§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Man Lennox-Boyd)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
When we had a debate last July on the Report of the British Transport Commission, I was accused by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) of really moving instead the Second Reading of the earlier version of the Transport Bill. I am sure we all regret the absence of the hon. Gentleman today. He has written to me explaining that he has an engagement in the country which it is very difficult for him to miss. I am glad to think that his absence is not due to the fact that he feels that, the Bill having been read once a Second time, it need not be read again.
For this is a very different Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not in the least ashamed of the fact that we have profited a good deal by discussion and friendly argument in the course of the last few months. The Bill has many significant changes. I hope that in the course of this debate, and throughout the Committee stage, to convince Members on both sides of the House and of the Committee that it is a better Bill than it was before.
In July we were, although discussing the Transport Commission's Report, none the less able to debate a good many of the considerations which led Her Majesty's Government to promise the introduction of this Bill as the first legislative measure this Session. We then discussed the great efforts of the Transport Commission and of the Executives to carry out their statutory duty to produce, though it was never clearly defined, what was called an "integrated transport system" throughout the United Kingdom.
We noticed that even then the late Government had already abandoned any attempt to carry out integrated passenger service schemes in the North-East and in the South-West of England and in East Anglia. I pointed out myself that large numbers of councils, many of them indeed 1404 Socialist-controlled councils, had opposed those schemes in their areas. I think it true to say that my predecessor, the right hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) had himself decided to abolish the Road Passenger Executive.
I suggested, at that time in July, that opposition to dropping the scheme-making power for passenger services would be unreal if the authority that was going to carry that out was not maintained. So at once I should like to draw the attention of the House to Clause 16, under which we carry out this intention. I asked at that time why, if integration had failed to work in the field of passenger services, it was regarded as a sacrosanct idea in the field of freight transport.
Then, as the debate continued, we spoke of the great efforts that had been made by the Commission, the Railway Executive and the Road Haulage Executive to try to run more efficient services. But all the discussion we had in the debate in July and on other occasions has turned on the achievements of separate transport activities.
But that was not the purpose of the 1947 Act. It was not in order that there should be a series of efficient independent activities that all sorts of things happened as a result of that Act. It was not for that purpose that the railway boards were abolished—surely a most foolish thing to do—depriving the railway companies, the general managers or the chief regional officers—or whatever they are to be called—of any local contacts of the utmost value to them in railway administration. I think it fair to say that railway directors, by and large, with their knowledge of insurance, finance, banking, shipping, industry and agriculture made an immense contribution to the development of British Railways.
I have been at pains throughout the summer to have a good many talks with railwaymen of varying grades all over the country. I have never yet found anybody in a position of authority who does not regard the loss of that sort of help and contact as a definite disadvantage. Very often it turned out that those who, by reason of their many activities, were able to turn up only occasionally at board meetings, contributed on those occasions something of value which the railway system now, deeply needs.
1405 It was not for that purpose that 3,000 private road haulage undertakings were liquidated. It was not done in order that there should be a good Road Haulage Executive. It was done in order that there should be an integrated system of transport. Nor was it done in order that there should be only a good Road Haulage Executive and the whole of the long-distance road haulage, in a sense, be put in thrall in one way or another to a relatively small proportion of some 40,000 vehicles, whose control has limited a large majority of them within a 25 mile limit over the last few years.
Surely any fair examination of what has happened as a result of the 1947 Act must lead us to the conclusion that none of the problems of integration that existed in 1938 or 1947 are any nearer solution as a result of the Socialist Act. Therefore, the Bill which I present to the House today is not only the fulfilment of our election undertaking, but also a cardinal Measure to help us in our present economic difficulties.
We believe, and we think that a majority of the people in the country believe, that competition gives a better service than monopoly. We believe that the best way to have a good service is through de-centralisation; and that independent private enterprise, or, in the case of the railways, regional enterprise, is the best way to achieve this de-centralisation. We believe, again, that it should be the consumer who should make his choice of what form of transport he would prefer to use by ordinary commercial considerations, and not have it made for him by a vast monopoly, however well-intentioned.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am coming to that. We have Clauses which could be held to deal, if needed, with the situation as it exists in Scotland.
We also believe that, although other considerations apply as well as cost and that the road will always have, in certain categories of transport, a very particular advantage over the rail, especially where continuous handling is concerned, generally the user makes up his mind on the basis of competitive charges which, in our view, should be fair charges based upon real costs. It is because I 1406 believe that a large part of this Bill will achieve that purpose that I am glad to bring it before the House today.
In this Bill we are providing for that form of de-centralisation which is most appropriate to each of the two great forms of British transport activity. I said in July, and indeed I have said it ever since I was appointed, that I would gladly give the fullest consideration to any views advanced by people who wanted a scheme of de-centralisation to work; and especially that I and the Government would look again at the whole vexed problem of railway charges.
I have been constantly urged—and my predecessors must have had the same advice given to them—that if the railways were free from restrictions based on the days when they were virtually a monopoly, and if, incidentally, the management could be de-centralised, they could have a reasonable chance of competing with road transport. If such a situation could be devised and enshrined in a Bill, there would be no case for the second part of the levy which I recognise has excited widespread opposition.
So in this Bill we have arranged, not only for a return to free enterprise of long-distance haulage but a disposal of units, and security at the same time for those who purchase them, with the eventual removal at a fixed and definite date of the twenty-five-mile limit and a greater degree of latitude in granting A and B licences, on the one hand, and a wide measure of de-centralisation for the railways, coupled with a very considerable improvement in their competitive position, on the other hand. At the same time—and this goes some way to meet what has been said—I am taking powers in this Bill to control and, if need be, to reduce the Commission's holding in passenger activities. But, as I said at the time of their appointment, I must wait and see what the Committee under Mr. Gerald Thesiger reports on the working of the 1930 Act.
The most important change in this Bill relates to railway charges, and I hope that the House will bear with me if I develop this argument at some considerable length. I must apologise in advance for what may inevitably be a rather long speech. Great Britain, as we all know, had the first railways in the world. She still has the busiest railways—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
—and the best. I make no apology, therefore, for recommending the proposals about the railway charges, even though they may break new ground here and elsewhere. I am glad to see, in the very varied chorus of approval and dissent that some of our proposals have aroused, that many responsible people and newspapers have agreed with considerable enthusiasm with the improved opportunities for the railways—proposals which represent "a landmark in railway history"; "immense, almost revolutionary, advances": and make possible the establishment of efficiency in transport by means of a far fairer competition between road and rail.
When we introduced the earlier Bill in July, there were improvements on the old situation in the competitive position of the railways. As hon. Members will know, we introduced a head-room Clause, as it is called, to provide for sudden increases in expenses to which the Commission might be subjected while the matter was being considered by the Transport Tribunal and which might land them in a very large deficit. Second, we arranged in the Bill that, instead of charges being either fixed, standard or maximum, they should be put in a charges scheme only as maximum charges.
None the less, I and my colleagues did not feel that we had fully measured up to the problems of the railways in this sphere, or to the new and tolerant view of the majority opinion in Britain towards railway obligations. As the House will know, many of these obligations on railway freedom in the matter of charges which it is proposed to sweep away under this Bill date from the days when they were a monopoly, and now there is every reason to believe that the carrying capacity of road haulage is just as high as the railway capacity.
The equality of charges obligation, for example, dates from the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, and in the same year incidentally—to show how archaic some regulations have become—this House also passed a Bill to stop the employment in industry of children under eight. Only three years before a Bill had been passed to stop the employment of children under 10 in the coal mines. [Interruption.] It is 1408 something in which we can all take pride; there was no Labour Party in the House of Commons at that time.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Three years later George Stephenson died. The first of these great obligations was imposed three years before George Stephenson died. Undue preference dated from the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1854, in the same year as the Crimea and three years after this House repealed the Window Tax following a particularly bad outbreak of cholera.
For years, and under various Governments of different political persuasions, the railways have argued that the time has come to look at their responsibility in the light of modern conditions. It is only about 70 years ago, long after many of these obligations were imposed on the railways, that a Board of Trade inspector of railways said—so great was the menace, in the minds of some people, of the monopoly position of the railways at that time—that either the State would manage the railways or the railways would manage the State. Then, in 1939, there was a wide measure of agreement that something had to be done. The Transport Advisory Council recommended to my predecessor, Captain Euan Wallace, legislation to be introduced, and in May, 1939, he promised to introduce legislation in the following Session. Then came the war and, as everybody knows, nothing of that kind could be introduced then.
I believe that people interested in railways all over the country, and not the least hon. Members opposite, will be glad to follow quite seriously the various changes which are proposed. Clauses 18 to 23 in the Bill are the Clauses relating to charges, and I hope they will be scrupulously and carefully examined in Committee in the light of present and not of past conditions.
The Government will certainly listen to everything that is said when this examination takes place, whether it comes from coal traders, who undoubtedly have views, from coastal shipping or from traders who fear that they may be subjected to unfair charges, or whether the criticism comes from those who believe that the new opportunities available for the railways should be made available before the carrying out of a charges 1409 scheme instead of waiting until afterwards, as it might be a long time before a charges scheme could be produced. We shall listen to the criticism and then make up our minds. [Interruption.] We have taken a good deal of notice up to now. I see no reason why our habits should change.
The special changes to which I wish to draw attention are four or five in number. First, under the Labour Government's Act of 1947, the Commission had to produce a charges scheme also for their road haulage and their canal carrying activities. They are now relieved of this obligation under this Bill. They are on precisely the same footing in that field as are other road hauliers and canal carriers.
Secondly, under the 1947 Act, a charges scheme could provide for either a fixed, standard or maximum charge. It now need provide only for a maximum rate. That means that the duty which the Commission had of going to the Tribunal in advance before they gave more than a 40 per cent. reduction below the standard rate for an exceptional rate, is now removed.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Is it intended to continue a merchandise classification of goods to be carried by freight services?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
When we come to the detailed Committee stage, I will certainly deal with that point. It is a most important point which should be dealt with in some detail. I am quite prepared to give an answer, but I do not want to be led away in the middle of what is a highly complicated matter. That is the sort of reason why we shall give full consideration in Committee to these changes.
Thirdly, at present all charges have to be published. Under the Bill it is proposed that only maximum charges will have to be published. Any railwayman will know that that represents a fundamental change.
Fourthly, under the Bill relief is given to the railways from equality of charge obligations and undue preference obligations. They will not now have to have an agreed charge only with Transport Tribunal prior approval, even though they could get the same results more or less by offering an exceptional rate.
1410 Fifthly, under Clause 22, there is a special procedure for temporary authorisation of increased charges. This is what I mentioned before as being in the original Bill, but it is adapted now to the new situation where only maximum charges are to be published.
These are very substantial changes, and I hope that when we come to examine them in Committee we shall examine them in a temperate way in the light of modern conditions. These very great changes are, I believe, wholly desirable, but I share the feeling of a number of people that some protection is necessary in the early days against the possible misuse of these great new powers. I would draw attention—and this is no reflection on the present composition of the Commission but merely a statement that other interests will be represented there—to the changed formation of the British Transport Commission which will be the authority for many of these proposals under the Bill.
None the less, I recognise that there are doubts in the minds of some people. We ought to do our utmost to resolve those doubts in the interest of traders—Clause 20—and in the interests of competitors—Clause 21. It may be that in the passage of time the opinion of the country may accept the fact that these protections are no longer necessary. But we have to deal with facts. In view of the sweeping improvement in the position of the railways which these Clauses represent, I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask the House to give careful consideration to Clauses 20 and 21.
Clause 20 gives protection to any firm to whom the railways still stand in the position of a monopoly. It has always been my view that the real danger to the monopoly traffics of England carried by rail will come when the railways are not allowed to compete fairly with roads. However, there are those who feel that it may be that the railways may make a bad move and find themselves making a net loss, and then they may be tempted to put this extra cost on the monopoly traffic.
Therefore, there is Clause 20. For traffic that cannot reasonably be carried by any other means, a special procedure is devised. A firm has to establish to the satisfaction of the Transport Tribunal that its goods cannot be carried reasonably 1411 by any other means. Having established that fact, the Tribunal can call for disclosure from the Commission, and so inform the complainant, of charges which are being made for the same or similar merchandise.
As for Clause 21, we shall have much opportunity to go into this in detail. The House will remember that under the 1947 and previous Acts the coastal shipping position in England was especially carefully protected. I am most conscious that it is one of my responsibilities to do all I can to help coastal shipping in the very great difficulties in which it finds itself. We have maintained the right of coastal shipping to object to an unduly low rate, subject to a series of safeguards.
We felt it only reasonable that the same right should be given to the road haulier. It was not given in the earlier Acts of the twenties because at that moment there was not a large and flourishing road haulage industry. The three considerations to be satisfied before this right can be effectively used are that the Commission must be shown to be charging rates which are less than the maximum; that, if persisted in, they would result in loss to the Commission; and, very important, that they had been made with a view to eliminating competition.
I shall await with interest the comments of the House on these two Clauses, but in view of the wide and, I think, long delayed, advantages now being given to the railways and to the—
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
This is an important point. Will the Minister say what steps he proposes to take to give similar facilities to the Commission to object to prices charged by private road hauliers? We remember what took place in the years between the wars when cut-throat competition brought about dire economic circumstances in both industries.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman knows that it would be impracticable to attempt to impose similar conditions. The Government's approach has been not to burden road haulage with disadvantages which the railways have hitherto suffered, but to remove those disadvantages from the railways. But in regard to all these changes, I make not greater claim—
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
The point put by my hon. Friend is perfectly fair and worthy of an answer. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I do not say at the moment whether I agree with it or disagree with it. I appreciate his argument that the Government are giving greater freedom to the railways in their charging for transportation, but they are also giving rights to traders and to their competitors to object to certain charges. Surely my hon. Friend put a perfectly sound point when he asked what corresponding rights the Government were giving to the railways to object—or to make comment upon before some tribunal—to the charges by their competitors, the road hauliers.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The right hon. Gentleman has only said at far greater length what was said succinctly by his hon. Friend. I can only give the same reply. Clearly, it would be impossible to put that burden on a road haulage business with two or three lorries. Any hon. Gentleman who knows about businesses of that size will understand what I mean.
I make no higher claim for these great changes than that I believe that, along with de-centralisation of the railways, they will provide what was really overdue—a far better chance to compete on equal terms; and, as such, I commend them to the House. I shall be very interested to hear any developments of the argument in regard to traders' rights or the rights of alternative forms of transport, and we will try to see how the argument develops.
A further and more vital part of the Government's proposals in regard to the railways is to be found in Clauses 14 and 15, dealing with the de-centralisation proposals. I have already said that, of the many wanton acts of the late administration, I think that one of the more absurd and short-sighted was the destruction of all the influence and guidance that could be given by the railway boards to railway administration.
I must say that, in my wanderings throughout the railway system—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—well, it is better to wander a bit and then arrive—in my wanderings, in which I have not just run down to some place one afternoon in order to get information to tell the House of Commons something in reply to a Question, but have been in all 1413 the regions and spent a great deal of time in them, I have never yet met a railwayman of any grade who does not disagree, disapprove and lament the disappearance of many of the features of his own line which gave him a focus for his personal interest and loyalty.
I have not yet met a single railway officer in this country who does not regret that, in the chief regional officer, as he is now, the general manager of the olden days has lost a great deal of his status, and that the duality of control which the functional system has brought about has led to an undue dependence on an inevitably large headquarters staff.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is quite out of order for an hon. Member to continue standing unless the Minister gives way.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is always courteous to me, in a moment, if I may finish my argument, but I have warned the House that my speech will be long anyway, and it will inevitably be longer still if I am unable to speak more than a few sentences without interruption.
The point I was making was that, regarding this excessive functional division of responsibility, however understandable it may have been in the early days, when there was need to get standardisation and some sort of approach to the principle of central responsibility, I think the time for that has passed. Now I wish to come to a further and even more important point than the one with which I was dealing.
§ Mr. Collick
I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. May I ask him whether, in his wanderings around the railways, he found one single responsible railway officer who agreed with the scheme put forward in this Bill?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If it would not be wholly out of order, I should be pleased to circulate a list of them in the OFFICIAL 1414 REPORT, but we should have to have a special issue of the OFFICIAL REPORT to take the names.
Any detailed scheme for railway decentralisation must, of course, be prepared by railway men, and I am not posing as a railway man, nor am I claiming that the Government of the day, in the Bill before Parliament, are attempting to draw in any great detail the form of de-centralisation which they have in mind, but this I do say: it is right that the Government of the day should lay down certain fundamental criteria and a framework within which a scheme can be prepared with the sort of principles which they feel should apply in any decentralisation plans.
If I may deal with those Clauses, what we have in mind—and the principles which we should try to establish—is as follows: a substantial measure of regional railway autonomy sufficient to give genuine reality to regional railway control over matters proper to regional responsibility.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Second, to define what are matters of central responsibility, for example, charges and wages, some standardisation of locomotives; and I clearly recognise that that has already had good results. These clearly should be made a central responsibility, and that central responsibility should be clearly defined, but there should be a clear division between matters such as these and matters that are properly regional responsibilities. Over and above that, the bias in future should be in favour of the widest measure of regional railway responsibility, and it must obviously fall to the Government, in concert with the British Transport Commission, to produce a framework based on agreed principles that will enable a detailed scheme to be worked out.
As the House knows, because it has already been announced, such a detailed scheme would be debated in Parliament when produced, and meanwhile, in the ordinary day-to-day life of the railways, such re-organisation as can be undertaken within their existing powers is, of course, entirely a matter for their own responsibility.
Having developed, I am afraid at somewhat great length—but they are very 1415 important—the two great purposes of the railway Clauses of this Bill, I should like now to pass to the road haulage side. The result of the new improved charges position for the railways is that there is no longer any need for the second part of the levy, and in Clauses 10 to 13 machinery is drawn up for the levy, as it was in the first Bill—the first part of the levy only—to be confined mainly to three purposes: payment for any loss of goodwill that the sale may occasion, compensation, as shown in the later Clauses of the Bill, to those displaced who qualify, and a fixed sum to the Commission for the disturbance of their activities during the transition.
On the Clauses relating to the levy, the method of paying, who will pay it and how the details will be devised, as well as many other points, will be debated in the Committee stage, and all that will come later; but I may say, in order to allay some fears, that I am advised—and I do not think anybody would give this answer without taking advice—that, according to the proper interpretation, the Transport Levy would be admissible for deduction in calculating profits for Income Tax, Profits Tax and Excess Profits Levy purposes.
Having dealt for the moment with the first part of the levy, I should like now to pass to the method of disposal of the Commission's long-distance road haulage activities. We have already had quite considerable discussions on this matter in the House. I do not expect hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept the view that, integration having failed—the road haulage services, whose only raison d'etre was to provide an integrated service along with the Railway Executive, having failed—there is no argument whatever for not handing back to private competition the long-distance road services.
Therefore, in Clause 1—and we shall have a long debate on Clause 1, because, whatever else we do not discuss at great length, we are bound to discuss that Clause at great length—we impose on the Commission the duty to dispose of long-distance road activities in an expeditious way, but I would draw the attention of the House to the very important element 1416 in Clause 4 relating to the Transport Commission's Holdings.
As the House knows, when I was accused in the debate on the White Paper of being party to some fraud on the Commission by depriving them of those vehicles that the old railways had owned, I replied—and I think I was entitled to do so—"Who stole them from the railways?" They were taken from the railways by the Act of 1947. Now we propose that the Commission should be allowed to retain a body of vehicles broadly approximating to what the railways had before nationalisation, with an addition to allow for what might have been the increase in the years since. I have been particularly asked on many hands, including hon. Members opposite, to take this possibility into account.
So the rather cumbersome phrase of "six-fifths of their former holding" appears, and by that we mean all that they had before plus 20 per cent. more. This will make the British Transport Commission the largest road haulage undertaking in the country, and all the people who want to see what happens in friendly rivalry between different forms of transport will have an opportunity of seeing that now.
The new provision will, of course, enable the Commission to retain a substantial part of Pickford's Special Traffics Division. There is something that I should like to point out to the House here. A great deal of excitement was engendered in the debate in July when it was said that we were wantonly breaking up a road haulage service which had made a net profit of, as it was said, £3,250,000. That is not a fair figure, and I will come to that later, but I would just point out that of the net profit receipts last year of £3,250,000 by the British Road Services, nearly £925,000 came from the Pickford's Division. That is a very important point.
Clause 2 provides for the Disposal Board and for its composition. Clause 3 provides for the machinery to regulate the relations of the Board and the Commission, for the creation of operable businesses for sale and for the invitation of tenders. These businesses will carry, as the House already knows, automatic A licences for five years free of the 25-mile limit, and at the end of 1954, where 1417 those who purchased businesses will have enjoyed about one year's clear run, the 25-mile limit will be lifted altogether.
We are not diminishing transport resources by this action, and we are certainly not imperilling the resources of the Commission. I must ask the House to consider for a moment the real financial returns on British Road Services. If £30 million was a fair price to pay for compensation—and if hon. Gentlemen opposite supported the Government which paid it, presumably they were good custodians of the national money—and if it was based on a period of from two to five years' purchase, then at the very largest the profits of the companies taken over must have been £15 million a year and at the very lowest £6 million. A probable figure is £10 million a year, which was about the profit being made—and a handsome part went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—by the companies which, largely by compulsion, were liquidated.
What has happened since? Despite the most strenuous efforts by the Road Haulage Executive—and no one denies that—their net traffic receipts for 1948 were £1.1 million; for 1949, £1.4 million; for 1950, a minus of £1.1 million; and last year the net traffic receipts were £3.3 million. But the appropriate contribution to their central charges is calculated at about £3 million. So even last year, which was much their best year, they only just met their appropriate central charge. But it was an improvement.
What is happening now? Making all allowance for trade recession and for increases in wages and other things which all other industries have to bear, the figures, unhappily, do not suggest that the upward trend of last year is continuing. In the 36 weeks ended 7th September, tonnage is down by 9 per cent. and vehicle miles by 5.6 per cent., and in the last eight weeks for which we have figures, the eight weeks ending 7th September, the tonnage has fallen by 14 per cent. and vehicle miles by 13 per cent.
We hear a great deal of what one hon. Member eloquently described as the "moonshine" about the C licence growth. The hon. Member said it was happening everywhere in the world. But an analysis of the C licence increase discloses some really quite disturbing features. It is not that there has been a huge increase, exclusively, 1418 or largely or mainly, in the number of small delivery vans, as hon. Gentlemen sometimes suggest. Taking the vehicles over 1½ tons, the C licence vehicles which the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) in one of his pamphlets said had creamed off a good deal of the long-distance traffic. In December, 1948, there were 268,000 of them and in September, 1952, 367,000, an increase of 37 per cent.
We hope and believe that, with the restoration of an individual and personal service in long-distance haulage, that steady increase will diminish and that people will prefer to turn instead to the provision by public operators in private hands of the services which they are now supplying for themselves.
If it is said that the whole value of co-ordination and of grouping will be lost if the industry passes into the hands of a large number of smallish people, there is nothing whatever to stop the advantages of clearing house organisation being made available to the small hauliers to ensure that they have the advantages of return loads. I see no reason whatever—although this is a matter for the Disposal Board—why facilities from some of the depots which will fall to be disposed of by the Disposal Board should not be made available as clearing houses to groups of private operators.
We have heard a very great deal of what is called, loosely, "the great sellout" and of the assumed indignation of large numbers of our people. Honestly, I do not think any hon. Members opposite will really in their heart of hearts quarrel with the view that the campaign to stir up public indignation has been very unsuccessful. The desire to unite a party which has got so little on which to unite, except misrepresentation of the other side's point of view, has played a predominant part.
In the Gallup Poll in September, while the majority of the people who responded on an issue of this kind said that they were in favour of de-nationalisation—48 per cent. as opposed to 39 per cent.—even 19 in every 100 Socialists said they were in favour of this Measure. The Gallup Poll cannot altogether be condemned. I saw with great interest that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) had a leading article about the Gallup Poll this week in the 1419 "Tribune," approving of it because, as he pointed out, it said that the loss of the High Wycombe by-election was not due to him but—the hon. Gentleman will remember these words—to the inability of the Opposition to know how to oppose.
We all know the difficulties of stirring up synthetic indignation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am not trying to stir it up at all. I see there was a meeting in Edinburgh on 22nd September which was addressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I see that the first speaker, looking round the almost empty hall, said—hon. Members should listen to these words:It is depressing to some of us who are trying to carry on this campaign …That does not sound like a crusade—… to find that at such an important conference as this there is no better attendance.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington replied, as we have all done in other people's divisions:For a conference on a Saturday afternoon, we have nothing to complain about.But why should it really be otherwise? What did the "Railway Gazette" say in an article some time ago? It said:Ask the first dozen railwaymen over 40 what they think of the present set-up, and the answer would hardly be printable.And when all the politics have gone out of this, let hon. Members turn to the document of the hon. Member for Perry Barr called "Job Lots for the Boys." There, tucked away on a back sheet he says, speaking of a policy which came into operation five years ago:Means must be found to gain greater confidence and interest from the staff. Under nationalisation"—that is, on the roads—they see little change—the old managers become the bosses under the British Transport Commission but even more remote.We can say this to the men who, I am glad to say, by and large, refuse to be deceived by a purely political campaign. We shall do the following and we shall scrupulously carry out our undertaking: we shall ensure for a vast majority of them a chance of staying in the industry which is an extending and growing and not a contracting one. We shall show scrupulous regard with their help and with public opinion for the 1933 law 1420 dealing with the condition of vehicles, hours of rest, and hours of work. It is often said, but only at these partly empty demonstrations, that all the employers in the old road haulage days were bad employers.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Hon. Members should ask a lot of housewives in High Wycombe. It was part of the whispering campaign. I am very glad to hear it denied. Of course, they were not all bad employers. We propose to preserve and strengthen the security against a bad employer while giving people the chance to work for a good employer. I was interested to see if some of the slanders on private hauliers were correct. In a broadcast recently in the North of England, it was stated that when a single vacancy was advertised by a private haulier he received 12 applications from British Road Services drivers.
We shall also, of course, scrupulously observe the requirements of the Road Haulage Wages Act and the Wages Councils Act of 1945 and 1948, which are administered by the Ministry of Labour in precisely the same way as other Wages Council provisions.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Does the Minister believe that he can possibly enforce or insist upon conditions being observed in a small haulage firm? The lesson of the inter-war years was that in a small unit the Minister could not possibly insist on the observance of a fair wage clause.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The answer to that is that the great majority of British working men who are in road haulage or in any other business are not prepared—and I am glad that it should be so—to be "taken for a ride" in that way. They have also trade union protection. If the hon. Member likes, I will send him afterwards a very careful analysis showing that Road Haulage Executive and private enterprise wage increases have followed each other pretty closely since October, 1950, sometimes one being ahead and then the other, but ending in about the same place.
As to compensation for any who are displaced, we will provide, under Clauses 26 and 27 of the Bill, for compensation, 1421 and, for those who are entitled, to obtain that part of their pension that would have accrued. I repeat that we would readily consult trade unions as to the form the regulations should take. This Bill follows the 1947 Act in this respect, in being an enabling Bill enabling the Minister to make regulations.
The 1947 Act enabled the Minister to make compensation regulations. But what happened? The vesting day for the Socialist Act was 1st January, 1948. It was not until June, 1950, two and a half years later, that regulations were made. Many small men were put to great hardship. They had their businesses confiscated and had to wait two and a half years before they knew what would happen. We will give the undertaking that we will do our very best to have these regulations in order and published before disposal of the road haulage vehicles start.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That was suggested to the hon. Member's own Minister in the last Administration, and I believe that I am right in saying that the appalling difficulty of doing that was clearly pointed out at that time.
The Parliamentary Secretary, who I believe will be speaking early tomorrow, will deal with a number of the many important issues with which I cannot attempt to deal because I do not want to detain the House too long. I had hoped to say something about special provisions in Scotland and Wales, the elaboration of new machinery for the coastal shipping industry and a number of other aspects. But I will leave these to him, as also the question of passenger services which, quite rightly, excites the interest of hon. Members opposite so much.
I am conscious of my very considerable responsibilities as Minister of Transport, and that I serve in a Department which many hon. Members of this House, and not least the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), have found in previous years of absorbing interest. On the whole, since 1947 and excepting London transport, we 1422 have managed to keep violent political controversy out of our transport debates. It is my hope that in this debate nothing will be said or done that will make it harder to widen the measure of agreement or to add to the transport settlements that should not be disturbed.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill and tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) will move an Amendment to the Motion for Second Reading in conventional and appropriate terms. We have listened to what I would call not a speech expounding this Bill nor a speech stating the problems of British transport, nor a speech which comprehensively indicates the ways in which the problems of British transport should be dealt with.
We have listened to a slick speech, and if the Minister's spirit in the moving of the Second Reading and in the way he answers Questions in the House is to be continued, certainly we shall be in for lively and lengthy Committee and Report stages. I would recommend the Minister to begin to take an interest in transport as well as in politics.
The Minister states that this is a very different Bill from the earlier Measure. I do not agree. He says that it is better than the one before. That is possible; and goodness knows it needed to be, because the one before could hardly have been worse than it was. The Minister went on to make a whole series of allegations. It is about time that the Government, in defining their policy, did something other than make merely dogmatic allegations and spared a little time in which to prove their case.
The Minister said, for example, that integration is no nearer than it was before the 1947 Act was passed. In the first place, the time between the implementation of the 1947 Act and now is, of course, a limited number of years and the Home Secretary at the time stated that little result could be shown before 10 years from the passing of the Act.
§ Mr. Morrison
I well remember my interchange with the Home Secretary. He really ought to be prepared to stick to his guns. His argument was that, owing to the nature of this industry and the task that had to be performed, we could not expect dramatic results inside 10 years. That is what he meant; and that, I demonstrated, is what he meant at the time. It is no good him now saying that what he meant was not that it could not be done in 10 years, but that it could not be done under the particular terms of the Act, which he is now trying to argue.
That is not what he said. What he said was that owing to the nature of this problem, we could not expect noticeable results inside 10 years. He was right. He spoke then as a good, straightforward Opposition Member of Parliament. He is now speaking as a professional advocate employed by the Government to make their case. [Interruption.] I hope the Prime Minister is not going to join this argument, because of all the gentlemen who have been professionally shifting from party to party to suit their own convenience he is the last word. That I have not done, while the right hon. Gentleman has shifted from the nationalisation of the railways in 1918 to this reactionary Measure in 1952. I advise the Prime Minister to sit back and be quiet, or to go out and have a rest.
The Minister said that integration was no nearer, and I have dealt with that in part in my observations about the very intelligent observation that the Home Secretary made in earlier years. It is too rough, when I make a flattering comment about the Home Secretary's earlier observations, that he should repudiate that he made these intelligent observations at all. As a matter of fact, integration has gone on; a great deal of it has gone on. For example, in the organisation of the road commercial services, instead of the road commercial services being a series of separate, conflicting, independent undertakings of one sort and another, they are increasingly co-ordinated.
The quality of the rolling stock is, on the average, much higher than it was. Safety on the roads, as a consequence, has been improved, and the conditions of 1424 the workers have also been improved—[An HON. MEMBER: "What has this to do with the Bill?"] This has got a lot to do with the Bill. What the Government are doing is to unwind all this business. They are going back to the former chaos and are reproducing the very evils to which I have referred.
If the right hon. Gentleman now says that some road transport workers—I do not know on what evidence, and I do not know with what accuracy—are now applying for jobs in private enterprise, it may well be because the Minister is threatening to break up the industry, that the men's jobs are imperilled and that they think that they have better find another job before the final blow of the Royal Assent descends upon them. Therefore, there is nothing in that.
I say that in road commercial transport the processes of integration and of co-ordination have gone on at a firm rate, including the processes of keeping the vehicles up to a good standard of repair, the employment of proper technicians, and so on, and the organisation of the industry into a national set-up—regions, groups and local depots, which is the proper organisation of the industry and is what it ought to be.
Moreover, there has been increasing co-ordination between road and rail. The railways and the road undertakings are increasingly co-operating together, not only in the closing down of branch lines where they can be substituted by organised road transport of one sort or another provided by the Commission or one of its Executives, but the co-ordination of road and rail has also made improvement as a result of the carrier system whereby a carrier can be lifted from road transport on to the rail, and vice versa, to an increasing extent. It is surely perfectly clear that that is more difficult to do if the ownership of one form of transport is in one hand and the ownership of the other form of transport is in another. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Certainly; it seems to me obvious, on the face of it.
Why is it that this process has increased under public ownership all round? Why did it not increase at a sufficient rate before? It was because of the separate ownerships and the conflict between the separate ownerships. The 1425 fact is that we cannot get proper co-ordination and integration if there is a vast mass of separate and conflicting ownerships, all of them playing their own game. It is when we get a common ownership of some sort that we can bring about the necessary physical changes.
The Minister said that competition is better than monopoly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] All right, as long as we know where we are going. We have a right to know where we are going. I am to take it from what the Minister says, therefore, that what the Government are doing is deliberately, consciously, and by plan deciding to stimulate the maximum practicable degree of competition between separate ownerships in the transport industry. That is right, is it not? I will give way to the Minister if he wants to comment upon it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The Minister does not want to comment and, therefore, I can take it that the policy of the Government is to stimulate by legislation, by deliberate policy, even artificially if they can, the maximum practicable degree of competition. That is to say, they want what we call cutthroat competition within the transport industry.
We know what that means, if that happens. We know that in the old circumstances, when cut-throat competition did exist, some of the prime victims of it were the working people who were employed in those industries. We know that the railway companies said to the railway unions, "We cannot consider favourably your requests because we are subjected to severe road commercial or road passenger competition." We know that the road transport commercial operators argued that they could not do proper business with the unions because they were subject to competition within the industry itself.
At any rate, we have it now tacitly admitted that the Government stand—and it is deliberate, considered Government policy—for deliberately, legislatively stimulated competition not only between road and rail but within the road passenger and the road haulage industry itself. That is the Government's policy. That being so, it is perfectly clear that the Government are deliberately moving away from a comprehensive system of transport for Britain, that they are completely throwing over the former statements 1426 of chairmen of railway companies in favour of co-ordination between road and rail, that they are throwing over all the best evidence of all the best transport experts and throwing over what in some respects has been their own policy, as expressed by one of their overlords—called the Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power—who himself looked forward to a co-ordinated system of transport.
The Government really ought to tell us more clearly where they are going, even though it seems to me to be clear, especially in view of the silence of the Minister of Transport. Is it not a curious Government that in one year say, through the mouth of the Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power, that they are in favour of co-ordination and now, through the mouth of the Minister of Transport, say that they are in favour of severe and strong competition?
Even that is not going to work out because it is well known that their Tory friends, who have money invested in passenger transport and in road commercial transport—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, and who have invested some of their money in the Tory Party as well—it is well known that for years these gentlemen have been working against competition. What have they to say about the Ribble buses? When is the Minister going to break up the Ribble buses? What about the Midland Red? What about all these other great omnibus combines which existed under private capitalism?
He is bringing a Bill deliberately to break up a publicly-owned concern and deliberately leaving in position capitalist concerns—great combinations seeking the maximum practicable degree of monopoly. To them he does nothing at ail. He leaves them alone. This is an indication that the Government believe in or accept monopoly where it is in the hands of capitalism and their Tory capitalist friends, but are willing to bring in legislation to destroy co-ordination and integration where this has proceeded under public auspices.
He says that the charges should be based on cost. What a ridiculous thing to say. It is impracticable. If the charges had been based upon cost some of these omnibus combines would have had their fares cut down many years ago, because 1427 some of them have made very high dividends—much higher than they ought to have done. If charges are to be based upon cost it means that each undertaking must base its charge upon cost. One cannot run a decent transport system upon any such basis.
Suppose, in regard to the omnibuses and the underground railway of Greater London, that each fare stage were based on cost. This is the logical application of what the Minister said. We should have an extraordinarily chaotic state of fare charges in the London Transport area. What is done, in fact, is to pool the resources and to have more or less standard fares, and to try to treat the public broadly upon a fair basis and not upon the cost of the individual journey.
Either the Minister meant what he said or he did not. He said that charges ought to be based upon costs. [Interruption.] Now hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite are beginning to see the light. I am delighted that that should be so. They say, "Not fares and charges based upon cost, but fares and charges based upon an overall big undertaking, so that there can be give and take within an undertaking itself." Coming from that quarter, that is a remarkably sensible statement. I entirely agree, and I commend its wisdom to the right hon. Gentleman, who had not thought of it himself.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
The right hon. Gentleman was saying that it was impracticable to base fares for each individual stage on costs. Is it not impossible to base the price of the fare on the average for all those stages?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that he agrees with what I said.
The Minister makes a great song and dance about the alleged freedom of the railways—given under the revised Bill—in regard to the making of charges. He says that because he is giving them this greater degree of freedom he can therefore modify the proposals as to the levy. In the first place, I think it will be found by the traders and others that it is questionable whether the Minister should go as far as he has done in respect of the freedom of charges, though I admit that there is something in principle in what 1428 he says. But I cannot see that what the railways are going to get out of this greater freedom will necessarily compensate them for the modification of the levy.
The truth is that he has removed railway charges from their former degree of public control as an excuse to modify the levy, which was causing a great deal of political trouble for him. If he makes the case that the railways must have greater freedom of charge but that the users of the railways must have the right of appeal and objection in certain circumstances—and if he seeks to make the case that the competitors of the railways have a right to go to the tribunal and object to railway charges on the ground that they are uneconomical and therefore in unfair competition with road commercial transport—why does not he apply the principle to private road transport itself?
Why cannot the Transport Commission go to the tribunal or to the licensing authority, under the Act of 1933—which could be suitably amended—and object to the charges of the commercial road undertakings on the ground that they are in unfair competition with the railways? It is not to be done because the Government are the tool of the private road haulage interests. That is why it is not to be done.
The Home Secretary is to speak in the debate tomorrow. We are still waiting to hear what he is doing about his promise to the Conservative Conference to give great publicity about Tory Party funds. We want to know what evidence there is that the road haulage industry have contributed to Conservative Party funds. We should like to know and we are entitled to know, because here we have a case where the publicly-owned railways are being treated in one way and road haulage, which it is intended shall be privately owned, in another way.
The Minister quoted somebody who had said:Either the State will manage the railways or the railways will manage the State.That was said 100 years ago. I think it was a very wise observation. We say, now, that either the State will manage private interests or private interests will manage the State. Moreover, if all this freedom is to be given to the railways in relation to their charges, I wonder what the hon. Gentleman who was formerly 1429 the Minister of Transport thinks about it—when he remembers the trouble he had because the Prime Minister arbitrarily, irresponsibly, mischievously and typically—and possibly illegally—
§ Mr. Morrison
I would not go as far as that, but all those words are true and relevant. He interfered with the charges, made his own decision, was boasted of in the newspapers as, "the Prime Minister has done this, that and the other," and got the poor ex-Minister of Transport into such a mess that it broke him up and he had to resign. I sympathise with him.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
That is a most distorted view of what happened. Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to accept the fact that my health broke down after a period of many months of overwork? That was the sole reason for my resignation.
§ Mr. Morrison
Wait a minute. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is by far and away the best judge of his breakdown in health, and if he says that, I accept it. But I am bound to point out the effect, in the circumstances in which he was working, of the gratuitous interference of the Prime Minister, who does not understand the first or the last word about transport; and if his unhappiness or illness already existed, then I can quite understand how it was aggravated in the circumstances.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will, at any rate, sympathise with me about the next point, although the last thing I should expect from a Liberal National is that he would agree with me to the embarrassment of a Conservative Government. But I think in his heart of hearts he will agree with me about this: that a Government which now says, "Let us give the railways greater freedom in charging what they like"—presumably including the London Underground—is really an extraordinary Government, bearing in mind the way in which they interfered with the undertaking with that doubtful legality earlier in the year on the initiative of the Prime Minister himself.
Who is the Prime Minister who interfered with and who played about with, 1430 and who was irresponsible in playing about with, the fare charges of these undertakings, with doubtful legality? Is he the man who, through his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, comes to the House today to say, "I am the champion of greater freedom for the railways"? I will give way to the Prime Minister if he can tell us how he can reconcile this attitude with his playing about a little while ago. Would he like to intervene?
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Winston Churchill)
I am, naturally, relying on my memory for events which passed some months ago. The impression which I sustained was that the Government of the day were being held responsible for all kinds of events over the making of which and the conduct of which they had absolutely no control. I was very much struck that, a week before the election for the London County Council, announcements were put out that there was to be a substantial rise in the passenger fares. I was astonished at this because it seemed such an odd coincidence.
I shall be perfectly frank with the House; then I was told, and I saw everywhere, that hon. Members of the party opposite were saying, "There you are; see what happens under the Tories; up go the fares"; and they were asking for votes—[Interruption.] All right; you asked for it. They were asking for votes against the Conservative Government because the Conservative Government were supposed to be responsible for putting up the fares. I inquired into the situation to see whether we had any control, and at first sight it seemed that we had no control; but after careful examination and much juridical discussion it was found that we had a measure of control, and the fares were, in fact, to some extent mitigated thereafter.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly those on this side of the House, are very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I am very glad that I gave him the opportunity although I could not be sure whether he would score or would not score; but then, I am not concerned with that; I am concerned only with ascertaining the truth.
1431 What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He says that they started on the basis that they had no right to interfere. As a matter of fact, I finish on that basis—that the Government had no right to interfere. That is the whole string of what the Prime Minister said—it was in not a very long statement, but it is entitled to be called a string: and it is party politics from beginning to end.
What was he doing, through the whole business of that adventure, which gravely embarrassed the former Minister? Never was I more sorry for a Minister than I was for the ex-Minister of Transport. I am sorry that he does not appreciate my sympathy, but it is there all the same. After all, I have been a Minister of Transport and I know the job. But in this case the Prime Minister was playing party politics from beginning to end.
Anybody would think he was the only man who has been embarrassed at London County Council elections. What has he got to do with London County Council elections anyway? He is the Prime Minister; he ought to be—[An HON. MEMBER: "Above that."] Well, I do not underestimate the importance of the London County Council. I once discussed it with a committee of the Senate of the United States of America; and forgetting the City of New York for a moment, when they asked me, "What is this London County Council?" I replied, "It is the greatest municipality in the world." That is what it is as far as I am concerned.
But the Prime Minister really ought not to start playing about with municipal politics. He ought to get on with the work of the country. He has more serious things to do and he ought not to play about with these things in the great office he holds. As far as I know, he has never served on a local authority—not even the Dundee City Council.
The London County Council have suffered embarrassment through us. Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember the Election of 1946—or was it 1949? I am told it was 1949. The Budget of my right hon. Friend, the late Sir Stafford Cripps, was introduced almost on the eve of the poll, and it did us no good at that Election. It would have been all right had it been a week 1432 later; the timing was wrong. It was exploited, of course, in Tory quarters; canvassers went round and said, "If you vote for the Labour candidates on the London County Council, this will happen to you," notwithstanding the fact that the Labour candidates in the London County Council had nothing whatever to do with it and knew nothing about it before it happened. The Prime Minister must not think he has had all the bad luck; we have had our share.
In any event, it does not justify him demeaning his high office by messing about and playing about with this great institution for purely partisan political purposes. We told him so at the time when he did not admit to doing it, and we tell him so today, when he does admit that he has been playing about with these things for partisan purposes. We tell him with great respect and some degree of affection, which we all feel for him, nevertheless, he ought to be thoroughly ashamed of himself.
§ The Prime Minister
I must express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his courteous references, but I venture most humbly to assure him that occasional outbursts of party politics are by no means confined to only one side of the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
On that point I am bound to agree.
It is argued that there is no need for the second part of the levy—or, at any rate, for part of the levy. Let us have a word about the levy, because the levy is significant, and it remains significant notwithstanding the modification which has been made in it. The levy is the most conspicuous admission of the destructive character of the Government's Bill. There would be no levy if the Bill were not destructive in character.
Why is there a levy? There is a levy, first of all, because it is admitted that the Transport Commission bought the road haulage undertakings on a certain basis and at a certain price; and the recent admission that the Commission through the Disposal Board is to be required to sell the road haulage undertakings at a price materially below what it paid for them when it bought them is an admission that when a public authority buys private undertakings it must pay 1433 a certain price, and, under the Tories, when a public authority sells undertakings, it must sell them at a lower price.
That is the admission. That is the assumption under the Bill. That is the deliberate intention of the Minister of Transport—that public property is to be sold at a lower price than the public had to pay when it bought the undertaking.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly give way? The whole purpose of Part I of the levy, as I thought he would have known by now, is that the public authority should not have to pay for any sale. Part I will recoup the Commission for the loss on the sale.
§ Mr. Morrison
That was the whole point of my argument, and the right hon. Gentleman really should have seen it. The whole point of my argument was that the road haulage vehicles—undertakings—were bought at a certain price or prices by the Commission and are now being compulsorily sold, and the Government are requiring the Commission to sell them in such a way and upon such a basis that they are going to be sold at a lower price than the price at which they were bought. That is right, is it not? That is what I said. Why should the right hon. Gentleman correct me?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
This is a most important point. I want us to argue it properly. My right hon. Friend said in opening, a short time ago—the right hon. Gentleman noted it—that the purchased road service undertakings made a profit the average of which could be £10 million. Under the Socialist legislation that annual profit of £10 million was turned into an average loss of approximately £2 million. The purchase price included goodwill. If the right hon. Gentleman's legislation destroys the goodwill does he then expect people to buy back destroyed goodwill?
§ Mr. Morrison
I note that the Home Secretary does not think the Minister of Transport is fit to defend himself, and that he has to come into the debate.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman should be the last one to talk about learning. Therefore, he thinks it necessary to come in.
1434 But this is not the explanation. No, this is not the explanation at all. Take, for example, the case of some of the omnibus companies—which are not in question in the matter, I agree. They were making excessive profits. Many of them were making excessive profits. Suppose the Commission takes them over, the Commission readjusts things, and they do not make those excessive profits. Is the Commission to be punished? In the case of the road haulage undertakings I deny that the compensation is being settled upon the basis that was in the 1947 Act. We took a certain basis and we paid the price. Some people think we paid too much. Some others think we paid too little.
The truth is that this Bill does not pretend to any scientific basis of compensation for the sale of the vehicles at all; and, indeed, there is no reserve price on the price of vehicles at all, as I think that there ought to be. In answer to the Home Secretary I would make this additional point out of the mouth of another witness of the Government, if I may venture to mention him, and that is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in his Budget, gratuitously imposed additional charges upon road transport, both passenger and road haulage, which would obviously affect their finances, whether they were publicly or they were privately owned.
This is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the increase in the petrol charges:It has been said that that will automatically mean a rise in fares. I do not believe that I know that extra costs will be incurred because the fuel will cost more; but I am very glad to see that the Chairman of the Road Haulage Executive has announced that the Executive will try to keep the position as stable as possible and it is not intended to increase the rates, at any rate for the time being.And the Chancellor added, contrary to the Home Secretary, or the spirit of the Home Secretary:That is a very statesmanlike approach by the Executive, despite the burden which I have undoubtedly put upon their shoulders. That is the right spirit in which to take this rise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 1529–30.]These burdens have been added by the Government, and, moreover, the undertaking has been harried by this Government ever since they have been in office, and if the undertaking is in some difficulties which otherwise need not have 1435 occurred, no wonder at it: it is to be expected when a Government are pushing it around, making difficulties for it, because of their anti-Socialist, pro-capitalist bias. So it is the case that private profits are all right, but the road haulage situation, they say, is all wrong.
The Minister makes a case against the Road Haulage Executive. I say that, taking things by and large, it has done pretty well; it has done a good job; it has met the situation—and if only the right hon. Gentleman will let it get on with the job it will get through in all respects, financial and otherwise as well.
Our approach to the whole of this business is this: what is the purpose of transport? The ideal transport system, surely, should be to move anything or move anybody from anywhere to anywhere as quickly and as cheaply as possible. That ought to be the purpose, and in so far as the Government are breaking the thing up, are disintegrating, are disco-ordinating, they are guilty of stimulating waste of capital, waste of labour, and a waste of material resources; and in so far as they are doing these things each vehicle is calculated to be carrying a less load than was the case before.
If that is the case we shall have financial instability and lack of co-ordination in the system because under the philosophy of the Government—almost unbridled competition with everybody doing as he likes to do—it will surely be the case that the profitable routes will be catered for and the unprofitable routes will be uncatered for—or the profitable routes will be catered for by private enterprise, and they will leave the unprofitable routes to be catered for by a public authority of one sort or another.
Therefore, they are heading not only for competition but for cut-throat competition. They are going in for the deliberate promotion of waste. They have even met with the criticism of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, who, it is true, do not agree with us upon the fundamental principle of the thing. They say that the Government are going clumsily about this business, and I think they are right. They have much opposition to the principle of the levy which they have to impose to help the Commission vis-à-vis the railways, which they themselves agree is involving 1436 an additional tax upon road transport of one sort and another.
We believe that this Bill is fundamentally a bad Bill, that it moves away from that consolidation, integration and co-ordination of transport without which we cannot get an effective service throughout the country. We believe that it is a backward Measure, that it is taking us back to bad times in the organisation of transport. It has not got the support of informed men in the transport industry; it is, indeed, criticised and opposed by experts in transport. It is contrary to the whole tendencies even of private enterprise in transport itself. Because we believe that this Bill is a reactionary Bill, a bad Bill, a mischievous and destructive Bill we oppose it today, and we shall fight it with all the vigour at our command throughout all its stages.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
The speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was remarkable more for what it did not contain than for what it included. He rebuked my right hon. Friend for not having included in his speech any adequate discussion either of the principles of transport or of the contents of the Bill. But his own speech was concerned mainly with the politics of the London County Council and a knockabout encounter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. What was not in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and what the country wants to know is the attitude of Her Majesty's Opposition to the problems of transport; whether they deny the existence of those problems or whether they have any solution of their own for them, and, if so, what that solution may be.
Rightly or wrongly, the plan my right hon. Friend has put before the House and the country is in itself clear and logical. It ends the unnatural financial connection between road and rail, and in each sphere—in the sphere of rail and the sphere of road—promotes decentralization and competition. It promotes decentralisation on the railways by calling for a scheme which will bring back the old organic entities into which British rail transport had developed, and it enables the railways, for the first time under 20th century conditions, to compete and to offer their services in a 1437 competitive atmosphere. On the roads, likewise, it brings about decentralisation through the most effective form, which is that of private enterprise and ownership; and it stimulates competition there by placing the onus of proof for entry into that competition upon those who would prevent and not upon those who would stimulate it. That, whether or not one agrees with the approach and the solution, is at any rate a logical and a consistent plan.
The Opposition, on the other hand, have shown themselves in previous debates and in their utterances in the country neither agreed as to the reasons for nationalisation nor agreed as to the Measure, if any, which they would wish to see in place of this. It is to that doubt, division and uncertainty in their own ranks that I attribute the fact that the campaign from which they hoped so much, and which they were at so much pains to stimulate against this Bill, has been a most almighty flop. Anyone in the House last Thursday who heard the intervention of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) would have conjured up a vision of seething hordes of transport workers, angered and maddened by the provisions of this Bill, anxious only to get at the throats of Her Majesty's Government. But what are the facts? What has in reality happened? I represent a constituency in which a large number of the population are engaged in road and in rail transport.
§ Mr. Powell
I should have thought that Wolverhampton was one of the largest transport centres of the country. It is certainly at least as important in that respect as Perry Barr.
The Opposition supplied all and sundry with forms of protest upon which they could make their objection to this Measure known to Members of Parliament. In my constituency of Wolverhampton, altogether up to the present time I have received two such forms. In this same town of Wolverhampton a great protest meeting was held under the auspices of the hon. Gentleman who shares the representation of the borough with me; but the description of it in the local paper was that "the mass meeting was nearer 200 than the 700 the organisers had hoped for."
1438 The same thing has been happening throughout the country. At Peterborough the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) found himself addressing 30 people, and the chairman apologised for the attendance. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow), when at the Co-operative Hall in Chesterfield, he found himself addressing a "mass meeting" of 50, said:The small attendance is no credit to the town or the local workers who gain their livelihood from British transport.That reaction is a very typical one. It always occurs to a Socialist that everyone is wrong except himself. At Chesterfield, apparently, something was wrong with Chesterfield, or with the workers in it. It never occurred to the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness that there might perhaps be something wrong with Her Majesty's Opposition.
What, then, in the view of the Opposition, are the grounds which justify either the introduction or the continuation of nationalisation of rail and long-distance road transport in the same hands? There is a complete division of opinion on this subject on the benches opposite. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), whose contributions on this subject are so interesting and informative, maintains that one, at any rate, of the main reasons for nationalisation is that costs can be averaged out as between the different forms of transport. He has made this opinion clear in several places in his recent pamphlet on the "Problems of Public Ownership." I will quote only one of them, where, recommending that all nationalised industries should be placed in a single hand and a single budget, he says:As long as the accounts of the whole sector balance, taking one year with another—that is, if all nationalised industries taken together broke even—there would need to be less concern if one industry operated at a loss.Well, that is one school of thought about nationalisation, that if various industries or various competing resources are put into the same hands and the same budget one need not worry about profit or loss provided the whole concern breaks even.
§ Mr. Poole
In fairness to my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is there."] I am sure that he will not mind my making this point. The hon. Member 1439 for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said that my hon. Friend had recommended this particular course. He should, I think, admit that this is a discussion pamphlet in which certain proposals are posed for discussion and that this is one of them; it is not a recommendation.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member has really taken the words out of my mouth. On the last occasion when I found myself referring to this school of thought in regard to nationalisation, and when I ventured to quote this passage from the works of the hon. Member for Enfield, East, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth rose in his wrath from the Front Bench and pointed out just what the hon. Member for Perry Barr has said. He ended by saying:it was intended to be the basis for discussion out of which some new policy might be evolved."—[OFFICIAL REPOR 28th October. 1952; Vol. 505, c. 1824.]Good heavens, at this time of day, in 1952, when hon. Gentlemen opposite have been in office for six years, leaving a trail of nationalised industries behind them, are they now evolving some new policy based on some new philosophical principle justifying nationalisation?
Not all hon. Members opposite can take this point of view. In a broadcast debate recently with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I ventured to assume that one of the reasons given in favour of nationalisation of transport was that the economic condition of the railways might have been strengthened by the contribution obtained by the Transport Commission from road operations. He immediately pounced upon me, saying that that was not what he meant at all, and that there was no suggestion that the Transport Commission was to average out costs between the two forms of transport.
Apparently, then, the party opposite are only at the beginning of their search for a policy on nationalisation. So perhaps it was unfair to expect that the right hon. Gentleman should take the separate items of this Bill and express a reasoned, rational attitude to each of them in turn.
For example, on the decentralisation of the railways, I should like to put one or two questions to hon. Gentlemen 1440 opposite. In a pamphlet, which arose out of a Fabian discussion, by one Mr. Hugh Clegg, called "Industrial Democracy and Nationalisation," this opinion is given, and I should like to know if hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with it. It says:… if the public corporation is to show important advantages over the Government Department in the management of industry, there must be serious alterations in its structure.I hope that we shall hear, in the course of this debate, whether or not hon. Members opposite are satisfied with the present form and operations of the Transport Commission, and, if they are not satisfied, what are their proposals for altering it. In regard to the railways in particular, the Fabian Society again have provided us with a discussion by a Mr. Frank Pickstock of the organisation of the railways, and the conclusion at which he arrives—I think it is a very challenging conclusion—is this:Why was it possible for the former London and North-Eastern Railway to work a decentralised system? … Are there not examples abroad of successful decentralisation of railway administration? Should we not follow Churchill's example when he told the experts to produce the Mulberry Harbour and not to argue about it, but let the difficulties argue for themselves?He ends by saying:There is insufficient determination to face the problem as the challenging one it is.My right hon. Friend has faced this problem; hon. Members opposite have skidded away from it.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East—and I assure him it is intended as a compliment to refer so often to his opinions, which are so admirably expressed—says that the tendency to bureaucracy in nationalised industry can be kept in check… if there is the maximum degree of decentralisation consistent with central control of national policy and planning.I should have thought that that was quite a good description of the policy enunciated by my right hon. Friend. It will be interesting to hear whether hon. Members opposite are going to support my right hon. Friend in this, or whether they have thrown overboard the hon. Member for Enfield, East.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I think that the hon. Gentleman is making rather heavy weather of this. The 1441 pamphlet to which he refers, "Problems of Public Ownership," was published by the Labour Party with a specific purpose in view, and that was to stimulate discussion, as stated, of the problems of public ownership; and we on this side admit that there are problems in public ownership as there are problems in private industry. We have never made out that everything done in nationalised industry or that everything done in private enterprise cannot be modified and improved upon in the course of time.
§ Mr. Powell
Well, if no other pamphlet in the series has had the effect of stimulating discussion, at any rate, this one has. I hope that during the debate we shall have further contributions relating to this problem, rather than on the theme of the London County Council, from hon. Members opposite.
The country is particularly concerned to know what is the intention of Her Majesty's Opposition should they, peradventure, in the course of time find themselves occupying these benches. Many people up and down the country have been dubious of the prospects when they see before them a see-saw of policy, an incessant alteration of ownership—a prospect that would not attract any right thinking person. Here again, we have been left in complete darkness as to where the Opposition stand. This is not a discussion pamphlet which I am now about to quote. It is a pamphlet entitled, "Facing the Facts," and is, I understand, an official Labour Party publication. What this publication says in regard to the very important question of the Opposition's intentions for the future organisation of British transport is this:Labour pledges itself, wherever the public interest requires, to restore to public ownership those sections of the transport … industry, which are sold to private buyers.That is a very interesting and carefully expressed statement. "Wherever the public interest requires." Why not have said that the party pledges itself to restore all those sections which had been denationalised to public ownership? But there is a limitation, and presumably, since deliberately introduced, a limitation of some significance. It will not be in the public interest, apparently, to return to public ownership all that has been denationalised. There is a big element of doubt, 1442 apparently, in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to whether all or part of this operation which Parliament is now undertaking is, in fact, against the public interest. There may be an element of doubt in their minds whether the public interest ever required the nationalisation of these assets in the first place.
It may be felt that this is a very moderate, a very reasonable approach—to wait and see, when the time comes, whether it is necessary to bring back these sectors now being denationalised into public ownership. But that is not a point of view which is shared at all widely on the benches opposite. I admit that I have now got back on to a discussion pamphlet, but presumably that is in order, because we are now dealing with the future, with the Labour Party's intentions for the future.It might be beneficial"—says the hon. Member for Enfield, East—for his convenience this is on page 32—to extend the range of nationalisation and to make it more comprehensive in those industries brought back into public ownership. This would probably apply especially to transport, where partial nationalisation of road transport with the exclusion of vital sections of road haulage and passenger services not only facilitates denationalisation, but also makes the case for it appear more plausible.Therefore, in the opinion of the hon. Member for Enfield, East the party opposite did not in the first place go far enough. They should not have stopped at the nationalisation of long-distance road haulage; they should also have absorbed the A, B and C licences as we know them. The hon. Member has been frank enough also to state that point of view in different forms in his very interesting recent correspondence in "The Times."
But, in case it might be thought that this point of view is confined to the intelligentsia of the party opposite or to those who sit above the Gangway, I have observed that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) who, I think, is a spokesman of another group—at least he always tells us he is—shares the same view. When addressing the aforementioned "mass meeting" in Wolverhampton, he said:We did not nationalise enough as is shown by the growth of C licences since nationalisation. I say that when we get back to power we must take C licences over and then we shall stop that business altogether.1443 It is very important that the House, and even more important that the country, should know where Her Majesty's Opposition stand in this matter. Is it that they merely contemplate the partial re-nationalisation of some of the assets which are to change hands, or does it mean that when they next get the opportunity they are going to go the whole hog and swallow up A, B and C licences and all? I think there are indications which lead us to the right answer.
§ Mr. Powell
I find study of the Fabian and Labour pamphlets so fruitful that I have hardly time to read the Tory ones.
In addressing the Labour Party Conference at Morecambe, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South either forgot or deliberately ignored the words of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland), who just previously in "New Fabian Essays" had dismissed as completely out of date the old definition of Socialism and had said:I shall rule out two definitions as commanding no support—the Marxist 'Nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange,' and the early Fabian emphasis on collectivism.The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South is reported as having told the Morecambe Conference, when speaking of nationalisation in general:I have said that we have not finished with it. We shall never be finished with it until we have got nationalisation of all the means of distribution"—presumably including transport—production and exchange.That is the true voice of the party opposite. The difference between the two sections of the Labour Party is not a difference of principle. It is not a difference of principle which runs down that Gangway, but merely a difference of tactics and timing.
Unless some hon. Gentleman with the authority to do so rises from the benches opposite in the course of this debate and tells us what is the policy of the Labour Party in regard to the reorganisation of the transport industry and denies specifically that their object is to get their hands upon the whole of transport—railways, A, B and C licences, and all the rest—then the country must 1444 know that the choice it is making today is not merely whether or not to support my right hon. Friend's proposition, not merely whether there is to be decentralisation on the railways and a reintroduction of private enterprise into road transport. It is whether we are to have a policy of controlled competition such as that for which the Conservative Party stands and has always stood, or the complete national ownership of the Socialist State which is the object of hon. Members opposite.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
For nearly 30 years before I came to this House I was an employee of the old Great Western Railway, and for 30 years of my life I have had to come to grips with many of the problems which we are debating here today on this Transport Bill. I listened intently to what the Minister of Transport had to say in outlining his case for this Bill, and I must say that had he been a practising railwayman or had served any length of time upon an old railway board of directors he would know that many of the views he expressed today would not hold water upon examination. In fact, to me his speech was a complete evasion of the essential problem which faces the transport organisation of this country.
I do not want this afternoon to retail the reports of commission after commission and committee after committee, all of which have examined this problem over the past 25 years or more, and all of which have said that unregulated competition in the transport industry of this country is bad for the country and does not provide the most efficient service to the community.
What hon. Members opposite are trying to do is to put back the clock in the face of all the expert opinion which advocates closer integration of all forms of transport. The Government are now proposing to go back to the unregulated system of competition between road and rail such as existed between the war years, all of which was condemned by commission after commission. They propose to go back to that state of chaos and anarchy in our transport organisation, and, at the same time, to create feelings of distrust in the minds of hundreds of thousands of key workers in this country.
1445 If the Government think that the workers on the railways and in the road haulage industry of the country are gladly welcoming the provisions of this Bill, then they live in a fool's paradise. To take away the livelihood of 80,000 road haulage employees, to sell off their vehicles over their heads and to throw them to the four winds of heaven—
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Member says that they are all going to be out of work. How he gloats over it. They are going to sack 80,000 employees.
§ Mr. Nabarro
What I said interrogatively was, "Are they all going to be out of work as a result of this Measure?" In fact, they will be absorbed immediately into private enterprise employment.
§ Mr. Sparks
Does the hon. Gentleman admit that these men are going to be sold with their vehicles? He does not know the basis upon which these vehicles are going to be sold, and he does not know what conditions will be attached to them. They are going as job lots, and is it going to be the case of so many men for auction with one lot and another lot sold by public auction with so many men? We cannot play with 80,000 road haulage employees in that manner, and consequently the men who are engaged in the road haulage undertakings of this country view with great dismay the provisions of the Government's Bill.
Railway men, too, are apprehensive as to the Bill's effect upon their standards of life. Indeed, the Government confirm those apprehensions, for they have written it into the Bill, and admit that their action in disintegrating the road haulage system will take away traffics and injure British Railways. If that were not so there would be no need for some of the provisions contained in the Bill. However, railway men in this country are fully aware that the disintegration of road haulage from the British Transport Commission will undermine the organisation of British Railways. They have in mind the dark old days between the wars when to get a living railway men had to fight lorry drivers because the one was competing against the other for the traffic of the country.
The workers of our country today are not satisfied to fight one another like that. 1446 They want co-operation in the transport industry in the interests of the community and in the interests of those who have to get their livelihood in that industry. Therefore, what the Government are proposing is to disintegrate the road haulage section of the British Transport Commission and restore the freedom of private road hauliers to compete with the railways, thus undermining the railways and taking traffic away from them.
It is not generally appreciated by hon. Members on the benches opposite that the competitive basis of road and rail are not comparable. There would be something to be said for the proposal if the competitive basis of road haulage and British Railways was more or less identical. Then we should see which of them had the most efficient organisation. But there is no fair basis of comparison. Included in the £1,200 million of the private railway capital prior to nationalisation was no less than £700 million, representing the cost to the companies of buying land, laying tracks and providing a system of control of traffic. If the road haulage undertakings had to pay for their track and the system of control which is operated for them publicly in the same way as the railways it would be a very different story.
Even in 1939 the capital cost of the roadways in our country was estimated at £2,000 million. Nobody can say for certain because the volume is so great. But the road haulage industry have none of these capital costs. The roads are free, generally speaking, to road haulage vehicles, and the road haulier, he did not contribute anything at all towards the provision of the roads, which must be there if he is to operate. Nor does the road haulier make any contribution towards the system of control exercised by the police authorities. So the basis of competition is not comparable.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
Is the hon. Member overlooking the £300 million a year which the road hauliers of this country pay in taxation?
§ Mr. Sparks
I am not overlooking that. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the figures and obtain an estimate of the capital cost of the roads and the amount that is annually being spent by the ratepayers, to say nothing of the Ministry of Transport—
§ Mr. Sparks
Road maintenance charges of about £50 million a year, are paid by the ratepayers in order that the private road haulier may run lorries on the road without payment. Hon. Members opposite cannot confuse taxation with this problem. It is quite a separate and distinct problem altogether, and therefore the basis of competition between road haulage and the railway system of our country is not comparable.
What the Government propose is to hand back a portion of the transport system of this country to the road hauliers, with the advantage lying with them at the expense of the railways in the matter of competition. If this Bill goes through in its entirety, sooner or later we shall have to face the fact that, despite the new charges' schemes, we cannot expect the railways of the country to operate efficiently in the interests of the people unless there is a basis of equality in competition between road and rail. To do that we shall have to take from the railways some of the capital charges burdens which they bear, like the cost of the maintenance of the track, the system of control and all those things which go with them. Putting the clock back, as the Government propose in this Bill, will prove to be a sorry day for the transport industry of our country.
The Minister of Transport today said that the purpose of the 1947 Act was the integration of road and rail together with the inland waterways traffic, and that no integration whatsoever had been effected. That is quite untrue. Anyone who knows anything about the industry wonders at the stupidity of the Minister in getting up and making a statement of that kind. There is no time at my disposal to deal at length with those steps which have been taken to integrate road and rail.
I can assure him that great steps have already been taken to integrate road and rail transport. There is a system at present in operation which has been adopted as a result of the road haulage system being integrated with the railways. It conveys what is known as "smalls traffic"—roughly everything less than a truck-load—which is collected together in the southern parts of London. It is pooled at a road haulage depot, loaded into containers and taken from the London terminal station. A regular container 1448 service runs between London and Glasgow and I believe one other Scottish city. It is able to pick up traffic from London and deliver it in Scotland with a saving of 36 hours of time, over the time taken before nationalisation.
Hon. Members may say that 36 hours are not very much, but 36 hours make a very great difference over a long distance. The principle which is being developed by the British Transport Commission is to use road haulage to pool and concentrate the smalls traffic in order that it may be conveyed directly by rail to a certain railhead and there distributed, if necessary, by the road haulage organisation. This saving of 36 hours in traffic time from London to Scotland is a very great step in the integration of rail and road. Not only that—
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
Does the hon. Member consider it a saving of 36 hours in the handling of smalls traffic that last February the parcels traffic running from Manchester to Glasgow was diverted through Symington, a depot in my constituency, and was made to stay there overnight, an extra 24 hours; and that the shunters were actually forbidden to shunt those vehicles the same day to Glasgow? Is that an example of shortening the journey, quickening the delivery and integrating transport, or of delaying it?
§ Mr. Sparks
The remarks of the hon. Gentleman are really unintelligible. He has got the whole thing mixed up. I am not prepared to waste time on a point like that. I am not arguing here that there are not exceptions to the general rule. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. With a vast organisation there must be exceptions to the rule, and we would always have them, whether the railways were privately owned or not. The main point is that this process of integration is definitely building itself up.
Anyone who looks at the network of the railway system of this country will find that London is the great hub and centre of the railway transport organisation. The great trunk railroads find their way into London as the centre. The greatest problem of the railways is to convey traffic from the eastern side of the country to the western side, and vice versa. It is cross-country running, for which there are no direct trunk railroads, 1449 like those radiating from London. The Commission have been able to integrate the road haulage service on cross-country runs from east to west and west to east, and goods and commodities are being conveyed more quickly than has ever been done before. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh yes, they are. To destroy what has already been built up in more expeditious conveyance of traffic in the circumstances I have given is a thoroughly reactionary measure.
In many parts of the country the railways and the road haulage system have joint depots where services are jointly undertaken. Many branch railway lines have been closed down which were not paying, and the British Transport Commission are able to cater for the traffic along those routes by other means, namely, road. If we are to throw that into the melting pot, there is no other course but to go back into the chaos of the past.
I would ask the Minister to deal with one point. He said in his speech that it was proposed to permit British Railways to buy back at this auction the road haulage fleets that they owned in 1947 before nationalisation, and to add one-sixth to that figure.
§ Mr. Sparks
I want to know whether the Government are prepared to restore to British Railways the full facilities they had of acquiring financial interests in road organisations? Are the railways to be free to develop road haulage? Are they to be permitted to acquire private road haulage and road passenger services by agreement with private road hauliers and private passenger bus carriers, as they were empowered to do before 1947? That is not clear in the Bill, and it ought to be made quite clear. It is not sufficient to hamstring the British Railways by limiting them to just the proportion of road haulage they owned in 1947 before nationalisation.
If British Railways are to be permitted freedom in the same way as a private individual to acquire road haulage organisations, I believe that in a very few years the railways will be able to regain once more a very powerful and influential road 1450 haulage organisation. They will be placed in the position of having to fight very hard for integrating road haulage with their own system, but inevitably the railways will be driven to do that, because as a separate entity they cannot hope to stand and survive the strain of competing against those whose capital costs and overhead charges are so much lower than theirs, when the competitive basis is so unfair against the railways.
Therefore I hope that the House will reject the Bill, or at least that the Government will have second thoughts about it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Third and fourth thoughts."] Yes, or fifth and sixth thoughts—because the matter is not so simple or easy as they think it will be. Is it really worth the Government's while throwing the transport organisation of our country back again into the chaos of the past? Is it worth while in these difficult times to destroy the confidence of hundreds of thousands of transport workers in this country? It really is not, and I suggest to the Government that they drop the Bill forthwith, or be prepared to modify it very considerably in the Committee stage and get rid of those provisions in it which can but bring chaos to the industry and great discontent among its workers.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
I am glad to have this opportunity of saying a word or two on this important Measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) reminded us that he was Minister of Transport between the wars, in 1929. I wish to detain the House for a short while because I was Parliamentary Secretary at that Ministry for four and a half years from 1935 to 1939.
At that time the House did not deal with transport matters with anything like the same intensity as it does now. In fact the Ministry of Transport, both in the day of the right hon. Gentleman and myself, was considered to have so little to do that we had electricity to look after as well. It was nothing to do with transport, but it provided something extra to take up our spare time. In those days there were two things to which we set our minds particularly and about which the House was anxious. One was the question of safety on the roads and the number of road accidents; the other was 1451 to make the railways pay their way. Therefore, if I speak on those two matters, it may assist the House.
We had the same problem then as we have now in regard to the integration of road and rail. I have not clearly understood what has been meant today by the words "integration" and "co-ordination." What we meant then—I think the problem is the same now—was that the roads should not be cluttered up with unnecessary transport and that the railways should not be starved of goods which might be carried by them with advantage so that their financial position should not be worse than it need be.
I gather that this integration was what the 1947 Act was meant to deal with, and it is interesting now, four to five years after the passing of the Act, to see what has been the result. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said on this subject. My own view is that integration has not taken place. Like the hon. Gentleman I represent a London constituency, and therefore we have not a vast amount of through traffic, although it radiates from us in all directions.
§ Mr. Sparks
If the hon. Gentleman cares to communicate with the British Transport Commission, he will receive a formidable list of instances of integration.
§ Sir A. Hudson
The information I have is that both the Road Haulage Executive and the Railway Executive try to do their best to give that integration between road and rail which was intended by the 1947 Act, but that, as in the old days, they are in competition with each other to get goods so that they may make their own executive as self-supporting as possible. One cannot blame them, but it is not the integration we used to talk about in the years between 1935 and 1939, and it is not the integration which this House hoped would come about—
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
There is a plan now before the Minister from the British Transport Commission suggesting the integration of certain collections and deliveries between rail and road. However, now this Government is in power those proposals, which were the first step towards the integration of which the hon. Gentleman speaks, will not be followed through. They have come forward 1452 after four years because much of that time has been taken in getting the service started.
§ Sir A. Hudson
If integration could be achieved, it would be a good thing. I do not agree that this Bill will stop it. The railways will be allowed to have their own transport, and not only the amount they had before the war but 20 per cent. more, in order that this may come about. It is in the Bill.
I want to deal now with another angle of the problem—the customer. I am referring to the person who has to use transport either for carrying goods or for being carried himself. We all agree that at one time too little consideration was given to the employees of the customer, that is, the workmen who have to make their living in those services. We all know the phrase "the customer is always right," and in the old days before my time at the Ministry no consideration, or very little, was given to the employee in implementing that phrase.
§ Sir A. Hudson
That is generally agreed in this House, but I suggest that we are going too far the other way now. In transport debates in this House the man who has to use the transport is talked about very little compared with the employee, and he is, in fact, to be the owner of the transport. I have listened to all the transport debates since I returned to the House in 1950, and I say that the customer is not getting the service in road haulage to which he is entitled.
We can argue on one side or the other at great length as to whether the road haulage service has been improved since nationalisation. The fact that the C licences have increased to the extent they have, particularly of heavy vehicles, shows that there is something wrong since nationalisation took place. Nobody in business will buy a large and expensive vehicle and run it uneconomically merely for some political prejudice. He will only do it if the service he is getting from the nationalised road haulage does not meet his needs. The result is that the congestion of the roads is worse than it ever has been, because there is not only the nationalised transport but also the A and B licencees who have not been taken over 1453 —probably the short-haul people—and also this greatly increased number of C licences. I am very hopeful that the Bill will help to that extent.
§ Mr. Collick
The hon. Gentleman is making the point about congestion on the roads. The White Paper presupposes that as a result of the Bill the railways will lose further traffic to the roads and, therefore, the roads must become more congested. How, then, can the hon. Gentleman support the Bill?
§ Sir A. Hudson
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I said that in my day the two problems were the congestion of the roads and keeping the railways financially afloat. I believe that the 1947 Act has broken down because the service was so inefficient—or the customers considered that it was—that the C Licences have increased enormously.
§ Sir A. Hudson
They have—the figures can be seen.
I believe that if we can get the ordinary road haulage on to a more efficient system, which I think the Bill will achieve, the C licence man will go out of business and there will be less transport on the roads; and that which is on the road will be fully used with loads, in both directions. This will help in the problem of congestion, and this is the point with which I was dealing. I could never understand how there could be successful nationalisation of a service like road transport, which had to be so very flexible. I am not one of those who objected to the nationalisation of the railways, but I did not think, and I do not think now, that road haulage can ever successfully be nationalised.
Another thing that we will see is the return of the small man who is allowed to buy back his business. The present user of long-distance C licence vehicles will have his favourite small haulier who will do all his work. Nowadays, one rarely hears the man from the nationalised industry saying, "I have never let you down. You have given me a hard problem this time, but I will not let you down." We used to hear that said in former days, and I think we will have better efficiency in the industry as a result of the road haulage part of the Bill.
1454 I want to say a little about the railway portions of the Bill, which were dealt with very fully by my right hon. Friend the Minister. The provisions of the Bill which deal with charges will to a very great degree help to make the railways self-supporting. I remember that at conferences in the far off days the railway representatives felt that they were hamstrung by the old legislation under which they worked, and which, I presume, except for the war, might have been altered sooner. The Bill will help them to be competitive, and without driving more traffic on to the road it will help them to carry on to the railway a lot of heavy stuff which, we all agree, is very much better carried on the railways than on the roads.
We have heard little about splitting up the railways into smaller units. Anybody who is in business knows that there is a limit to the size of any undertaking which can be run by one board or by one committee. If that limit is exceeded, the personal touch tends to be lost. We have been told that railwaymen feel that with the nationalisation of the railways into one great organisation under the Railway Executive, the personal touch has gone. From the letters I have received, this part of the Bill certainly is not unpopular; and one of the reasons for this is that the railwaymen feel that the personal touch will probably come back.
I do not think that the 1947 Act has been a success. I agree with the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South who spoke for the Opposition, that four years is, perhaps, not long enough to know whether it ever could be a success. Certainly the general trend of events has shown that it has not been successful in integration, which does not seem to be any better than it was in my time. The railways do not seem to be any better off financially than in those far off days. It is because I think that the provisions of the Bill will improve and cheapen transport that I give it my support.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I intervene briefly to express what I believe to be the views of Scotland upon the Bill. It is generally recognised throughout the House, I think, and certainly it is recognised by all Scots people, that the problems of Scotland, geographical, social and 1455 economic, are quite distinct from many of the problems south of the Border. Therefore, although in many ways the argument that I am adducing may apply to the whole country, it is more particularly from the viewpoint of Scotland that I wish to make my remarks.
The position of Scotland is quite clear. With very few exceptions, every opinion in Scotland has declared that Scotland wants an integrated transport system which will co-ordinate road, rail, shipping, airways and coastal shipping, for the best interests of trade, commerce and social life in Scotland.
§ Mr. Maclay
I hesitate to interrupt, but I think that the right hon. Member goes too far in saying that every interest in Scotland has declared in favour of an integrated system. Co-ordinated, perhaps; consultation, perhaps—but not integration.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Member is, of course, entitled to his own opinion. I am only saying that, as far as I have seen, in the declarations made by all the responsible bodies in Scotland they have all declared in favour of having an integrated system of transport.
Until recently this was understood to be the Conservative policy in regard to transport in Scotland. Indeed, my opponent had it in his Election address. Not only that, but the Home Secretary, in his speech on the Address last year, declared that the ideal and goal of the Government was accepted as being the integration of transport. I cannot see, therefore, how the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), who was a Member of the Government at that time, can repudiate the Home Secretary of his own Government, who accepted integration of transport as being the objective.
§ Mr. Maclay
Quite clearly, it all depends upon what one means by "integration." It has been given a great many odd meanings lately.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be taking this as a sort of personal argument between him and myself. That is different altogether from the right hon. Member's earlier remark, when he repudiated the word "integrate." Now he accepts it, but he wants to put his own meaning upon it. He is entitled to do so.
1456 It is not only I who have taken that point of view. The "Scotsman," in January of this year—I think every Member opposite will agree that the "Scotsman" is one of the leading papers in Scotland and it is a Unionist paper—stated:The Conservative objective is to reorganise—not disorganise"—the "Scotsman" will be surprised when it sees the Bill—public transport in regional areas and it is understood that plans, now being considered, visualise the setting up of a number of transport regions in each of which all services will be integrated and administered by a single control.The "Glasgow Herald," another great reputable Unionist paper in Scotland, took the view thatIntegration of the transport system on this side of the Border—the only means by which co-ordination can be secured quickly—should make possible a better use of manpower and equipment.So the "Glasgow Herald" has reconciled the two words with which the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West has been juggling and says that his idea of co-ordination can only be achieved by integration of transport in Scotland. In this Bill the Government seem to have thrown this all to the winds. They seem to be prepared to substitute anarchy for organisation. In the light of these conclusions and of Conservative policy as understood in Scotland I say to the Government, "If you must disorganise and disintegrate transport elsewhere, leave us alone in Scotland to get on with our own job" and we shall take the opportunity of asking the House to agree with us if the Government do not withdraw the Bill, as I hope they will so that they may think again.
Scotland has problems which cannot be settled by means of this Bill. About half of Scotland, 47 per cent., is hill and upland. It has a population of 21 to the square mile. Transport is the lifeblood of rural Scotland and, unless it gets transport, it will die. This cannot be provided regularly and cheaply by private enterprise, however efficient it is, because it is not economic and never can be economic. It can only be provided as part of a complete transport system with some approach to flat rates, such as for fish transport, which are often demanded by hon. Members opposite.
1457 British Road Services have already started to do this job in Scotland and it would be criminal folly to destroy it. Before nationalisation in an area of about 2,000 miles in South-West Scotland if anyone wanted to send a parcel to England he had to send it 80 miles back to Glasgow before it could go south again to England. By British Transport, because of through routes, it can be sent on to Carlisle and through to the south. In that area of 2,000 miles of rural Scotland there were only seven points at which transport for Glasgow collected and delivered. Parcels had to be collected by farmers and others. Today, there are through services and delivery from the buyer to the purchaser receiving the goods. That is a greater service. It may not be producing a greater profit, but it is giving greater service, which is of extreme value, especially in rural areas.
Recently, when that area was given the "Walker Cup" for its triumph in regard to transport services, one Sunday newspaper actually sent a reporter to canvass complaints in order to undermine the good feeling which has been established. The House will be interested to know that in a village in Dumfriesshire they could not get a single complaint—that is saying something for Scotland where we are not loth to grumble.
It is proposed in some quarters that there might be an inquiry into this matter before the Government go on with the project. That may be so, but in Scotland we do not need an inquiry; we have had an inquiry by a reputable organisation set up and accepted in Scotland as speaking for industry and commerce. An hon. Member who spoke earlier was complaining that workers had not complained about this proposal, but he did not mention the 60,000 firms in the Association of British Chambers of Commerce who seemed to be protesting at some of the Clauses of the Bill.
The Scottish Council for Development in Industry is a body which represents, as far as can be achieved, a cross-section of all interests in industry, commerce and business in Scotland. It has no politics and it says it isimpartial on the question of nationalisation as such"—1458 that is a political question and is not its business. It isvitally concerned to ensure that the arrangements made under the Bill shall not be prejudicial to legitimate Scottish economic interests.The Scottish Council, as a constructive proposal to the Government, have put forward a suggestion to meet Scottish needs. It proceeded, according to its statement, on the common understanding that it was theintention of the Government that the present transport organisation should be altered with a view to obtaining speedier and more complete realisation of the objective.The objective, of course, they understood from Government publications, was economic, efficient and properly integrated transport facilities throughout Great Britain. The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West does not seem to have communicated his view on integration to the Scottish Council, which is a most important body in Scotland. I think I am entitled to take it as being more representative of Scottish opinion than the odd information he seems to have acquired and not yet communicated to the House. The Council regarded as the first objectivethe maximum devolution of authority to Scotland in the policy and operation with other transport authorities of the transport systems.No one can deny that that was Conservative policy and when we were on the benches opposite the Scottish Conservatives made plain their intentions to devolve Scottish transport to Scottish authority. The second objective of the Council was thespeedy application of measures for securing the greatest practicable integration of the transport services, by which alone in the view of the Council, the maximum efficiency can be obtained at the least cost.That is the view of the business men of Scotland and of the Associations of County Councils, Town Councils and Councils of Cities. It is the view of banks, of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the view of industrialists and the view of all the people who can be gathered together in Scotland to represent commerce, industry and the economic and social life of Scotland. That ought to be taken into account by the Government.
The Council concludes—and this was after it knew the intention of the Government to denationalise industry:It would seem desirable that the Scottish Transport Authority should retain ownership 1459 of the road haulage which is already publicly owned so that the authority can effectively integrate its road and rail services.That is an impartial inquiry, an inquiry which has nothing whatever to do with politics—certainly not Labour politics—representing a co-ordinated view in Scotland. I challenge the Government to show any other point of view in Scotland which is contrary to that and which carries any weight in this House.
My experience has been mostly in practical affairs. Therefore, I do not like just to deal in theory. In recent weeks I have taken the opportunity to inspect what has been done in Scotland. I am satisfied that the progress towards integration has so far advanced that it would be just madness to break it up. Already, British Road Services in Scotland have reached a point where, in many areas, they are able to collect and deliver to any part of the country with the maximum speed and reliability. That would not be a practical achievement for a heterogeneous system such as is outlined in the Bill.
When the British Road Services took over transport they took over 40,000 vehicles, 4,000 of which had to be scrapped, In Scotland they took over 4,000 and 1,200 had to be scrapped. Now, every lorry is examined every two or three weeks, overhauled every six months and rebuilt every four years. This procedure is economical and provides the maximum of reliability. In Stirlingshire, I took some details of vehicles which were being used and I found that standing time was reduced to 2 per cent., repair time to 10 per cent. and availability to run was 85 per cent. I challenge anyone here to show any private enterprise that can equal that position in British road transport.
It has been possible also in Scotland to centralise repairs and maintenance and make the best possible use of time and motion methods. This has resulted in great economies. Here are some samples which I took myself. For overhauling Albion engines the British Road Services' cost is £200. The outside price or the makers' price is £300. There is a saving of 50 per cent. In the case of Gardiner engines the cost inside the British Road Services is £135; outside, they cost £200. A.C.V. engines are sent to London Passenger Transport, who have first-class 1460 machinery to deal with them. These cost £155; the cost outside is £200. In Linlithgow the rebuilding of chassis, body and cabs costs £400 against the outside price of £600. Rebuilding complete 12–15 tonners is costing £1,000 in the case of British Road Services in Scotland, and the outside cost is £1,400.
What is the use of people saying that there are no economies to be achieved by co-ordination? I am not saying that British Road Services have more efficient engineers than have outside firms; the economy I have quoted is achieved simply because it is possible, in a great organisation like that, to time repairs, bring them in in sequence, keep a flow of orders going and time the jobs so as to get the maximum output. There are small items, such as injectors, which I will not mention in detail in connection with which the cost is equally remarkably reduced. If the organisation is broken up that profit is not automatically handed over to private enterprise engineers; they cannot realise it because they have not the organisation to enable them to do so. Anyone who had has any connection with business must know that that is the case.
I agree, in connection with parcels, that it was some time before the organisation got down to the question of organising a parcels service. At the time when the Government originally thought of reorganising this service there were, undoubtedly, many complaints. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West based his whole opposition to the road transport scheme on the fact that some parcels had not got from Leith to West Renfrew in two or three days. That may have happened at one time, just as I expect that, in order to condemn nationalisation, we shall have some more odd examples recounted of somebody losing a parcel in the post.
Even since then this co-ordination and integration has developed to a tremendous extent. I am disappointed that when the Minister of Transport was twice in Scotland during the time this Bill was in contemplation, enjoying the very kind hospitality of the Prestwick air authorities, he did not find time to see what is being done in respect of road transport in Scotland. I am sure it would have made a great impression on him. It would have been much better had the Prime Minister gone there, for he would have seen what is being done in Scotland.
1461 The cheapest passenger omnibus service in the world is run in Scotland. In Lanarkshire, there exist the lowest costs and cheapest fares in the world, and Scotland as a whole runs its omnibuses cheaper, to a very considerable extent, than England. I hope that nothing will be done to interfere with that aspect of road transport. I went to see the parcels system. I paid a visit to one or two depots. One that struck me as very interesting was Leith Central Station. Here is an enormous station that has been given up by the railway because it is uneconomic. That building is ideally situated for a centralised depot for the handling of road transport.
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's words meant today when he spoke about retaining the clearing depots. I certainly hope that when this Bill goes through the House the great advantages which these clearing depots have brought to transport will not be destroyed and broken up under the Bill. I doubt whether they can be retained by the different services, but there is no reason why that should not be tried if the worst comes to the worst.
All I can say is that managers of the previous parcel delivery firms—small goods systems—have told me that under a system of separate firms the co-ordination now taking place in Scotland would be impossible. Parcels can be taken directly from one place to another. That was quite impossible in earlier days because the separate firms had to concentrate each on its own profitable places and avoid the uneconomic journeys. In some cases of parcels going from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy, if the firm taking the parcel did not operate a direct route to Kirkcaldy it was transferred from Edinburgh to Glasgow and brought back from Glasgow to Kirkcaldy. How it went depended on whether one handed the parcel to the right firm.
In my constituency, many fuel-saving grates are manufactured. They are very fragile and difficult to transport. The firms making them are now using British Road Transport Services and getting an excellent service. One of the great advantages is that the makers can hand all their goods to the one carrier—British Road Services—and they can be taken all over the country by the most direct route and with the shortest possible 1462 transhipment, with less possibility of breakages.
In fact, British Road Transport have come to an agreement with the firms in my constituency—Associated Ironfounders—not to trouble about counting individual breakages. It has been agreed that each side will meet half of the cost of the breakages, which, under British Road Services, amounts to about 1 per cent. of the haulage rates for the goods. It is not worth while paying clerks to estimate the individual items because the total is so small. These grates are of thin cast iron and easily breakable. We can, therefore, realise the improvement there is both in respect of breakages and in the manufacturers being able to get a transport service, through one concern, from one end of the country to the other.
Leith Central Station would have been in full swing by this time but for the holdup imposed by the Minister. There is a temporary service being carried on in the Marine Gardens, which is showing what can be done. It is a tragedy that the development of that organisation and the use of that station have been prevented by the standstill order of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will look into it and see whether something cannot be done to allow that work to go ahead. With this one organisation parcels can be collected more often and delivered more quickly and more directly than is possible in any other way.
It is up to the Minister to prove how this Bill, if it breaks this service up into small sections, will overcome the difficulties from a practical point of view. I cannot see how it can do so. British Road Transport today are able to say, as the late Ernest Bevin once suggested in another connection, "Hand me a parcel and I will take it anywhere you like." That is the ideal transport service. I hope that nothing will be done to destroy it.
An hon. Member opposite mentioned the absence of the personal touch. I cannot speak for the South of England but I can speak for the road transport organisation in Scotland. The personal touch is there. Our transport people who are dealing with the farmers and the different industries understand their customers. In many areas, unfortunately, firms are not using the organisation but are using a kind of private service that has developed. I am not sure that the Minister knows what 1463 is going on. One inducement about a C licence today is that if one has such a licence one can get a C hiring margin, and if one gets a C hiring margin, one can hire lorries that need have no specification and no licence, and which, under the system that has been developed, can be driven by one man for 22 hours out of the 24.
The law says a man can be employed only for 11 hours, but the system is so arranged that two people employ the same man in succession. A lorry can leave Aberdeen and be driven to Edinburgh where it is unloaded. It can then be transferred to another employer and go out to West Lothian to take a load say of bricks back to Aberdeen; it can have been driven for 22 hours. Those are the kind of conditions that people fear will return to the roads if this Bill goes through.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to interrupt him? I am a C licence operator and have been for many years. Some of us on this side of the House do not quite follow the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. Is he suggesting that these lorries which are running around in Scotland are, first, breaking the law, and second, have no licence, either A, B or C attached to them?
§ Mr. Woodburn
They are avoiding the law, which is rather different from breaking it. An Aberdeen advocate discovered a little quirk in the law—
§ Mr. Woodburn
And the disease is now spreading to England. There are about 50 lorries working in Carlisle and about 50 in Dundee which are the only two places about which I know. I am sorry to give the hon. Member hints on how he can avoid the law as a C licence holder, but I can assure him that the law is being avoided, if not broken.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Would the right hon. Gentleman please answer my question and say what sort of licences are attached to these lorries?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I hope the hon. Gentleman does not explore it too far. I do not want to extend what in my eyes amounts almost to a crime.
The law has been broken in another direction. In a half-hour journey between Alloa and Grangemouth my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. M. MacPherson) and myself passed 17 vehicles which were more than 40 miles from their base. The law is being broken now.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Would the right hon. Gentleman say how many vehicles he passed which were being driven at more than 20 miles an hour?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I would be in favour of altering the law regarding a 20 miles an hour speed limit, but I am not in favour of breaking the law and I hope that the Minister is not—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The whole point of my observation was to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman whether he would be in favour of altering that law, and I am very interested that my interjection did produce that answer.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is obvious that at the moment the law is not being enforced. A return to the old conditions would mean that drivers will be driving with double loads at double speeds, and that unsound vehicles will be driven by tired drivers.
Abington is on one of the main routes from Scotland to England. There are as many as 1,000 British Road Service vehicles which pass that point in 24 hours, that is, one every minute-and-a-half. I would put this picture to the Minister. Imagine these vehicles going over Shap Fell, and over the Pennines. If unsound vehicles break down on winter's nights there will be chaos. There is nothing in this Bill which guarantees that rickety vehicles will not be driven on the roads as they were before British Road Services came. If that happens 1465 we in this House will have been responsible for bringing about disaster.
As the Minister will know, some of the roads in Scotland, such as the road between Glasgow and Stirling, are very dangerous and it is the same between Glasgow down to Newhouses. In our view it is the first duty of Parliament to approach this matter from the standpoint of public interest—though that is not much appreciated on the other side judging from what has been said today—and that of road users, and not from the point of view of the vested interests of the road hauliers. Our complaint is that this Bill seems to have been drawn up to satisfy the views of vested interests among road hauliers and the views and needs and desires of the great mass of road users have been ignored.
Scottish Members in this House are pledged to secure an integration of all forms of transport in Scotland. The most representative body of industry in Scotland has registered its view that that can best be done by developing the existing services. I repeat that rural Scotland depends on cheap and efficient transport. Even now I would ask Scottish Members—I know some hon. Members opposite who represent Scottish constituencies will rise, in duty bound, to try to defend this Bill and will excuse themselves—to face this vital need of Scotland before they accept this departure from the policies which they put before the Scottish people at the Election. I appeal to the Minister, if he does not withdraw the whole Bill, to leave Scotland alone, and let us develop our own transport system.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I do not think that any hon. Member of this House would wish to complain of the tone in which the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has stated his case. He stated it with good humour and very fairly. He has also stated it after visiting the transport organisation which has just won the Walker Cup and which happens to cover my constituency. That may be expected of my constituency. But the right hon. Gentleman must realise that he has seen conditions at their very best and we cannot expect to see them at their very best everywhere—[HON. MEMBERS "Why not?"] The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I would be getting up to 1466 excuse myself. I have certainly got up to defend this Bill, but I have nothing about which to excuse myself. I fought the last Election very much on this issue, and my constituents are in no doubt whatever about the line I shall take on this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman made a considerable amount of play with the views of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. Mr. R. A. Maclean, chairman of the transport committee, held a Press conference not very long ago, within the last month. He made it quite plain on that occasion that what the committee urged was a single Scottish authority within the framework of the national system. He went on to specify that the vehicles to be included in that would be those vehicles remaining in the possession of British Transport—
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent that statement. It did not resile in any way from his previous statement from which I quoted. It reiterates this idea as to how integration should take place.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I will quote from the document, which goes on to say:In addition, the transport committee urges that the Scottish authority should be made responsible for co-ordinating surface transport with air services and coastal shipping not owned by the British Transport Commission"—
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but the one item which is not owned by the State is coastal shipping. They said they wanted it not only to co-ordinate all those forms of transport owned by the State, but also coastal shipping, which is not owned by the State.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Surely the statement here is perfectly clear. It makes quite clear what is the idea in the minds of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry as regards the meaning of co-ordination. Whatever it is, it certainly does not mean that the co-ordinating authority must own all the units of transport of whatever kind which it is to co-ordinate. That is the simple point. That is where we differ on this fundamental idea of what co-ordination means.
The main Socialist fallacy is that they conceive of a small body of very clever and distinguished men who are able to 1467 foresee, possibly even to dictate, what the wants of the consumer may be and then plan to meet those wants in what they consider to be the most economical manner. But that is not the sole conception of integration.
Our conception of integration is that it must start on the low level in contrast with the idea behind the Act of 1947 of co-ordination at the very top. First, there is the Transport Commission and then there are the divisions into the Road Haulage Executive, the Road Passenger Executive, provision for docks and harbours, the Railway Executive, and so forth. In fact, we have found that that is the only point at which integration is possible under that Act.
Our conception is entirely different. We believe that the best results will be obtained by getting not only the nationalised section but the rest to work together. The conception should be very much more that of a large manufacturing concern. Take, for instance, the manufacturer of cars. It is not necessary for him to produce all the component parts himself. He may easily contract out for many of the components, but he takes final responsibility for the finished article.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Will the hon. Gentleman define what he means by integration in the context of his argument? Does he think it possible for a group of competing units struggling for the same pool of trade to integrate and still retain their competitive nature?
§ Mr. Macpherson
My conception is of a common economic process going on all the time. It is not that of one single dictator running the whole show.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling also referred to devolution. He said that we on this side had in the past pressed for transport in Scotland to be decentralised. Of course, under the last Administration, that was true. What else could we do? We had already seen 1468 that the Government were intent upon complete nationalisation. We had the sense to see that the lower down it was controlled the better the organisation would be. Therefore, we fully supported the idea of Scotland having a separate organisation for itself.
But that did not mean—and it certainly did not mean it in our election addresses—that for that reason we should always be in favour of transport in Scotland being nationalised. Of course, conditions in Scotland are different. One feature of this Bill is its flexibility compared with what has existed so far. An authority is to be set up for Scotland. Within the framework of that authority there may be areas—that is provided for—but they will all come under the one authority. I, for my part, hope that the authority will have control not only of the railways but also of such road haulage as remains with the railways.
On the question of road transport, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling was right in saying that we have a most excellent road passenger system in Scotland. But who built it up? It was built up entirely by private enterprise. The ultimate system of control of that organisation will have to be worked out in relation to the special scheme that is to be presented to Parliament. It may well be that whatever interest is left with the Scottish authority in that road passenger transport organisation—it may be 100 per cent. or it may be less—it should be controlled by the Scottish authority.
There are, however, other road passenger organisations in Scotland, including those in the country districts. There are some in my constituency. It is possible to co-ordinate the lot. There is no reason why the Scottish authority should not play its part in that co-ordination. The Transport Users Consultative Committee will also be able to play its part. I see no difficulty in co-ordination there.
On the scheme for de-centralisation of the railways, I wish to ask the Minister one question. It may be a little late for Parliament to consider the scheme after it has gone through the normal procedure of being presented by the Minister, being examined by various special interests, representations being made to the Minister, and so on. I hope that opportunity will be given, perhaps in the 1469 Scottish Grand Committee, to discuss the scheme as it affects Scotland before it comes before Parliament under the negative procedure by which it must be accepted in toto or rejected. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to agree to that suggestion.
§ Mr. Ross
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the Scottish authority, will he say whether he is, as a Scottish Nationalist Conservative, or whatever it is, prepared to accept the Bill as it stands with the provision whereby the power of controlling finance and charges is left centrally here in London? Has he nothing to say about that?
§ Mr. Macpherson
It seems to me that that is essential. If we have a central organisation, we must have central finance.
§ Mr. Macpherson
That question has been dealt with in other instances. For example, in the British Broadcasting Corporation the same form of organisation has been laid down.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am not certain which Scottish regional authority the hon. Gentleman is referring to.
§ Mr. Macpherson
This authority may have the same sort of financial power over a much wider field, whereas the railways are limited only to their own sphere within the Railway Executive.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I cannot understand why he cannot see how this change will benefit Scotland. It will benefit Scotland. It will enable much greater co-ordination—
§ Mr. Macpherson
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me. 1470 I have been most liberal in giving way so often.
It seems to me that we must dispose of these major fallacies with which we have been presented. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling made the point about utilisation. In fact, the utilisation figures within the groups are high, as I have no doubt he has found out, because they are able to pass over to a central pool of transport all transport surplus to immediate needs. Those vehicles remain in the central pool. Therefore, the over-all figures would be different from the figures which the right hon. Gentleman quoted for one group.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I was talking about the Stirlingshire group of vehicles. The details I gave referred only to those vehicles. However, the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there is an advantage in that vehicles are never allowed to lie idle. There is the advantage of being able to call vehicles from any part of the country to meet any emergency.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The right hon. Gentleman starts off by saying that I am quite wrong, but goes on to show that I was quite right. In actual fact, that is exactly the situation. Within a group, one maintains a high utilisation ratio simply by the fact that one is able to transfer to a central pool a number of vehicles that are not required at the moment. We are talking about actual group figures, not the total figures, and that is one of the fallacies which I think it is right we should expose.
I have dealt with the fallacy regarding integration and co-ordination, and I should like to go on to deal with the fallacy that we cannot get co-ordination unless there is the power to give commands where there is a disagreement. That is not so. We can get co-ordination, as was done previously, for example, by the railways having holdings in road passenger organisations, though they need not necessarily be majority holdings. In that way, we obtained satisfactory co-ordination, and that is one of the things for which this Bill provides.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) dealt with the question of representations made to private enterprise, or, indeed, any employer, and he said that, once this Bill had gone through, these representations 1471 made by trade unions would come up against the reply, "This cannot be done because of conditions of competition." That is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, but it would be an entire illusion to suppose that if, in each case in which representations were made, the employers gave way and allowed, for example, a rise in wages, it would necessarily in the long run be a benefit to the country or even to the trade unions themselves, because that would be a purely inflationary step if it were allowed to go on.
Here we come up against one of the great difficulties, which is that without competition, without comparison, we really have no test whatever of efficiency, and we are proposing to put back that test of efficiency. I, personally, welcome very much the proposal to put back the onus of proof on to the objector to an application, so that the objector has to show that the services that he himself is able to give are not only adequate but satisfactory in every sense.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am just finishing. I personally think that this Bill is well worthy of a Second Reading, and I give it my fullest support.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he make clear whether he is aware, in connection with his arguments about Scotland, that, if we go back to pre-1939, there existed in Scotland, except for the larger contractors, hundreds, if not thousands, of road haulage contractors who were avoiding the fair wages clause and fair employment conditions?
§ Mr. Macpherson
We have all gone a long way since then, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we have now the Road Haulage Wages Council, and there are are ways in which their rulings can be enforced. I believe that it will be possible to enforce these and other means of improving the working conditions of the workers in the industry.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
I find it very difficult to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson). I tried to take some notes of the arguments he put forward, but quite frankly I just could not follow him.
1472 With regard to this new authority which he visualises for Scotland, is it going to have some overall power, not only over the nationalised industries, but over the private sector as well? If so, I just do not know how, but I would hope that the new Consultative Committees which are visualised under this Bill will have more say over the private sector than is the case at the present time.
So far as the main purpose of this Bill is concerned, quite clearly it is outlined in the first few words of the long Title:To require the British Transport Commission to dispose of the property held by them for the purposes of the part of their undertaking whch is carried on through the Road Haulage Executive.I think that is the main purpose of the Bill, and the arguments that have already been developed have ranged round that particular passage. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) put forward a conclusive argument why this should not be done, and no speaker from the Government benches so far has been able to make any case at all.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made me think that we were back in a Labour Party meeting when he talked about Labour Party pamphlets, but at other times I thought that my party were back in Government, because he was challenging us on what we thought should be done. I hope and trust that it will not be long before we have an opportunity of showing him. What is our position about transport? It was laid down in the 1947 Act, which contains the principles on which we want to work. We have never said that that Act could not be altered, or would not be altered, but at the same time it does contain the principles which we support and which we hope to work.
I should like to deal with two parts of the Bill, the first concerning railway reorganisation and the second the staff and workers in the road haulage industry, but before doing so I should like to recall to the House the fact that the Prime Minister once gave us the slogan "Set the People Free." I do not see it in this Bill. In the Bill, the Minister of Transport is mentioned some 80 times, either as directing somebody, giving his consent, giving his decision or having powers conferred upon him, but there is nothing at all about setting the people free.
1473 What is being done is setting the road hauliers free, and, so far as the Railway Executive are concerned, I am really disturbed about the attitude of mind of the Government, or, indeed, of some of my own colleagues, on this question of the railways. For so many years there has been this agitation, first of all, by the railway companies, assisted by the trade unions, to try to get a square deal for the railways, as they were never able to do the job which they were set to do in fair competition with the road services, and if the railway companies had been given the opportunity I am convinced that many of the problems which we have today would never have arisen. The railways always appear to be the Cinderella, and certainly the Minister is not a very good Prince Charming; he is much more like one of the Ugly Sisters.
Even this Bill hedges the railways around with further restrictions. It would appear that the Government have learnt nothing at all. Take Clause 21, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) mentioned. The Clause was not in the first Bill. Its purpose is the protection of the competitors of the Commission. A carrier or anybody else can appeal to the Transport Tribunal on the grounds that the Railway Exécutive are making charges which must result in a loss to the Commission. I do not know how that will be proved—I am sure that it will be extremely difficult—but in any case the railway charges have always been an open book to the competitors of the railways.
The Minister said that the new charges scheme would provide a maximum charge, leading us to believe that the railways would be able to quote special rates lower than the maximum charges. That will prove no difficulty to the road hauliers. I worked in the railway industry for 25 years and on many occasions the road hauliers came to our office and asked for the rates between one town and another. We had to supply them with the rates, and they then based their road haulage rates on the rates given by the railway companies.
§ Mr. Steele
If the hon. Gentleman has not been following my argument clearly, he may misunderstand the position, but it will happen again.
§ Mr. Steele
The protection for the competitors of the Commission arises in Clause 21. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite have read the Bill.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Surely there is a difference between saying in the Bill that a competitor can go to the Transport Tribunal and make a complaint and perhaps prove certain things, and asserting, as the hon. Gentleman is, that the competitor can walk into the local railway station to ascertain the rates?
§ Mr. Steele
If the noble Lord had listened to his Minister, that point would have been clear to him. The railway rates are open for inspection by anyone. At the present time the railways cannot refuse to give a rate to anyone who asks for it.
§ Mr. Steele
I apologise to the House if I have not made myself clear. I was trying to make the point that at present the rates are an open book and I described what had happened in my experience. The Minister said that only the maximum rates would have to be published and that other rates would not have to be published, but that does not stop an individual going to a railway station and asking for a certain rate. That was done in the past, and I am convinced it will be done in future.
§ Mr. Steele
I hope hon. Gentlemen will allow me to proceed. I did not know that we were dealing with such a set of innocent people.
1475 I want now to deal with the scheme for the re-organisation of the railways. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is not in his place. In any case, what he said about it indicated that he did not know the first thing about it. The Commission are under an obligation to submit a scheme to the Minister within 12 months. The scheme has to be published and put on sale, and the Minister has then to await objections. I want to know why the National Coal Board have been singled out for mention in the Bill as an organisation which must be informed about the position. It is a curious state of affairs when we have to state in a Bill that one nationalised industry should inform another nationalised industry about what it is going to do.
Is it that the National Coal Board are alive to the dangers of the Bill and are so concerned about it that they have made representations to the Minister that, whatever happens, they must know what is going on? We have included the National Coal Board, but what about the gas industry, electricity and some of the other industres?
§ Mr. Steele
I agree—particularly the steel industry. It is a sad state of affairs when one nationalised industry has to tell another nationalised industry how it must be run.
§ Mr. Steele
I am sorry, but I ought to continue my speech.
The scheme has nothing at all to do with charges and nothing to do with what trains should or should not be run. It has to deal with the internal organisation of the industry; that is, how a nationalised industry is to carry out the job which Parliament has given it. I could have understood it if it had been a private organisation which had to publish the scheme, but this is a public undertaking with a responsibility to Parliament.
In any case, why should the railways be subject to this imposition? Why should the railways be singled out from 1476 other nationalised industries and from other private industries in having to publish a scheme? How are the railways to provide an organisation to run the day-to-day affairs of the industry? How can the Government reconcile this imposition on the railways with their statement that what we need to achieve is the flexibility which is essential for the industry? I am not arguing against the re-organisation, for it would be wrong of me to do so; in any case, it is no secret that the British Transport Commission itself has been looking into the matter.
I joined the old Caledonian Railway. It was soon merged into the London Midland and Scottish Railway, which, during the period that I was with it, was always organising and re-organising. Re-organisation went on the whole time, and it did not need an Act of Parliament. Then came the British Transport Commission. If any re-organising has to be done, I can assure the Minister that the people working in the railway industry today have a wide experience of that, because it has been going on during the last 30 years.
In fact, the real problem has been that in the inter-war years they were unable to carry out the improvements which were so essential. I can remember back to the 1930's the plans for modernising shunting yards and various other things, but like other industries the railways were unable to carry out these improvements because of lack of capital. Many of these things have not been done yet.
The fact of the matter is that the Minister had to have a Bill. Merely to have a Bill to turn over long-distance road haulage back to the private owners would have been too glaring an example of what the Tory Party really stand for, and therefore the Government had to throw this provision in as well. The Minister has all the powers that he requires for any re-organisation within the railways in the 1947 Act. Under that Act the various Executives were appointed to do a specific job. They have done that job very effectively and efficiently, and once the Road Haulage Executive had taken the 40,000 vehicles from over 3,000 separate owners it was right to look at the next step.
But the next step surely was to go ahead with the integration which we all desire. This Bill will only turn the clock 1477 back. I am convinced that the Bill will set up far more authorities than it abolishes. How many regional authorities are we to have? We are to have one for Scotland, but, as the hon. Member for Dumfries rightly pointed out, the Bill provides for more authorities even in Scotland. What kind of authority are we to have? I was frightened by what the Minister said today. He seemed to visualise the old boards of directors, the old companies. That is a horrible thought.
I can understand the provision of a functional authority, such as we have in the National Coal Board. I can understand having in each region a functional authority and an arrangement whereby the chief regional officer, for instance, in Scotland would become the chairman of the board. No doubt his increased status would bring an increase in salary, but I cannot see how an alteration of or an increase in functions can be achieved.
The Minister has agreed already that wages and conditions of service would not come under the regional authority. We in Scotland are very glad about that. We have the Agricultural Wages Board, under which the agricultural workers in Scotland receive 5s. a week less than do the agricultural workers in England and Wales. At the moment I am carrying on a fight with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the subject of probation officers, whose salaries and conditions of service in Scotland are much less favourable than they are in England and Wales. We are very glad indeed that we are to have no separate board for wages and conditions of service.
What about charges? I think that the Minister has also said that this will be a centralised function. So we are to have an authority for wages and conditions and an authority for rates and fares. What about workshops? We have two in Scotland—Cowlairs and St. Rollox. Both of these are doing work not only for Scotland but for many places south of the Border and doing it well. Under a centralised authority it is possible to place the work in the proper localities. This, therefore, means another authority.
What about purchasing materials? Is the regional authority to have responsibility for buying materials or are we to have a continuance, as I think we ought to have, of the present system? Surely 1478 the Minister will not deny to the British Transport Commission the right to have bulk purchase to ensure that economies can be maintained. I therefore visualise another authority.
We come next to the question of operations. What about wagon supplies? At first sight, one might say that that is a regional function. It is not. Even in the old days of the four companies it was not a regional function. If vehicles, and particularly special vehicles, are to be utilised in a proper manner, there must be a central body to deal with wagon supplies and to arrange that the wagons are in the right place at the right time and are not standing empty in one region when there are great demands for them in another.
I do not want to weary the House, but I could go on dealing with many more points to show quite clearly the advantages of centralised authority in these matters. If the British Transport Commission want to ensure economies, then quite frankly they must follow the lines which are being followed at the moment.
We on this side of the House, of course, want to see the Minister drop this Bill altogether; but failing that, at least this part of it can be dropped without any loss of face at all. I plead with the Minister to allow the people who know how to do it to carry out any alterations that are necessary. We do not deny that alterations might be reasonable and desirable, but we ask the Minister not to try to do it by Act of Parliament. It cannot be done by Act of Parliament. The Minister should concentrate on how to help the railways to overcome the problems with which they will be faced as a result of what is being pressed upon him by his party, and not hinder them by what he is trying to do in this Bill.
Very little has been said so far about the staffs who are working under the Road Haulage Executive. But it must be remembered that this Bill, in addition to destroying a national service, will have a terrific effect on the livelihood of the men who are building up that service. Do the drivers want to go back to the old conditions under private enterprise? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Surely the Minister is not under any delusion. As has been pointed out, under the old conditions these men had to disregard statutory obligations imposed upon the employers, 1479 such as speed limits and rest periods, to secure traffic in intense competition.
What about the former road hauliers themselves? Many of these are doing a good and useful job as depot managers. Those of them with whom I have been able to discuss the matter are all agreed that there is greater efficiency in long-distance road haulage today than there has ever been before. [Laughter.] What is funny about that?
§ Mr. Manuel
Tell us what is funny about it? Do hon. Members opposite know anything about the industry?
§ Mr. Steele
I think that it would be better to ignore that laughter.
This does not apply only to men who were formerly employed in the transport industry. The Minister should bear in mind that a national organisation of this kind with 75,000 employees has attracted a good type of specialist administrator and many good technical men. They have come from trade and industry, from the Civil Service, from local government and from the railways. Many of them have given up good jobs to enter a public service with its security, the prospect of a useful career and a pension. All this has been destroyed.
How can these people hope to get the same facilities in the small units that the Minister visualises? In any case, what a waste of skill and experience in doing it. Men have been attracted to the industry because of their skill and ability, and their skill and ability are now going to be frittered away in small transport units.
The Minister says that there are compensation Clauses. Are there? We have a repetition of the 1947 Act provisions, but the Minister was very careful today when he mentioned them. He said that there will be compensation for those who qualify. The 1947 compensation provisions are totally inadequate to meet this position, whereas the national organisation had a lot to offer when the small units were taken over.
I rose to put a question to the Minister when he dealt with this matter, but he did not give way, and I should like to put the question now. The question is this: How many claims were made by the road hauliers under the 1947 Act and how 1480 many were substantiated? My information is that there were very few, and that is understandable. We were led to believe that there were hundreds of these hauliers, almost penniless, waiting for the Labour Government to put forward their regulations. I should like to know exactly how many there were.
There were good provisions for those road hauliers because they were going into an expanding industry. It is clear, however, that this Bill will mean a loss of employment and emoluments to a large number of executive staff, and unless provisions are made which recognise this point, a grave injustice will be done. Under the 1947 provisions, compensation was made only for six months, but no compensation was paid at all unless the person concerned had been in the industry for eight years.
I cannot understand how the 1947 provisions are going to be adopted here, because quite clearly that basis is meaningless. We can understand why the staff are anxious about this matter, and I think that suitable provisions should be in the Bill. There is no haste. We can all wait until next year, or the next, but at least the provisions should be made known before any single units is sold.
What about the question of pension rights? This is a serious matter. I regret to say that there has been some delay in establishing a pension scheme for the Road Haulage Executive staff. Most of the staff have been engaged on condition that they would become members of a superannuation scheme. So far they have been making provisional payments to such a scheme, but unfortunately up to the present no fund has yet been established. I think we ought to have some undertaking on this point. If the Minister claims that because no pension scheme has been established these people will have no pension rights whatever, a grave injustice will be done and the Minister will be taking advantage of an unfortunate situation.
The only Member in this House who can take any comfort from this debate is the former Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay). He at least has been relieved of the task of forcing through a Measure which will destroy the good work of the British Transport Commission and which threatens the livelihood of the 1481 thousands of workers in the transport industry.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)
I am only drawing attention to the obvious when I say that this Bill is chiefly concerned with railways and road transport, whether they be situated in the L.C.C. area or in Scotland, or somewhere else in the United Kingdom.
In the flurry and heat of the battle which will rage over and about these two great industries, it may be that another form of transport vitally important to this country in time of peace as in time of war will be overlooked. I refer, of course, to coastwise shipping. As I have had to acknowledge my connection with the shipping industry on previous occasions in this House, perhaps I may be allowed to mention on this occasion that I have no connection whatsoever with coastwise shipping.
Whether expressly or consequentially, this Bill when it becomes an Act will have a serious bearing on the future of coastal shipping. I am sure that I need not spend much time in reminding the House how great was the contribution of the little ships, and the men who manned them, to our war effort and to final victory. Dunkirk and Normandy were perhaps the highlights—episodes in Which these small ships have played a very gallant part. But throughout the whole of the difficult period of the war, these small ships were carrying out dangerous tasks for which their build made them peculiarly suitable.
Perhaps even more important than the assistance which these ships were able to give in naval and military operations was the fact that for six years they were distributing food, coal and other raw materials and munitions round our coasts, from the big ports to the smaller harbours and anchorages. But, of course, the case for the consideration of coastwise shipping and the relationship of this industry with road and rail transport does not rest only on the chance that this country may once again be involved in war.
To say that coastal shipping is an important element of inland transport may sound rather contradictory, but in fact it is a perfectly true statement, and I think that hon. Members may be surprised to learn that, measured in terms of ton miles, the volume of cargo carried 1482 coastwise in 1951 was more than one-third of the volume carried by the railways. Coasting shipping is not only an essential element of the British Mercantile Marine, but it is also a necessary complement to road and rail transport. I think that that opinion will be generally held on both sides of the House. Certainly it is the view of the noble Lord who is now Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power, for it was he who not long ago advocated care when consideration is being given to the future of road and rail transport, when he said that care should be taken to see that… nothing is done to impede coastal shipping from fulfilling its full functions.At the present moment the position of our coastal fleet is giving cause for great concern. The total tonnage is about 500,000 tons lower than the pre-war figure. Road transport, rail transport and coastal shipping are each complementary to, but competitive with, the other two and I feel sure that the Government will consider carefully what will be the comparative position of coastwise shipping in the new circumstances which will be created by this Bill.
I must confess that I have been a little disappointed that during the earlier debates on transport problems the Government have said little to indicate that the future relationship between coastal shipping and road and rail transport has received very much consideration. To some extent the Minister—in a speech which I am sure we all admired—put things right by mentioning on two occasions, though only very briefly, this industry of coastal shipping. I am pleased, however, to know that the Chamber of Shipping are included among the bodies which the Government have consulted about this Bill. I venture to express the hope that the views which the Chamber of Shipping have expressed to the Ministry of Transport will receive close attention, particularly during the Committee and Report stages of this Bill.
I want to indicate in the broadest outlines the directions in which I hope this Bill may be amended during Committee and Report stages. I am glad that the Government continue to attach value to the work of the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. I am glad, also, that a representative of the road haulage industry will serve on this Committee; but 1483 to my mind this bit of liaison machinery does not go far enough. In recent years much progress has been made by coastal shipping in making arrangements with road and rail transport designed to ensure the stability of rates. I should like to see included in this Bill powers which will encourage or even enforce that sort of co-operation. I hope that no hon. Member will ask me to distinguish the fine differences between "co-operation" and "integration."
In the second place, at a time when new freedom is being given to road and rail transport, I hope that provision will be made for the Minister to be acquainted without delay of any development which will or may have damaging repercussions on coastwise shipping. In such a case I suggest that the Minister should see that he is not only informed but is given powers to take prompt action. Thirdly, I would ask the Minister to consider including more precise provisions to ensure prior consultation between the Transport Commission and coastal shipping on charges, both maximum and actual, before the new charges, particularly in competitive traffic, are made.
Further, I would suggest that it should be obligatory on road licensing authorities to have regard to the services rendered by coastal shipping. The Minister should consider the advisability of taking powers to give directions to these licensing authorities. I would also suggest that the Minister takes powers to draw from a shipping panel someone to serve on the Transport Tribunal, particularly when the Tribunal is considering charges involving rates which are competitive as between land and sea transport.
I am sure that the Minister and, indeed, the whole House, would be well advised to look more closely at Clause 21—a Clause which has been mentioned on more than one occasion in speeches today. I am sure the Committee will want to be satisfied that the Clause is fully workable and gives protection to coastal shipping in appropriate circumstances. For the moment, I am not satisfied that this Clause can be made to work effectively in its present form.
The remarks and suggestions which I have made are in no way inconsistent with the main objective of the Bill, but I wanted the Minister to appreciate, I 1484 wanted the House to learn and I want the country to know, that on the final form which this Bill will take will depend to a great extent the future of an important section of the British merchant navy.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
We have listened to a very interesting speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner). I was very interested to hear the particular plea he put forward. It is in line with the Minister's attitude in connection with this matter. The hon. and gallant Member has put forward a particular plea that another vested interest should be represented on the Commission. That is exactly on all fours with the Minister's suggestion that the representation on the Road Haulage Disposal Board should consist largely of competitors with the nationalised undertakings. It is an interesting theory which is developing throughout the whole of this Bill.
In moving the Second Reading, the Minister adopted an attitude which was probably best calculated to suit his purposes as the Minister in charge of a Bill, namely, trying to keep the House good-tempered. But in adopting that attitude he wrapped up a tremendous lot of nonsense in his observations.
The Minister made all kinds of wild allegations about what has taken place and what is taking place in the nationalised undertaking, without attempting to prove any of them. He made the charge that integration was a complete failure and that there had been no integration of road haulage. It is not fair to the intelligence of the House that such charges should be made, and I propose to deal with them a little later.
First, I want to draw attention to a fact which has not been mentioned in the debate and which interests those of us who have spent a lifetime in transport. No industry in this country has been subjected to so much Parliamentary legislation or interference as the transport industry. The Minister went back into history, and I propose to follow him. The first part of the last century saw the development of railway transport in this country. In the first 50 or 60 years, there were something like 1,800 Acts of Parliament, with 1,300 amending Acts, affecting 1485 transport in its early development. Since that time there has been a steady spate of legislation affecting transport.
I have been told that Parliamentary costs alone—legal charges and surveying fees and such matters—have accounted for no less a sum than £4,000 per mile of rail track, before the railways even commenced to lay the track. The actual construction of rail track has cost the nation, or the undertaking, something like £64,000 a mile. If we want an efficient transport undertaking, we have to look at these very heavy capital overheads which have had to be carried over a long period.
With all the legislation which went on to the Statute Book, we found, with the development of modern transport, that the industry was in a very unsatisfactory state. Between the wars we had the Royal Commission and various committees of inquiry established to go into its many problems.
Various Acts, which have been referred to this afternoon, were enacted during that time, but none of them got down to the root causes of the problem. They all attempted to tinker with it, in the same way as this Bill tinkers with it. The findings of the committees of inquiry pointed clearly towards one root cause, but successive Governments have failed to face the issue. We had the 1921 Act, which attempted to bring some easement to the transport position, but all the other legislation between the wars was ineffective, and it remained for the Labour Government, by passing the 1947 Act, to attempt to bring some order into the chaotic conditions existing in the transport industry.
When the war broke out, Parliament had to face the difficulties of transport. Although previous Governments had taken many bites, they had done nothing to solve the problem, but when the country was in danger they had to deal with it, and they attempted to introduce some national control. It was a very hastily improvised scheme, which creaked and groaned quite a lot, but nevertheless it worked more effectively, even in the view of the Government of that day, than was possible under individual ownership of transport, and better results were obtained than under individual ownership.
With the establishment of the British Transport Commission in 1948, the first 1486 real effort was made to co-ordinate and integrate transport into a single unit. The Tory Party have followed a definite line since that day and have been constantly sniping and snarling at the working of the British Transport Commission. They have done their best to discourage the men employed by the Commission—men employed to make an effective unit of transport. When we were the Government, hon. Members on these benches called these members of nationalised undertakings "Quislings" and described what would happen to them when the Tories got back to power. That marked the lowest form of political warfare possible, and it is well within the recollection of hon. Members who were in the House at that time.
Following their totally irresponsible attacks and obstructive tactics when in opposition, the Tory Party, now in Government, have put forward these proposals. Earlier this year they published a White Paper. Shortly afterwards, they published their first Transport Bill, in July. Then they published this Bill. The three vary considerably, with the exception that the cardinal point throughout is the determination to destroy the 1947 Act and to hand road haulage back to the private profit motive. But I suggest to the House that these three publications reveal a shocking state of affairs and the muddled thinking which has taken place among the Government all along the line.
After all the years of obstruction which they have undertaken, and after all their condemnation of the 1947 Act, it is interesting to note that even now the Minister indicates that he is prepared to change his mind. Even now he wavers and does not know where he is. The one thing which is clear is that they are more concerned about doctrinaire Tory philosophy than they are about the national interest. They should take notice of the protests which are being made from every industrial angle in the country—transport experts, chambers of trade and commerce, for instance. These people are supporters of the Government, but they know what a serious position will arise if this Bill reaches the Statute Book.
The Minister charged the British Transport Commission with many things. I wonder how many charges he made. But he is not attempting to justify any. We 1487 must get this matter in its true perspective. The Commission have been able to operate effectively for something like three and a half years. During the last 12 months they have been overshadowed by the threat of action by the Government, and also by direct instructions from the Government preventing them from carrying out their correct function.
When the Commission took over, they found developing a set of conditions similar to those which were so disastrous to transport in the years between the war.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Member will have an opportunity of making his own speech, but I will develop the point further and prove my contention. Even though the wartime agreement was still in operation, the Commission found in 1946 and 1947 that the private enterprise group system of railways had lost £71 million in those two years—a similar set of circumstances to that which operated in pre-war years.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Gentleman can make his point later on. There was a loss of £71 million. We engaged in the railway industry remember the time when the railway companies came along to the trade unions and said, "Look here, we know your rates of pay are very low, but we are in a very serious financial position. We ask all those men in receipt of £2 a week to undergo voluntarily a 2½per cent. reduction and those with over £2 to accept a 5 per cent reduction because we cannot pay our way." I suggest that these instances prove my point.
§ Mr. Wilson
—but that cannot be true. It is evidence that the hon. Gentleman has not read Clause 19.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I really have not said that for the time being. However, I am going to say it, if that is any comfort to the hon. Member. What I did say was, dealing with the financial side, that these 1488 are similar conditions with those pre-war, when in those two years there was a loss of £71 million. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman I shall say that later on.
What else did the Commission find? There was this loss developing. I am not blaming anybody for the moment, but there it was. The Commission also found that there were considerable arrears of maintenance of track and equipment and stock. Much of this lag, of course, was due to the war, but there was also a lag from pre-war days when the railways were in a serious financial position and could not float sufficient capital to meet all that they knew ought to be done. The Commission had to do this. It was faced at the same time with shortages of materials and rising prices. The employees within the industry were rightly restive, wanting improved conditions and improved wages. Far too long they had been at the bottom of the ladder in these respects. That was the set-up that faced the Commission, which has been effectively working only three and a half years.
What has taken place during this short time? Considerable progress has been made in meeting many of these needs. Employees in all sections of the industry have had a fairer deal under the Commission than ever before. Conditions of employment have steadily improved. There is still a long way to go before complete satisfaction is felt in this particular direction, but real progress has been made, and I desire to pay a sincere tribute to the Commission and to the trade unions in the transport industry for the way they have overcome obstacles. It has been a good job of co-operation that was never possible previously.
This Bill gives notice that this type of co-operation is going to come to an end. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will say why in a few moments. It gives notice to those engaged in the industry and in all branches of the transport industry, and the trade unions are very fearful of the consequences of this Bill, and they are bracing themselves for the inevitable attack that will be made should this ever become an Act of Parliament. I warn the Government of the difficulties that lie ahead if they proceed with this. I shall come to this a little later.
1489 If we look to the financial side of the Commission's undertaking, what do we find? In the last two years of private enterprise there was a loss of £71 million. We find an average surplus over actual working expenses in the four years the Commission has been in operation of £41,250,000; a total surplus over working expenses during those four years of £165 million. It is quite correct that the Commissioners failed by some £39,500,000 to meet interest and all other standing charges. That is quite correct. Their short-fall in that direction is pretty well known, but if we look at this we find that that particular shortfall is carried forward as a debt, a debit balance on the Commission's account, as distinct from what was done about the £71 million, which was met by grants out of taxation—in other words, by a form of subsidy to private enterprise railway shareholders.
There has been a lot of Tory Party propaganda that if the nationalised undertakings failed or did not meet fully their financial commitments there would be subsidies by the State.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Not correct. This short-fall on the nationalised undertaking is carried forward as a debt. In all the nationalised undertakings except civil aviation there is no grant from the State, from the national Exchequer; but when they were in the hands of private enterprise they received large subsidies from the nation, which had to pay the bill.
In the last year of the Commission's working, 1951, to its standing credit, it actually made a slight surplus—a wonderful job of work in four years, compared with a net loss of £71 million for the last two years' work in private hands. This is a remarkable transformation. It has not been brought about by a reckless increase in passenger fares and freight rates. It is as well to expose another Tory propaganda point, because they make this point. If fares go up on the nationalised transport the prices of other commodities may go up. That is met with a shrug of the shoulders, but talk about an increase of a halfpenny in a bus fare and there is a strong psychological effect.
Let us have a look at what has taken place. Since the Commission took over 1490 —since pre-war days—there has been an average increase in rail fares of 93 per cent. up till the end of December, 1951. There has been an increase in working costs to the Commission of 150 per cent. above pre-war rates, and this 57 per cent. difference has had to be made up somehow, somewhere.
Of course, since the Tory Party came into power, this Government pledged to reduce costs, we have had the Prime Minister blustering because the London County Council elections were to take place preventing a legitimate increase for a little while; but even with all his blustering there has been a further increase of some 19 per cent. in transport charges since this Government took over. We find that, at the end of last year the Commission had refused to pass on to the public by 57 per cent. increased working costs being levied against it.
The Minister accuses the Commission of being inefficient. What is the answer to that point? If we take any known method of measuring efficiency in the railway industry—and also in road haulage, to which I shall turn in a few moments—we find a wonderful record has been achieved. Since vesting day the cost per train mile has been reduced by 11 per cent. This has meant a saving of between £35 million and £40 million—a wonderful record. If we take any other known measure of testing efficiency, we find that wagon loads increased 25 per cent.; train loads have gone up from 461 tons to 595 tons, an increase of 30 per cent.; working expenses in train miles have been improved by 37 per cent.; net tons hauled per engine power are up by 30 per cent.; a big increase in passenger miles travelled; and as far as passengers per train are concerned, whereas the number was 78 in 1938, it is now on the average 92.
What a wonderful story of accomplishment under the guidance and direction of the Commission? In addition, there is a big decrease proposed in the number of types of engines, together with the standardisation of equipment, rolling stock, stores, raw materials, engineering parts, and many other commodities, with bulk purchase and decentralised delivery bringing about many economies. All this has been due to the foresight of the Commission. When the Minister charges the Commission with inefficiency, he should 1491 be a little more honest and quote the real position instead of adopting this flamboyant political attitude and giving an entirely wrong impression.
This remarkable accomplishment has been achieved, together with a reduction of about 60,000 in staff since vesting day. That reduction has been carried out sympathetically and humanly, because there is co-operation between the trade unions and the Commission. Many of us engaged in the railway industry in pre-war years have very bitter memories indeed of how redundancy operated under the old set-up. The reduction of staff accomplished by the Commission has been carried out in a conciliatory manner, with every aspect being studied. This could only have been achieved, and can only be maintained and continued, by a national functional body such as the Railway Executive. To abolish such a structure and to replace it with some kind of autonomous area authorities will considerably impair the service, reduce the standard of efficiency, and will most certainly prevent further progress.
Clause 14 lays down that area authorities shall be set up, and shall have some duty, which is not defined. The Minister accepts this and says that it will be up to the Commission to produce some workable scheme. That is very interesting. After seven years of Tory backwoodsmen sniping and snarling, they turn to the very men who prepared the present scheme and ask them to revise that scheme and produce something very different. That is a very interesting approach. No one knows what are to be the duties of these area authorities; they are to be defined by the Commission. Nobody knows how many of them there are to be. All we do know is that there is to be a separate one for Scotland.
The next stage is the instituting of more authorities who will have delegated to them functions not suitable to the area authorities. I invite others to work that one out. I do not know the answer. Superimposed upon this there are to be established other authorities who will be charged with the task of co-ordinating the activities of all the other authorities, or numbers of them. What a wonderful thing this is. Then the Commission itself will be charged with certain financial and general control, and also with control of 1492 charges. The powers of the Minister are then superimposed upon those of the Commission.
This Government has a wonderful co-ordinating record—it has co-ordinated to such a degree that no one, themselves included, knows where they stand in their co-ordination of Ministries, and so on. How ridiculous it is to set up these various groups of authorities and then to establish some co-ordinating machinery. It at once destroys the Railway Executive, which has produced the efficient operations which we Lave had up to now, and which would in future increase. This is calculated to create the maximum amount of confusion and to prevent any co-ordinated development.
Hon. Members opposite have referred to the personal relations in the railway industry in the various regions. We are proud of the relations in the regions as we know them today. We still have the North-Eastern Region, the London Midland and Scottish Region, and so on, and we can still develop personal loyalties to given regions. That is all to the good. But there is no need to have another set of boards of directors, or something of that description, as visualised by the Minister. That would be a retrograde step back to pre-1921 days.
Let us turn now to Road haulage.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the railways, perhaps I could remind him of his remark earlier. He made a charge that this Bill would undo the good industrial relations on the railways, and when we asked "Why?" he said that we would develop that later on.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Yes, and it will be developed. I intend to tie up the two, road and rail. I shall develop that later, if the hon. Gentleman will contain his impatience. I have not forgotten.
Another cardinal point of the Bill is the handing back of long-distance road haulage to the private profit motive. The Commission set up in January, 1948, established various executives. Between March, 1948, and 1951 the Road Haulage Executive took over 3,766 separate road haulage businesses, involving 40,000 vehicles and 4,000 trailers.
The Home Secretary was reminded by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that, when speaking of 1493 these things before, he visualised that it would take about 10 years to have a fully integrated service. The scheme has been in operation three and a half years, because last year was overshadowed by the threatened Government action and the industry was unable to go ahead with further developments. In taking over all these undertakings and vehicles a number of things had to be done, including settling the price to be paid, the value of the assets, stocks, premises, the transfer of stocks, and so on, and three and a half years is not much time.
What has happened? There have been established 200 different groups with 1,000 depots or sub-depots throughout the country. The work already done has been reflected in the price charged to those who use the transport. Since vesting day the average increase in charges for the nationalised road transport has been just over 30 per cent., whereas the average increase in charges, so far as they can be ascertained, for A and B private hauliers' licences has been about 40 per cent. in the same period. What about the charge of inefficiency made by the Minister?
Let us take another yard-stick. Examination of the data of 96 undertakings shows that the following changes have taken place in those undertakings since vesting day. We find that on the take-over the managers of these industries represented 3.7 per cent. of the staff. Today they represent 46 per cent.—a reduction of 3 per cent. We find that the clerical staff represented 14.87 per cent. of the staff taken over—reduced now to 13.12 per cent. We find the operating staff, which then represented 59.87 per cent., has been increased to 67 per cent. Where is the charge by the Minister of inefficiency in face of those figures? He should be more honest in his statements.
The administrative and clerical staff, so far as the representation per vehicle is concerned, on the take-over represented 51 per cent. per vehicle. Today that figure is reduced to 39 per cent. If we average it out per 100 tons carried, we find that the representation which on take-over was 62 per cent. has been reduced to 45 per cent. This is some indication of the benefits which users of transport are already enjoying.
The Tories use the argument of monopoly in road transport. Let us look at this argument. The British Transport 1494 Commission own approximately 6 per cent. of the vehicles on the roads—44,000 vehicles with an unladen weight of 310,000 tons. A and B licence holders have 119,000 vehicles with an unladen weight of 585,000 tons. So far as the build-up of C licences is concerned, that, I think, shows one of the weaknesses of the 1947 Bill, and when we return to power we shall tighten up in our next nationalisation proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. Amongst these hundreds of thousands of C licence owners, what do we find? We find that there are no fewer than 55,000 of them engaged on long-distance transport; in other words, 38 per cent. are engaged on long-distance transport of over a 40-mile radius.
B.T.C. took a survey of approximately one-sixth of the C licences fleet, out of which we found that approximately 53,000 vehicles of over two and a half ton capacity are engaged on long-distance road haulage. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport have attempted to prove that this large increase in C licences is an indication of the failure of the Commission to integrate their services. I say that there is a case for a complete overhaul of the C licence position. Let us make no mistake about it. This, in my opinion, was a weakness in the Act, and we shall have to have another look at it.
Eighty-seven per cent. of the vehicles on the roads today are running under C licences, and 82 per cent. of these are under two and a half tons unladen weight. A big and legitimate growth has taken place in the number of traders' delivery vans, and such like, but we also find, and those of us who are engaged in transport all know, that many of these C licence holders are violating the law in their operations today. We know that many of them go out with their own traffic and come back with other traffic which they have no right to do.
This week-end, in my own village, I gave an unemployed driver a ride in my car. I said to him, "Why are you unemployed?" He said, "Because I fell out with such and such a firm." I asked, "Why?" He said. "I was working in a factory until the end of the day, and then had to go out with a vehicle, take a load of goods to London under C licence and travel back again, working all kinds of 1495 hours and violating the Acts galore." We know that is taking place today.
If we adopt the terms of this Bill and put it on the Statute Book, what shall we get? We shall get a similar set-up to that type of violation which took place in the pre-war years. Those who are engaged in transport in the trade unions know that there is a challenge in this Bill. They know of the co-operation which has been built up by the British Transport Commission because the Commission have been prepared to give them a fair deal, and they know that under the new set-up road haulage will not be able to give them a fair deal. They will go back to what took place in pre-war days.
The Minister quoted reliance on the 1930 and 1933 Acts. If we take a consensus of opinion, even in the North-Western area alone, we find that in one quarter there were 10,000 prosecutions because of the violation of these Acts owing to bad loads, wrong hours, long hours, not keeping a driver's log, and such like. We know that the competition will be there. The road haulage operator will be able to ascertain the railway rates; he will undercut and bring about such conditions that he cannot pay a decent rate of wage and cannot give decent conditions of employment, and the railways will have to follow the same line as they did previously.
The particular point that I want to make is that there will not be co-operation. There will be attack and defence the whole of the time, and the Tory Government will be responsible for it. I am warning them of the trouble that lies ahead in that direction.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
How does the hon. Gentleman explain that there was a 30 per cent. turn-over of British Road Service drivers last year?
§ Mr. Popplewell
There may have been a 30 per cent. turn-over from depot to depot, and in other ways, but there is a turn-over taking place on the railways, too. With all the good will that there is today, the conditions in the transport industry are such that the workers engaged in the industry are not able even yet to get the wages and conditions of employment to which they are entitled. They are still among the Cinderellas of industry, and they visualise something greater to which they are entitled.
1496 In this set-up of the disposal of road haulage, we find that the Minister is establishing a Road Haulage Disposal Board, which consists of the appointment of a chairman and deputy chairman by the Minister, a representative from the British Transport Commission, a representative from trade and industry, a representative from A and B licence holders and from C licence holders—and we heard the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash making a plea for another competitor, coastwise shipping.
Here we have a board appointing actual competitors to destroy a thriving industry. Talk about "Jobs for the boys"; this is the most barefaced robbery that has been planned for a long time, and Parliament is used to public robbery and handing over to private people. In this set-up of the Road Haulage Disposal Board there is full Parliamentary sanction. There is some kind of compensation by this weird method of a levy on the road transport industry, and it is reckoned to bring in something like £4 million. I question whether that will ever go through as there is so much opposition by all sections of transport, including road hauliers.
I am afraid that transport is such a big topic that I am far exceeding the time I allotted myself but, nevertheless, here we are—[Laughter.] Oh, yes, I respond to the challenge. I could go on for a long time giving these facts which are not very palatable to hon. Members opposite. When the Commission took over, road transport was involved in an expenditure one way or another of approximately £63 million, but the only compensation to be paid is on the basis of something like £4 million a year. How long will that continue even under the present suggestion?
We shall ultimately find if this goes through that what is left of the Commission's operations, which will be mainly the railways, will be saddled with a very heavy additional capital burden to face. Who is to face it? Are the Government coming in with subsidies? Financial assistance is limited to £50,000. What is to be the position if the railways have to face it themselves? The men in the industry can look forward to a very serious time.
A wonderful job has been accomplished in these short three and a half years, no matter what the Minister says 1497 about inefficiency. He should have a look at the industry. We find the Commission running their transport undertaking as one undertaking and that integration has taken place at a fairly rapid rate, bearing in mind the amount of time involved. We find that road services are being used for collection and delivery to the railhead. The old grouped companies were thinking about this kind of thing and did some of it, but that has now been stepped up considerably.
There have been considerable extensions of agreed charges schemes for road and rail services and a deliberate transfer of traffic from rail to road for cross-country journeys. There has been complementary use of accommodation, storage space, and repair facilities, zonal schemes for road and rail services, the closing of branch lines and the substitution of road services. The Minister charges the Commission with inefficiency. He should have a look at these things and know what he is responsible for, instead of coming here with a flamboyant air as if he were a good-time boy. If he inquired into the industry he would not talk such utter nonsense.
The big commercial obligations which have been incurred could only have been done under common ownership, and this is only in its first stages. It is only commencing to bring about this complete change. The change has been remarkable so far, and I ask, is all this to be wasted? The charge of failure is not true, but indicates a warped doctrinaire approach to the problem.
We see the Minister deciding to upset the British Transport Commission. There are eight members at present. The Minister suggests that there should be a full-time chairman only and the other members should be part-time members—"Jobs for the boys"—so that they will be in a position, through the Road Haulage Disposal Board, of deciding where and how certain vehicles should be sold. The Commission on a part-time basis will be able to see that their friends, and probably themselves, in an indirect business way receive financial reward This is serious in the national interest.
I know that there is common talk about many Members on the Government side of the House not being happy about the situation. I suggest to them that this proposal is one of the most serious that has been made. It will destroy our national 1498 transport system and bring us back to those chaotic conditions that existed in the years between the wars. I invite everyone of those hon. Members to think very carefully before they go into the Lobby to support such a shocking Measure, and if they do I sincerely hope that they may come into our Lobby and defeat this objectionable Bill.
§ Mr. Fort
On a point of order. In view of the extent of the field which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) has covered, it is rather beyond most of us to cover that ground in a 20-minute speech. Is there any possibility of two speakers being called in succession from this side of the House to enable a reply to be made on the many points raised by the hon. Gentleman?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
The length of speeches is a matter not for me but for the House.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Sir Fergus Graham (Darlington)
Coming from the railway town of Darlington, I wish to speak for a few minutes without referring very much to the speech by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) who, bemused by figures and data, was inclined to let us forget that this country is almost bankrupt and has to take drastic action at the present time. That is one of the first reasons why something has to be done about a wasteful experiment.
We have an example of a fearsomely wasteful experiment in the so-called integration which has not taken place, which has not touched provincial buses and common freight charges but has rapidly increased the number of C licences, vastly increased the number of licences which must be wasteful from the national interest and point of view in that they take out loads but have to return empty, vastly increased the amount of bureaucracy and curiously increased the high rates upon very small traffic.
We are told all the advantages that have been created for small traffic, but when we look closely into the matter we are startled at how strikingly the cost of freightage for small commodities which have no alternative method of transport, has been increased by this very heavy monopoly. There are, after all, peculiarly few large lorries, and the number of 1½ ton C licences has increased since 1948 in a phenomenal manner.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
Will the hon. Member indicate how this Bill deals with the point to which he is now addressing himself? Can he give an indication to show how, by this Bill, the number of C licences will be reduced or affected?
§ Sir F. Graham
I should have thought it was pretty clear that if private enterprise were to be allowed to compete, there would forthwith be a larger variety of possibilities of cheaper competition, and the new levy upon C licences is an obvious diminution of the attraction and temptation to take out C licences; just as it stands to reason that railways can never be offset by road haulage with their five times as large turnover. It would be impossible for the road services to face one tiny depression in the railways. Up to this very last month, they have failed to pay their contributions to their central charges.
The central theme of this Bill, which fulfils every promise of the last Election, is the removal of transport from politics altogether. The central theme, which future Governments will recognise, is the setting up of a railway service which shall be divorced from the obsolete rates and restrictions, which will be able to enjoy increased competitive freedom and increased latitude in line with road transport.
I am able to bring support for this Bill from Darlington where in 1821 the first Stockton-to-Darlington Railway Bill was drafted. That was passed in this House in the belief that on those railways cauldrons could be drawn by horses. Within five years George Stephenson and Edward Pease had steam traction with engine locomotives which can be seen today at Bank Top Station. From that, within 20 years they had the "Derwent," which may also be seen at Bank Top Station, and which is three times heavier.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell the House from what part of Darlington he brings support for this Bill? The hon. Members who represent the rural areas of Darlington object most strenuously to the introduction of this Bill.
§ Sir F. Graham
I have met a great many people—I need not produce a list—and I have a majority to support me, and I can speak for many friends in many of the vast industries—
§ Sir F. Graham
Road haulage most certainly, and the fine and vast machine shops, from Robert Stephenson and Company, who came to Darlington in 1900, and from those vast shops at which are made the castings for our greatest ships and the world's greatest bridges; from those vast marshalling yards at Darlington—[Interruption.]—yes, Darlington is a model town with a big and driving industrial interest.
From this place where railways first appeared there is a local loyalty and a belief in the status of the old North-Eastern Railway Company. There is a belief in the old leaders, a belief that nationalisation has piled up and added to the dead wood. There are executives who are not given a chance but are merely piled up under centralised control from afar off, unable to exercise their varied talents. This Bill fulfils every election pledge that we made and offers a constructive transport Measure which no future Government will wish to alter.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I hope that we are not being asked by the hon. Member for Darlington (Sir F. Graham) to return to the days of the Darlington and Stockton Railway. It certainly seemed as if that was the sort of set-up that he had in mind. I am of his opinion, however, that the state of the country makes it necessary for something to be done, though I certainly cannot agree with him that this Bill will do anything at all to help in that direction.
The case for nationalisation rested on the fact that there was a shocking waste of capital and manpower, a waste of road usage—a waste such as this country, in the conditions in which we found ourselves, could no longer afford. Therefore, it was justifiable for my right hon. Friends, when they were sitting on the Front Bench opposite, to introduce the 1947 Transport Bill which became the Act that set about the task of removing the conditions which were causing such a heavy drain upon the country.
The 1947 Act is one which I assert will stand up to examination no matter what yardstick is applied. On questions of efficiency, finance and difficult points of 1501 staff relationships—on all these matters the transport Commission set up under the 1947 Act will withstand the closest examination and come out well. The Labour Government introduced that Measure which is now to be altered, to some extent, after an experience of 125 years of railways. We introduced it after 25 years experience of road-rail competition. We introduced it after 25 years of listening to and reading the Reports of the various Commissions and Committees which were set up for the specific purpose of considering what was wrong with transport and bringing to this House, through the Ministry of Transport, recommendations for solving the problems with which we were faced.
This Bill comes to the House after only four years of operation of the 1947 Act, four years in which this Act has only just begun to work and in which the preliminary measures have been taken. Some of those preliminary measures are already showing excellent results. The Minister came to the House with a first Bill during the last Session. That was a sloppy and ill-considered Measure. The Minister was given additional time in which to consider the matter—not perhaps that he wanted the time; at any rate, the Chief Whip did not want it; but the Minister was given the time as a result of the work of some of my right hon. Friends who squeezed this Measure out of consideration during the last Session. He had that additional time within which to consider it, and he now brings to the House this Bill, which has been commented upon by "Modern Transport," a paper which, as far as I know, certainly never supported the Labour Government, in these terms:The fundamental fault of its predecessor—the sabotage and sale of British Road Services—remains. Despite attempts by Government spokesmen, from the Prime Minister downwards, no statement has been made which, in the light of truthful examination and critical judgment, can justify this wanton destruction"—that is, the wanton destruction of British Road Services, about which the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, representing some 60,000 private firms in all parts of this country, have told the Minister and the country that they will oppose the Bill's passage through Parliament by all available means.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I thank the hon. Gentleman for kindly giving way. That 1502 was a complete misrepresentation of their views, and, if the hon. Gentleman cares to wait until tomorrow morning's newspapers, he will see that clearly expressed.
§ Mr. Champion
It would seem to me to be very strange for the Association to say that it has changed its views when these were, in fact, the views of this Association upon the White Paper.
§ Mr. Champion
I do not want to give way to everybody, and I have already given way. I gave way to the Minister, and I am replying to what the Minister said.
The original objection was submitted after the White Paper, and it was to the effect that the vital interests of users would be seriously impaired if the existing network of services, both local and national, were disbanded or disrupted. Continuity of adequate services to industry and commerce, they said, was imperative, and the document went on to say:Moreover, the administrative difficulties involved and the functional defects likely to occur in such an upheaval are ill suited to the economic needs of the hour.
§ Mr. Hirst
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to make known one or two facts which, if I am lucky in catching Mr. Speaker's eye, I may have a chance to develop later? The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the statement to which he refers does not by any means necessarily represent the whole of the membership of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. I may say that I speak with some authority on this matter as president of one of the largest chambers of commerce in this country, and I say that we were not consulted at all before this proposal was placed before the Minister, and the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make that statement at all.
§ Mr. Champion
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he is repudiating the statement of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, because, we are told, on Friday last,… the Association's vice-president, Mr. T. H. Summerson, put the matter even more bluntly at a luncheon in London attended by the Minister of Transport, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, and the Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. Users experienced severe dislocation, he said, when by a gradual process the numerous privately-owned undertakings were welded 1503 together as British Road Services. It is fairly obvious to those whom road haulage must serve that the speedier disintegration of British Road Services will certainly occasion similar, if not more, dislocation.Speaking there is an association which surely knows something about the requirements of the people represented by the various chambers of commerce. One or two chambers of commerce might disagree with that, but obviously the majority are behind their association in this repudiation of the Minister's action.
§ Mr. Champion
If the various chambers of commerce have not been consulted, I hope they will deal with the people who put out this statement—
§ Mr. Champion
—but, certainly, this is a statement made on behalf of 60,000 private firms, and it is for hon. Members opposite and the various chambers of commerce to consider the statement. Some of them may repudiate it, but I feel sure that the majority will not.
The Minister has made much of the Clauses to increase railway charges. He has told us that he proposes to provide a fair competitive basis. He was talking nonsense when he made that claim. The Bill does not provide a fair competitive basis for the railways. I say this because I am of the opinion that a fair competitive basis can be achieved only by securing equality of obligation, equality of charging freedom and equality of track costs. Only if the right hon. Gentleman introduced those three things would it be possible for the railways to compete on a fair basis.
What has the Minister done about equality of obligation to provide a public service? The railways are saddled, and will remain saddled, with obligations, from which all their competitors will be free. Given inequality of obligation there cannot be competitive equality. Why has the Minister done nothing about this? It is not because it would not be possible to provide some means. He must surely be aware that there were points in the memorandum of agreement betwen the four main-line railway companies and the Road Haulage Association in July, 1946, which set out the basis on which it would 1504 be possible to provide equality of obligation as between road and rail.
The agreement stated:… that road and rail transport should have like public service obligations, including those:—That was accepted by the main-line railways of the day who were thinking in terms of the pre-war "square deal" struggle. If it was possible for the mainline railways to accept that as a fair basis of obligation, why has not the Minister included it in the Bill? The object of that part of the agreement was to make the road hauliers cease to discriminate against traffics, and it is part of the obligation and task of the Minister, if he is seeking to provide a fair competitive basis, to ensure that the road haulier is not able to discriminate against traffics.
- (a) to provide reasonable and (where appropriate) regular services throughout the districts and between the places they purport to serve.
- (b) to accept, without discrimination between traders, any traffic offered which they hold out to carry and which is within their capacity."
The Minister made much in his speech of equality of charging freedom. What utter nonsense it is to suggest that the Bill provides equality of charging freedom. On the one hand, it is true that he is giving to the railways greater freedom to quote competitive rates and he is removing statutory restrictions relating to equality of charges, undue preferences, and agreed charges. He has gone some little way towards meeting this point. But, on the other hand, competitors can complain to the Tribunal if charges are being made to eliminate competition. I must say that I thought that the whole basis of competition was to eliminate the competitor. Is not the point that one eliminates the inefficient?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member is quoting almost exactly the words from a technical publication, but what he has left out is the fact that, in addition, those charges, if competitive, must also result in a loss to the Commission.
§ Mr. Champion
Is it not right to operate for a short time at a loss in order to regain traffic, if one believes in competition? If the Minister believes in competition and its effects, he must face the consequences. This seems to me to be a case of, "Let us have some competition provided my friends are not going to be hurt by it."
1505 Users can complain if the rail happens to be the only means or transport and they think they are being charged too much. Why does not the Minister apply the same principle to road transport as to rail in this connection? There is nothing at all to prevent his doing that. Should he not give the undertaking which is owned by the people an equal chance with those undertakings owned by private interests?
These are fair questions. If complaints to the Tribunal about the actions of publicly-owned rail transport are to be permitted, surely users of road transport ought to be permitted to complain to some tribunal or another about the operations of road transport. Let the users complain of unfair road charges. I believe that it should be possible for the Minister and his servants to devise suitable penalties against the road haulier, if the Minister wills it.
A third point which is of some substance is the question of equality of track costs. Rail transport is responsible and will continue to be responsible for maintenance charges on all tracks and signalling. Road transport has been relieved of much of those charges. It does not pay much of the cost of providing the roads and for their maintenance and signals.
§ Mr. Champion
I do not want to give way, for obvious reasons—[Interruption.] A number of hon. Members wish to speak in this debate and it is for that reason that I do not want to lengthen it, not because I fear the argument of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort).
In 1938 one-third of railway receipts went to pay interest and the cost of maintenance on track. That was the extent to which those costs fell on the income of the railways in those days. At the same time, one-eighth of road receipts were applied to the same purpose. I suggest that the Minister ought to look at this subject and do something about relieving the railways of a portion of their track costs so that in that respect they might be on a competitive footing with road transport.
If the Minister and the Government really believe in competition then let them make real competition possible. Do not let us have a fight in which one of 1506 the contestants with one hand tied behind his back opposes an opponent in whose gloves the Minister has placed a nice-sized horseshoe. If there is to be this fight, let it be the sort of fight in which we can say, "Go in and let the best service win, to the benefit of the community as a whole." But I do not believe that competition can possibly solve any transport problem. It was tried for a long time—incidentally, it was quite unfair to the railways—but it did not succeed. It produced the chaos which existed in the years between the two wars.
I have heard of this tale about the grouses of transport men, and all I can say is that if the Minister really wants to find out what road and rail transport men are thinking about this Bill, he had better go and ask them again. If one goes round to people and talks to them, one can always get a grouse from them if they are asked in the right way. We are a nation of grousers. Let the Minister go to them and ask them what they really think about this Bill.
The trade unonists have a warning for the Government. The transport employees, as I understand them, have made up their minds that they are not going back to a position in which competition will take place on their backs. That is the result of the personal experience of men who worked in that industry in the years between the two wars. I know what this competition actually meant. I was a railway signalman doing what I regard as a responsible job for £3 a week. As a result of road-rail competition at its very highest, my wages were reduced to £2 15s. Transport workers were caught between the upper and nether millstones of that competition, and I say that they will never go back to that sort of thing. They will not permit it to happen again.
I think it is right to warn the Government that we are not going to have the Chancellor of the Exchequer confidence trick played on us twice. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my opinion, broke what was an understood bargain between Governments of the day and the trade unions, that, on the one hand, the trade unions would exercise wage restraint and on the other, the Governments of the day would maintain food subsidies in order to keep prices down. What the Government did was to break one side of that bargain and then go to 1507 the Trades Union Congress and say, "Look, boys, in the interests of the nation do try to keep down wage demands," and to the eternal credit of the Trades Union Congress they passed resolutions to that effect and have had a restraining influence on trade unions.
Do not let us have the Minister pushing this Bill through the House of Commons and then, when the railway men and the road transport workers feel the weight of this competition beginning to bring their standard of living down, saying, "Look, boys, in the national interest do not do anything about it." As I understand them, the railway men, at any rate, will not permit the effect of this competition to have the same weight and bearing upon them as in the inter-war years.
The Minister said on 21st May, 1952:But surely the real answer to a problem of this kind is to produce a Bill, which we believe we shall produce, which will commend itself to all wise and moderate opinion in the country, and this no future Governent would be likely to disturb. This, with the help of all concerned and in active association with those most interested, Her Majesty's present Government are resolved to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1952; Vol. 501, c. 478.]I am bound to ask the Minister where is that wise and moderate opinion to which this Bill commends itself? It is extremely difficult to find. It is certainly not in the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. The fact is that the Bill is hated by the trade unions; it is laughed at by every transport expert; it is opposed by the bulk of the road users and rejected by all that wise and moderate opinion which the Minister mentions. The Minister has tried to please his friends by balancing this eel on the end of his nose, and his friends are not amused. I suggest that he drops it back into the slime and mud from which it came.
§ Mr. Fort
On a point of order. From this side of the House we have had one speech of over 20 minutes, apart from the Minister. From the other side of the House we have had a speech of 25 minutes, one before that of 46 minutes and two earlier ones of 30 minutes or so each. Can you advise us, Mr. Speaker, what procedure we can adopt so that our views can be fully heard, in order to 1508 answer the criticisms of the Bill which come from the other side of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
There is nothing I can do about that. Hon. Members must regulate the length of their own speeches. But I hope that what has been said will induce among hon. Members a tendency towards brevity in their utterances.
§ Mr. Manuel
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would draw your attention to the fact that the hon. Member who raised the point of order caused considerable delay by repeated interjections while hon. Members on this side of the House were speaking.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I shall try to be as brief as I can and to compress into a very short time all my feelings in regard to this Bill. I start by thanking the Minister for his accessibility and the courteous way in which he has treated a great many of us who put forward ideas which we hoped might be included in the Bill.
I am very grateful, as I am sure most railway people are, although some of my friends in the brotherhood of railways, notably the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), did not accept, with that grace which I think we should accept, the concessions that the Government have made in order to free railways from the antiquated and ridiculous restrictions from which they have suffered. All those who are interested in transport should feel grateful that a move has been made, no matter what the motives may be.
There is one thing about this Bill which I still feel to be unfortunate. I think we are still talking too much about roads and about railways instead of about transport with a big "T." I am perfectly certain that the Minister of Transport is more than anxious to combine all forms of transport in the most efficient way; but if speakers in this debate keep on dividing the question into rail and road, we shall not give that impression of joint working which is so important.
In dealing with future policy in the regions—I would rather stick to the old term used in the first and displaced Bill 1509 and talk about regions—[An HON. MEMBER: "Railway regions."] No; because I want to bring in all forms of transport. I do not want to emphasise railway regions. I want to get a definite statement from the Government that they recognise, whether it has been carried out by the Socialist Act or whether it has not, that what we want is real transport within the regions and the new organisations; that is to say, we want the co-ordination and integration—dreadful word—which would mean the common working of road and rail.
If we believe in that, why on earth should there be any restriction on the number of road vehicles which the authority in charge of a region consider necessary for improving the transport of their region? We have this assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the railways shall be permitted to have the road transport which they had at the time of nationalisation, plus 20 per cent.; but I see no reason why there should be any restriction. If the general manager—to come back to the old term; and it is not a bad term—who will operate this region, with the assistance of a board or committee, comes to the conclusion that more specialised vehicles are needed to improve the trade of the country, why on earth should he not have them? Why should we put these restrictions in the Bill, if we are keen about transport with a big "T"?
I have had a discussion with the right hon. Gentleman about the next point I want to make. I am one of the few people who believe that there is a great future for helicopters. When I was on the railways, we had what were called railway air services; we took a lot of trouble over them, and I believe we produced a very good service. The service was abolished at the time of the nationalisation of air transport; and we accepted that. But I believe that helicopters will for some time remain the poor sister of aircraft, because those who operate Comets are not terribly interested in helicopters. I therefore suggest that the railways should have permission and power to develop helicopters.
Let us consider the point which was made this afternoon about Scotland. It is quite obvious that, with a terminal point in the West Highlands, it would be of the greatest use to be able to continue 1510 the service by helicopter to the various Western Isles. Why should that not be a power allowed to the Transport Commission to be allocated to the regions or areas, whatever they are to be called?
I fail to see why, in recognising transport with a big "T," we should not include all surface transport—on the water, on the land, and air transport, but limited to helicopters. I expect that many hon. Members will not agree, but I am sure the development of the rotor or helicopter will be more efficiently carried out if it is a carrot in front of the railway and road services when the final jump—
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Has my hon. Friend noticed Clause 24 (1, 1, c)? I think that would give the power he wants.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am delighted to hear it. I am afraid I have not been able to carry in my mind all these subsections of the Bill. On Second Reading we want to establish the principle, and if the Minister will say that my hon. Friend is correct and that helicopters are included, nobody will be more delighted than I shall be. I hope he will put it on record.
The next point I want to make is rather important, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has considered it. When we considered the 1921 Act, I was in the House. I was secretary for the old railways at the time the Act was carried through the House. We had a special committee established of the two railway systems which operated between England and Scotland, to deal with Scottish affairs, for the simple reason that Scottish law is different and Scottish property owning is different; and it was considered impossible to operate unless we had local boards or committees.
I ask the Minister to consider having a review made of the difficulties that arise by maintaining central control and having full local administration as well. I think that in the future system we must retain the British Transport Commission as the central body for controlling finance. That body has also got to have all the negotiations with labour, because that work must be carried out on a national and not a regional basis. I think that is pushing at an open door, for I think everyone agrees with that.
1511 However, the point is that it is very hard to define what are to be the functions of a local board if we are to attract the right people to it, and not give it the full powers of an ordinary board which, in these circumstances, it cannot have. It is a matter which needs to be gone into with very great care. I think it will be found in the end that there will be a general manager and a sort of advisory committee, and this committee will be useful because it will be in touch with local conditions and will enable the British Transport Commission and others so to apply their work that they will function better for the local knowledge so obtained.
There is another thing which I think is rather important. If we are to have local boards in different parts of the country, I hope there will be consideration of the question of not continuing to operate regions only from London, because one of the difficulties we all found after the 1921 Act was that it was very difficult to maintain contact with the great centres of population like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and the rest purely from London.
Another thing is that it handicaps promotion of the men. It is extremely difficult to be able to put one's hand on a rising young man who may be absolutely first class, but who is stuck in the provinces, whereas more consideration is given to somebody who is brought into contact with directors or officials in London. In the railway service and transport services as a whole we have always been able to attract very able young men, and we have and always have had in the transport service of this country some of the best young men, not only men who have worked their way up, but men who have come from the universities and so on, and it is of the greatest importance, whatever may be the changes envisaged in this Bill, to ensure to new entrants equal chances of promotion so that they really can get to the top of the tree.
Another problem I want to speak of is that of the C licence holders. It has been mentioned several times today. I have taken a little trouble to find out about it. I think we have all to realise that there are two classes of C licence holders. There is a certain form of production in 1512 industry which necessitates the movement of goods from one factory to another in the different stages of production. If he is not to have machinery idle it is the business of the manager so to order the material that it is shifted from factory A to factory B, possibly with other material being sent from factory B to somewhere else, so that the machines are not idle. It is a technical point, but it is a legitimate and proper point that industry should always have the control of a certain number of vehicles which are as much a part of a factory plant as a lathe or anything else in a factory.
On the other hand, there are a certain number of people who have gone into transport because they have not got the service they had expected or hoped for, and one of the arguments about this Bill is that we are going to provide an improved service. I hope my hon. Friends will bear with me for a moment in regard to road services, when I say that it has been very difficult indeed in the time that there has been at the disposal of the British Transport Commission to build up its services, and I think it is already beginning to profit by the mistakes that inevitably have been made. One of the things which I think all of us know who are concerned with transport is the importance of having responsibility for goods from start to finish of the journey. At the present moment, under a geographical arrangement, we inevitably do not get that in the way we should.
I therefore hope that it will be recognised by all who are interested in transport that in this Bill there is an opportunity to get a re-establishment of what we used to call "throughout services", which can be operated to the destination to which the goods are carried under one control throughout the journey. That is very important, and one of the reasons why so many people have gone into the C licence business is to ensure that their goods are under the same control from start to finish.
I do not want any politics in this thing, because I frankly think that the transport industry has been bedevilled by politics. The Minister has said that during Committee he will consider constructive Amendments. He will have plenty of constructive Amendments proposed. I assume that all my hon. Friends, with whom I had so many happy years of association when I was on the railways, 1513 are also anxious to seize this opportunity and make this Bill a constructive Measure. The Government must face up to this, and drop a good deal of this Bill, or, rather, re-mould it.
I am very much concerned about the financial side of the Bill, and I think that without some form of inquiry it is impossible to know what will be its financial consequences. Now, I am saying this in all friendliness to Her Majesty's Government. I cannot conceive the need for this violent hurry. The Bill has been brought in, and of its 35 Clauses 21 have some financial consideration attached to them, the remainder being very largely administrative. I know this will not be at all well received by the Whips, but I do not think that it is a good thing at this moment to go forward with the Financial Resolution. The Second Reading of this Bill is important, and it ought to be given, but I beg the Government to realise that what matters far more is that the change-over shall be smoothly carried out.
There is a real danger in trying to sell off these penny packets. I do not believe that the penny packets will be any good. A lot of the large firms which may be willing to buy these vehicles will do so only if they have the time to consider the way in which they will use the vehicles, their condition, all the problems in regard to manning, the garages, the workshops, and all the rest of it, many of which have now been sold and may have to be re-established. There are also all the clearing stations and the points of contact where rail and road are to meet for the interchange of goods. In all these things the Government would do well to listen to the views of those who are interested in the industry.
An inquiry should be set up with no politicians on it at all—they are the last people to put on it—but composed of industrialists, commercial people, and trade union leaders, who would go into this and make a report within six months. I realise that a great deal of expectation has been raised by this Bill, but if the Minister were to extend now the 25-mile limit to 35 miles, and then take time to consider the financial Clauses, I believe he would have a far better Bill.
The other thing I want to say is this. I believe that every right hon. and hon. 1514 Member in this House is equally concerned about the future of the men engaged in transport. That is not a monopoly of one side. I assure hon-Gentlemen that my own feeling is that there has been great uncertainty created. Many men with whom I have worked have written to me, or have been to see me, and they are looking round to find out what their future may be. If we were to have this inquiry into the way in which we should deal with this mass of vehicles—and not only the vehicles but the men who are going to tend them and drive them, which is the human side of it—we should remove once and for all this anxiety, and keep in the transport industry the men whom we cannot afford to lose—because if they go, who are to take their places? I believe that side of the matter is of the very greatest importance.
There is one other little point about which some hon. Members may be better informed than I am. I believe that about 50 per cent. of the lorries that are operating for British Road Services were owned by small people. The difficulty always has been that if we establish rules—so many hours of work, so many hours of rest, relief drivers, and the rest of it—we have always to watch the men who own one or two vehicles and who run them as a family concern. It is very difficult to control them efficiently unless we set up a regular system of supervision. We have that supervision under the present British Road Services, and we are not going to retain that supervision unless we can put up something which will be effective without being extremely harsh.
Finally, there is the question of finance. Many of my hon. Friends have been rising in the House at different times to express their desire for economy to be exercised and for expenditure to be reduced. I believe that this Bill will be an extremely expensive Bill to the Treasury. I think that the unknown liability on the Treasury is going to be very large, or may be very large. Surely one of the best ways of effecting economies at a time of financial stringency like this is not to enter lightheartedly into something which is an unknown liability. I should feel very much happier if there could be this inquiry, which would satisfy all of us who are anxious about the financial position of the country, and also all those who want to see that the men and staff have a fair deal.
1515 I do not know whether my right hon. Friend appreciates that before this Bill was presented a very different situation was in existence with regard to the motor trade. Since this Bill has been presented to Parliament, there has been a tremendous reduction in the export of British cars and lorries. There will now be an increased demand for new vehicles in view of the fewer vehicles for export, and it will be hard on those who have to buy secondhand lorries. A new situation has arisen since the Bill was presented in regard to the motor industry, and on that ground alone I should have thought that it would be worth while reviewing the financial proposals in this Bill.
Finally, I feel, as I suggested on the last occasion when we discussed the White Paper, that we must put an end to transport being the plaything of party politics, because this is really not fair on the men, it is not fair on industry, and I do not think that it is much credit to this House. There are important things which this House should be considering. We have got this Bill with its blemishes and with its advantages—and I give the Minister full marks for making it a better Bill—but it is still not very convincing. I want it to be more convincing.
I believe there is sufficient good will in this House and there is certainly sufficient knowledge, and if we all put our heads together and try to eschew party politics—I am talking to both sides of the House—and put forward constructive proposals, this Bill may be knocked into shape. It would then not take too long to go through and it would be of lasting advantage to the transport industry.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
I hope that the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) will forgive me for not following his line of argument. At the same time, I suggest to the Minister that he would do well to give very serious consideration to the statements and suggestions of the hon. Baronet. Despite the fact that the hon. Member said that he hoped the Bill would have a Second Reading, I could not help feeling that he was damning it with faint praise.
After listening with very great care to the Minister and some of the support-in, speeches, I have been unable to escape 1516 the conclusion that this Bill was conceived in ignorance and born in prejudice. Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer ventured to reprove the Labour Party because the word "confusion" appeared in an Opposition Amendment to the Address. I ask any hon. Member opposite if he can cite anything that would equal the confusion in the mind of the Tory Party on the question of transport.
The Prime Minister has yet to make an accurate statement on this subject. Every time he intervenes he adds to the confusion. I do not complain that he is not too well informed, because no man can know everything, but I very seriously suggest that, in view of his obvious lack of knowledge, he would be well advised to remain silent. The Minister of Transport is also very confused, because in a statement made here on 16th June he informed the House thatpassengers … are really travelling on the backs of the nation's freight charges."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June. 1952 Vol. 502, c. 783.]If that means anything at all, it must mean that passengers should be paying higher fares. If that is so, how can the right hon. Gentleman justify interference by the Government with fares during recent months—fares which have been adjudicated upon by a statutory body? There is only one explanation for that—vote catching.
The White Paper was condemned in every quarter, and this afternoon the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the Minister could not resist the temptation to engage in a little fun about attendances, at certain demonstration meetings. But, if they are going to quote experiences, they ought to quote the whole lot. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that last May, after a conference of 600 people representing more than 90,000 men engaged in the administrative and clerical work of British Transport, we sent him a telegram:Unanimous decision of conference that White Paper ought to be withdrawn and no Bill submitted.But when we asked if he had had it he gave his usual evasive answer.
I wonder where the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. South-West was when we had a demonstration in Central Hall 1517 attended by nearly 3,000 people held simultaneously with a meeting in the Royal Albert Hall? It was my privilege to share the platform with certain gentlemen in Cardiff where we had an attendance of 1,300, and there was a meeting in Friends House, London, with 1,200 people. We could go on quoting examples of demonstrations that there is a tremendous amount of public feeling against this Bill. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to publish an analysis of all the correspondence and protests he has received about this Bill. Let him give the statistics in HANSARD, the number of letters protesting against the Bill and the number he has had in support. I think we would find the evidence would not be very much in his favour.
After the White Paper had been withdrawn, we were expecting something better in the Bill. Everyone accuses Members on this side of the House of being hostile witnesses. Let me read what the "Economist" had to say about it:It seemed inconceivable that the Bill could be as bad"—as the White Paper—but it has been spelled out in a Bill virtually devoid of principles. There is scarcely a single matter in the Bill which suggests that thought has been brought to bear on the realities of transport.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Actually that was the last Bill. I have read a recent issue of the "Economist," which according to the "Tribune" implies that the Labour back benchers had to be kept in their place.
§ Mr. Morris
I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman assumes that when one has made a quotation one has reached the end of one's speech. The right hon. Gentleman gave us this afternoon what he regarded as appropriate quotations. I am doing the same. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. "The Times" was equally critical. I refer hon. Members to the issue of 10th July. And the "Manchester Guardian" described the Bill asvague and, so far as sense can be made of it, thoroughly reactionary.There are a few changes in the second Bill, but they are not of fundamental importance, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested this afternoon.
§ Mr. Morris
The noble Lord will have his opportunity later. Perhaps he will be as big on these matters as he always is.
In view of this wholesale condemnation, why is this Measure brought forward? It has been suggested during the debate that the Bill is an improvement on its predecessor. Let me recall what happened. Despite the fact that the B.T.C. had been in charge for nearly seven years, the White Paper was produced without any consultation, and the first Bill was submitted to the House, and the terms were communicated to the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman the night previously as an act of courtesy. That confirms my point that the Bill was conceived in ignorance.
What has happened since? Despite the fact that right hon. Gentleman and his supporters ignored the experience of the B.T.C., they have now returned to the B.T.C. and asked them to devise a scheme for the abolition of the Railway Executive, and they hope they do it within 12 months. In fact, they will not be able to make a satisfactory job of it if they take 12 years, because the Minister must know that this great national policy has been implemented in a way that has brought untold advantage to the people of this country.
If the Railway Executive is abolished, what is to be put in its place? The suggestion is area boards and a co-ordinating authority for the area boards and local boards. What is wrong with the present method? Why does the Minister not tell the House what happens now under the existing organisation? The Railway Executive hold a meeting fortnightly to which are invited all the chief regional officers, and there is a permanent item on the agenda. Clause A of that item consists of the Chairman of the Railway Executive indicating to the chief regional officers the proposals of the Executive and what they would like the officers to do in the week and month that lie ahead. The regional officers are invited to express their views and to criticise in any way which they think appropriate.
When that part of the item has been dealt with, Clause B of it affords the chief regional officers an opportunity to suggest to the Executive any proposals which they think will be to the advantage of British transport. During the 1519 last three years the chief regional officers have had a greater opportunity to exercise initiative and enterprise than they ever had under private management. And the fruits of that are seen in the success which has attended their efforts.
Can any right hon. or hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest for a moment that the railways have failed the nation during the past five years? I challenge anybody on the other side of the House to disprove the contention that during 1951 British Transport—not only British Railways, but British Transport—reached a higher standard of efficiency than ever before in its history. Apply any technical or statistical test to the fruits of its work during 1951, and they all prove to the advantage of the trade and commerce of this country. The country cannot afford the dislocation which this Bill is bound to bring about. I beg the Government to think twice; to take the advice of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon, and to make it abundantly clear that so long as road and rail transport are working harmoniously and under a co-ordinated system they ought to be allowed to continue to serve British commerce.
It will cost the taxpayer of this country at least £33 million. I am advised that if the hospital services of Wales were put on a proper basis, with adequate and well-equipped buildings, it would require a million pounds for each of the next 20 years. That would be a far more sensible way to spend £20 million than to introduce a detestable Bill of this kind. I commend to the earnest consideration of the Government, that they would do well to withdraw this Bill, and to let the B.T.C. and road haulage continue their work of integrating British transport.
The suggestion is that we might revert to competition. The issue we have to decide tomorrow night is a simple one: are we to engage in co-operation or in competition so far as the transport services of Britain are concerned? We had competition for many years. In 1938, the last year under private enterprise, £200 million of ordinary stock of L.M.S. and L.N.E.R. Railways earned no dividend at all. Three years earlier, in 1935, the Government of the day had raised £39 million at 2½ per cent. and loaned it at that figure to the railway companies in 1520 order to put their house in order. But in 1938 they were in this predicament. Anyone who has any sense of the history of transport at all must know what the experts have admitted, that this separate working is of no use.
I have been waiting to hear of transport authorities who are in favour of this Bill. Let me quote those who have pleaded for co-ordination in previous years. Lord Stamp, President of the L.M.S.; Mr. William Whitelaw, managing director, L.N.E.R.; Sir Eustace Missenden; the noble Lord who is now the Over-Lord of Transport and who told us during the war that he hoped we would never return to these tiny units. Every transport expert of experience in this country has declared that the time has come for a thoroughly co-ordinated and integrated system; and in fact, these people have engaged not only in co-ordinating rail and road transport but in taking full advantage of the waterways of this country.
The hon. Baronet has reminded me of a campaign we had in 1938 to try to secure road and rail under one direction. This Bill calls upon us to make a retrograde step. So much for one phase alone of the railways. But one could speak for a good time of a complementary side, namely, road haulage.
If this Bill is approved it will destroy one of the greatest administrative achievements of this country. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) is entitled to laugh at his own joke. I challenge him to quote a single industry which in four years has been able to achieve an administrative success of this character. The L.N.E.R. took 10 years to implement the Act of 1921, and the L.M.S. took 15. Yet in four years these seven men have been able to devise a scheme to win the co-operation and response of the staff, to ensure the maintenance of regulations and the proper maintenance of vehicles.
They have given this country a service by road which even the British Associated Chambers of Commerce are bound to salute. Indeed, they are divided as to what would be the right thing to do. Instead of being highly amused when I state a categorical truth, the hon. Gentleman should consider what the chambers of commerce have said on this subject.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon pleaded that transport should no longer be bedevilled by politics. As 1521 long as the present Minister of Transport holds office and as long as he is promoting a Bill of this kind transport will be bedevilled by politics. What is the right hon. Gentleman asking for in this Bill? He is asking for more power for himself than any Minister of Transport has ever had except in war-time. If this Bill were passed he would be the virtual dictator of transport. I quote to the House the powers that he is seeking. "Modern Transport" of 4th October said:It is not without interest to consider a significant feature of the present Bill—the overriding powers given to the Minister, powers which would enable him to control and influence even the day-to-day operation of inland transport. He would control the B.T.C., the Licensing Authorities … the levy of goods road transport and the railways, docks and inland waterways. It would be the duty of the Chairman of the B.T.C. to keep him fully informed. … He could, for instance, decide for the Commission what part of its property was being used for goods road transport and ultimately instruct them as to the formation of their road transport limited companies.In fact, he wants to be the fuhrer of British Transport, and we want to deny him that opportunity.
§ Mr. Morris
All his conduct up to now suggests that he would like the job. When he had the opportunity of conferring with Lord Hurcomb he ignored him completely. When he had the opportunity of conferring with the British Transport Commission he treated them with contempt. When he had the opportunity of gleaning something from the experience of the Railway Excutive he would have nothing to do with them. He whispered to Lord Hurcomb what he proposed to do in this Bill.
We had the White Paper, the first Bill and then the second Bill which retained all the evil features of the first. Once more I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make known to the House the volume of opposition and the volume of support for this Measure. I am confident that even though it is only from the trade union movement which, after all, represents the bulk of the ratepayers and taxpayers, he will have sufficient evidence to persuade him that he would be most ill-advised to persist with this Bill. A modern dictator of transport will not help us at all. I ask the House to reject this Bill on its Second Reading.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
The hon. Gentleman put forward a challenge about the efficiency of the railways. Would he like to tell the House how many pounds worth, in value, of Government stores were lost annually before the railways were nationalised and how many were lost afterwards?
§ Mr. Morris
On a point of order. I do not want to reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who put a question to me, but I would say that he knows the answer to it, though, judging from previous experience of his speeches, he is quite ill-informed and does not understand the position.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South
The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) has made his usual facile and partisan attack upon what the party on these benches is intending to do with regard to transport. I have heard the hon. Gentleman in many debates, and, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) apart, he certainly has a record for fast speaking, though I would deny that it was good sense. I propose to deal with some of the things he said.
The hon. Gentleman poured scorn and called my right hon. Friend to account for the fact that he had failed to consult Lord Hurcomb and other members of the British Transport Commission and the leaders of the railways and the road services of the country during the progressive stages leading up to the introduction of this Bill. He said earlier that the White paper had been produced without consultation, and he said that the first Bill had to withstand severe criticism from "The Times" and the "Manchester Guardian," and that now we have a Bill which is very little better than the one we had before.
As regards the consultation technique of my right hon. Friend, either he or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt deal with that point at a later stage, but, so far as my knowledge goes, my right hon. Friend has sought every possible opportunity, since the 1523 White Paper was produced, of consulting Lord Hurcomb and other members of the Transport Commission, and indeed all other kinds of personnel associated with the transport industry.
I cannot for the life of me see what the hon. Gentleman has to complain of in the technique that has been introduced by this Government on our transport proposals. The Labour Party is always priding itself on being able to engender new devices for our Parliamentary democracy, but it has completely failed to observe that the Conservative Party, for its part, has been introducing a novel, most interesting and fair method of political and public discussion in the last six months.
I think it was an excellent thing that a White Paper should have been introduced announcing the Government's general intentions, and that from that moment the Minister should have proceeded to hold an inquiry with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission and other leading elements up and down the country; that then the Government should have introduced the first Bill to test the reactions of Parliament, the Press and public opinion to it, and, finding that there was some opposition—as the hon. Gentleman said there was in "The Times," the "Manchester Guardian," the "Economist" and other papers, and indeed from hon. Members on this side of the House—should then have withdrawn the Bill and introduced a new Bill which met the criticisms and embodied the proposals made.
I would say that such a Bill is in a far better condition to come before Parliament and receive the close and considered reasoning of Parliament than anything which has gone before. I find that a valuable technique in modern times, and I cannot understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite should fail to be uplifted by it.
The hon. Gentleman said that this Bill is going to be extremely costly. What does he want? He complained of the £33 million which it would cost, though he did not say how the figure would be arrived at. I have done a simple sum; I have added up the £30 million which is to be returned to the State and the British Transport Commission stockholders in return for the compensation that they were obliged to pay on the cessation of the businesses when they were 1524 originally nationalised, the £1 million disturbance payment to the Transport Commission as a result of this Bill, leaving a bare £2 million over for contingencies. If that is the only amount of money to be provided, my right hon. Friend cannot be accused of coming to Parliament and to the country for an undue expenditure.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that he challenged the House to find anything equalling the four years' success of the Transport Commission, and, like hon. Gentlemen before him in the debate, he went on to praise the co-ordination of the services and using the blessed word we have heard so long from the Socialist Party—integration, with all its supposed benefits. By way of a beginning to the few remarks I shall inflict on the House, I want to say a word about the theory of integration. The blessed word has failed. The whole theory has failed. Even from the Parliamentary point of view it has failed.
Here was a public service which the Socialist Party has been telling us for decades past was not suitable for competition. They said that it had to be rationalised and brought under the control of the people. That has never been done, never from the start of this gigantic operation. No Committee of Parliament have been called into being to supervise the operation of the Transport Commission, and to that extent the democratic control for which the right hon Gentleman the Member for Lewisham. South (Mr. H. Morrison) and others were always calling in the years after the war has never been exercised.
On the contrary, the 1947 Act set up a monopoly of transport which was a technically irresponsible monopoly. Parliament absolutely failed to control the operation of the Commission at the top level through the director services, and the Consultative Councils underneath failed to control the Commission at the consumer level. I have always thought that the best thing which could be said about the Socialist theory of transport is that the Socialist Party never allowed the managerial revolution in transport to work itself out.
I want to tell the House why that is. First, Section 3 (2) of the 1947 Act imposed on the Commission the duty to allow any person desiring transport of 1525 his goods the freedom to choose the service most suitable to his needs. That very Section of itself defeated the purpose of integration, which anyway is an authoritarian idea as conceived on the benches opposite, though not as conceived on this side of the House. It defeated the idea of integration from the very inception of the scheme, and it presented the Commission from the beginning with a philosophical dilemma and a dichotomy of purpose which has frustrated the activities of the Commission ever since.
Secondly, the treatment of the roads from the very beginning has undermined the rationalised and co-ordinated transport system. For example, the provincial 'buses were never nationalised. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), who is to speak tomorrow, encountered strong local opposition and later came to the House and confessed his failure and disappointment. Then again, on the roads the removal of the C licences from the 1947 Act took as many as 487,000 vehicles out of the control of the Commission at one fell swoop.
Thirdly, there was the question of charges. Surely a comprehensive charges scheme is a major instrument of integration. One cannot achieve integration of any great industry unless one produces a concrete and workable theory on the money side of the concern. That charges scheme has never been introduced. The Socialist Party left office, as is generally admitted, three years before they could have presented the Transport Commission with that particular blessing.
Finally, there is the accumulated deficit of the Commission—£39,500,000, plus the fact that an insufficient sum of money, which amounted in 1951 to £16 million, had been put aside for the replacement of fixed assets at historic cost, and plus the total absence from the Transport Commission account of a general reserve fund. All this has resulted in a financially unsound undertaking, unable to provide modern and attractive services to the public. No wonder that the public has turned more and more to operating its own forms of transport, which is a process of disintegration rather than of integration. Therefore, in the face of all this, the clamour of hon. Members—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am just coming to the end of this section of my speech and I will give way in a moment.
In the face of this confessed failure of the whole theory of rationalisation, co-ordination and integration, how can hon. Members opposite maintain for one moment that in the future they will be able to re-nationalise this great industry and service? Their boastings on this account are idle, and vain and must be so—
§ Mr. Thomas
I thought the noble Lord was going to give way. In developing his argument about the breakdown of co-ordination and integration and all the rest of it, is he visualising that every separate trader very shortly will be running his own railway system?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
It is not quite as bad as that. I thought it was very remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) this afternoon never said a word to recapitulate the generally accepted belief in the party opposite that the transport industry of this country would be re-nationalised when they came into power.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
It would be a pity to leave the noble Lord in a state of doubt or of optimism. I did not say it only because I have said it before, I think twice. In any case, I can assure the noble Lord, if it is any comfort to him, that what I said before still stands firmly as the policy of the Labour Party.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
What the right hon. Gentleman said before is hedged about with every sort of doubt and indicates every sort of difficulty. I have formed the conclusion that for a very long time now the right hon. Gentleman has entertained acute and, from the point of view of his own party, dangerous philosophic doubts about the future of nationalisation.
I concieve it to be the case that, at some stage during the passage of these nationalisation Acts in the last Parliament or two the right hon. Gentleman was awake in the small hours of the morning. Troubled in mind as to what was taking place in the steady concentration of power in the State and in these irresponsible organisations that he had created, he became doubtful about the course he was pursuing. He found himself staring totalitarianism 1527 in the face. It may even be that the ghosts of one or two eminent persons in this field faced him across the end of his bed.
What about Herr Albert Speer, the German Minister of Transport and Armaments, who during the height of the war sent a memorandum to Hitler saying that if the transport industry of Germany was so concentrated and controlled as Hitler intended it to be, it would freeze up on its own course and there would no longer be the swift and efficient carriage of goods?
That is undoubtedly what happened in Germany during the height of the war. The concentration of the transport industry in a few hands in Germany hastened the end of the war. It produced a complete freezing up of the whole transport system. If the right hon. Gentleman did not actually see the visage of Herr Albert Speer in the small hours of the morning, I advise him to go and consult some of the State documents on that matter.
Let us suppose that if the right hon. Gentleman did not even have a vision and recoil from it, at any rate the great British public did have a vision and they did recoil from it. The nation, in October, 1951, not only returned a Conservative Government to power in this country, but they did something very much more vital. They caused the public thinking of this country on the subject of the philosophy of management of great enterprises to pass over a watershed. If any Member opposite doubts this, let him consult some of his hon. Friends who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was telling us this afternoon, have been spending some months writing theses on this subject.
I say without fear of contradiction that there is no more chance of the Labour Party re-nationalising transport or, indeed, any other industry than there would have been a chance for Liberal economists in the 1880's to devise new and extreme forms of laissez faire. The public has reacted violently and permanently from this whole conception of the concentration of power, and is disposed to think of other things.
I want to say one or two things to my right hon. Friend about a few Clauses 1528 in the Bill. The fundamental structure of this Bill is so satisfactory that suggestions to my right hon. Friend do not very easily come to mind. I hope that in the Committee stage he or we may be able to do certain things to improve the Bill in one or two minor particulars.
For example, I am sure there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who would like to see, in Clause 2, a trade unionist appointed to the Road Haulage Disposal Board.
In Clause 10 it would appear to us that the levy is of the same amount and in the same ratio as it was in the old Measure. But my right hon. Friend with great inspiration has removed one of the sources to which the moneys from the fund would be paid. It would appear to me that the coffers of the Transport Fund will in these circumstances fill rather more rapidly than otherwise. If that is the case, I hope that we may be able to make out a case for raising the limit of exemption from the levy from vehicles of one ton to vehicles of 30 cwt.
In Clause 14 the Commission is given six months to prepare a scheme. My right hon. Friend said today that the scheme must be prepared by railwaymen. Of course it must but we should recognise that many of these railwaymen, going right up to the higher personnel of the Commission, are the very people who have prepared these processes of integration. Under the road haulage provisions, my right hon. Friend has rightly appointed a Disposal Board which we hope will be staffed by de-centralists, separatists and people who are not philosophically concerned with integration.
Taking that analogy, we should ensure that something of the same sort is done in preparing a scheme for the reorganisation and de-centralisation of the railways. I can think of nothing better than that my right hon. Friend should introduce himself statutorily in the relevant Clause. I was very glad to hear him say that it would fall to the Government to work with the Commission in preparing the scheme of de-centralisation.
Clause 14 (7) says that the scheme shall… reserve to the Commission general financial control and general control of the charges. …1529 Many of us on this side of the House think that the regions ought to have some latitude in the administration of charges so that they will be able to compete with one another and so that the Commission itself can, through one region or another, initiate local experiments to improve the administration of the railways. The Commission would naturally lay down guiding principles so as to maintain the over-all earning power of the railway services.
Secondly, we have the proposed abolition of equality of charges, undue preference and agreed charges under the 1933 Act. At the present time these have to wait on the publication of a scheme for maximum charges. I am sure that the House and the whole country are so anxious to see the railways step forward on this new lease of liberty which they have gained that they would be very glad to see the whole process much expedited.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Member is talking about competing charges—region against region. I can hardly believe he means that. Does he mean that he would have different wage rates operating among railwaymen and other transport workers—one region against another? What exactly does he mean?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I had not envisaged that it would go as far as differential wage rates in the different regions. I was thinking of variable charges for merchandise and the travelling public, within strict limits.
I would emphasise that this is not primarily a road Bill, it is a railway Bill. The total number of vehicles on the roads is something like 4,500,000, of which one million are commercial vehicles, and this Bill will deal with something between 10,000 and 40,000 vehicles. We do not know what the number will be. The over-all picture is one which will not transform the character of the roads and the character of the services which take place upon the roads. It is an important reform which is being made in the road field, which amply fulfils the pledges which we made at the Election, and it does justice to those men who were compulsorily dispossessed in 1947; but it is primarily a railway Bill and, as such, it seems to me to offer the brightest future for the railways.
It is the biggest opportunity the railways have had since they originally 1530 ploughed their great thoroughfares through our fair countryside 100 years ago or more. For decades past the railways have been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. It is interesting to me to see how much closer the railways have been to the State in past decades than they have been to the people themselves. In many senses the railways have been a State service since they came into being. From the first, the State has been terrified of the monopoly which the railways have exercised or might exercise and has constantly extended to the railways a kind of protective arm, but at the same time forcing them to assume obligations which prevented them from really serving the people as they might have been able to do.
It is the fact that only when the State has had the initiative—that is to say, in war—have the railways really made money and have not only paid their fixed charges but been able to make a surplus beyond that. When private commerce has had the initiative, in peace time, looking right back to the original antimonopoly legislation, the railways have not always lost money but they have never been able to make such a handsome profit as have other institutions in this country.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Because of the fear of the State that they would turn into a monopoly and because of the restrictions which have been imposed upon the railways by the State.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Now we hope we are leaving behind, at any rate for some years, this half-century of wars, of collectivism and of State sanctions, and it seems to me that for the first time the railways can act as a great commercial enterprise, can serve the consumer and can get much closer to the consumer than they have ever got before. They can for the first time do what a combination of 19th century monopoly and 20th century State-ism has never allowed them to do—that is, to charge an economic cost, the cost price, for their services. We are now giving them a setting in the economy parallel to that of shipping, road haulage, civil aviation and any other commercial enterprise.
1531 If the railways expand, as we all hope they will, they will do so from now on by their own inherent virtue, by the zeal and enterprise of their management, and because the travelling public endow them with preferential attention. If, on the other hand, they contract, which we all hope they will not do, it will be because the novel 20th century forms of transport have won the day in the estimation of the public and, like State coaches, like drays, like hansom cabs, they will have to go, in their turn. The iron horse will then follow the carriage horse into oblivion. Nevertheless, I do not think that is the destination of the railways.
I offer, in conclusion, one word of warning to the House. When you confer freedom on anybody you confer on him freedom to rebel against you. I think we ought to recognise that what we are giving to the railways with one hand, tomorrow, we must not try to take away from them with the other hand in succeeding days. If, as I am perfectly certain that they will do, the railways start reducing fares on express line services, we must not entertain complaints from long-distance coach companies and uphold those complaints.
If the railways start, as they may very well do, raising fares on branch lines and stopping services—how much better that is, by the way, than the closing of those branch lines arbitrarily as they have been forced to do hitherto—we must not for our part endorse the complaints of the suburban dwellers of the higher costs of their transport. Parliament must deliberately lose consciousness of railway rates and charges and services, as today we are without consciousness, very largely, of things like the complex market prices of steel, timber, ships, aircraft, cars, and all the services which they find their way into.
I am convinced that a very bright future awaits the railways in this new age. They start today with the finest mechanical road structure that they could possibly have. They do not have to start again from the beginning as their forefathers did. We are—in these debates now—getting rid of the Victorian legal encumbrances which surround the railways. The railwaymen, for their part, must do their best to get rid of the Victorian character of their system.
1532 Nothing is more remarkable than the difference between what one experiences from the artistic point of view, in going to an airport or into a modern ship or in using the road services of the country, and what prevails when one walks into the average railway station, surveys its furniture, converses with its servants: one feels one is walking back into the pages of Dickens.
I believe that very great changes can be made. I believe that the railways in this new age will engage the services of enterprising men and women of character and distinction. I believe that this Bill is a noble piece of Conservative architecture that greatly redounds to the credit of our first post-war Government.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
In listening to the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), I understood fully why he had been chosen to close the first day's debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. I think he was a little more orthodox—he has toed the party line a little better—on this policy than on some recent occasions, some of which got him into trouble with his local Conservative Association. I therefore congratulate him on this particular working of his passage back, and I hope it puts him right with his local association.
I have been listening to all the speeches made on the other side in today's debate in the hope of finding out some convincing argument why this Bill should be introduced and hurried through, and evidence as to where the 1947 Act has failed. The best speech from the other side was that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), and I do trust that the Minister, who today paid tribute to the railway directors of the past, will take the advice of this former railway director and will drop a great deal of this Bill, as he advised him to do. He suggested to the Minister that it would be better if there were, even at this late stage, a public inquiry, and that no further action should be taken until such an inquiry had taken place.
What are the arguments which have been put forward today in favour of this Bill? In the first place the Minister early in his speech this afternoon argued that this Bill would help the economic situation of the country. The hon. Member 1533 for Darlington (Sir F. Graham) said that the country was near bankruptcy and that drastic action had to be taken, and therefore he supported this Bill. I find it very difficult to see how this Bill, which is going to disrupt the transport system of this country, can in any way assist the country to increase productivity or lower its costs of production, which are the needs of the present situation.
After all, transport does not produce goods; it carries them, and to increase competition only leads to wasteful employment of manpower and wasteful consumption of fuel and other materials, inasmuch as there is provision of excessive transport facilities. In this way it is harmful to the economy of the country.
The main argument put forward from the benches opposite, and particularly by the Minister, has been that the 1947 Act failed to achieve integration and that it would not be achieved under that Act. I suggest to the Minister that quite clearly before there could be complete integration of all forms of transport there had to be integration within each form, and that when the 1947 Act passed through this House it provided in the first place for the integration of the four main-line railway companies. During the last few years since the Act came into being, there has been a most successful unification of the railways of this country.
Every statistic which has been published by the British Transport Commission in its Reports and in its monthly transport statistics shows improved efficiency of the railway system, greater economy, greater utilisation of equipment, loading to greater capacity, increased speed of operation and a general improvement in operations.
After only five years of operation the unified transport system is carrying more goods and passengers more efficiently and more economically, with less rolling stock and less staff, but with improved working conditions. If proof is needed of the success of the unification of the railway system—which it is clear from the Minister's speech he proposes to bring to an end—all we have to do is to look at the accounts of the British Transport Commission and the figures they have published showing that their costs have gone up far more than the fares and charges and that the gap between them has been 1534 made up by economies and the greater efficiency which has been achieved.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member will recollect that the Commission themselves stated that one of the principal reasons why that gap existed was that they did not provide for the renewal of the undertaking on the same basis as pre-war. He will find all the causes set out in Paragraph 53 of the Report.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, I, too, have read the Report, but there are given several other reasons for the closing of the gap, and the fact remains that at present the railways are making economies at the rate of £15 million a year through standardisation and increased efficiency.
The Minister argued that there had been no integration of the transport system of this country following the 1947 Act, but within this short time there have been a great number of measures taken which have brought about some integration and which would lead to far greater integration of the road and rail services of this country. The feeder services of the railways to railheads by road have been greatly enlarged, the area of operation has been extended, trunking services have been established whereby goods have been put on rail which were previously carried by road and, on cross-country runs, goods which were previously carried by rail have been put on the roads. But for the change of Government and interference by this Government in the operation of the Transport Commission, a great deal more would have been done. They had just reached the point where a complete integrated parcel system throughout the country was ready to be brought into operation, and for much else to be done.
I would ask the Minister how this Bill can bring about greater integration of the transport system of the country? He blames us for not having achieved a greater measure of integration, but introduces a Bill to disintegrate the transport system of this country. I think some of the remarks of the hon. Baronet today confirmed that, for instance when he attacked the Minister for not leaving the railways free to operate as much road haulage as they considered necessary.
Look at the integration which has taken place within the road transport industry itself. I do not want to take up the time 1535 of the House in going into the story of the build-up of British Road Services throughout the country, but I do say that the Minister has had the opportunity of visiting the British Road Service, and I would like to know to what extent he has taken the opportunity to do so. I do not think he has made a very wide tour of the directional services and the depots. I would also like to know how many hon. Members opposite took advantage of the offer made by the Road Haulage Executive for them to visit British Road Services depots during the Recess to see for themselves exactly what was being done.
The Minister produces the usual argument about C licences, and other hon Members have reiterated that the growth of C licences is evidence of the failure of British Road Services to provide those services which industry requires. I do not know if the Minister has had time to read the "Manchester Guardian" today, but on the back page he will find the facts admirably set out. I opposed the dropping of the control of C licences from the 1947 Act. But I would remind hon. Members opposite that it was they who fought for the exclusion of retrictions on C licences, and it is they who now say, "Look, your C licences have increased, and that is one of the reasons why the British Transport Commission is not succeeding."
Apart from the mistaken anticipation that adequate services would not be provided, apart from political prejudice, no doubt partly responsible for the initial increase in these C licences, the effective increase took place before 1949: and it was only in 1949 that the first compulsory acquisition of British Road Services took place. Prior to that it was only the railway road haulage which had come over to the British Transport Commission. The greatest increase in C licences took place between 1946 and 1948.
I will give figures to the House. During 1947 there was a monthly average increase of 8,600, and practically the same increase in 1948. In 1949 the rate of increase began to fall. It fell from 6,815 in 1949 to 5,064 in 1950. In the first quarter of 1952, when British Road Services was operating a nation-wide service efficiently and effectively, it had 1536 fallen to 4,175; and in the second quarter of 1952 to 3,733. So it is quite clear that the rate of increase of C licences has been substantially falling. I think that is evidence that industry is not now rushing to provide its own transport, but is beginning to realise the value of British Road Services and is making increased use of them.
The Minister, dealing with the Road Haulage Executive, said that last year's working surplus of £3,200,000—earned by the Road Haulage Executive services—must have been very substantially less than the profits made by the concerns which were acquired. He suggested that about £10 million were made in profits in the previous years by the undertakings subsequently acquired.
I am not sure how he worked out that figure or where he got it from, but I believe that was the figure he gave.
We all know how those profits were made by the concerns which we acquired. We know that frequently they were operating outside the law, that their road services did not abide by the legal obligations imposed upon them as regards the working hours of the drivers employed, the maintenance of the vehicles, road safety and speed. But, apart from that, the profits of the pre-acquisition companies were based on a period of peak road traffic. Since that time there has been a re-deployment of traffic, especially that flowing from the docks.
The years taken when assessing the profits of those companies for compensation were years when the docks of the East Coast were partly out of commission. As a consequence, there was far more road haulage. But the main reason why there has been a fall is because the Road Haulage Executive has operated during a period of very large wage increases, and when there have been two rises in the petrol duty. Above all, it is because they have kept within the law, which is something which the previous operators did not always do.
The Minister also referred to the fact that the tonnage now being carried by the Road Haulage Executive had fallen substantially during the current year. Surely, he is aware of the recession which has taken place during the last few months. Does he not recall that the Minister of Labour in this House the other day said that 20 per cent. of dock 1537 labour was not being utilised at present? Figures have been given of the number of ships laid up and of the fall in unloadings and loadings at the docks.
The dock traffic makes a considerable contribution to the traffics which are carried, but there are two other reasons why there has been a fall. One is because of the dislocation, the uncertainty and insecurity which has been caused by the transport policy of the Government. How can the Minister expect an undertaking of the size and quality of the Road Haulage Executive to be unaffected by the uncertainty which the Government's transport policy has created? The second reason is the very large evasion which is taking place at present not only by C licensees operating on the hiring margin and carrying for hire and reward, but in many other ways—evasions which the Government have made no attempt to control.
The main argument put forward by hon. Members opposite is that competition would provide a better service than monopoly. There seems to be some confusion here. I remember the Prime Minister himself, speaking at Woodford not long ago, going out of his way to point out that there was no monopoly of transport, because all this fuss about the Bill was only about 40,000 vehicles. He said that there were about one million vehicles operating and that we were only concerned about 40,000. He said that there was no monopoly. He then quoted the number of C licence holders and showed how many people were able to operate their transport. Therefore, he said, there was no monopoly.
The competitive argument—the argument that competition will provide a better and more efficient service—is surely based on a fallacy, which so many hon. Members opposite seem to share. They consider that competition is desirable and that it will provide a cheaper, more efficient and better service, but we cannot have free and equal competition between road and rail, and this Bill does not provide for such free and equal competition because it cannot do so.
The Bill denies the public sector, that is, the railways, what it grants to the private sector, that is, the road hauliers. There are certain factors which can never, in my view, be fair and equal. We cannot abolish the common carrier obligation on the railways, and it is necessary for 1538 the railways to publish their maximum charges; but if the railways have to publish their charges, I can see no reason why the road hauliers should not be called upon equally to publish their charges. Secrecy is undesirable in these matters, and what is necessary for the railways is equally necessary for the road hauliers.
The main differences, of course, between road and rail which are provided in the Bill are the two conditions to which the Minister himself referred this afternoon. The first is that the road hauliers can appeal to the Transport Tribunal against the rates being charged by the railways on the ground that the Commission has charged less than cost to eliminate competition; but the railways cannot appeal against the road hauliers where they are undercutting them and endeavouring to get their traffics unfairly.
As Sir Eustace Missenden pointed out in the "Daily Telegraph" this morning, this is an "iniquitous provision," as he calls it. I really think that this is the most blatant, hypocritical and cynical Clause to be introduced by those who set themselves up as the supporters of free and fair competition. In effect, the Government are saying that they want competition, but, to the road hauliers, they are saying, "Go ahead and compete cut the throats of the railways, clutter up the roads with an excess of vehicles and an excess of transport facilities, skim the cream of the railway traffic and carry the profitable traffics, leaving the unremunerative to the railways, as they are common carriers. But if the railways dare to compete with you by cutting their charges where competition is greatest, then we will stop them from doing so; we will come in and protect you." What is good business and honourable for road hauliers becomes bad business and dishonourable for the railways. That is the attitude which the Government are taking, and that is not free and fair competition, because there cannot be free and fair competition in such circumstances.
The second condition to which the Minister referred is that traders themselves can appeal against railway charges made for traffics which reasonably cannot be carried otherwise than by the railways, if they consider them unreasonable, and they can compel disclosure of the 1539 rates and insist on the rates being increased. Here again the traders have the right to appeal against the railway charges, but no right of appeal is given against the charges made by the road hauliers. Surely, this is an unfair and unequal basis on which to fix charges?
The Minister said that it was quite impracticable to apply these provisions to road haulage. I do not see his basis for that argument. All he said was, "Do not try to burden road haulage with disadvantages which the railways previously suffered." He admits they are disadvantages to the railways. Yet he is keeping the burdens on the railways but he is not going to burden road haulage, because the railways are the public sector and road haulage is the private sector. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I took down the Minister's words. He also said that it is clearly impossible to put the burden on road haulage. If it is impossible to put the burden on road haulage, why put the burden on the railways?
The next disadvantage under which the railways will suffer is the one to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon referred. The railways are to be limited to six-fifths of the road haulage which they had at the time of nationalisation. Surely that is taking us back beyond the 1928 Act. In 1928 power was given to the railways to enter the road haulage and road passenger business, and it was left to them to decide how much it was necessary to have so that they could undertake an integrated system and enter into competition with road haulage and road passenger undertakings. But here the right of the railways to determine how much it is advantageous to them to put on to the roads is taken away from them as regards both road haulage and, in another part of the Bill, road passengers.
§ Mr. Davies
After listening to the Minister this afternoon, I think we still need a lot more information from him in 1540 regard to the effects of the Bill. He has not told us how an adequate and comprehensive road haulage or road passenger service is to be maintained. The road haulage units are to be sold off without obligation to operate the same services or to operate in the same area in which they are operating now. That seems to me to mean that there is no guarantee that we shall have a national service.
There is a danger that those who buy the units, although they may operate from the same centre or base, will not serve sparsely populated areas and will not give the services which are now being given by the British Road Services. They will operate the remunerative services, skimming the cream of the traffic, and leave the unremunerative services unprovided for, or, if that is not the case and it is accepted that these services have to be maintained, will they be left to the British Road Services?
The Minister has not told us what is to happen if all the vehicles and the property of the Road Haulage Executive is not disposed of. We want to know—we have asked it in previous debates—what will happen to the rump, to that section of the Road Haulage Executive's property which is not sold off. Does it mean that the services will not be operated, or does it mean that the Road Haulage Executive, and, through it, the Commission, will be left with the bad services, the bad areas and the unremunerative services? That is something that we want to know from the Minister who speaks tomorrow.
We have not been told nearly enough about the railway reorganisation scheme. Is it to be a company system again? From the Bill and from the remarks which were made by the Minister this afternoon, it appears that it is to be. He regretted the disappearance of the railway directors. With all due respect to the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon, whom we all respect, a great number of railway directors were not doing a full-time job. They had quite a number of other directorships beside those of the railways. The record of the British railways before the war and the state in which the railways were left when they came to be nationalised do not show that under private enterprise they were serving this country as well as the Minister implied or were so modern and up-to-date that we could be proud of them.
1541 Nothing that I have heard today changes my view that the net result of this Bill will be anything other than to provide a worse transport service at a higher cost. The British Transport Commission will be left with the London Transport Executive, which at the present time appears to be operating at a loss and in respect of which obviously a request is going to be made for an increase in fares. They will be left with the inland waterways and docks and harbours which have been operating at a loss, and with the railways which are to lose traffic to the roads and which are to be hampered by unequal competition.
Presumably the British Transport Commission will be left also with that section of the Road Haulage Executive which is not sold off, that is the unremunerative services. The British Transport Commission will lose the contribution which it now receives into its financial pool from road haulage and from road passenger transport which, presumably, is to be disposed of. At any rate, power to dispose of road passenger transport is given to the Minister in the Bill.
I ask the Minister how the British Transport Commission can pay its way if this Bill goes through and how the loss that it is bound to suffer can be made up. Either there will have to be higher fares and charges, or a Government subsidy. Or perhaps there will have to be the removal of that millstone which hangs round the neck of the British Transport Commission to which the Prime Minister referred the other day. He got the figures a little wrong, but the millstone does exist, the millstone created by the necessary compensation—compensation which we have been far greater and a millstone 1542 which would have been far larger if right hon. Gentlemen now sitting on the Front Bench opposite had had their way during our discussions on the 1947 Transport Act.
This retrograde Bill will prove quite unworkable. It is a muddled hotchpotch of confused thinking and party prejudice; converted into contradictory proposals with incompatible objectives. It should be rejected by the House. If it is not, when Labour returns to power, as it will, it will recreate an integrated publicly owned transport system and in the process, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, it will see that no one is compensated twice.
No one favours this Bill. The transport industry does not favour it. The workers of the industry certainly are opposed to it. There is no public clamour for it. I suggest to members of the Government that there are no votes in it either. By pursuing this Bill and forcing it through the House in a hurry they are serving the country ill, because industry will suffer from having a disintegrated and worse transport service at a higher cost. I suggest that the Government should take the advice of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon and should drop the Bill, or at least postpone it until there has been constructive thought given to it instead of presenting to this House its muddled and confused proposals.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Butcher.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Butcher.]