HC Deb 13 December 1938 vol 342 cc1923-49

9.28 p.m.

Sir Reginald Clarry

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Goods Vehicles (Licences and Prohibitions) (Amendment) Provisional Regulations, 1938, dated 1st September, 1938, made by the Minister of Transport under and by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 5933, a copy of which Regulations was presented to this House on the 8th day of November, 1938, be annulled. The question before the House concerns goods motor vehicles, of which there are over 500,000 in the country today, and they pay by way of vehicle licence duties approximately £17,000,000. We are not concerned with the licence duties, but with the fees that are necessary in connection with the issue of licences to owners of vehicles. The Minister's regulations seek to increase those fees. My friends and I, and a large number of people outside this House, seek the annulment of that regulation. It is unfortunate that the procedure of the House in a case like this should put the onus on those who object to the regulations rather than upon the appropriate Minister to endeavour to justify the necessity for making the regulation. Although the vehicle proprietors are very appreciative of the extension of the period, there appears to be no necessity for an increase in the fee which works out at double the amount per annum. In the case of an A licence for two years the cost was £1 10s. Under this regulation it will be for five years amounting to £7 10s., or equivalent to an increase of 15s. per annum. The same amount per annum arises on Class B and a similar amount on Class C. It may be a small sum, but it is obviously an additional burden on those who run goods vehicles, and it would superficially appear to be a penalty on road transport. Taxation by regulation in principle is bad and, when urgency is added to that and the regulation is made operative from its day of issue, and the Government do not wait until the House affirms or rejects it, as they have the opportunity to-night, I think the situation is even worse. There is no limit to the amount that the Minister might put on to this fee. It would be competent for him to raise it to such an extent that it would comparatively ruin the industry, and that without discussion or possibility of amendment in the House of Commons. It must be borne in mind that when a vehicle proprietor applies for the issue of a licence, in round figures approximately 50 per cent. of the applications are resisted by the railways, by rivals, and to an extent by the public, and, therefore, in 50 per cent. of the cases the applicant is put to the expense of legal and other charges.

In answer to a question a few days ago the Minister was understood to say that the past fees—I will not call them the present fees—were inadequate to meet administrative expenses. When the 1933 Road and Rail Traffic Act was under discussion the then Minister of Transport estimated that the cost of administration would be approximately £130,000. It is computed that the present revenue is £170,000 and the addition now asked for, a further £150,000, will make it £320,000. It is difficult to imagine why in estimating cost they got so far out of their reckoning or, alternatively, what administrative charges have come into the picture to increase them to such a vast extent. I think it is only fair to the House that the Minister should take an early opportunity of giving us the detailed administrative costs—those costs solely allocated to the granting and administration of the licence and not confused with anything else. I have no desire to develop the further explanation given by the Minister when he referred to the further increase of costs which must be anticipated in connection with the control of wages and rates, because I feel that that will be developed by later speakers. To anticipate costs in the administration of an Act of Parliament not only not passed but of which there is no Bill even drafted, is going a little beyond the authority of the Minister and if, as we might reasonably anticipate, the question of rates may be dealt with in a co-operative manner with rail rates in the near future, this anticipated cost would be rendered entirely unnecessary. Having regard to the very vociferous demand of the railways for a square deal I am sure the Minister will be most anxious to avoid any opportunity for the suggestion that partiality is being allowed to creep into the administration. With that in mind I would ask my right hon. Friend to give the fullest details to justify the necessity of this regulation.

9.35 P.m.

Sir Joseph Lamb

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend has referred to the question of the placards which we have seen about, asking for a square deal on behalf of the railways. We are to-night asking for a fair deal, not a square deal, because it all depends on how many sides you occupy on the square. This is an application for something which we think would be fair to the industry concerned. I do not wish to bring in any question of comparison between the motor transport industry and any other industry. The transport industry is a legitimate one; I do not think anybody will deny that. It may be a comparatively new industry, but it has given a service which has proved of inestimable value to industry as a whole, a service which it is impossible for any other form of transport to serve in the same degree and with the same efficiency. We must be very careful how we impose upon this industry anything which will make it difficult for it to continue and so deprive the public, and particularly the industrial public, of benefits which up till now they have received and which they now look upon as essential. There are limits to the burdens that we can place upon any industry, and we think that this is another encroachment upon the rights of the industry by the imposition of a further addition to the already heavy expenditure which it bears at the present time.

My hon. Friend mentioned that the Act under which the Minister is acting gives the power of putting on charges to reimburse the Ministry for actual expenditure which it has incurred with regard to administration, but while we might accept that for the administration of a law which at present exists, I do not think anybody would assume, when the House passed that law, that they were giving the right to any Department to impose charges for something which was only in anticipation and had not actually been passed by this House. If that is the claim that the Minister makes, that these charges and fees are necessary to enable him to reimburse himself for the cost of administering a future law, I submit that he has no ground on which he can stand. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can tell us why he thinks he is entitled to put this charge on an industry which is performing a most serviceable duty in a way in which no other transport industry can do it, a service from door to door in many cases.

9.39 P. m.

Mr. Levy

I think we shall all agree—and this House has commented upon it many times—that when a Bill is brought into this House a number of us have claimed that we should still retain control of the finances which are definitely included in it, and we have all deplored from time to time that Acts of Parliament have been passed by this House in which a Section has been inserted enabling a Minister, by rules and regulations, to impose financial obligations upon an industry without his first having to come to this House for its consent or permission.

Here we have the Act of 1933, which gives the Minister power to impose rules and regulations imposing financial burdens upon this particular industry. It also says that in order that the Minister might impose that burden, he should lay a Paper upon the Table and that that Paper should lie there for 28 days. Here is a curious fact. This Paper was laid upon the Table on 11th November, but the regulation came into force on 1st September, and when applying for their licences on 1st September the road hauliers had to pay this increased licence duty as from 1st September, although the Paper was not laid before 11th November, and then it is said that it should have lain on the Table for 28 days. I am not going to argue whether that is right or wrong, but I am entitled to say, in accordance at any rate with my interpretation of the regulations, that that Paper ought to have been laid and remained there for 28 days to see whether there were any objections to it, and if there were no objections, then the licence fee could be imposed, but if there was objection by this House, then it should be nullified.

In this case, if this House grants this Prayer, it means that all those people who have paid in advance will be entitled to, and will have all the trouble of, a rebate. Here is a case where, under the 1933 Act, we have to accept the fact that the Minister has absolute power to impose an increase of these licence duties to any extent that he thinks fit. He will have a perfect defence when he says that the Act gives him this right and power and that it puts upon him an obligation to see that the administration costs and the licence fees shall be made to balance. All that we in this House can do, if we are of the opinion that the obligations which he is imposing upon these hauliers are unreasonable, is to reject the Paper that the Minister has laid, and to accept this Prayer. We have now to ask ourselves whether this imposition is or is not unreasonable and whether the administration, in our opinion, has or has not been wasteful and extravagant.

Let us examine the question. In 1933 it was estimated that the revenue necessary to deal with the administration expenses was £170,000. Within four or five years the administration costs, according to the Minister, have risen to over £300,000. What has occurred in the meantime to justify such a colossal expenditure on the administration of these road hauliers' licences? If some administrative expenses which do not come within the category of road hauliers licences are brought in they should come out of the Road Fund, and should not be an imposition upon the hauliers.

Mr. E. J. Williams

Who provides the Road Fund?

Mr. Levy

It is created by the licence duties which automatically go into the Treasury. It is supplied by the licences of the hauliers and the motor industry generally, and if the administrative expenses are not directly concerned with the hauliers' licences, the Treasury should meet them. They have no right to impose on the hauliers administrative expenses for something which is not relevant to the licence duties of this particular class. It is a small matter, but this House is concerned as much with principles as with details, and we do not want to allow the principle, however small the finance concerned may be, of the right of control by this House to be taken away by a Minister issuing orders or regulations. I ask the House to agree that this imposition of the extra licence should not be made under these regulations, and that the expenses of the administration concerned with these licences is wasteful or extravagant, or that some other administrative expenses not relevant to these licences must have been introduced in order to cause the expenses to be increased to such an extent. If we want to drive the hauliers off the road and to tax them out of existence, let us say so and be plain and clear about it. Do not let us do it by methods of subterfuge.

It will be said that only a small amount is concerned. They have to pay 7s. 6d. for a licence for three years. They are to have it extended for five years, and on the same ratio the amount ought to be 12s. 6d., but in this case they are being asked for only an extra 2s. 6d. I am concerned, however, with the principle involved, and the question whether the Minister can impose whatever charges he likes, however high they may be. The only remedy we have in order to protect the hauliers is to move a Prayer so that the House may hear the case. I hope that in this instance the House will vote for the Prayer and nullify the regulations.

9.50 p.m.

Sir Joseph Nall

The present Minister of Transport is having to carry the burden of this increased charge although he is not altogther the responsible party. The fault, if there be a fault, lies in the fact that when the Act of 1933 was passed the estimate of cost was much too low. For that somebody in the Department must be blamed, because to tell the House, as the then Minister did, that this cost would be about £120,000 a year, and for the present Minister to have to come here and say that that was wrong and that it is £300,000, is not fair to the present occupant of the office. The matter goes a little deeper than the actual matter of this Prayer, because the commissioners and their staffs deal not only with the goods side, but with the passenger side, and it will be an advantage if those concerned were told how the expenses are allocated as between the passenger side and the goods side. I do not know whether it will be convenient for my right hon. Friend to say what is the average cost of licence per passenger vehicle and how that compares with the average cost of licence per goods lorry, My hon. Friends have been giving figures, and one can understand that the owners of vehicles feel aggrieved at what seems to be a considerable jump in the gross expenditure. Actually the cost per vehicle, as my hon. Friend who moved the Prayer indicated, is not very much per annum. It is the way in which it has been done, and the circumstances in which it has arisen, which have given rise to a large part of the volume of objection.

It is obvious that the administrative department and the new organisation run by the traffic commissioners are bound to cost some money, but in view of the fact that the commissioners themselves are the licensing authorities for goods vehicles and the chairman of the area commissioners is the licensing authority for passenger vehicles, the principal parts of their staffs and the offices they occupy are common to both sides of their job. Only a proportion of their staffs can definitely be segregated for passenger or goods licences, and the House ought to know a little more minutely what the allocation is. As for the actual merits of this increase, I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister has been pressed to act a little prematurely. It is obvious that when the original Estimate was made under the 1933 Act nobody knew what was going to happen. Certainly the Department had a poor idea what the cost would be, but now that some experience has been gained and it has been found that the original estimate was far from the real fact, it is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend has had to make the change in this way. If he could review the matter, especially as regards the question whether the allocation is fair between passengers and goods, it would be in the public interest if he could at this stage defer the increase so that, if it is found to be fully justified, those concerned can at least know that there is no alternative to the action he has taken.

9.54 P.m.

Captain Strickland

It is unfortunate that in order to get an explanation of the regulations that have been issued by the Minister for increasing the charge for the hearing of cases, this should be the only chance the House has of any sort of supervision of the raising of this extra money. It is necessary for the Minister to-night to justify as well as he can—and no doubt he has his case—the reason for this increase. The question we are discussing is the charge that shall be made against the haulier for the hearing of his application. It has nothing to do with the licence duty which he has to pay afterwards. If I give a concrete case which to my knowledge is correct it might help the House to come to a judgment as to whether they would feel justified in accepting the Prayer. In my own constituency there is a haulier who has 120 vehicles. That man, in order to get a hearing for his application for a licence, will have to pay, if these regulations are passed to-night, £900—that is to have his case heard. That is a vast sum of money, and I submit that it is a quite unjustifiable charge, not comparable with the fees in any other court of which I know, particularly when it is borne in mind that the owner of a single vehicle can have his application heard for £7 10s.The haulier of whom I speak has to meet an annual charge of £3,600 in licence duties on top of the £900 he will have to pay for the hearing. The hearing of the application for 100 vehicles in one compact mass takes no more time than the hearing of an application for a single vehicle at £7 10s. Why, then, should this haulier be called upon to pay a sum which I think every Member will agree is far beyond what should be charged to a man who is pursuing with great care the difficult business of road haulage?

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Will the hon. and gallant Member not inform the House that although that sum would be payable for a hearing the hearing in fact means that the licences would be granted?

Captain Strickland

We are faced with additional difficulties in this case by virtue of the peculiar circumstances attending the Estimates of the Ministry. It is almost impossible for any layman to follow all the intricacies of payments into the Road Fund and out of the Road Fund and into the Treasury and out of the Treasury, and we are largely dependent upon the Minister's explanation to-night to guide us to a right decision. I should like to refer to an answer which the Minister was kind enough to supply when I asked for detailed particulars of the income and the outgoings of his Department in respect of goods vehicles. He referred me to Class VI, Vote 15, sub-head A, pages 140 and 141, and other documents, but when I read them I found great difficulty in searching things out. But he did give me figures to show that £266,000 was the sum charged as expenses under his own Estimates, plus some £6,000 for the Road and Rail Appeal Tribunal. Then follows this: In addition, £165,000 is borne upon other Votes There is no information as to where I can find those other Votes or sub-heads for accommodation, travelling, stationery and printing and general administration charges. Surely if the Minister of Transport has general administration charges he should carry them on his Estimates, and it should be within the province of this House to check up those Estimates and to criticise them if it is thought the Minister is charging too much. and including pension liability, making a grand total of £437,000 That shows the sort of sum with which we are dealing—nearly £500,000 of expenditure with practically no power over it in this House, unless we take a step such as we have taken to-night. The answer continues: After the closest apportionment between passenger and goods services of expenditure common to both, the total estimated cost of goods licensing for this year is £276,000. No indication is given of how that figure is arrived at, but those who have followed it will see that that represents 63 per cent. of the cost of the administration which, in the Minister's judgment, is attributable to the goods vehicles service side. Then we follow on: and the amount recoverable by goods licence fees and miscellaneous receipts is £201,000. That is only 46 per cent. of the total of the receipts. How comes it that 63 per cent. of the costs of administration are due to the goods vehicles side, while only 46 per cent. of the receipts are to be credited to that particular class of road transport? The Minister's answer goes on to say: showing a deficit of £75,000 for the current financial year ending 31st March, 1939."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1938; col. 1643, Vol. 342.] If you alter the 46 per cent. of the receipts to 63 pet cent. of the receipts you get the sum of £76,000. It is very remarkable that the deficit should be £75,000 and that £76,000 should be the difference, as I work it out, between the 46 per cent. and the 63 per cent., and that makes me£the Minister will forgive me for saying so—a little suspicious of the way in which this has been presented. I have no means of checking up on it from the information the Minister has been good enough to supply.

Next I want to deal with a letter which the Minister sent out to several Members of Parliament indicating the reasons why he is increasing these fees. I need not read the whole of the letter. There is, first, the statement that the licences are for longer currency periods, which we know, and then the letter goes on: When the licensing system was set up in 1933 the Government made clear their intention that it should be self-supporting and that the receipts from licence fees should balance the cost of administration. Those who care to turn up the Act of 1933 will find no such words. Those words have been extracted from the Financial Memorandum, which is published when the Bill is published and disappears immediately afterwards, leaving the House no source of criticism with regard to what the Government's intentions were as laid down in the Financial Memorandum. The letter goes on—and this is the point I wish to draw to the attention of the House: When we came to review the fees this year we had to take account of the cost of enforcing the new Road Haulage Wages Act. The Minister bases the power he has to increase the licence fees for road hauliers on the fact that the Act of 1933 empowered him to meet his expenses out of the charges for the licence fees. I am not well up in the law, but I should have thought that an Act passed in 1933 could not have tacked on to it an Act passed in 1938 without there being some reference in the Act of 1938 to the Minister being authorised to read it in the light of the instructions in the Act of 1933. Section 13 of the Road Haulage Wages Act says: The expenses of the Minister in carrying this Act into effect and any expenses authorised by the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, to be incurred by a central hoard or any area board shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament. I should have thought that was pretty plain language. I should have thought that that meant it would have to appear in the Estimates, and that the House would have a chance of discussing them, but the Minister says that he has power to override the right of Parliament to administer this fund and to say whether they are satisfied with it or not by means of these regulations, which can lie on the Table and become law unless someone is energetic enough to look them out, and I do not think that is very fair. The Minister goes on further to say: The Transport Advisory Council recently recommended that a rates system within the industry should be established. The industry is at present engaged in working out detailed proposals. The administration of the system will, of course, also involve new expenditure, of which we had to take account in revising the fees. On the constitutional point, is it really within the province of a Minister to inflict taxation by those means upon any part of the community in order to be ready for a Bill that has not yet been presented to the House, that might never pass this House and that the House, in its wisdom or otherwise, might decide upon making other financial provisions? Finally, just at the moment when, if there is anything trembling in the balance it is the rates system, when you have your railways companies petitioning that their rates structure and rates publication should be abolished, I should have thought that even the most hardened sinner would have hesitated before fixing a rates publication system on the roads at the moment when it was being removed from the railway. Because of this unfairness I suggest that the Minister has no right to place down as potential expenditure an amount that will be forthcoming only if the Bill is introduced, if the House accepts it and if the House is not prepared to make financial provisions in any other way.

I have tried as moderately as I can to state the case for the road hauliers. I hope that the House will give this matter consideration, because it may be a serious thing to-night to go into the Division Lobby and to reject the Prayer, when the House has a sense of what may happen if we establish the precedent to-night of allowing potential legislation to be met before it comes. If the House is satisfied that it is a right and proper thing that such a heavy charge should be laid upon the industry, it will cost that man £900 to have his case heard. I suggest with all humility that it would be wise to reject the regulations and to support the Prayer.

10.8 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Burgin)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage to give some explanation. Of course, I am in the hands of the House as to the course I take, but I think this would be the most convenient course. Before I come to what is to be a detailed explanation let me make one or two statements. It can obviously be no pleasure to any Minister to be obliged to increase the fees of any man who has to carry on his business, but at the same time I am sufficiently level-headed to say that if there has been a mistake in the calculation it is best to remove it while the going is good, rather than to wait until it is too late. There is at present a deficit on the accounts. I can show it quite clearly. There is an obligation on the House, arising from the assurances given at the time of the passing of the legislation, that the fees shall be made to support any expenses incurred in connection with them. The increases are budgetted within £3,000 of the expenditure. I will in a moment give the House an undertaking that if, at the end of two years and after experience of the working has been gained, those fees are too high I will review the matter, and apply, if necessary, to reduce them.

Mr. Dingle Foot

Too high for the expenditure?

Captain Strickland

I hope the Minister will forgive me, but is he going to make that reduction retrospective and to hand back to the people who have paid out the proportion of which they have been deprived?

Mr. Burgin

The point that the House has not yet appreciated is that if a licence is granted for five years there is no power to recall it. The licence is granted and the vehicle is franked. The vehicle being franked for five years, it is my duty to budget for expenditure that is likely and probable within those five years. I have to make my accounts balance. The total of my income is known immediately the licences are drawn, but the total of the expenditure is a matter for conjecture. No important item of expenditure is neglected. I shall deal with the question of the rates and show how I arrive at those totals, but I want to point out to the House that by far the greater part of the expenditure lies within the control of the industry itself. The greater part of the expenditure comes from failure to observe the law. When I come to give to the House the expenditure on convictions for irregularity I think everybody in the House will agree that the law should be enforced, and that greater attention be given to breaches of the law. That is what is causing the cost at the present time.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) I will give the details of the figures between passengers and goods and the calculation of the cost for goods and for passengers. I want to make it clear at the outset that I am under an obligation to the House to see that this account balances, and I am also under an obligation to the House to deal with every item of expenditure and to balance my accounts properly. I have something to say about the suggestion that the Estimates are not subjected to examination. That is a new doctrine. They are, of course, available not only to the Public Accounts Committee but for discussion in this House under their proper heading.

Captain Strickland

I am sorry but the Minister must have misunderstood what I said. We have no method of discussing these matters at all except by Prayer.

Lieut. -Commander Agnew

The Minister has referred to an account. Will he say what account and what are the items which are brought into it?

Mr. Burgin

Certainly, I propose to do so, but I shall endeavour to begin at the first point. I first propose to show that there is a deficit on the old scale. I then propose to show the items that go into the account on the credit side and on the debit side. I propose to show the yawn, and I propose to show how I am going to meet that yawn; but before I embark on that I must have something to say about the suggestion that the charges made are charges for obtaining a hearing. It is true that the substitution of an extended period of currency must involve an increased gross fee. That is inevitable. If you have to pay a licence fee for five years for a vehicle and happen to be lucky enough to own 120 vehicles, you must pay 120 times the application fee. It is not in order that the case may be heard; it is to secure the five years' licence for each vehicle. I think the House would be distressed if it thought that there was some monetary penalty against a man which in any way prevented him from making his application, but it is that the licence, lasting for five years, has to carry with it five times the annual fee.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

And, if he does not get his licence, his money is returned.

Mr. Burgin

The regulations that we are discussing are the corollary of the increase in the length of time of the licence. The estimates made when the legislation was passed through the House were a shot in the dark. Nobody knew the allocation as between A, B and C licences, and the amount payable for the C licence is relatively small. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the C licensee receives very little benefit from its operation. It is a registration fee, and involves the examination of the vehicle once every four years, or whatever is the administrative practice.

There is actually at the present time, in the current financial year, a deficit of £75,000. That is the difference between the total estimated cost of goods licences administration, which is £276,000, and the amount recoverable by way of licence fees, which is £201,400. The figure of £276,000, which is the debit figure, is obtained by making the closest possible apportionment, as between passenger and goods licensing, of the expenditure common to both, and by adding the cost of the Road and Rail Appeal Tribunal. The expenditure common to both services in the year ending 31st March next is estimated to come to £429,500. The largest item is salaries and wages, including insurance, which is over £260,000. The other items include travelling expenses, £35,000; printing and stationery, £35,000; accommodation, £22,000; pensions liability, £18,000; legal expenses, £15,000; miscellaneous—postage, telegrams, telephone and shorthand reporting—£21,000; and headquarters expenditure, £16,000.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to legal expenses. I gather, from what he said earlier, that some of the expenses incurred are expenses of prosecutions under the Act. Can he say how much is recovered in costs, and whether that will enter into the account?

Mr. Burgin

I will have inquiries made immediately. There is an item on the receipts side for costs collected, and I will give the hon. Member the figure. Dealing with the proportion of the£429,500 which is attributed to goods and the proportion which is attributed to passengers, the House will have understood that the total expenditure is common to both, and that it is my task to subdivide it. The costs of salaries of the staff of the Traffic Area Authorities employed wholly on passenger or on goods licensing are quite clearly identifiable, but the costs of the salaries of such of the staff as are employed indifferently on passenger or goods licensing are not identifiable, and have to be estimated.

No exact estimate is possible, but a number of inquiries have been made through the traffic offices, and the percentage of the time occupied by each division of the staff has been estimated, which gives a fair representation of the position. The percentages seem to be as follows: In the case of the enforcement staff, 10 per cent. passenger and 90 per cent. goods—I will give the figures later on; in the case of certifying officers, 80 per cent. passenger and 20 per cent. goods; in the case of vehicle examiners, 50 per cent. passenger and 50 per cent. goods. Having in this way arrived at an average percentage cost for salaries, the other non-identifiable costs—accommodation, stationery, travelling, and so on—have been split in the same proportion.

By this method of allocation, the apportionment of costs since 1934, when goods services came under the service, is as follows: 1934, 52 per cent. passengers, 48 per cent, goods; 1935, 46 per cent. and 54 per cent.; 1936, 41 per cent. and 59 per cent.; 1937, 39 per cent. and 6r per cent.; 1938, 37 per cent. and 63 per cent.; 1939, 36 per cent, and 64 per cent. The identifiable costs amount to approximately one-third of the whole, so that I am adopting a percentage basis for two-thirds of my costs. I am doing so as a result of a most detailed examination, in which the Traffic Area Authorities have taken each of these items.

Captain Strickland

Would the Minister deal with the receipts side—the allocation of the 46 per cent.?

Mr. Burgin

On the receipts side there are A licences, B licences, C licences, applications for variations, drivers' licences, receipts such as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) referred to, miscellaneous costs and the fees of the Appeals Tribunal. It may be assumed that I have credited the maximum possible receipts applicable to goods traffic, and deducted my 201 from my 276. I have a debit balance, on my existing accountancy basis, of £75,000.

Captain Strickland

Does the figure for staffs come under this?

Mr. Burgin

I think not. Perhaps I might make my statement in my own way. I am most anxious to give the House the information which has induced me to act in this way. For the financial year ending 31st March, 1940, the total expenditure common to both is estimated at £445,000, the increase being partly due to increase in staff and partly to automatic increases in salaries and wages. The proportion of that properly attributable to goods licensing is estimated at £285,000, and to that has to be added £6,000 for the appeals tribunal and £25,000 for wages control by the Minister of Labour, making a grand total of £316,000. On my new scales for the year ending 31st March, 1940, it is estimated that the receipts will be £319,000. On that basis, for the year ending 31st March, 1940, there will be a margin of £3,500, out of which there will have to be borne the preliminary expenses of any new system of rates control, the cost of which will be of the order of £50,000 in any full year.

There is nothing to suggest that it is proposed to take from the industry any more than is necessary to make it self- supporting. The most explicit assurances were given to the House on this point, and I have the actual reference made by the Minister of Transport at that date. There was an Amendment moved during the passage of the Bill, suggesting that the licence fee should be a nominal one, and the answer was given that it was the Government's intention that the service should be self-supporting and that the receipts from licence fees should balance the costs of administration. It was made quite clear by my predecessor at that time that the greater part of the expenditure was going to be incurred in trying to enforce safety conditions, and that the people who ought to be responsible for it were the people directly concerned, and that the cost ought not to be spread over the passenger service figures. The Minister of Transport said: I intend that the operations shall be effective and the security conditions observed. I have estimated for what I believe will be a sufficient number of examiners to enable these security conditions to be enforced providing the owners of these vehicles co-operate. If they do, and if they try to reduce these breaches of conditions, then the expenditure may fall, but if they refuse to co-operate, and breaches go on and I find the number of examiners not sufficient, I shall have to increase the number of examiners, and the cost will have to he borne until the conditions are observed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 22nd June, 5933; col. 389.] I think the House will be shocked when I tell them of the extent of the breaches of conditions of the law that are committed. In the year 1937 there were 8,000 convictions for driving over hours and over rest periods; 10,000 convictions for hours not kept, or improperly kept; 4,500 for vehicles not maintained in a serviceable condition; 2,750 for vehicles used without licence or outside the terms of the licence; 200 for use while under a prohibition order; 550 for heavy vehicles driven by men not licensed to drive them; and 7,300 convictions for speeding. That makes a total of 26,000 convictions for driving for excessive hours, failing to keep records, vehicles not kept in a fit and proper condition, apart from speeding. It is to deal with these breaches of the law that this expenditure is principally incurred, and the industry has it very largely in its own hands to keep that expenditure down. From all parts of the House has come the demand that there should be a more rigorous enforcement of the provisions of the law. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have said, "What is the use of Parliament passing prohibitory rules if they are then flouted and not enforced?" Here is an effort being made to enforce them, and hon. Members come along and say that the costs of doing so are too heavy. The regulations I am asking this House to approve and the regulations which are under scrutiny rather than attacked tonight are regulations providing for the necessary increase to bring about a balancing of the accounts to enable this work to be done.

Captain Strickland

Has the Minister any figures in his possession showing the amount of responsibility for these breaches of the law which are committed miles away from the owner of the vehicle but for which the owner is responsible?

Mr. A. Reed

Can the Minister say to what extent his officials are responsible for any of these prosecutions? My experience is that practically all the offences mentioned are brought by the police and the police prosecute.

Mr. Burgin

Oh, no, these are matters relating to the Traffic Area Authorities. I thought it might interest the House if I endeavoured to extract the sort of matter which comes before one of the clerks to the Authorities. I thought that the House would like to get away from the pure balance sheet to see the human side of it behind the scenes, to see the thousands of applications for the varying of licences which are received in the course of the year, the applications for A and B licences, the arrangements made for public inquiry conducted by the licensing authority, including cases lasting several days, the decisions the authorities come to, the licences and identity certificates issued, and the fees collected and accounted for. In regard to C licences, there are the applications, the issue of the licences and the collection of the fees.

A very important part of the organisation is the staff engaged on the examination of goods vehicles as to their mechanical fitness, involving more often than I would wish the issue of prohibition notices and their removal. In the last year for which records are available, 170,000 examinations were made of vehicles to test their mechanical fitness. The House will appreciate the real safety measures that are involved in the constant inspection and supervision of the state of these vehicles on the roads. The enforcement department has a staff of traffic examiners engaged on examining the records kept by drivers, the observation of the movements of vehicles, and other matters connected with attendance at police court proceedings. The police court proceedings mean very often the engagement of legal assistance.

That is a statement of the kind of work upon which the staff of the traffic examiners are engaged. I can assure the House that the staffing of the traffic examiners office is not a matter that is done arbitrarily. They are controlled exactly in the same way as a Government Department. The original estimates and any increases have to be justified to the Treasury. No account is taken of the fact that the expenditure is not ultimately borne on the Exchequer, but exactly the same test is adopted as if the money were voted directly from the Exchequer. The organisation is constantly under review. Seven of the provincial offices have been visited this year by members of the staff from headquarters, and there is constant touch with the two London offices. The proportion of supervisory to subordinate posts is one to 12, compared with one to 6 in the London headquarters. The Select Committee on Estimates took evidence from the Establishment Officer of the Ministry and from two of the Traffic Commissioners in 1932 and the Committee made no criticism then and have made none since. The staffs of the Traffic Offices are set out in full detail in the Estimates of my Department. Therefore, I can give the House an absolute assurance that the Traffic Area Authorities are properly staffed, but not overstaffed, that they work properly and under supervision, and that their accounts come up for inspection and control in the ordinary way.

With these figures in front of me, I should not be doing my duty as the responsible Minister if I did not say that I cannot continue on a basis which shows a deficit of £75,000. I am quite prepared to stand by the Estimates which I have given to the House, because I believe those figures to be right, but I give the House an assurance that when we have had two years' proper working of them, and two years' experience, I will re-examine the whole matter and see whether the Estimates upon which alone I am asking the House to reject the Prayer to-night, are or are not accurate. We can then, if necessary, readjust them.

There may be some argument as to whether the granting of a licence for five years means that there is going to be a less number of times on which people come before the Traffic Area Authorities. I have made proper allowance for that, and the amount of saving that there is to be. If you grant a licence for five years, then your estimates must cover a period of five years. Once having given a man a licence at the published date I cannot during the currency of the licence go back and ask him for more. In working out the estimate of probable cost, the cost of licensing, the cost of control, etc., I have to observe that expenditure will not be static. There will be an automatic increase in the salaries and wages of a new staff, apart from a wholly incalculable increase in the numbers of staff. On the other hand, I have anticipated on a most liberal basis the whole of my revenue. I have calculated revenue on a maximum basis, and expenditure on a basis which is by no means the maximum. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) as to all-in-cost of licensing a public vehicle known as an omnibus, it is £4 a year. An A licence under my scheme will cost £1 10S. a year. With this explanation of the items on the debit side, by showing that I am calculating the maximum possible receipts, and in giving the assurance that I will review the matter in two years' time, I ask the House to realise the common sense of the case, that if licences are granted for five years the fees must go up, and that once the time has been fixed it cannot be altered, I am obliged to ask the House to reject the Prayer.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

If ever a Minister has made the case which we have so often put forward from these benches as to the type of employer which is operating these licences, it is the Minister of Transport to-night. Never has any Opposition received such confirmation of their case from a Minister. The Act of 1933 was passed as a safety Measure. The Bill was carried through the House of Commons because of the extortionate hours which the men were called upon to work, which rendered them unsafe to the public on the roads. There were at the time photographs published showing the driver asleep and another man driving at the wheel. The Act stopped all that. I have on every possible occasion pressed upon the Minister the need for more and more examiners for the enforcement of the Act, and I speak for 200,000 members employed in the industry and for about 700,000 members of the Transport Union. We have spent many thousands of pounds trying to get the employers to implement the promises made to us. The Act said that as a safety measure no man should work more than 11 hours in one day, with certain variations. It also said that the vehicle should be efficient and safe, but the Act has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance by the employers. You have only to look at the records of the reports of the Traffic Commissioners and you will find that upwards of 40,000 cases of breaches of the Act have been made by employers in this industry.

Captain Strickland

By the men.

Mr. Smith

I could bring case after case. I have one in my possession now, where the employers have forced the men to make false records. I could give the name of one firm—it is within the knowledge of the Minister—which forced their employé to "cook" his record. Only last week I was addressing a branch meeting and one man said to me, "Mr. Smith, you do not know the duress that is put upon us to 'cook' the records." We urged upon the Minister at that time that the records should be of such a character that they could not be "cooked." What happens now? Anybody can get a record book; the driver makes his record out directly, and the firm copies it and adjusts it, and it is then submitted to the traffic people as a record of work. There are hundreds of cases which prove that that is what happens. There is another system. The time which the driver spends in waiting, in loading, or discharging the load, is incorporated in the hours of work permitted by law. There are hundreds of cases in which the man works for three hours preparing the vehicle, loading it up and so on, and when he is about to leave the yard, he clocks on, and that time is entered in the record.

The Minister has made a speech which has justified every complaint that we have made about the administration of the Act. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) and the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) would rather that their names had not appeared in support of this Prayer in view of the statement that the Minister has had to make. The hon. and gallant Member for Coventry cited a firm owning 120 vehicles. He made the statement that that firm had to deposit £900 for a hearing of their case, and those who know little about the matter may think that if that firm did not get their 120 licences, they would lose their £900. Obviously, that was a misleading statement. Any person who wants one or more licences, whether they are licences for vehicles, or whether they are licences for public houses or licences for tobacconists, has to deposit an amount of money for each separate licence.

Captain Strickland

Do I understand the hon. Member to say that if a tobacconist applies for a licence, in addition to paying for a licence, he has to pay £1 or more to apply for it?

Mr. Smith

No, he does not have to do that, nor does the firm which the hon. Member quoted. If the employers would get together for the purpose of working the Act and better still, for the purpose of working the agreements which have been arrived at between them and my union and other trade unions, the costs of administration would fall, so that there could be a reduction in the cost of licences. Can anybody imagine that when you came to the House representing interests—[Interruption.]

Mr. H. G. Williams

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that all remarks ought to be addressed to you?

Mr. Speaker

That is a very old rule.

Mr. Smith

All my remarks are addressed to you, and through you, Mr. Speaker; and I say that representatives of this industry on the other side, when they came to the House and demanded an extension of the licences, surely never dreamed that they would get away with that extension without having to pay for it. If they have five-year licences instead of one-year or two-year licences, surely they expect to pay for them. The hon. Member rather implied that I spoke for the railway interests. I assure him that on this occasion I speak on behalf of no interests except those of the members of my union. Let this be said for the railways, that they have a statutory wages tribunal and once they have agreed to wage conditions, at least they honour the agreement and pay the wages, whatever difficulties may arise. That has never applied to the wage conditions as a whole when they have been agreed to by national bodies in the road transport industry. Has a single railway interest objected to the extension of fees for the licences for the 4,000 goods vehicles which they have on the road? Yet those who do work to their agreements will have to pay for the enforcement of the law on people who do not work to those agreements.

I say frankly, that the time has arrived when this industry ought to put itself on a sound basis. It ought to honour its agreements. It ought not to arrive at agreements, nationally and locally, with the representatives of various organisations and then write round to its constituents and say, "Although we have come to this agreement, it is unnecessary for you and you are in no way obliged to meet it." I say, therefore, and I think I shall carry hon. Members on this side with me, that the remedy is in the hands of the industry itself. I have said often in this House that an Act is either a good one or a bad one and that by your Acts I shall know you. The Minister is trying to enforce this Act believing it to he a good Act. If the people who are within the ambit of that Act will work to it honourably and straightforwardly, they have the means themselves of reducing these fees and, better still, of giving us much safer roadways in this country, much more efficient men on the vehicles, and a much more satisfied community in general. I hope the Minister will stick to his guns.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I think nearly all of us would agree with the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) for the strict enforcement of these parts of the Road Traffic Act of 1930 and the Road and Rail Traffic Act of 1933 which apply to drivers' hours. [Hon. MEMBERS: "And records."] I am speaking of all the conditions which prevent drivers working for too long hours. We would all agree that employers who are guilty in that respect should be prosecuted with the full rigour of the law. But it did seem to me that the hon. Members who moved and supported this Motion, and the hon. Member for Rotherhithe were at cross purposes. While in no way disputing the argument that the law should be enforced, I would point out that what we are discussing now is who should pay for that enforcement and how that enforcement is to be financed. What we are discussing is the level of the licence fees. The Minister said what was obviously true, that if you have a five-year instead of a two-year period, naturally you have to charge a larger sum. But I do not think the Minister entirely met the objection which was not merely that a larger sum will be charged but that in the case of an A licence-holder the road charge will be doubled and in the case of a B licence holder it will be raised from £1 to 35s. I understand that the reason why this Motion is brought forward is that hon. Members suggest—I believe rightly—that this is an appreciable burden on the road hauliers of this country. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of 26,000 cases of infringements of the Acts. Nobody will defend the persons guilty of those infringements, but, as I understand it, that does not mean that there were 26,000 separate offenders. It means that there were 26,000 summonses.

Mr. Burgin


Mr. Foot

I am much obliged, but, even then, I do not think there were necessarily 26,000 separate offenders. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the industry should be responsible for the expense of enforcing the law. That seemed to be a rather remarkable doctrine. Is it proposed to say to the law-abiding road haulier, "We are going to put this additional burden on you because some other haulier is breaking the law"? If there is difficulty in enforcing the law, I should have thought that the charge would fall upon public funds and not upon those in the industry who are keeping the law. The right hon. Gentleman used another argument which seemed remarkable. He went into figures and said that in the last year he had a balance of £75,000 and that even in the coming year, on his existing methods, he had a margin of £3,500. He went on to say that out of that sum would have to be borne the preliminary expenses of rate control, which would amount to at least £50,000 in a full year. But that system of rate control has not yet been imposed, has not yet, I think, been before Parliament.

It seems a very remarkable thing that we should be asked to budget for a charge on an industry which has not yet been imposed and which, for all we know, may never be imposed. I do not know what would happen to any Chancellor of the Exchequer who arranged his Budget on that principle and budgeted for a surplus. It seems a real hardship that any body of men should be asked to pay these increased fees, the weight of which no one has disputed, in order to meet a hypothetical charge. I cannot see that a case has been made out now for this increase. This is a considerable burden. I am particularly concerned for the B licence holder. The Road and Rail Traffic Act has operated particularly to the detriment of that class of haulier, the small men who have their own business, with probably one lorry, and very often drive it themselves, and try to eke out their livelihood by using the lorry for hire or reward in certain seasons of the year. Already they have to pay £1 Under the new regulation it will be 35s. a year. This objection applies as much to the old regulations as to the new, but I could never understand why the B licence holder should have to pay a higher annual rate than the A licence holder, who is generally in a better position to pay the charge.

One other objection was raised by those responsible for the Prayer to which I do not think the Minister referred at all. It was asked why this regulation, intended to last for a considerable time ahead, should be brought in under Provisional Order procedure. It was brought in, it appears, under Section 2 of the Rules Publication Act, 1889, on the ground that it was a case of urgency. Where was the urgency? After all, the regulations must have been in contemplation for a considerable time. They are not brought in to meet a temporary emergency, but they are to cover a period of five years ahead. Why is this particular machinery used which was designed only for cases of urgency? Why should the Ministry seek to evade the ordinary provisions of the Rules Publication Act? Under those provisions those who objected would have had an opportunity of stating their objections in advance, before the regulations came into force. It is remarkable how Department after Department uses these urgency provisions for a purpose for which they could never have been intended when the Rules Publication Act was passed. It is remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman, in a fairly lengthy speech, made no reference to that and made no attempt to defend the action of the Department in using this provision. Because I believe the regulations have nothing to do with the question whether we should enforce the law but only how we should pay for the law, if a Division is taken I shall certainly vote for the Prayer.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Rathbone

There are only two small points with which I want to deal. What in fact is happening is that the innocent are being made to pay for the faults and transgressions of those who do not keep the law. I understood the Minister to say just now that as a result of these convictions the sum of money raised in fines amounted to about £450,000.

Mr. Burgin

The fines go into the Road Fund.

Mr. Rathbone

It is only right that the transgressors should pay for their transgressions, and it would appear that this would be an admirable case in which to make the fines pay for these costs of administration instead of going into a common pool. In regard to short-period licences, licences for a year or two years, which are payable so as to spread the Minister's work out over the five years more evenly, unfortunately it is not only the licence fees that are involved. There are also various legal fees, and if an application is contested, those costs may amount to a very considerable sum. Am I to understand that the people who get only a short-period licence, not a full five-years' licence, are to have to contest their application at the end of that short period all over again and go through all these legal costs again, and then, if they again apply for a five-years' period, they will have to go through these legal costs twice in quick succession? It would appear to be a good case for allowing the recipients of short-period licences, of one or two years, to get their renewal after that short period without having to contest it.

10.53 p.m.

Sir R. Clarry

In view of the detailed explanation given by the Minister and his very definite undertaking to review this in two years' time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.