§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I beg to move, in page 8, line 34, to leave out "three," and to insert "twelve."
I hope the fact that we have had two statements today will not set a precedent for preceding the Guillotine proceedings on the Transport Bill with Government statements. Today, they were commendably brief and hon. Members exercised a self-denying ordinance in not putting many supplementary questions, but I hope it will be the intention of the Government to avoid making statements as far as possible on the days when the Guillotine operates.
Sir Charles, I hope it will be for the convenience of the Committee if we take, with this Amendment, the following one to line 35, also to leave out "three," and to insert "twelve."
This is a non-controversial Amendment which I hope the Minister will find it possible to accept by making a concession, and thereby start off the third day of the Guillotine procedure with the Committee in a good humour.
As the Clause stands the Commission will have to apply for licences for its vehicles within three months of the enactment of the Bill. That seems to us to be far too short a period for the Commission to make application for the large number of licences which it will require to continue to operate the vehicles still in its possession. Quite clearly, within a period of three months, all the vehicles of the Commission will not be sold off, and as I do not see any proviso to that effect I take it that whether the vehicles are put into operable units for disposal or not, until they are disposed of there will have to be application for licences. Be that as it may, there will be the residue of vehicles which it is not proposed to sell off and which the Commission will be entitled to retain, and for which 466 it will in any case require to apply for the special A licences and will obtain them automatically.
Under the 1947 Act, the Transport Commission was not required to hold the ordinary licences for the operation of its goods vehicles. That was because the Commission was given a partial monopoly of long-distance commercial road haulage. It was, therefore, considered—I think, quite rightly—that it should be the Commission itself which should determine the number of vehicles it required to operate. It was further given the power to grant permits to those road operators that it considered could continue to operate, and, in effect, the Commission itself determined the number of vehicles operating on long-distance commercial road haulage—that is, for hire or reward.
The principle, therefore, of the licensing system to restrict the number of vehicles on the road did not apply to the Transport Commission. It quite rightly did not apply, because, as I have stated, it was a matter for the Commission itself to determine. After all, the Commission is a public concern, responsible to the Minister and, through him, to Parliament, and if it did not carry out its function of providing an integrated efficient public service for the community, it could be held to account. In that way, if there were an excess of vehicles operating, the Commission could be called to account.
Quite clearly, however, it was in the interests of the Commission to operate no more vehicles than it required to operate in order to provide the service which it was required to provide. In effect, that is how it worked out, because the Commission has succeeded in reducing the number of vehicles employed in carrying the same amount of goods. That is to say, the volume of goods carried today by R.H.E. vehicles is being carried in comparably fewer vehicles than would have carried the same volume of goods under the previous system of operation. A certain number of vehicles has been laid aside and taken off the road. This has contributed to greater public safety, which has been further enhanced by the operation of so many of the vehicles during the night hours.
As the Minister is ruthlessly destroying the system which was set up under the 1947 Act, and is wrecking the British 467 Road Services and depriving the Commission of the partial monopoly which it enjoyed, on the face of it it would appear that the Commission should now be liable to apply for and should be obliged to obtain, licences for the vehicles that it operates. I say that on the face of it that appears logical and reasonable, but if we look further into the matter and examine it, and particularly if those hon. Members who were present during our discussions yesterday afternoon—[Interruption].
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
May I point out, Sir Charles, that there is far more noise coming from the other side than appears to be coming from this side?
§ Mr. Davies
Under the Guillotine, argument is curtailed, and it may be that Members on the other side do not wish even to listen to the arguments which we are willing to put forward on this side.
On the face of it, it would appear reasonable for the Commission to have to apply for licences, but in our debates yesterday evening it emerged that the Commission is limited to the number of vehicles that it can operate. The Commission is limited to six-fifths of the vehicles which it was operating when it came into being on 1st January, 1948. We had long discussions on the matter yesterday, and the Clause in question passed the Committee stage. The figures were given by the Minister, and it appeared that under Clause 4 the Commission will be able to operate 4,678 vehicles.
As it is limited to those 4,678 vehicles, why should the Commission also have to apply for licences for them? Why should it need to have licences under a licensing system which was imposed and is operated solely for the purpose of restricting the number of vehicles on the roads in accordance with the needs of the trader?
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
The hon. Gentleman keeps 468 on saying that the Commission will be restricted to that number of road haulage vehicles. I am sure that if he looks at Clause 1 (4) of the Bill, he will see that it is not at all restricted to that number of vehicles.
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Gentleman would allow me to continue, he would find that I was coming to deal with that point. I will answer it now. I am dealing at the moment with those vehicles which the Commission now owns and operates and to which it is restricted in regard to Clause 4. If it applies subsequently for licences, that is another matter.
§ Mr. Davies
What we are considering now is that the Commission will have to apply for licences not only for the vehicles that it now owns and will be allowed to retain, but, presumably, for the vehicles which are to be sold off if they are not sold off within the three months' period. I cannot see why it is necessary to have this restriction, which will not apply to private enterprise. In private enterprise, the licensing system is necessary because there is no other form of restriction. Here, we already have restriction.
If the Commission is to have to apply for these licences within three months, it will be faced with a very difficult task. After all, the disruption which the Bill brings about and the wrecking of the nationally-owned national network of road services, will put a great deal of work upon the Road Haulage Executive and upon the Commission. If, during this transitional period, limited, in this case, to three months, the Commission must decide from which bases it is to operate these vehicles and must make applications for the licences, it will have imposed upon it an unnecessary large burden of work which has to be carried through within a very short period.
That, I regret to say, seems rather typical of the approach which has been made to the Bill. There is the desire to rush through these changes and to hurry through the transitional period without any regard to the work which is put upon the Commission, and without any regard to the Commission's interests or, for that matter, any regard for the interests of the community.
The service will be disrupted, and as the number of vehicles which the Commission will be allowed to retain is to be 469 reduced from 6,491, which is the figure we discussed yesterday, to 4,678—that is, in regard to Pickfords (Special Traffics) Division and the parcels and smalls services—the Commission quite clearly must decide how it is to deploy those vehicles which remain to it. As it will have only 63 per cent. of its parcels vehicles, for instance, it must redeploy them and will not necessarily wish to operate them from the centres on which they are now based.
Only since the debate yesterday have I taken this so seriously. The Minister made it quite clear that if there is a change of base or centre after a licence is granted, the licensing authority can act under Clause 8 (4) and can say that the Commission has made a mis-statement and is no longer operating from the base which it said it would use; and the procedure of Clause 8 (4) can apply.
The right hon. Gentleman said:There will be this procedure, first of all, that the licensing authority must be satisfied that, from a base suitable for that area, the applicant intends to carry out his transport business, and if. later, he leaves that area, the procedure of Clause 8 (4) can apply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1952: Vol. 509, c. 284.]I intervened and suggested to the Minister that he was stretching Clause 8 subsection (4) rather far, but he stuck to his guns. If he could stretch it for that purpose it could certainly be made to apply to the Transport Commission. I appeal to him to give a little more time, to give 12 months instead of three months, to the Commission to decide the bases from which it wishes to operate vehicles and to enable it to apply for the licences on what will be a more permanent basis than if it has to apply within the period of three months.
Surely it must have time to consider how it is to use these licences and to avoid unnecessary trouble in having to change their base, or to have doubts as to changing its base afterwards because of difficulties which might arise with the licensing authority. I ask the Minister to start today's proceedings by accepting this Amendment from the Opposition. If he looks at the matter carefully and consults the Commission in the matter I am sure that he will do so. After all, it is the Commission who are concerned. I do not know if he has consulted it about this, but I should think that if he did 470 so there would be no doubt as to its position in the matter.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I have consulted the Commission and they agree with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). They would like me to accept the Amendment—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
There is no reason why hon. Members of the Opposition should not do so, but I should be a little surprised if they suggested that the Commission would not favour the terms of this Amendment.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East quite rightly made it clear that this Amendment springs from the obligation now, for the first time, being imposed on the Commission to have to go through the licensing procedure. It is, of course, a fact that this obligation to apply for these licences—as the Bill is now drawn—within three months is one of which they will have had advance warning and they will be able to put in train some of the machinery required.
I wish to put one or two practical difficulties before the Committee. It is true that we shall have on the roads of the country the ordinary A licence vehicles subject to the 25-mile limit, the special A licence vehicles free of the 25-mile limit, vehicles recently acquired by purchase from the Commission, and the vehicles of the Commission themselves. In order that there shall be an immediate and smooth transition in that field of road haulage where the Commission are obliged to dispose of their property, a number of vehicles will be transferred without even time being taken to repaint them with new colours and names before they are put on the roads. It would confront us with an impossible task if the period before application had to be made were allowed to be too long.
Nonetheless, I see the difficulties involved and I have no wish whatever to add to the administrative problems of the Commission who are to be called upon to do a number of things requiring a great deal of work, many of which they regard as really distasteful. It is true, as the hon. Member said, that the provisions of Clause 8 (4) will apply to the Commission as to any other provider of transport. I 471 take it that he has no quarrel with that. It would be difficult to satisfy him if that were so, and he cannot have it both ways. If we are to have machinery whereby in the case of a false statement or a wrong statement in regard to the granting of a licence the public interest is to be protected, that must apply over the whole field of providers of public transport. But I recognise that it adds to the work which the Commission will have to do.
The suggestion I make to the hon. Member is that, if I cannot put the whole Committee in full good humour, perhaps I can put it in half good humour by agreeing to double the period to six months and, on the Report stage, to introduce an Amendment to that effect.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
Despite the fact that the Minister proposes to double the period from three months to six months, that surely is totally inadequate for this major surgical operation. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to appreciate that the disposal of road haulage vehicles will not take place within 24 hours. The disposal of these undertakings must take place over a period of time and the British Transport Commission have responsibility for maintaining these road services until disposal is finally complete.
From the point of view of the Commission in having to maintain existing road haulage services while having pruned away from it from time to time services which are disposed of to private enterprise, how are the Commission to know precisely what traffics they are to retain, what routes they will run over and what bases from which they will operate? The Commission are dependent upon the proposals of the Disposal Board. The Disposal Board are faced with the task of drawing up job lots and, presumably, attaching to the vehicles certain routes upon which to operate. But it is common knowledge that in doing so the Disposal Board will find it impossible, for instance, to take one road haulage depot and to say, "The whole lot of vehicles and traffic are going to private enterprise, and in future the Commission will have no bases of operation in this area."
The fact which the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate is that the existing basis takes into operation many services which were intimate to the 472 railways and will continue so to be. It is quite impossible, within the period of even a month or two, to be able to divide the traffic which is being conveyed through one road haulage depot into that part which is to be disposed of and that part which the Commission are to retain.
The six months' proposal of the Minister would be adequate if it could be said that on and after an appointed day the Commission would be faced with a completely new responsibility, that liability for the old basis of operation was ceasing on an appointed day and from that appointed day the new basis of operation would come into use. Then they could certainly make arrangements for the appointed day.
That is quite impossible at present and would be for some months before the Disposal Board settled precisely what vehicles were to be disposed of and what routes were to be coupled to those vehicles for disposal. Until they arrive at that decision the Commission will find it impossible to sort out from a road haulage depot precisely those traffics that in future they will retain. It cannot be done. It is an impossible task.
The Transport Commission cannot properly find out the routes of operation which they will retain to themselves until the Disposal Board have produced the scheme for carving up the whole system. If the Commission start at present to sort out from the depots precisely the traffic which they will retain and the number of vehicles needed for that traffic, the Disposal Board might afterwards come along and say, "We are proposing something totally different." In that event, the Commission would have to revise their schemes to bring them into line with what the Disposal Board had decided about any depot.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is fair to the Transport Commission, for he is asking them to perform an impossible task. There is great substance in the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). This indecent haste is unnecessary and is not playing the game with people who are anxious to serve the country to the best of their ability. The Minister should be prepared to grant a longer period, bearing in mind that it is impossible for the Commission to reach 473 a decision about the routes they will operate and the traffic they will carry until the Disposal Board have gone into the working of the Road Haulage Executive.
It will take some time to devise a scheme, to sort out the traffic of the various road haulage depots and to say, "At this depot so many vehicles and so much traffic will be for disposal and the remainder will be for the British Transport Commission." Until the Disposal Board have drawn up the scheme for disposal the Commission will not be in a position to decide precisely the routes which will be reserved to them, the vehicles which they will require to operate those routes and the bases from which they will operate.
The Minister should be prepared to give more time, because it is doubtful whether the Board will be able to evolve a satisfactory disposals scheme within six months of their appointment. Does the Minister think that on the day following their appointment the Board will be able to evolve a disposals scheme? It will certainly not work like that. They will face considerable difficulties and anomalies which cannot be solved with the stroke of a pen. In justice to the Transport Commission, at least 12 months should be given in which they could work out a positive scheme which to some extent, at any rate, would be definite and would not be subject to alteration, amendment and even rejection by the Disposal Board when they begin to dispose of the undertaking.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will realise that he has made very heavy weather of this business. It is a very narrow point, and if the hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 6 (2) he will find that all that is to happen is that the Commission will have to submit applications, within whatever period is decided, for the total number of licences they require. They are in a position to do that at any time. I go as far as to say that if the period put down here were three days it would not be completely unreasonable. The Commission keep current returns of their strength of vehicles. If hon. Members ask Lord Hurcomb or any senior executive—I have not done so myself—I have no doubt that they will be told straight 474 away exactly how many vehicles and trailers the Commission have.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring my point completely. When an application is made for a licence, the applicant must state the base or centre from which he is operating. The Commission will not be able to determine from which base they will operate then vehicles within the three days which the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the elaborate organisation of the Road Haulage Executive is already divided into divisions, areas, groups and operating bases. It is based on those facts that the figures are kept. In making the application in the first place, I doubt whether it will be necessary for details to be given of the precise base from which the vehicle is to be operated. They have to be given before the licence is granted, but when the application is first submitted I should think it could be a global application for each licensing authority's area.
§ Mr. Renton
I cannot give way. The hon. Member for Acton repeated his argument four times, and this is such a short and narrow point that I do not wish to elaborate it.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
Before I proceed to make my contribution to the discussion, I should like one point cleared up by the Minister: is it intended, and is it laid down in the wording of this Clause, that the applications to be made by the Transport Commission shall be applications for individual vehicles or a global application for a total number of vehicles?
§ Mr. Thomas
I think that point must be cleared up before we are in a position to make valid criticisms of the proposal.
If the Minister does not say that it is intended to be a global application by the Transport Commission, for a total number of vehicles which can be operated over the whole country, then I can read no other meaning into the provisions of the Clause than that the Commission 475 will be obliged to make separate application for each vehicle which they wish to operate. This separate individual application for each vehicle will relate to the depot from which the vehicle is to operate. If there is any other meaning which can be placed on the Clause, I should like to hear it from the Government Front Bench.
I shall proceed on the assumption that the meaning which I have gathered from the words is correct, and upon that basis I will make my criticism. In the first place, the provisions of the Clause spring from the same root misconception of the purposes of the Traffic Commission as do the whole of the provisions of the Bill. What is the Transport Commission? I do not think the Minister has a clear conception of what the Transport Commission is, what are its separate parts, and what are the functions placed upon it by statute, which it is under an obligation to carry out.
To underline that fact I will make a comparison between the functioning of the Commission in running road transport vehicles and the functioning of a private operator who makes application for a licence and succeeds in getting one. It must be realised that there is a statutory duty upon the Commission to provide an efficient, economic and adequate road transport service. Such duty is not placed upon any applicant for a private licence. Any private licensee can put his vehicles on the road and subsequently can decide to take them off again.
I take it that that is correct? There is no obligation on him to provide that public service. That is the fundamental difference between the private road operator and the Commission which I think the Minister and the Government have entirely overlooked, or have not deigned to notice.
What does this three-month period mean? Within a short period of three months—[HON. MEMBERS: "Six months."] Well, six months. I will double it. It makes little difference to my criticism of the whole conception whether it is three months, six months, 12 months—or 12 years for that matter. I am criticising the fundamental fallacy of the whole conception of this purpose of licensing British Transport vehicles.
476 To make it at least possible to be put into operation, or to provide some hope beyond three months, even an additional breathing space of a few months, I am in favour of the Amendment, but I doubt very much whether the Commission, even in six months, will be able to face up to the restrictive provisions of this Clause.
I say that the Government are letting the country down, and they are letting the users of public transport down. If they have any doubt about that, all I would ask them to do is to read some of the criticisms made even by leading Conservatives in this Chamber and in another place.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is getting wide of the Amendment under discussion, which is to leave out "three" and to insert "twelve."
§ Mr. Thomas
I am merely trying to prove the fallacy on which this whole conception is based, Sir Charles.
I support the Amendment in the hope that the Minister is prepared to extend the period of operation of common sense, or even of Governmental sanity, at least for a period of 12 months before entering into the conditions of utter anarchy which will inevitably prevail as a result of this proposal.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who moved the Amendment, was under a misapprehension which has clouded the debate. He appeared to think that it will be necessary for the Commission, in order to obtain the licences under this Clause and the First Schedule to the Bill, to specify the areas which the vehicles for which licences are sought will serve, and the bases from which they will operate.
If he examines the First Schedule he will see that is not the case. That requirement applies to vehicles forming part of transport units. It is paragraph 4 of Part I of the Schedule which deals with the transport units acquired by the buyers. It is therefore only to vehicles licensed under Part I of the First Schedule that the power of the licensing authority to revoke the licence if the vehicles are subsequently operated from a different base or serve a different area applies.
477 if the hon. Member will look at Part II of the Schedule, governing the automatic granting of licences to the Commission's vehicles he will see that there is no such limitation at all, and consequently no such power on the part of the licensing authority to revoke. Therefore, all the Commission have to do is simply to specify the vehicles in respect of which they require licences.
To do that they will not have to forecast from what bases they will eventually be running, or select what part of their undertaking they propose to retain under a previous Clause. They will simply specify the vehicles they are still having to use at the appropriate date, whether it is three or six months after the passing of the Act. I do not feel, therefore, that the difficulties felt by the hon. Member for Enfield, East exist at all.
§ Mr. Sparks
May I put this point to the hon. Member, because that seems to me to be ridiculous? How can the Commission specify a number of vehicles unless the number is related to the traffics they intend to carry? The number must be connected with the traffics they are to carry, and to ascertain that they must know what part of the road traffics they are to retain and what is to be disposed of. Until the Disposal Board deals with that nobody knows.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) sought to justify the proposals of the Government on the ground that it would not be necessary to provide any details about the bases, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). But although there may be some latitude in granting licences to the Commission in the first place, surely they must have some idea of the job they have to do. In the process of their business they must have an idea of what is to happen to their competitors.
Is it suggested that they shall licence the whole of the vehicles left to them, or of the six-fifths which it is proposed to give them under the Bill? Are they to licence them automatically, irrespective of need, or the geographical sphere of operation of the vehicles? Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether it is to be in the nature of an automatic request 478 at this point and that there will be no question of argument when the matter comes before the Commissioners.
What is the hurry? We shall finish the Committee stage of this Bill next week and the Government hope to get the Bill passed by the end of March or April of next year. The Minister has told us he hopes the transaction will be well on the way to completion by the end of December, 1953.
It is proposed that, within three months of the passing of this Bill, the Commission shall be required to take out licences for their vehicles. But why should that be done when the industry is in the melting pot and nobody knows what the future will be? What advantage will there be? The Minister has conceded part of the argument in that he is now prepared to double the time and to make it six months. What led him to change his mind? Why does he think that six months is any better than three months?
What are the arguments against the submission that the period should be one of 12 months? It is doubtful whether that time will be adequate, but in that period we shall be able to see whether the Commission require x number of licences or any other number, in the light of experience.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Is the hon. Gentleman contending that the Commission will not want to operate the total number of vehicles which this Bill will allow? Does he take the view that they may wish to apply for licences for fewer vehicles than those to which they are entitled under this Bill?
§ Mr. Davies
That is a two-edged question. Neither I nor anyone else can say what number of vehicles the Commission will want to operate when the time comes. I imagine that they will want to operate the lot, but I do not know. Why should they be saddled with the responsibility, in three months' time, of committing themselves by having to apply for licences for every vehicle whether they want to use them or not? They may have some vehicles which they would be glad to get rid of, but this provision puts upon them the obligation of taking out licences within three months of the passing of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what advantage is to be gained.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
This is, of course, an important matter, but there are a number of even more important matters to be discussed and I will be brief. I do not think there need be any misunderstanding. Of course, nothing one could do would satisfy those like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. 0. Thomas) who talk gaily about three or six months being all the same as 12 years. Those who are anxious that a reasonable period should be allowed will, I hope, find in the doubling of the period in the Bill a fair answer to their argument.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) why I had changed my mind. What, otherwise, is the purpose of debate? Has not it always been the contention of the Opposition—whichever party may form the Opposition—that in the process of give and take reasonable compromises are reached? Of course, there is no question that in the new period of six months which I have undertaken to accept the Commission have got to re-arrange and re-dispose all their fleet. All they have to do is to apply in the respective licensing areas for licences for their vehicles on the basis of the present disposition of their fleet.
When they want variations, as they will from time to time, they will apply to the licensing authority for them. It is not suggested that in three months—or in six months now—they should take action which they cannot take until the disposal machinery in the Bill comes into operation; for this period of six months starts when the Bill becomes law. As the Committee know, the machinery of disposal will not, at the earliest, be completed until the end of next year, and many people feel that I was over-optimistic when I suggested that.
In these circumstances, I hope that the Committee will feel disposed to accept the gesture that I made earlier in this debate, not entirely but in part because I want to meet reasonable arguments from the Opposition and because I want, as they do, to pass on to other equally important questions.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge that the Minister has doubled the original time that he thought of in an attempt to go some way towards meeting this Amendment. I must say, however, that I do not 480 think that he fully appreciates even now the task that the Commission will have to undertake, and certainly those of his hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate have no conception—at any rate, they did not display it—of the duties of a licensing authority and of what it may require the Commission to produce.
§ Mr. Renton
In relation to these types of application, the duties are clearly specified in the First Schedule.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that the duties are specified in Part II of the First Schedule. I also have read that Schedule, and what it says is that the application shall not be refused, but—and this is where I think all the supporters of the Minister fail to grasp the point—Part II of the First Schedule does not deal with what a licensing authority may prescribe that it needs before it grants the application.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman has, perhaps unwittingly, hit the nail on the head, when he used the expression, "before it grants the application." The details required have to be submitted not at the time the application is made but before it is granted. That is the important distinction.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am not resisting interruptions, but if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my speech he will find that I have thought of that and that I will deal with it later. If I forget it I give him leave to interrupt me again.
The Minister and those who support him on this question will see in Section 5 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, that there is laid down a detailed procedure which licensing authorities may require those applying for licences to carry out. Anybody who has practised in the traffic courts—I have not—will know that the licensing authorities require a great deal of this work to be carried out before they will consider the granting of an application.
I hope that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will not think that I am wasting time. We want to see justice done to the 481 Commission as well as to the private road hauliers. We know that his interest is in the private road hauliers. Our major interest in this matter is with the Commission. I hope that he will not move the Closure on me yet. We will get to the Amendment in his name, I promise him. I will pick out some of the important parts of Section 5 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. Subsection (1, c) says that the applicant must submit a statement:specifying … the facilities for the transport of goods intended to be provided by him under the licence for other persons, including particulars of the district within which, or the places between which, it is intended that the authorised vehicles will normally be used for the purpose of carrying goods for hire or reward.There is nothing in Part II of the First Schedule which relieves the Commission of the obligation of producing these details if the licensing authority insists on having them; and it is not within the competence of the Minister to tell the licensing authority that it is not to require these details.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
One of the advantages which has flown from the large-scale organisation of the Commission is that there are good statistics available. The Commission are in a position to answer quickly questions of this kind. That will be of great advantage in this field.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am grateful to the Minister for that unsolicited tribute. It is true. But, as he himself has recognised by doubling the period of time that the Commission shall have in which to prepare these statistics, this is a formidable task. Anyone who has had the job of looking at these applications knows that a great deal of work can be required to prepare one application if the authority decides to stand on its rights, and indeed its duties, under Section 5 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act.
It says here in subsection (2):A person applying for a licence shall give to the licensing authority"—not may give, but shall give—any information which he may reasonably require for the discharge of his duties in relation to the application and, in particular,"—and there follow three specific requirements that must be submitted to the licensing authority in the prescribed form 482 —not on any old piece of paper, but done in a proper way. This is, presumably, a clerical administrative operation which has to be carried out, and that is the whole point, though a comparatively narrow one.
It seems to me quite clear that hon. Members who are supporting the Minister do not realise how much work is involved in this particular matter. I am not going to specify these operations, but I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that those familiar with the operation of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and with the licensing authorities—and the Minister is, I know—will be aware of what I am saying—that the licensing authorities can require rather considerable data from any applicants for a licence.
In subsection (3), which is an important one which I cannot overlook, it is laid down thatthe application must be made to the licensing authority for the area in which the permanent base or centre from which it is intended that the authorised vehicles will normally be used for the purpose of carrying goods for hire or reward is situate, and a separate application must be made in respect of each such base or centre.As I understand, that means that the Transport Commission will have to make well over 1,000 separate applications to either 12 or 13 licensing authorities; I have forgotten how many there are. I now understand that there are, in fact, 12. They will have to make certainly well over 1,000 applications, and I would say many more than that, because there will be a number of sub-depots not included in the figure of 1,000 and of a comparatively small character.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact that one person can apply on one piece of paper to one licensing authority for as many as 1,000 vehicles.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Of course, he can, but, in fact, he will not, and for this reason. The Transport Commission will want to name their bases, and will want to have at their bases a number of vehicles which may be as low as five or as many as 200. Indeed, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I doubt whether there will be a single application for 1,000 vehicles, though there will be many for a score of vehicles or under, and these are pretty considerable operations.
483 There is nothing in Part II of the Schedule—and I say this for the benefit of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—which relieves an applicant from the obligation to give the number of those operated, and, I think, very properly, but, says the hon. Member for Huntingdon, he can do that after he has made his application. As I understand, the point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon is this. Let them snap in an application, and they can work out all the details afterwards. He can do that in a period of three days, according to the hon. Member, but which the Minister thinks should be six months.
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that there seems to me to be a slight discrepancy between the two, and, further, that paragraph 4 of Part II of the Schedule lays down that:No variation shall be made of an A licence granted under paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule except a variation consisting only of the removal of a specified vehicle from the licence,…As I understand that, it fixes once and for all the bases from which the vehicles operate.
§ Mr. Powell
With respect, that paragraph refers to special A licences only, which are granted in respect of the transport units, and not in respect of the Commission's own vehicles.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am quite prepared to take time to get this straight, and I ask the hon. Gentleman if I am not right in thinking that, when an application is made for a special A licence, the base from which the vehicle is going to operate has to be fixed and determined and cannot then be altered?
§ Mr. Powell
We are not discussing special A licences, for which there is a definition in paragraph 1.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
May I make this quite plain, because the question is rather important? It is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mir. Powell) has pointed out, a question of special A licences. They are not the Commission's business. They are licences for transport units or businesses that are being disposed of, and they will have to specify the area and all the other requirements. If, in fact, they apply for a variation of the licence, this restriction 484 in the Schedule relates to a variation in the number of the vehicles. The Commission remain as free as they were before within the sphere of working of the 1933 Act. They will have their statistical evidence immediately available, and a period of six months will give them ample time.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am much obliged to the Minister. When the Transport Commission put in their application for their licences in this class which we are now discussing, is it quite clear that they will be able to alter or vary the bases from which they propose their vehicles shall operate?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They will be perfectly free to put in an application to do so, but it is not for me to anticipate the decision of the licensing authority.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not wish to take an unfair advantage of the Minister, because this matter is too important for mere debating points. Is it not, therefore, very important that the Commission should take a considerable time to work out exactly from which bases they will want their vehicles to operate, because, though they will get the first licence automatically, in the case of a second, they can only apply for it, and under the provisions of the Bill, there may be a considerable difficulty in working it out?
The provisions of the Clause, we think, will make it easier for people to get into the industry, and, therefore, to get the Commission out. I am not arguing the merits, though I do say that they seem to me to reinforce the case I am making. The Commission, when making their initial application, should be quite certain what is the pattern of the operation which they intend to follow when they get their plans completed. That, I understand, is the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East made, and which I do not think was destroyed in the subsequent debate. Indeed, it is recognised by the Minister, because he is now doubling the period to six months.
We raise this matter as one of administration, and I would not care to pronounce finally as between the two periods of six months and 12 months, but, with the many other tasks which the Commission will have thrust upon them, we think that the Minister is being less than generous to them. It is not as if this task 485 stands in isolation; there are many other things which have been thrown upon them by this Bill, and I believe they ought to have a longer period.
One final word. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must not behave as if the licensing authorities are the servants of the Minister. They are not. They have semi-judicial, independent qualifications that are given to them by Act of Parliament, and, as those of us who have worked with them know—and I have presided at some of their conferences, and I dare say that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have also done so—they take an independent view of their own functions. We cannot tell them to depart from their functions, unless we alter the functions laid upon them by passing an amending Act.
That is why I say, with apologies to the noble Lord, who is wanting to get on to the discussion on his own Amendment, that we should take time on this matter in order to ensure that the procedure is fully understood and that it is made quite clear that this House, by passing Part II of the Schedule, cannot visit upon the licensing authorities obligations which they are not willing to take.
In all the circumstances, it would have been preferable to have had 12 months, but, in view of the concession which the Minister has made, and while we adhere to our own view on the period of 12 months, we would be content with the Amendment being negatived.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) made a very reasonable case for the Amendment. This is the first time during the Committee proceedings that the Minister has made a concession to both this side of the Committee and the Transport Commission. As the Minister consulted the Transport Commission and their advice was that there ought not to be a limited period of three months, I should have thought the Minister would gladly have accepted the Amendment providing for a period of 12 months.
It is no good the Minister being in a great hurry about licensing. The Minister is being unfair to the Transport Commission and to the nation which owns the industry. To compare this with the treatment which is to be given to the purchasers of units, those purchasers 486 will, with very little trouble at all, receive a licence for five years as an encouragement to them to purchase the vehicles.
My hon. Friends have made it clear that the Commission will have a tremendous task to carry out. They have all sorts of instructions. They must assemble units for sale. They must consult the Disposal Board. There are 101 extra duties which the Commission will have to carry out as a result of the Bill. I should have thought that in the transitional period, and in the light of all the circumstances, the Minister would have given the Commission 12 months' grace in respect of licensing. Why should the Transport Commission and the licensing authorities within six months of the passing of the Act have to be troubled by having to make applications for licences when the vehicles are on sale and awaiting new owners. It is a waste of time, energy and money.
The Government are destroying the unified national transport system and handing State property over to private vested interests in a way never equalled in the history of Parliamentary Government, and yet, in spite of all the extra duties which are entailed by the Bill, the Minister says he cannot give the Transport Commission 12 months' grace in respect of licensing. The Minister's decision is consistent with the attitude of the Ministry and the Government throughout this Bill. In his undue haste in this and other parts of the Bill, the Minister is doing incalculable harm to the trade and industry of our country. The Bill—the Clause in particular—is a disgraceful example of the mismanagement of the affairs of the nation by this Tory reactionary Government.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I beg to move, in page 8, line 39, at the end, to insert:Provided that the total number of vehicles in respect of which such licences may be applied for shall not exceed the total number of vehicles belonging to the Commission which carried road fund licences on the first day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two.We feel that something is necessary to prevent the Commission from using their powers under Clause 6 (2) to apply for a vast number of vehicles which, bearing in mind the background of the licensing 487 system and of the Bill, could not possibly be justified. When the Commission obtains licences under the Clause, vehicles and A licences will, so to speak, be paired with each other, and we want to ensure that the pairs are live pairs and not dead pairs.
The danger that they may become dead pairs can very well be seen by examining the figures which the Commission gives in its 1951 Report in showing the operating stock and the repair position of British Road Service vehicles. The total stock at the end of the year was 41,265 motor vehicles and articulated units. But we find that of that number no fewer than 2,092 vehicles were stored, which means stored and serviceable. Presumbaly no use could be found for them. Unserviceable vehicles numbered 1,692, and there were 779 vehicles awaiting disposal. In addition to these vehicles, which were clearly off the road and not deserving of any A licences in any circumstances, there were 3,264 vehicles which were under or awaiting repair. That makes a total of some 6,000 vehicles.
We consider that it would be quite wrong that the Commission should, so to speak, be entitled as of right, and in the exercise of their discretion, to obtain licences for some 6,000 vehicles which can broadly be described as dead pairs.
§ Mr. Pannell
Taking merely the figure of vehicles under repair which the hon. Member has given, surely they would not be dead for all purposes. In fairly large firms, at least within my experience, when an audit is taken for any purpose on a given date it is customary to point out that there is a number of vehicles under repair and off the road only on that day. I think that the hon. Member would have a more precise basis for his argument if he eliminated the number of vehicles under repair. After all, the overhaul of even the largest type of vehicles would not mean that they would be off the road for more than a month or six weeks. To use this repair figure is misleading.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member's remarks refer to a very large number of vehicles—3,264. Some of them may very well have been off the road on the day in respect of which these figures were given. Others may have been what the Road Haulage Executive call "beyond 488 local repair" and may be sent to a central repair depot as far as 60 miles away. I concede to the hon. Member that it has always been customary for those who prudently operate a large haulage fleet to maintain a reserve of vehicles for maintenance and repair.
I stand open to correction if I am wrong, but my recollection is that under the licensing system an operator has always been entitled to have more vehicles than the number of licences he held, so long as he did not have on the road at any one time more vehicles than the number of licences he held in respect of specific vehicles. We want to ensure that the Commission do not have anything in excess of what they had as available operating stock, which was 35,099 vehicles on 31st December, 1951, and which may be quite a different figure for a more recent date.
It is very difficult to judge from the Commission's own description what the expression "available operating stock" means. The word "available" is a word of which I am slightly suspicious, because when one describes stock as being available for operation it does not mean necessarily that it was in operation. The number of vehicles actually in use on 31st December, 1951, by the Commission may well have been much lower than the figure of 35,099 which they gave. Therefore, in putting forward this Amendment we have made a sincere attempt at arriving at a method of measuring the total effective fleet of the Commission.
We say that if one takes the number of Road Fund licences which the Commission had on a particular date one will be getting probably as near as one can ever get to finding out what was the total number of vehicles which were in effective operation. If one once assumes that that is a fair test, the next thing one has to decide is to what date it should apply. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) acknowledged the tribute which the Minister paid to the fact that the Commission have good statistical information available.
The Commission probably will have no difficulty whatever in finding out, within the period of six months which the Minister has now granted to them, how many vehicles on 1st December, 1952, were carrying Road Fund licences. We think that that is a very fair way of 489 limiting as I think in fairness to all concerned it should be limited, the power of the Commission to obtain A licences for five years, in accordance with Clause 6 (2) of the Bill.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, East)
What would the hon. Member consider to be a reasonable number of vehicles, in a terrific fleet of 35,000 or 40,000, which might be stood on one side for repair or to be in reserve? There must be a reserve for repair and to cope with variations in trade.
§ Mr. Renton
Although I have some knowledge of Traffic Commissioners' courts—possibly as much knowledge as has the hon. Member—I have no expert knowledge of operating fleets.
§ Mr. Renton
I dare say that I share that lack of knowledge with some hon. Members opposite. May I answer one hon. Member at a time? I am trying to answer the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. J. Harrison), who asked what proportion of these vehicles might be reasonably expected to be off the road at any one time. I can only draw upon my Army experience. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but the Army had possibly the largest fleet of vehicles, other than that of the British Transport Commission, that has been under control at any one time. I used to think that it was rather overdoing things for maintenance purposes, but we used to try to get one vehicle off the road per week.
§ Mr. Renton
I am coming round to that.
In practice we found that once a fortnight was not too bad if the vehicles were busy and they were reasonably well maintained. But suppose we take the figure as 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. On that basis we find that the figure of 3,264 appears quite reasonable in relation to 490 the total of 35,099. I grant that, but if the hon. Member for Nottingham, East wishes to probe deeply into this matter he should inquire what the figure of 35,099 represented in terms of vehicles actually fully occupied on the road. That is the real point, and that is the point to which I would invite hon. Members to direct their attention in considering whether or not this Amendment is a fair one.
We are all in very great difficulty in that none of us has had the opportunity of probing as deeply as we should like into the affairs of British Road services. I should like to acknowledge the tact that I received great courtesy when I called at depots in my constituency and in neighbouring areas. I asked the Chairman of the Transport Commission if I could do so. He provided facilities and I was given all the information for which asked. Even so, even though I spent a whole day on this matter and devoted other occasions to it as well, one cannot probe extremely deeply into a figure like this which affects the whole countryside and on which visits to many separate areas would not give the answer.
Judging on the figures of empty running given in another part of the Road Haulage Executive's Report and the poor operating results shown—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am not going to put myself out of order by rising to the jeers opposite. I ask hon. Members not to take this figure of 35,099 as the figure which necessarily indicates the number of effective running vehicles on 31st December, 1951.
Quite candidly, we do not feel especially committed to the precise drafting of this Amendment. It is an amateurish and honest attempt to bring out the principle which we have in mind. It has to be read in conjunction with the Amendment to Schedule 1, page 45, line 29, to which, with the approval of your predecessor, Mr. Hopkin Morris, I am speaking at the same time. That Amendment to the Schedule is in precisely the same terms as the Amendment which I am now moving. Whether that is the right way of doing it I am not sure, but at any rate I suggest that our minds should be directed much more to the principle underlying this Amendment than to any particular form of words.
§ 5.0 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but we cannot recommend the Committee to accept this Amendment even in principle. The proviso, if inserted into the Bill, would limit the number of B.T.C. vehicles which would obtain licences, without applying under the Road Traffic Act, 1933, to the number in their possession and which were covered by Road Fund licences as on 1st December, 1952. The effect would be to make the Commission apply to the licensing authorities in the usual way if they wished to use more than this number of vehicles. The number of vehicles holding Road Fund licences on any one date might well be completely inappropriate on some other date.
I am sure all hon. Members are aware of the effect of seasonal trade fluctuations, and that to take an arbitrary date of that sort might be an entirely false criterion. Moreover, if I may underline an argument which was put to us yesterday with admirable clarity by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), who is not in his place at the moment, provision has to be made for the effect of severe weather conditions when it may be necessary to bring vehicles into operation to deal with some emergency. It would, of course, be quite intolerable if the public need for transport were to be unsatisfied because the Commission had not had the necessary time to obtain the licences which would be required for this purpose.
May I remind my hon. Friend, and indeed the Committee generally, that the licensing system makes allowance, and always did, for such exigencies as the traffic fluctuations to which I have just referred, breakdowns, repairs and similar factors. This procedure existed long prior to nationalisation; there is no party point here at all. There has never been any certainty—I think I can go further and say there has never been any likelihood—that all the vehicles of any particular operator would be on the road all the time. Therefore, there has always been a margin regarded as necessary unless traffic demands are to go unsatisfied in one quarter or another.
492 The fear has been expressed by my hon. Friend that the Road Haulage Executive might thus compete with the purchasers of the vehicles whom we hope will materialise when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. May I point out that there would, after all, be no incentive at all for the Executive to build up a business which was so soon to be abandoned? I have kept my remarks as brief as I can, because I know the Committee are anxious to make progress. I thought I would speak now in the hope that a little time would be saved. I think these are potent reasons for refusing the insertion of this proviso, and I express the hope that my hon. Friends will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I do not want to delay the Committee, and I appreciate the remarks of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but I am not quite clear even now exactly what number of A licences it is proposed the Commission should apply for. Is it 41,265 or some other figure? There are a considerable number of vehicles amounting to 1,642 which are unserviceable.
For the benefit of hon. Members opposite, I would say that I have been given figures which, in my estimation, indicate that the British Road Services have not been using on the roads more than 28,000 vehicles in any one month. I have been given those figures on a number of occasions; I cannot prove them, but they have not been challenged.
My information is that of the 35,000 given in the Report, there were some 4,500 which were on private contract work for delivery on behalf of private firms, that there were 3,500 engaged on parcels traffic, 2,000 on special traffic, 3,000 on local and railway work, 10,000 on tramp work and only 5,500 on regular trunk routes. Those figures add up to 28,500 and nothing like the figures of 35,000, or 38,000, and still less like the figure of 41,000 which has been given. There might be an excessive number licensed under this provision.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
I think we ought to congratulate the Minister on the abrupt way in which he rejected this Amendment. I think the Transport Commission would have sufficient difficulties without increasing the rigidity of the straitjacket into which they are being put. I suggest that the classic example—
§ Mr. G. Wilson
I should like to make it clear that I was not turning down any suggestion made by my hon. Friend. I was only asking for information.
§ Mr. Harrison
The point that the Parliamentary Secretary made was the classic example of the need for this flexibility in the number of vehicles available for the Transport Commission or the Road Haulage Executive or even for private hauliers. The classic example was during the great freeze-up, a few years ago, when the transport of coal on the railways in the Midlands was almost brought to a standstill by the extraordinarily severe weather. The private hauliers came to the rescue on that occasion.
If we accepted the principle embodied in this Amendment, such rescue work in the future would be absolutely impossible from the point of view not only of the Transport Commission but the private road haulier. I feel that we are indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary for being so abrupt in his dismissal of this Amendment.
I trust that I did not give an impression of abruptness. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson)—I hope without abruptness—the Commission can apply for licences for the whole of their fleet, and it remains their duty to dispose of the whole fleet.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I can understand hon. Members opposite rejoicing in the fact that the Commission should be allowed to get A licences for the maximum number of vehicles possible, because in so far as they are obliged to dispose of them over a time they are obviously concerned to see that private enterprise should be subjected to the maximum competition. We feel that the Commission should not be put in a specially privileged position to bring in vehicles from every source to compete with private enterprise.
The object of this Amendment is somewhat to limit the powers of the Commission to go searching into the highways, byways, into the garages and parking grounds to bring out derelict vehicles, or vehicles which will need repairing, and to prevent them purchasing fresh vehicles in order to get licences.
I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government were anxious to 494 see this sale take place and to see the prices held high and full opportunities created for these small people to get their vehicles quickly so that they can compete over the existing territory of business activities. I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government would have been delighted to find an Amendment of this kind put into the Bill.
I am very disappointed with the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. He ended by saying—as if it were a powerful argument in this debate—that there was no incentive to build up a business which was to be broken up. How relevant that was to the Amendment we are discussing I am unable to make out, but if it is relevant it is precisely what the Government are doing to the Commission—giving it no incentive to build up because it is going to be broken up. I should like a further explanation of that very odd remark from my hon. Friend.
He never contested the view put forward by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that the running number of Road Haulage Executive vehicles is something like 28,500. In fact, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the full number of 41,265 vehicles was likely to be licensed. I should have thought that a most dispiriting factor in the purchase of these vehicles and the running of transport by private enterprise—would be the feeling that as and when they were beginning to make a bid for these vehicles the Commission, under the stimulus of hon. Gentlemen opposite, were going to bring out every vehicle they could from all their resources and garages and put them into commission.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I understand the noble Lord's case for this Bill is that it will obtain the maximum amount of competition and allow private enterprise to give the best possible service. How is he relating that to the particular argument which he is now advancing with a view to the destruction of competition? How do the two things hang together?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
What I am saying is that at this moment on the trunking services there is a certain amount of merchandise moving about and a certain demand for hauling. It has been the point of hon. Gentlemen opposite for some months past that owing 495 to a slight trade recession there is not so much traffic as there was formerly. [HON. MEMBERS: "A slight recession? "] It is indeed a slight recession, and we are recovering very rapidly. At this moment we begin to break up the Road Haulage Executive—quite rightly—on various grounds, and we move over from the centralised State institution to private enterprise a portion of the services which supply and satisfy this demand for merchandise. That demand must be satisfied by the vehicles of private enterprise and the vehicles which the Commission is currently running to satisfy those services.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Do I understand the noble Lord to say that as far as private enterprise is concerned he is quite prepared for competition, but that he is not prepared for competition from a publicly-owned enterprise? Is that his line of argument?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
All I am saying is that we are moving vehicles and operators from a centralised monopoly institution into the field of private enterprise and, from the appointed day, they will begin to compete until the monopoly institution is broken up. But in order to get the services running we have to visualise those vehicles moving from the centralised corporation to private enterprise and to remember that they will both be in competition, over a period, for a certain amount of merchandise which is not likely to be rapidly increased.
Unless we put in an Amendment of this kind, as the vehicles are moved over to the private enterprise sector there will be coming in at the back of the public enterprise sector a large number of vehicles which are now under repair or in garages and which are not being used to satisfy the present long-distance road haulage demand. I think that is inflationary and it is in order to limit that inflation and to satisfy the clamant demands of members of the road haulage industry that we have lodged this Amendment. The sort of answer we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary, which fiddled about with dates and snow-covered roads, is not really sufficient to satisfy the serious intention behind the Amendment.
§ Mr. Renton
In view of my desire to leave an opportunity for discussion on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment; but I do so in no spirit of satisfaction.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
On a point of order. Could we have an assurance that the withdrawal of the Amendment is agreed to by the noble Lord?
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
That is not a point of order.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
We have now to consider the general principle of this Clause. For the moment I am not so much concerned with the latter part of the Clause, which deals with the question of freeing the Commission's vehicles from the 25-mile limit, as with the intention of the earlier subsections. It is perfectly true that for rather less than five years the Commission are given certain privileges as regards licences, but those are temporary provisions. First, I want to see why they are only made temporary and what is to happen at the end of the five years.
Much might happen in five years' time. Much might even happen in the course of Elections between now and five years' time; but for the moment we are not considering that. We are considering what is being put forward by way of permanent legislation. From that point of view this is a purely temporary provision. At the end of five years the Commission are to be put exactly in the position of any private operator vis-a-vis the licensing authority. They will be competing on absolutely level terms and they will have no more rights than a private operator when they come to apply for a licence.
I am quite aware that that is exactly what hon. Gentlemen opposite want, but it seems to me that in that respect they have entirely disregarded the public position and public duties of the Commission, and that they have thrown overboard in this respect—as, indeed, in many other respects, and this time with quite a loud and definite flop into the water—any idea of getting an integrated road transport 497 system, even if we leave out of the argument any question of integration between road and rail.
My reason for saying that is that a private operator, whether he is a small or large one, is obviously in the business to make the most he can out of it. We do not attribute to him any high sense of public responsibility in the matter, nor do we wish to say that he is dishonest, or anything of that sort. We merely say that his motives are necessarily quite different from those of the Commission. What I object to in the removal of what are, I agree, exceptional privileges in the hands of the Commission, is that those privileges were given to the Commission in recognition of their public character and their public duties; and they are now being withdrawn, as I see it, at any rate at the end of five years, without regard to its public character and its public responsibilities. That is my broad objection to the beginning of this Clause which repeals, in fact, those privileges.
I do not suppose for a minute that the Government at this stage are going to reconsider this matter, but I should like to put it to them in a spirit of sweet reasonableness. Let them have their way, if they are going to—let us assume they are to have it— with regard to so much in the rest of the Bill: with regard to the sale of transport units; the disposal of a large part of the Commission's property; the restriction of the Commission to a given number of vehicles and the forcing upon it of a choice, in effect, between one set of valuable services of the character of Pickford's, and so on, and other activities which it usefully, to good purpose, has carried out hitherto.
Let us assume for this purpose all that is bound to happen. Yet at the end of it all the road transport system of the country is to be handed over to the competition of a large number of road operators each of whom will go to one place or another and seek to make his profit where and as he can; and, of course, in those particular localities they will meet, as they always had to meet, with the control of the licensing authorities. I recognise that.
But I should like to suggest to the Minister that he could at least leave it open to the Commission to fill in the gaps, even if he is not prepared to do any more than that, and leave it in the 498 discretion of the Commission, which is a greater expert in the matter of transport than even the licensing authorities can be, to take a broader view of it and a longer view of it than anybody merely carrying out the functions of the Tribunal can possibly take; leave it to the Commission in those circumstances to move about, to use its vehicles where they can and as they can, and, in effect, to carry out the public duty of stopping up the gaps in the transport system which are bound to arise under this Bill, and of doing what little it can still do to make an integrated road system in the sense at least of having one that covers adequately public needs and local needs all over the country as and when they arise.
I am quite aware that even now under the licensing provisions the Commission can apply to any of those licensing authorities. That I know. But it still leaves the licensing authorities with the rather narrow statutory view that they are bound to take in these matters as the final authorities for saying to a public body with far larger responsibilities and a far larger outlook on the needs of transport, "No, not here. No, not in that way," and that seems to me to be the point of principle that is raised on this Clause, and for that reason I still hope that the Minister will reconsider it.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I wish I could respond to the spirit of sweet reasonableness by giving an absolute undertaking to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but my difficulty would be this. If we said the function of the Commission would be solely to fill in the gaps then there would be substance in the charge that they were being left alone with the unremunerative routes. The pattern of transport as already developing seems to us to be more safely left in the hands of the licensing authorities, to whom, under this Clause, the Commission, along with private operators, will have to go.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the fact that by this Clause the Commission, though it is subject to the licensing system, will be freed from the 25-miles limit. It is, I think, no secret that the Government are very anxious at an early date—indeed, the Bill enshrines this intention—to dispose altogether, and, we hope, for all time, of the pernicious 25-mile limit. I wish it had been possible to give this freedom to all and not only 499 to the purchasers of units and, under this Clause, to the Commission, for the same arguments do apply, and will, after the end of 1954, apply to all other operators.
The position of the Government has been plain in this matter from the very start. All through the debates in February, March and April, 1947, we attacked the arbitrary figure of 25 miles. We said that if it was right in one district it need not necessarily be right in another. We tried to give areas near the sea—and the Commission by this Clause are freed from the 25-mile limit—special treatment. A 25-mile limit for a private haulier living alongside the sea was obviously a ludicrous situation. Then a Bill was introduced into the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), and in another place. The Government of the day—the Opposition today—fought that Bill at every stage and left in it only the long and short Title.
§ Mr. Callaghan
On a point of order. I fully understand that we have only four minutes left in which to discuss Clause 7, and it was my purpose, if I caught your eye, Mr. Hopkin Morris, to make some observations on it, but if I may, with great respect, I would submit to you that the fact that we have not reached it at this moment is no reason why the Minister should make a speech on Clause 7 when we are discussing Clause 6.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Further to that, I hope that the Guillotine does not fall when we are discussing a point of order. The Clause exempts the Commission and only the Commission, except for purchasers of units, from the operation of the 25-mile limit. It would seem to me, therefore, not out of order at this point to discuss the position of those people who, in the next few years, will be in an unfair position vis-a-vis the Commission.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I understand that there is a way of doing our business here, and that we do separate matters. We are going to discuss that particular Clause—
We are discussing the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill "—that is, Clause 6—and we cannot discuss Clause 7 now.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Then I will content myself with saying that on a later occasion I shall have an opportunity of showing just how large a number of other 500 people will also have the privileges that this Clause confers upon the Commission. Meanwhile, of course—and this is directly relevant to this Clause—the 7,000 original permits that have been retained by the Commission—or rather the holders of those permits that have retained them in their possession—cannot be reviewed or modified until the end of 1954. Nor then either, because at that point the 25-mile limit will go.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I really do wish to raise a point of order. My point of order is that it really is unfair of the Minister, having Guillotined us, to take the whole of the time by a discussion which, as you recognise, Mr. Hopkin Morris, is on the fringes of order, because he is certainly skirting the next Clause, and preventing us making any observations on the particular Clause at all. He knows, and you know, that he is getting to the edge of Clause 7. We have had no opportunity to discuss it because the Amendment of hon. Gentlemen opposite has taken up the time.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is so, and I would say, if I may, that we are committing ourselves into your hands, Mr. Hopkin Morris, and we feel that the Minister is treating us extremely unfairly, when we are not allowed to make any points on this particular Clause. I submit to you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that he should resume his seat, so that we can do so.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Further to that point of order. The Guillotine falls upon all of us. We did not originate it. Why should the Minister have a privileged right to the tumbrils?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
In the field of transport—
It being Half-past Five o'Clock, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Orders, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
Question. "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at Half-past Five o'Clock.