HC Deb 29 April 1947 vol 436 cc1904-9
Mr. G. R. Strauss

I beg to move, in page II, line 6, to leave out "liabilities and obligations," and to insert "and liabilities."

This is another consequential Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I beg to move, in page line 11, at the end, to insert: Provided that any such regulations shall not adversely affect the users of transport. We are dealing with Clause 7 which deals with the acquisition by the Commission of certain undertakings by agreement. The point I have to make is, I am glad to say, a very short one. Under this Clause arrangements are made whereby the Commission can take over a transport undertaking. In Subsection (2) the relevant words are: Where any such agreement is made, the Minister may make regulations … and any such regulations … may adapt, modify or repeal any statutory provision, contract or document relating to the undertaking or persons theretofore carrying it on, and may make such transitional provision in connection with the transfer as the Minister may think necessary or expedient. Those are sweeping words and while it may be convenient for the Minister to be able to repeal any statutory provision or contract or document, and it might conceivably be convenient to an undertak- ing, there are such people as those who use transport who might be considered. It may be that some of the users have contracts with these undertakings which certainly should not be abolished or swept away by Ministerial regulation when the Minister thinks it necessary or expedient. Equally, it may be that there are some contracts between undertakings and the staff and I think those contracts ought to be considered rather carefully There is no provision here, as there is sometimes in such cases, that a contract be done away with if not entered into for the genuine purpose of business. These may be taken away if they are not "necessary or expedient." It seems to us on this side of the House that those are powers which should not be extended to any Government in this country. It seems to us those are powers which ought not to be issued to any Government and we therefore suggest that the following words should be inserted: Provided that any such regulations shall not adversely affect the users of transport

1.15 a.m.

Brigadier Mackeson

Throughout the consideration of the Bill there has been a certain amount of argument between the Government and Members of the Committee as to what should or should not be put into the actual wording of the Bill. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion in the House that the view of users and the importance which must be attached to users must be given due consideration. It seems to us the Minister and the Commission have a great deal of power, and although we may reasonably assume that they will behave in a sensible manner, it would be desirable and helpful to the Commission and future Ministers if these words were put in. At the moment it seems to us that users' views may not be regarded with as much attention as they should be. It seems to us that as the Clause is drafted the whole question is dealt with simply as one between the Government and the Commission and users' views receive no insistence or importance of any sort. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to accept the words as drafted or to say at a later stage he will he able to accept some similar Amendment.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

The purpose of Clause 7 is to enable the Commission to take over by agreement any other statu- tory transport authority which it wants to take over, and if the Commission does that, of course, there will be a number of statutory provisions and contracts in existence which will have to be dealt with in order to enable the transfer to take place, and any duties and responsibilities and liabilities which were on the statutory body would be placed in future on the Commission. This Subsection says that the Minister may make regulations to enable such statutory provisions to be repealed as may be necessary and the responsibility placed on the Commission. The Amendment suggests that no such transfer should take place unless there is an assurance that users of transport are not going to be adversely affected by transfer from the statutory body to the Commission.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I do not want to misinterpret what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. Where contracts have been entered into by the undertaking and the users it seems to us that before a contract is abolished by Ministerial regulation the user, who after all is party to the contract, should have an opportunity of being consulted and certainly his interests should be safeguarded. This does not affect the transfer at all.

Mr. Strauss

Subsection (3) does protect any named individual who has some special advantage under an existing contract or arrangement with a statutory undertaking and completely protects any named person or body from any damage which might arise from transfer: yes, quite definitely.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Statutory only, not contract.

Mr. Strauss

I think if the hon. Member will read Subsection (3) he will see that no named person can be adversely affected by the repeal of any statutory provision to which the Minister may agree. Plainly, if there is any statutory provision affecting the named person that named person will be completely safeguarded. What the hon. Member seeks to provide here is that users of transport generally shall not be adversely affected by any transfer of the statutory provision to the Commission. My reply to that is that, first of all, the way in which the Commission uses some new transport service which it takes over must be for the Commission to decide and the Commission has to act the whole time within the general directions and duties placed upon it under Clause 3, which says that the Commission shall provide an efficient, adequate economical and properly integrated system. It is not possible for the Minister to say, "Well now, look here, I am not going to agree to this transfer because it may be that the users of transport as a result are going to be adversely affected". I think that that is quite unreasonable. The Commission takes it over presumably because it wants to run an efficient and adequate transport service; it should not be run by some other statutory body but by the Commission, and the Commission will run it in the general interests of the public, trying to give as efficient a service as possible. For those reasons, I think it would be unreasonable for the Minister to withhold his consent because he fears the Commission in future, when it takes control and is responsible, will run services not in the interest of the transport user.

Mr. Poole

The point is much narrower than that made by the hon. Gentleman. If the Amendment is slightly unclear perhaps we could alter it. Surely, the point is that it is the named person who is affected under the contract or document. I agree that the statutory provision is covered under Subsection (3) but that does not cover the individual, whoever he may be. The question of transfer is not affected at all, and that is the only point of the Amendment, a much narrower point.

Mr. Linstead

May I emphasise that point? If one reads Subsections (2) and (3) together, the implication seems to be that the contract or document, which is designed for the protection or for the benefit of the named person, can be upset by regulation made by the Minister to the detriment of the person named in the contract or document. Can he explain why the contract or document are mentioned in Subsection (2) and are specifically left out of Subsection (3)?

Sir J. Mellor

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) has a very important point here in regard to the repeal of the contracts because although Parliament is given supervision over regulations by Clause 115 and the regulations can be annulled within 40 days, it is provided that, although the regulations shall thereupon cease to have effect, that shall be so without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder. That would mean that the measure of supervision of Parliament would have no application at all to a contract which had already been repealed by the Minister, and the protection thus provided by Clause 115 is really of no value at all in so far as it concerns contracts repealed by the Minister and, therefore, I think the hon. Member has a very sound point.

Mr. Byers

I wish to make one point arising out of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. He said that the duty of the Commission was to provide an efficient and integrated service. One of the tests of efficiency in this connection is that they should consider the interests of the users of transport. If we intend to safeguard the interests of users of transport under this Subsection, then why not say so? If we do not intend to safeguard their interests, then this matter is worth further discussion, because the whole of the system we are setting up is designed to serve the interests of users of transport. I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is something in this point: there should be further discussion and an Amendment included here or in another place.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

The point which has been put by hon. Members opposite is, I gather, that they are not quite satisfied that the right of named persons is properly safeguarded, where the named person has some right as a result of a contract, but not as a statutory provision. I must agree, looking at this Clause carefully, that it is a possibility. I will undertake to look into the matter, and if it is so, we will see whether it can be remedied. We had meant to put it right when we made the Amendment in Committee, but it is possible that the point has not been fully covered.

Mr. Byers

Can we now have another assurance that this Bill will be looked at again? This is about the second or third thing which has cropped up, and there are 35 Clauses which have not yet been discussed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I would remind the hon. Member that we are dealing with this Amendment, and not with the whole Bill.

Mr. Byers

I would point out that this is a matter which will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may be so,. but it has nothing to do with this Amendment.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

In view of the assurance the Parliamentary Secretary has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.