HC Deb 17 December 1952 vol 509 cc1459-70
Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move, in page 27, line 26, to leave out the first "and."

I am grateful to the Opposition for giving me an opportunity of making a few remarks about the Clause, remarks which I do not think will be very controversial. Perhaps I could deal also with the further Amendment, in line 26, after "section," insert: and section sixteen of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1868. These two Amendments deal with a relatively minor point. It was overlooked when the Bill was being produced that the Regulation of Railways Act, 1868, provided for equality of charges in the steamships of what is now the Commission. In order to streamline the procedure, we thought that the same freedom should apply in that case as applies on the railways. The purpose of the two Amendments is to take care of that unexpected little difficulty.

There are about 10 other Amendments in my name, and I should like to make an explanation to the Committee. As hon. Members know, most of these changes in the railway rates structure were to come into operation after a charges scheme had been produced. We felt that as the only obligation was to—

Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)

I am very sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but I would ask you, Sir Charles, to make clear what Amendment is being moved and how many Amendments the discussion is meant to cover.

The Chairman

The Amendment that was moved is the first Amendment in page 27, line 26. It goes with the next Amendment, also in line 26, and with the Amendment in page 27, line 38. The Minister, I gather, was dealing also with the next series, of which there are about 11 altogether, 10 in the name of the Minister and one in the name of another hon. Member.

Sir L. Ropner

Am I right in assuming that my right hon. Friend will be moving his Amendment in page 27, to leave out lines 32 to 35?

The Chairman

If the right hon. Gentleman moves the Amendment, that is his affair.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I was going to deal with that and with the other Amendments which, I know, deeply interest my hon. and gallant Friend. I think that what I have to say will reassure him lest he has any fears that the points he has in mind will not be considered.

I want to explain why there is this large number of Amendments of a highly complicated kind. It was the original intention that this greater freedom for railway charging should come into operation with the submission and acceptance of a charges scheme; but the Commission have represented to me that this might take a long time and it would be unfair on them if improvements in their status are not brought about at an earlier date than that. In addition, I have had many representations made from all three parties in the House, from individual Members of Parliament, asking whether something could be done to improve the competitive position of the railways immediately on the passing of this Measure.

I listened to those representations, and there have been Amendments to that effect put forward by the Liberal Party and by the main Opposition. All three parties have responded to this genuinely unanimous feeling that there ought to be an earlier implementation of these changes than otherwise there would be if we waited for a charges scheme.

I am afraid that this is unusually complicated and these various Amendments must be very puzzling to hon. Members who have not been living with the Bill as closely as I have. So we wrote out the Clause as it would read on the assumption that the Amendments in my name were carried. I first made inquiries whether it would be in order to move to omit subsections (1) and (2) and to substitute entirely new subsections. I was told that that would not be in accordance with practice because a number of hon. Members had Amendments down to the subsections as originally drawn. I produced the document which showed what the Clause would be like if these Amendments were made and sent 50 copies to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison).

I hope that the Committee will be prepared to accept these various Amendments. We have decided, and I think it a wise decision, to bring into immediate operation the improvements in equality of treatment and undue preference where the traders' rights under Clause 20 operate from the passing of the Measure, but, in the case of protection of harbour authorities and coastal shipping, whose alternative protection would only come into operation after a charges scheme, there is not the same reason, but reasons to the contrary, to bring that freedom for the railways into operation at the same time.

Sir L. Ropner


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

This involves a number of Amendments, and if I may deal briefly with them I will answer anything my hon. and gallant Friend wishes to suggest. The first five Amendments in my name, in page 27, lines 32, 36, 37, 39 and 40 deal with bringing into operation straight away improvements in equality of treatment and undue preference. They also maintain until the charges scheme the existing protection in the Railway and Canal Traffic Act. Immediately after the passing of a charges scheme, there would be some other protection, which we will consider later on and which will arise also on Clause 21, which I think will satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend.

The next four Amendments, in page 27. lines 43 and 44; in page 28, line 7, and in page 28, leave out line 8, relate to the Act of 1933, which Act relates, among its many consequences, to agreed charges. Not only does that Act limit the making of agreed charges, but in that Act is the authority for the railways to have agreed charges. So it is necessary to have a fresh authority which must relate not only to the maximum charges after the scheme, but to the standard charges until there is a scheme. I hope that that is as clear as it is possible to make it and I think it explains the need for those four Amendments.

Sir L. Ropner

I know the Minister is fighting against time, but I am not yet clear in regard to your Ruling, Sir Charles. The right hon. Gentleman talks of the first five Amendments and the next four and so on, but I understood that this discussion, it was agreed, should be related only to the first two Amendments to Clause 19 and to one Amendment which comes later. I really must ask that that should be made clear, because I do not want to forfeit any opportunity of raising matters which are dealt with under entirely different Amendments.

The Chairman

My first impression was that there was to be discussion of the first two Amendments and the Amendment in page 27, line 38, and then discussion of the other Amendments, but I gather from the statement of the Minister that he is dealing with all the Amendments in his name. I do not see any objection to that, and I think the Opposition agree to that action being taken.

6.45 p.m.

Sir L. Ropner

Further to that Ruling, Sir Charles, I am not quite clear as I thought that on a Committee stage one Amendment had to be moved but discussions could range over a number of Amendments. I ask, in fairness to hon. Members who have taken an interest in other Amendments, that we should know precisely what Amendments are being covered in this discussion.

The Chairman

It is quite clear that one Amendment must be moved at a time, but discussion can range over a whole series.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is the case, and I was only referring to the Amendment in page 27, to leave out lines 32 to 35, and linking that with the remainder. I have moved the first Amendment to the Clause, in line 26, to leave out the first "and." I do not know whether it is more consistent with the rules of order to dispose of that first.

The Chairman

I think it better that we take that Amendment first, but there is no controversy about it.

Mr. Callaghan

There is no controversy about this because it has been our consistent desire to have this Bill discussed. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) that it is a most important Clause and we are left with a quarter of an hour in which to discuss it and are considering 11 Amendments all together. It is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. The time given under this Guillotine has been quite inadequate.

Sir L. Ropner

So I shall be allowed to discuss the Amendment to Clause 21, page 29, line 44. when we come to it?

The Chairman

By the time we get there, I think that will have fallen because of the Government Amendment, which I think will be accepted by the Committee.

Sir L. Ropner

Then your Ruling, Sir, is that we should discuss all the Amendments to this Clause together?

The Chairman

I think it would be simpler if we took the first two and got them out of the way and then got on to the next lot and covered the series, if that is to the convenience of the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 27, line 26, after "section," insert: and Section sixteen of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1868."—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move, in page 27, to leave out lines 32 to 35.

If my hon. and gallant Friend would have a little patience, I was coming to the point of his two Amendments and I was going to announce that, although I cannot accept the wording of his proposed Amendment to my Amendment in page 27, line 39, nor his Amendment to Clause 21, page 29, line 44, I accept the principle. I was going to deal with what we proposed to do with Clause 21 but, if my hon. and gallant Friend interrupts me again, it will be quite impossible for me to have the time to make that plain.

Mr. Callaghan

Can we not discuss it?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, everyone can take part with the permission of the Chair. I have dealt with the first five Amendments and I was passing on to the Act of 1933, which deals with agreed charges. We are now to have a fresh authority which will give the Commission authority to have agreed charges. This must not only be related to maximum charges after a scheme, but also to standard charges until the scheme is made. The Amendments which deal with this are in page 27, line 43, and line 44; in page 28, line 7 and line 8—

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman moving an Amendment?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am trying to explain the relevance of this. I understood that the hon. Member thought it a good idea that I should explain why a large number of Government Amendments have been put down to this Clause, nearly all of which are designed to bring into early operation provisions of which I think the majority of the Committee are in favour. It is not a very simple task, but is made a great deal more complicated if in the middle of it I am challenged as if we were trying to smuggle some sinister thing in, whereas all these Amendments are designed for an agreed purpose.

There are Amendments on the Order Paper to which I have put my name and there is also an Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash as an Amendment to my proposed Amendment in page 27, line 39, namely, in line 2, leave out from "1888," to "shall," in line 4, and insert: (which contains provisions for the protection of harbour authorities). My hon. and gallant Friend also has an Amendment to Clause 21, page 29, line 44, at the end, to add: (5) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to a complaint by a person engaged in coastal shipping or a body representing any class of person so engaged. (6) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of section eighty-three of the Transport Act. 1947, section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 (which relates to agreed charges and exceptional rates competing with coastal shipping) shall apply to any charges (other than maximum charges fixed by a charges scheme) which are being made or proposed to be made by the Commission for the carriage of merchandise by railway, and accordingly references in the said section thirty-nine to agreed charges or exceptional rates, and to the powers and duties of the Transport Tribunal under that section, shall be construed as references respectively to such first-mentioned charges and to the powers and duties of the tribunal under the said section thirty-nine as applied to such charges by virtue of this subsection: Provided that a person appointed from the shipping panel for the purposes of the powers and duties of the tribunal under the said section thirty-nine shall not be paid any remuneration or expenses out of moneys provided by Parliament in respect of his being an additional member of the tribunal. (7) If, on an application by a body desiring to make a representation to the Transport Tribunal under section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, as modified by the foregoing provisions of this section, it appears to the Tribunal that persons engaged in coastal shipping are being, or will he placed at an undue or unfair disadvantage by reason of the charges complained of, the Tribunal shall as quickly as may be and without any publication of the application hear the applicant and the Commission, and the provisions of the said section thirty-nine shall apply to the hearing as if it were an inquiry under that section. (8) Where the Transport Tribunal make an order under the said section thirty-nine, they shall cause notice of the order to he published and, if any representative body of traders objects to the order, the Tribunal may in their discretion hold an inquiry in accordance with the provisions of subsection (3) of that section, and the provisions of that section, as modified as aforesaid, shall apply. I propose to say that the Government accept the principle of those Amendments, and that between now and the Report stage we shall make any necessary revision. Although we cannot accept the wording entirely, we accept the principle and that may lead to changes in this Clause. It will certainly lead to changes in Clause 21.

As these things come together, I take it I shall be in order if I say that if and when we reach Clause 21 I shall again say what I have now said, that we accept the principle of the Amendment and that we propose to strengthen the machinery for the protection of coastal shipping. I am personally very concerned, as are my colleagues, that a very important carrying industry of this kind should not be prejudiced more than is inevitable. This may lead to certain extensions in the field of harbour authorities as well, and the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) will have his opportunity then.

In the light of this, and for other reasons as well, the Government do not feel it is wise to proceed with the proposal in Clause 21 authorising the road haulier to challenge a railway rate. As the Committee will remember, this right is limited to a haulier who can establish, first, that the charge is less than the maximum charge: second, if it is proceeded with it will bring loss to the Commission; and third, it is designed to eliminate competition. The Government therefore propose, between now and the Report stage, to re-draft Clause 21 so as to take account of the principle behind the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend and to remove the right of the road haulier to challenge railway rates.

I must make this plain. It was a very limited right anyhow, but none the less we feel there is considerable substance in the argument that a right such as this, unless it can be mutual, may appear to be taking away with one hand some part of what is being given with the other. I wish to put it on record that in the many letters and talks I have had on this matter with hon. Members of all parties, I have had a tremendous amount of support from hon. Members in my own party. I hope it will not be thought that the Conservative Party intend in any way way to circumscribe the new liberty given to the railways by the introduction of new restrictions which did not exist before.

I am afraid I have taxed very considerably the indulgence, and indeed the intelligence, of the Committee by these rather complicated Amendments. I hope I have made plain the position of the Government, and if there are any points about which hon. Members wish to ask questions, I will do my best to answer them in the limited time available.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

My hon. Friends, as the Minister has recognised, made arrangements whereby these matters could be considered. Otherwise, they would have had to be put formally by the Chair, and we did not want that to happen. I cannot, however, forbear from pointing out that this is a most unbusiness-like way in which to conduct legislation. I remember the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, once accused us of legislating as if we were running a sausage machine. Well, this is about that order of business.

The Minister has done his best. He has been helpful in educating us about all these Amendments. But here is a whole string of Amendments of a complicated character which it is really impossible for him to explain properly in the time at his disposal. I am not blaming the Minister in the circumstances, except that he is the joint father of the Guillotine. That is his responsibility.

But here the Committee is faced with a long string of complicated Amendments on which we are expected to vote "Aye" or "No." It really is not the way in which this honourable House ought to do its business. It is making a farce of legislation, and the Committee is more or less driven to accept the word of the Minister that these Amendments mean what he says they mean. They have been explained very briefly, but I am sure that the Members of the Committee are not fully seized of what they are doing.

The Minister says that he has had to take liberties, in the short time available, with the indulgence and intelligence of the Committee, and we should indeed be super-legislators if we really knew what we were doing. I desire most earnestly and sincerely to record the protest of all of us on this side of the Committee, and I think some hon. Members on the other side, that the Guillotine should have been so arranged that we are driven to do our business in this way.

It is not as if the Opposition have been wasting time. On the contrary. We have deliberately suppressed our speeches in order to get the best we could out of the situation, so that there is no excuse on that ground. But here we are faced with a whole bunch of Amendments which are going through on the nod, as it were, without adequate explanation; and I am prepared to guarantee that three-quarters of the Members of the Committee do not know what they are doing. That is what we are driven to by a Guillotine of this sort.

This has proved the criticism we made during the debate on the Allocation of Time Order. It is perfectly clear we have not anything like a reasonable amount of time in which to discuss the many issues thrown up by this Bill. I ask the Minister whether he, with the Leader of the House, will give consideration to the provision of double time on the Report stage. The time devoted to the Committee stage is clearly inadequate. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will admit that is so. In those circumstances we can only make up for it on Report stage, and I ask the Minister and the Leader of the House to give most serious consideration to giving us four days instead of two.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

In response to what the right hon. Gentleman has said I would point out that the alternative would have been to leave the Clause as it was. I thought it better to make it plain to the Commission and to the Committee that these improvements would come into force straight away. I thought this would lead to misrepresentations being made in the Committee, but it is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

Regarding the reference by the right hon. Gentleman to a series of complicated matters which have to be settled very quickly, I would ask him to take a look at the records of the proceedings during the Committee stage of the Socialist Transport Bill of 1947, when a whole host of wildly tendentious matters were passed without any discussion at all. These are largely agreed matters, to give expression to the common purpose of the Committee.

Mr. Morrison

There is no question at all of misrepresentation about this. It is perfectly clear that there has been no waste of time—

Mr. Nabarro

You are wasting it now.

Mr. Morrison

—on the part of the Opposition over this Bill. And it is perfectly clear that we are now in a position where we cannot do our work properly, and I ask that consideration be given to providing more time on the Report stage.

Commander R. Scott-Miller (King's Lynn)

In the remaining few minutes, may I convey to the Minister, on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, the thanks of those interested in the coastwise shipping interests of this country for having agreed to re-write Clause 21. I would remind him that for 20 years the coastwise shipping industry has relied for protection against unfair trading on Section 39 of the 1933 Act.

Mr. Hargreaves

I wish to ask the Minister if, before the Report stage, he will look into the subsection of the Clause now before us which deals with undue preference. It goes very much further than the actual charges between customer and undertaker.

It being Seven o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Orders, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a Member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to Clause 19, and the further Question necessary to complete the proceedings on that Clause.

Amendments made: In page 27, line 36, leave out "to thirty-nine," and insert "and thirty-eight."

In line 37, leave out "and the position of coastwise shipping."

In line 38, at end, insert: and (e) sections fourteen and fifteen of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1873, sections thirty-three and thirty-four of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, and subsection (5) of section fifty-four of the Railways Act, 1921 (which relate to charges made for the carriage of merchandise by inland waterway and to the publication of charges for such carriage and for the carriage of merchandise by sea), or any corresponding statutory provision passed or made with respect to a particular undertaking.

In line 39, after first "charges," insert: made by the Commission, and section thirty of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, and section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 (which contain provisions for the protection of harbour authorities and coastwise shipping), shall not apply to any charges.

In line 40, leave out from "Act," to end of line 42.

In line 43, at beginning, insert "Notwithstanding."

In line 44, leave out from "1933," to "such," in line 1, on page 28, and insert: the Commission may, if they think fit make.

In page 28, line 7, after "maximum," insert "or standard."

In page 28, leave out line 8.

In line 8, at end, insert: Provided that—

  1. (a) this subsection shall have effect subject to the provisions of section twenty-one of this Act; and
  2. (b) until charges for the carriage of merchandise by railway are dealt with by a charges scheme, section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and (notwithstanding anything in subsection (1) of this section) subsection (10) of section thirty-seven of that Act (which contain provisions for the protection of harbour authorities and coastwise shipping) shall apply in relation to the charges authorised by this subsection as if they were agreed charges within the meaning of those sections.

In line 17, leave out "inland waterway," and insert "water."—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.