HC Deb 02 July 1951 vol 489 cc1870-3
5. Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

asked the Minister of Transport whether His Majesty's Government will introduce legislation to enable A, B and C licence holders to carry traffics immobilised by the periodic embargoes imposed by British Railways.

Mr. Barnes

No, Sir. Embargoes are an established method of overcoming railway traffic congestion and are usually limited in scope and of short duration. Powers are already available to enable A, B and C licence holders to carry traffic outside the terms of their licence to meet conditions of emergency.

Mr. Thorneycroft

While noting with interest the new method which is to be applied in running the transport system of this country, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not recollect that the system of calling in A and B free hauliers, and even C licence holders, was adopted by his Ministry for the purpose of breaking a strike? Surely it would be reasonable to use those methods of transport for overcoming the ordinary hold-ups in the railways which the right hon. Gentleman now regards as a permanent feature of our transport system.

Mr. Barnes

It is not a new method. I do not look upon it as a normal method of overcoming temporary difficulties on the railways. The hon. Member is well aware that if vital food supplies or other necessities are required for the public action must be taken to ensure that they are provided.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Is the Minister aware that one firm in my division had 57 stations out of 58 closed by embargoes on 1st June this year? [AN HON. MEMBER: "For how long?"] Eleven days.

Mr. Barnes

The hon. Member is aware that that has prevailed on many occasions in railway history to overcome temporary difficulties.

Air Commodore Harvey

As the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the advice of my hon. Friend, will he tell the House how he intends to get over these difficulties?

Mr. Barnes

By the method we have always adopted. If there is any difficulty powers exist for the purpose of trying to overcome it, but these temporary embargoes on railway traffic are entirely different from a state of emergency.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The right hon. Gentleman says that these things have always happened in railway history. Does he not recall that when the Bill to nationalise this industry was going through the House it was said that everything would be different and that these things would not happen?

Mr. Barnes

A considerable improvement has taken place, but the difficulties have not been removed entirely.

6. Mr. P. Thorneycroft

asked the Minister of Transport under what Section of the Transport Act, 1947, he acted in conducting discussions with the Road Haulage Executive as to the use of privately-owned A, B and C licence holders for the purpose of carrying traffics immobilised by the road haulage strike in May.

Mr. Barnes

The strike threatened essential transport services and I considered it my duty to see that all necessary steps would be taken to maintain them. It was in discharge of this general responsibility, and not of my functions under the Transport Act, 1947, that I took the action to which the hon. Member refers.

Mr. Thorneycroft

While not quarrelling for one moment with the action taken, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not agree that, in those circumstances, it is monstrous for him not to answer Questions in the House of Commons on the subject? Is he aware that I attempted to put down Questions to him at the time, and that he denied all responsibility, and yet he now admits that at that moment he was carrying on conversations with the people concerned?

Mr. Barnes

The question of whether or not I should answer certain Questions has been a matter of discussion and general agreement.

Mr. McAdden

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the considerable services which A, B and C licence holders rendered to him on this occasion, and remember it when he is urged by his hon. Friends to inflict further injury upon them?

Mr. Thorneycroft

On a point of order. Arising out of this Question, I do not wish to put this point to you now, Mr. Speaker, but I wish to give notice that I propose to raise it with you as a point of order when you have had time to consider it. The point is that here was a Minister actually engaged in discussions with the Road Haulage Executive and yet flatly refusing to be answerable to the House for the discussions which he was entering upon. I propose at a suitable time to raise with you whether that sort of Question should not be asked and answered in the future.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member will put that in writing, and give me due notice, I will give the matter my consideration.