track mileage has been reduced by 25 per cent. Marshalling yards have been reduced by 70 per cent.; wagons by 60 per cent. This is not a bad record. The number of miles per passenger coach have increased from 290 to 420. One result of this has been the intensification of the London-Birmingham off-peak inter-city service from an hourly to an half-hourly frequency without additional vehicles. Load factors on British Rail have increased. For example, tons per train have increased by 20 per cent., tons per wagon by 50 per cent. and freight by 70 per cent. Manpower productivity has improved. Train miles per train crew member have increased by 40 per cent. The same volume of business is now being handled with 30 per cent. less stock. I think it is true to say that only the coal mines and the railways could take this sort of reduction in such a short period. The labour force has been halved since nationalisation and there has been a reduction of about 200,000 employees since 1962. On the whole, reasonable relations have been maintained with the unions. Real improvements in pay levels and conditions have undoubtedly been achieved. Planning, marketing and operating are now on a commercial basis and have been complemented by the introduction of market pricing. Corporate planning has been introduced, involving five-year business and corporate plans to identify strategic objects, to review long-term prospects and to fit budget and business plans within thils framework. The safety record has been referred to. There has been only one passenger death per 130 million journeys.
Besides cataloguing the improvements, can the hon. Gentleman say a word about the work carried out by the Tavistock Institute on participation in the railways? Could he say whether he sees this developing in the next year or two and whether he hopes to see some development before the Secretary of State introduces any measures concerning industrial democracy?
As a matter of fact, I am familiar with that work. I instigated it when I was at the Ministry of Transport in the last Labour Government. I think it would require a longer discussion than the one on which we are engaged now. This is a serious matter. I hope, as do my right hon. Friend, the railways unions, and the board, that something will be done to involve people more within the railway industry, perhaps on the lines suggested by the Tavistock Institute. Even so, since then—that was five years ago—a great deal has already been done in this area, though bigger steps may have to be taken. I should like to discuss this matter with the hon. Gentleman in a separate debate.Labour relations have been referred to a great deal in the debate. Sometimes I wondered whether the debate hinged almost totally on labour relations within the railway industry. In view of the enormous reduction in staff on the railways over such a short time and the big upheavals which have taken place in the transport industry generally, there have inevitably been real and imagined anomalies arising from such a complex and far-reaching review. The Government regret that it has not been possible to settle all the disputes within the agreed procedures and that there has been some resort to industrial action. I appreciate and regret the inconvenience and disruption that this has caused to a large number of people. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that only a relatively small number of railwaymen were involved. The great majority have been working normally and maintaining the high standards expected of the industry. But these disputes should not be allowed to obscure the much improved climate of industrial relations on the railways generally. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked about the comparative energy uses and costs of different models of transport. This is becoming a subject about which everyone is speaking. Transport accounts for 26 per cent. of oil tonnage consumed in the United Kingdom. The estimated breakdown between different modes of transport is that rail uses 1 per cent., car and motor cycle 12½ per cent., bus and taxi 1 per cent., and goods vehicles 6½ per cent. It is not a simple comparison to work out which is the best way. Vehicle load, speed, stops, gradients, weather and so on affect fuel consumption in different modes of transport. Generally, larger transport units under fully loaded conditions are more efficient, but in most cases higher speeds consume more energy. The broad conclusions are that substantial fuel savings can be made if passengers and freight are transferred from aircraft to land transport and if passengers are transferred from private cars to bus or rail for journeys where public vehicles can be well loaded. For freight, rail transport is more economical on fuel than road transport over the same long-distance routes under fully loaded conditions, but the scope for achieving the transfer is limited. The Government are investigating the possibilities. Reference has already been made to the 100 firms exercise and to the help which has been given under Section 8 of the 1974 Act. The problems of the railways are longstanding and I cannot promise the House that any easy or immediate solutions will be found. It is for the railways management and the Government, acting together under the new powers given by the Railways Act 1974, to settle policies and strategies, to decide on whatever action is best suited to securing the Government's objectives of efficient and relatively economic, in the national sense, railways policy. This has been a short debate, but many hon. Members have taken part. The fact that at this time so many hon. Members take part in a debate on the railway industry is an indication of the importance that the House places on the—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Business Of The House
That the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[ Mr. James Hamilton.]
Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill
Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.