HC Deb 04 February 1953 vol 510 cc1865-987


As amended, considered.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

On a point of order. I would call attention to the fact that the Guillotine falls at 5 o'clock and that, through nobody's fault, we have now spent 55 minutes of the time allotted to us. Has the Minister any proposals to make so that we can have a proper discussion of what lies ahead of us?

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

Who wasted the time?

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Subject to correction, I do not think that I am in a position to make any suggestion. The House has agreed to the recommendations of the Business Committee and we are now bound by the Time-table. I was very anxious that there should be proper time for discussion of the new Clause of the Liberal Party and I am sorry, as is everybody else, that time has been cut short; but the tragedies which have happened in the last few days could not have been anticipated when the Committee were drawing up the suggested Time-table and the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) has taken up quite a lot of time in the last hour.

Mr. Callaghan

What the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) does has nothing to do with the Guillotine Motion. It is the Guillotine which is responsible for this situation. The Leader of the House left the Chamber because he knew that I was going to raise this point. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey to him our strong protest that a matter of this sort should be left in this position.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order to make an imputation of that kind against my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Speaker

Order. These imputations should not be made. The hon. Member should not impute to the right hon. Member the Leader of the House the motive of leaving the House because he knew a question was going to be raised. That was going rather too far.

Hon. Members


Mr. Callaghan

I withdraw any imputation against the Leader of the House. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister of Transport will convey to him the situation in which the House is placed by the operation of this very harsh Guillotine Motion.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

On a point of order. You have just admonished my hon. Friend, Mr. Speaker, because he made an imputation. Will you now be good enough to admonish the Minister of Transport for making an imputation against my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) when he was concerned with a matter which you had ruled yesterday was a grave matter of public importance? It is imputed against him that he deliberately delayed the business of the House. It seems to me that if this tragedy is to be used for imputations to be bandied about across the Floor of the House you should, in the spirit of what you said yesterday—of not using a grave public emergency for political ends—equally censure the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport. I hope that he will have the grace to withdraw.

Mr. Speaker

I heard what the Minister of Transport said. He confined himself to saying that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) had taken up some time. I do not think he imputed any improper motive to the hon. Member, He merely stated that his question, which he felt bound to raise, did occupy a certain amount of time. I have done my best to expedite business this afternoon, but the circumstances have been very unusual. We are bound by the Order of the House and I do not think we should waste any more time. If hon. Members can agree with me about that we may be able to get on.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. Having regard to what my hon. Friend has said and to the circumstances in which the House finds itself, whereby two-thirds of the time allotted for this debate has been taken up by some other matter—through nobody's fault—is there any way in which the House could now resolve to give itself the time which was contemplated by the original Business Motion?

Mr. Speaker

The House is bound by its own Order.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I am not rising to a point of order, but raising my voice in appeal to the Minister. He is fully aware of the feeling which exists about this Measure. The business of the House was arranged long before the unexpected disaster, questions on which have occupied the time of the House. May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to extend the time for discussions upon the Report stage of the Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If we have the will surely we can find a way. It depends absolutely upon the Minister of Transport and the Government Front Bench to concede the point we are making.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the hon. Member has addressed himself directly to me, may I reply? All I can say is that, as you have just ruled, Mr. Speaker, we are bound by the Order of the House. In Committee nearly two hours was spent talking about the Guillotine and I think it would be a great pity if we had the same kind of thing again on the Report stage.

4.30 p.m.

New Clause.—(LONDON PASSENGER TRANSPORT BOARD.) All property in the possession of the London Transport Executive under the scheme of delegation from the British Transport Commission shall be transferred to a body corporate to be known as the London Passenger Transport Board. The London Passenger Transport Board shall be composed of a chairman and not less than four nor more than eight members, to be appointed by the Minister. The chairman and such other members as the Minister thinks fit shall be required to give full-time service to the board. The London Passenger Transport Board shall not constitute part of the undertaking of the British Transport Commission. The transfer shall provide inter alia for payment by the London Passenger Transport Board of interest and sinking fund payments in respect of an appropriate proportion of the outstanding amount of British Transport Stock in such proportion as may be there specified.—[Mr. Holt.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

As time is short and as this subject is very topical, so that a number of hon. Members would like to say a few words about it before the Guillotine falls at 5 o'clock, and as there is another Clause to discuss, too, before that time, I propose to keep my remarks as brief as possible. I was allowed to discuss this subject in Committee when I moved a paving Amendment to it, and the arguments which I then used in support of the new Clause can be read in HANSARD of 18th December by anybody who wishes to do so.

I would draw attention to the fact that, after the Parliamentary Secretary had spoken on that occasion, as well as the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and an hon. Member opposite, I was still confirmed in my view that, no matter what arguments could be advanced for saying that the present organisation for London Transport can be greatly improved, the question will never be solved until the London Passenger Transport Executive is a separate statutory body. I still maintain that view. Everything which has happened since, and all the concern which has been expressed by many people since then about the proposed fare increases in London, goes to show that this problem will never be adequately and finally solved until the London passenger transport authority is a separate statutory body.

I would draw attention to a Motion on the Order Paper asking for an inquiry into London Transport. [That, in view of the repeated increases in fares and the threatened addition to the already heavy burden of transport charges borne by all the travelling public throughout Greater London, this House calls for a searching and impartial inquiry into the whole administration and operation of the London Transport system.] I also call attention to another Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) to Clause 18, page 26, line 23. The hon. Lady is apparently not in her place at the moment.

I suggest that this problem will not be solved until the London authority is a separate authority, and I cannot for the life of me see why any one associated with London Transport should object to London being left to stand on its own feet. After all, in effect, it is a huge municipal transport undertaking. When transport was nationalised, the national authority did not take over the transport of the cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh, and there is no reason why London transport should be dealt with other than on a city basis, even though it is a very large city.

On the last occasion, the hon. Member for Enfield made some comments on this matter, and I was surprised to hear him supported by the Parliamentary Secretary, who must have been badly briefed on the subject and who said that if London Transport were separated again it would interfere with good liaison. I challenge both those hon. Gentlemen to state exactly what liaison machinery exists between the London Transport Executive and the Railway Executive and to state in what way that liaison machinery is any better, either on paper or in action, than the standing joint committee which was established under the London Passenger Transport Board.

Turning to the financial position, although we may do away with the functional set up of the London Transport Executive under the reorganisation scheme, and although we may put back a general manager to co-ordinate and also to curtail some of the activities of the technicians, who at the moment, from all sound and sensible reports, are literally running wild in London—and I think it would probably be most desirable to put back a general manager—we should still have a position in which the final financial responsibility was pushed upstairs to the Transport Commission.

It is well known that the financial results of the London Transport Executive have deteriorated. In 1948, they had a surplus of £5.8 million; in 1949, £3.7 million; in 1950, £1.7 million; and, in 1951, a deficit of £1.6 million. In 1951, there was even a deficit on the buses. Everybody to whom I have spoken, and who understands and has long experience of the transport world, says that it has always been considered that, no matter who runs London transport, they cannot make a loss on the buses; so that the London Transport Executive have succeeded in doing something which nobody else has ever done.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the cost of petrol and oil has risen considerably and that that has something to do with these figures?

Mr. Holt

That is all very well, but if the hon. Member has in mind the increase in the petrol duty in the last Budget, I would point out that this deficit of £1.6 million occurred in 1951. Many transport undertakings in the country continued to make profits in 1951. I know that many of them have been very heavily embarrassed since the 1952 Budget, but we are now talking about the years up to 1951, and by 1951 the London Transport authority had succeeded in making a large deficit on the London buses.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer on this problem, because I believe other hon. Members will wish to comment upon it, but I say emphatically that it will not be solved and that it will be a constant political problem for whatever Government are in power to deal with the concern of the public whenever increases in fares are proposed for London. It is no solution to say that London passenger transport must bear the same proportions of the overheads as passenger transport in the rest of the country, because it is technically impossible to say just what proportion from the passenger transport in the rest of the country on the railways is going to the central fund, because we cannot really divide the passenger receipts from the freight receipts. So the argument can go on, and it will be a thorn in the side of any Government that has to deal with it.

I say, finally, as I have said before, there may be at different times some reason for the Government's subsidising a particular part of the country that is distressed, but there can be no logical ground whatever for any part of the country subsidising London transport. This huge city, with so many people, with a very high rate of turnover, a high rate of passenger miles, ought to be able to provide the cheapest and most efficient transport system in the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "It does."] Why, then, cannot it stand on its own feet? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This is nonsense. It is no good to talk about efficiency unless we make both ends meet.

Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)


Mr. Holt

No, I cannot give way. I must sit down in a minute. There are others who want to participate. The point must be driven home. It is no use talking about technical efficiency unless we can make both ends meet, and that is the urgent necessity which is required in London transport.

Mr. Morris

Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, may I ask him this question? Will he not agree—and I think he is bound to—that the costs of London transport are 130 per cent. over those of pre-war days, while the increase in charges on London transport amounts to 84 per cent.? With all his business experience, how can he expect London transport to be a paying concern if charges are not allowed of more than 84 per cent. to meet additional costs of 130 per cent.?

Mr. Holt

I shall not answer that in full because there are so many figures involved in this matter that one can examine and discuss for a long time, but I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that all of the figures he has quoted are irrelevant without taking into consideration that there has been an increase of 60 per cent. in the volume of transport traffic over the country as a whole since before the war, and that should have allowed for a great increase in efficiency, both in London and the rest of the country.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I beg to second the Motion.

I want to say only a very few words in support of what my hon. Friend has said about the necessity for London to stand on its own feet. It has been suggested on previous occasions that the rest of the country should be privileged to give some assistance to the capital of the Empire. I want only to say that this is a privilege which we must, with regret, I think, refuse. It is one of the richest cities in the country and ought to be able to afford to pay its own way. As my hon. Friend said, there may be a case for assistance to certain areas which have difficult transport problems, but we do not think that London is such an area.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

It is very regrettable that we have such a very short time, owing to the falling of the Guillotine, in which to discuss this very important problem of London transport. I fully appreciate the reason why the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has moved this new Clause. It is completely consistent with the general line which the Liberals have taken throughout our debates on this Bill, revealing, as they do, that they do not believe in any form of integration or control of transport. I do not think that they have made out a single argument why we should revert to the position which prevailed before the 1947 Act and re-create the London Passenger Transport Board as a separate entity.

4.45 p.m.

There have been certain advantages, I think, which have resulted from the absorption of the old L.P.T.B. into the Transport Commission. In particular, it has made it easier for the integration of the surbuban railways in the Metropolis and its environment with the services of London Transport. It is quite impossible to consider the problem of London transport without taking that of the suburban lines and London transport itself together. Whereas, before the creation of the London Transport Executive, there was a pooling arrangement between the suburban lines and the L.P.T.B.—it was all based on rather rough justice—there was no real coordination of charges before the 1947 Act, which required a charges scheme to be brought in, and which has enabled the railway charges on the suburban lines and the charges on London transport to be brought to a common level.

This has made a considerable difference in the evening out of the use of the facilities which are available. I remember in an Adjournment debate, shortly after the 1947 Act came in, raising the question of transport facilities between my own constituency and London, and I pointed out the little use that was then made of the suburban lines because of the higher charges which were prevailing on them, compared with those on London transport. Under the charges scheme which has been introduced there has been an evening out of the charges for the use of the facilities, and their use has as a consequence been much more even; and that is a considerable benefit which has resulted from the Act. In other words, the load, which is a very heavy load, which is carried in London is far more equally spread today over the available facilities than it was. There has been a number of other advantages which have come about—the use of common services, and the like.

But, having said that, I would add that the purpose of the Clause, as I understand it, is to prevent London from carrying too heavy a burden of the finances of the Transport Commission. Here there is no doubt, in my view, and, I think, in that of all those who represent the area served by London Transport, that London has been called upon to carry a disproportionate burden of the finances of the Transport Commission. It has been placed upon it by the increasing share which London pays to the Commission's funds out of proportion to the share which is paid by the railways outside of London. Figures which have been given in this House have proved that from time to time.

The figures for 1951 which the Minister gave last June showed that, whereas London was contributing some £6 million to the central charges the railways outside of London were making no contribution to the central charges whatever, They were not even paying their full share of common working expenses.

I asked the Minister for more up-to-date figures, and he preferred to withhold the information. I should have thought it would have been possible to give estimates today, more convincing than those figures, as to the amount of additional fares which Londoners are paying today, compared with the additional amount being paid by the travellers on the rest of the railway system in the country, when the increase which took place last year and the proposed increase which is now before the Tribunal are taken into account.

In 1952, the increase resulted in London paying £11¼ million more in a full year. The present increase is about £6 million, making £17¼ million. Outside London, in 1952 the increase was only £4 million. Freight charges have gone up since by £12 million, and under the latest passenger scheme only £500,000 is to fall on the shoulders of travellers outside London. So by these two schemes, whereas London is called upon to contribute £17¼ million additionally to the Transport Commission, travellers and shippers of freight outside of London are called upon to contribute only an additional £16½ million.

Mr. Holt

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that with the statement of the chairman of the London Transport Executive, Lord Latham, writing to "The Times" on 11th November last: It follows that passengers who use London Transport services are still paying less, not more, than the cost of providing those services"?

Mr. Davies

That is perfectly true. My argument is that it is necessary to increase fares today, for the Commission at this time is not breaking even. But in putting up those fares it does not put them up sufficiently in the rest of the country to assist the finances of the Commission and enable them to pay their way. Instead they put up the charges in London more than in the rest of the country. Even with the present increase it is quite possible, in my view, that London Transport will still have a deficit.

The trouble at present is that, because of the policy of the Government, London Transport and the Transport Commission are unable to pay their way and to break even. That is evident from the action which the Government took in putting up the fuel tax last year, in increasing the Bank rate and therefore leaving the Transport Commission with an additional charge of £4 million in interest and by their general budgetary policy. Those are the reasons why the Commission are in difficulties and why it has been necessary to put up fares and in putting up fares London is being badly treated compared with the rest of the country.

I know that the Minister wants to speak, but if his head falls under his own Guillotine that is not our fault. In my view, the proposal the Liberals have put forward would not solve the problem which concerns London today. Nor would the Bill solve it. There is every likelihood that as a result of the proposals we now have before us the finances of the Commission will deteriorate and the position of the traveller in London will become worse.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset. South)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Davies

I know that the noble Lord does not agree and it is regrettable if the Guillotine prevents him from expressing his view.

My argument is that the overheads of the Commission and the central charges will not fall proportionately to the loss of their traffic which will result by the amputation of certain of their present services, notably in road haulage. Since London makes a contribution to central charges its share is likely to become correspondingly higher as a result of the action which the Minister is taking in this Bill. There is bound to be a further worsening of the financial position of London Transport, but that worsened position will not be met by the proposals before us. It would only be met if the proposals in this Bill were dropped.

The passenger fares scheme is unfair to London, but I do not think that the advantages which would accrue through a segregation of London Transport from the Commission would in any way outweigh the disadvantages which would arise. The main disadvantages would be the loss of integration which takes place between the services of London Transport and of the suburban lines, the common level of fares and general integration. I therefore hope that the Minister will reject this new Clause.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Before I comment on the speeches which have been made I know that the whole House would like me to say with what regret his friends on both sides of the House heard during the Recess of the death of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies). When I was Minister of State for Colonial Affairs I knew of his keen colonial interest. Indeed, he was on a colonial mission when his death, unfortunately, happened. When I came to the Ministry of Transport I found the value of the advice of this distinguished former railwayman of the old L.M.S. system and, as he said during our Committee stage a few weeks ago: Our great anxiety is to make sure that in the political struggle which is going on over this matter the nation should not suffer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1604.] I am sure that this thought guided him through all the far too few years he spent in this House. I thought it right to take this first opportunity of making these comments about a very respected hon. Member.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

This is not a debate on London fares and I hope that no Londoner will think that it was meant to be and that it has been prevented from being so by the operation of the Guillotine. Indeed, if the new Clause in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) had been called—[Amendment of Section 79 of Transport Act, 1947]—I would have been in some difficulty, because I am advised that London County Council have applied, under the interlocutory procedure, to ask why the Commission have applied for a new charges scheme under Sections 76 and 77 of the Transport Act rather than under Section 79, which would have forced some months' postponement.

I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) that the difficulties in which the London Executive have been placed are in any way caused by the Transport Bill now before Parliament. The increase in costs which has made a new application inevitable—and I am making no comment on the merits of that application which must be a matter for the Tribunal—are quite inevitable. It always strikes me as being strange that hon. Members refer to increases in costs, but never refer to the very substantial—indeed, the largest—item, the increase in wages which has made them necessary. They have added £3 million, nearly double what the fuel tax has added and that, I agree, is high enough.

I do not propose to be drawn into the argument of the proportionate allocation to central or other charges paid by the London traveller or by freight outside London and by passengers outside London due either to the operation of common services or the discharge of common central obligations. I regret to say that although, when I answered the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) on 23rd June last year, I said that London Transport passengers were making some contribution towards central charges that is now no longer so, as emerges from the statement of the Chairman of the London Transport Executive.

The purpose of the new Clause, as the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) made quite clear, is to give full financial authority for charges to the London Transport Board, as it would be, separate from the main body of the Transport Commission's activities. It is the view of the Government that the system of co-ordinating fares in the London area which has resulted from the London Passenger Charges Scheme, 1950, and the Charges Scheme of last year has brought some advantages. Before nationalisation the old L.P.T.B. and the mainline railways had different bases of fares, whereas their services were often alternative and complementary. In our view, if full separation were now brought about there would be far greater possibility, indeed the certainty, of variations in the fares charged in the London area.

I know that the hon. Member feels that separation of the old London Passenger Transport Board might well bring about a rise in fares in London, but this ought to be faced squarely in the interests of economic sanity and good health. I wonder whether some of those who support this proposal have clearly in mind what the consequences would be if the cushion of the Commission were wholly withdrawn from the London passenger travelling public. I must also point out that the travellers in London do not only use the London Transport Executive services but also the services of British Railways. It would also be extremely difficult as a result of this forced segregation to divide the capital liabilities of the truncated Commission and of the London Passenger Transport Board, as it would emerge.

For these reasons I cannot ask the House to accept the new Clause. Much of the anxiety aroused in the minds of the London travelling public is due I know to the recent application, but I think we had better wait to see what emerges from the Transport Tribunal before hon. Members on either side of the House make up their minds more clearly as to whether the view held in some places, but not everywhere—and certainly not by me—that London is being unfairly treated, is really an accurate view. I ask the House to decline to give a Second Reading to this Clause.

Question put, and negatived.


5.0 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, to leave out "as quickly as is reasonably practicable," and to insert: as hereinafter in this Act provided. I think it would be in order also to discuss the Amendment to Clause 3, page 4, line 38.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think there are also a number of other Amendments which go together—the Amendments in page 5, lines 16 and 28, and in page 6, lines 6, 11, 19, 21 and 26.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am sorry to interrupt, but I think that it would be convenient if we now took all the Amendments dealing with the method of the disposal of the Road Haulage Executive assets, omitting the Amendments in page 3, line 33, in page 4, line 46, and in page 6, lines 3 and 25.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) goes with the other Amendments—in page 4, line 36, leave out "disposing," and insert "the orderly disposal."

Mr. Callaghan

I think that this will be for the convenience of the House.

May I thank the Minister for his very generous references to Edward Davies, whom we all knew, liked and respected, and whose death was a great blow and tragedy to all of us. I am sure that we on this side of the House appreciate very much the Minister's thoughtfulness in paying the tribute which he did.

This series of Amendments we regard as being among the most important on the Order Paper today on the matter of the disposal of the road haulage assets. We were led to think about this matter again because of the observations made by the Minister and others during the course of the Committee stage. I should like to say at the outset, in order to make it clear, that our view about the whole progress and process of this Bill remains unaltered. It appeals to us as little today as it did when it was first introduced.

We have already made clear that we do not accept the fundamental principles—if they can be discerned—on which this Bill is supposed to rest, and it is, therefore, our intention, as we have also made clear, to adjust fundamentally the process of road and rail integration when we again become the Government. Having said that—and there is no need to repeat the arguments in detail because our position is well known and quite well understood—I should like to make clear that we have attempted to approach this process of disposal in a constructive way, as is the duty of the Opposition.

The Amendments which we have put down stem from a great many criticisms which have been made of the Minister's own proposals. I doubt whether there has ever been an occasion when a Minister has had to come to the House, as the Minister of Transport did on the 3rd December, and tell us that one of the parties to this question of disposal was completely and utterly opposed to what he was intending to do and to the way in which he was intending to do it. The Minister then made it quite clear that the British Transport Commission are completely opposed to the provisions in regard to the disposal of the Road Haulage Executive. They think not only that it should not be disposed of, but that the methods that the Government are proposing are unworkable. It is only fair to the Commission to make their position absolutely plain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1579.] It is not only fair to the Commission but fair to the country, too, because these doubts which have been expressed by the Commission—indeed, more than doubts, this positive assertion, as I understand the Minister, that the proposed disposal is unworkable, is a view shared by most other people in the country, except the Minister.

We have only to turn to the proposal put up by the British Chambers of Commerce in order to see that they proposed something fundamentally different from that which the Minister has put forward in his Bill. Mr. Roger W. Sewell wrote in "The Times," in December, that he thought that the Minister's proposal could not be carried out—and he speaks with considerable authority for he is the former Joint Chairman of the Road and Rail Joint Conference.

He was followed later by Lord Eli-bank, who knows a lot about transport, telling us that, in his view, the Minister's proposals would not endear themselves to the public. He went on to say: It is doubtful whether anyone with intimate and practical knowledge of rail and road transport, and desirous of achieving a happy and permanent solution of transport problems, is enamoured of the major proposals of the Bill as they now stand. That is formidable criticism. In other words, the Minister's proposals for disposal have been criticised by the official Opposition, by the British Transport Commission, by the trade unions who are concerned, by a number of members of his own party who know about transport, and by practically every independent transport operator whose interest in this matter is the welfare and future of the industry.

If that volume of powerful and well-informed criticism does not make an impression on the Minister, then it will be the worst for the country in the long run, and he should listen to it and profit by it. I am sorry that we have seen nothing in the new Bill, or in the Amendments put on the Order paper in connection with the latest stage of the Transport Bill, which would reflect this criticism which has been put and not been answered.

Indeed, not only has the criticism not been answered, but private enterprise is taking a leaf out of the book of the British Transport Commission. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. David Jones), in a speech in the North-East, which attracted considerable publicity, said that there is a proposal—I do not know how far it has gone—for the formation of a Tees-side Transport Clearing House.

Many unsolicited testimonials were paid by people who are private enterprise operators to the work of British Road Services. The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who is so keen an advocate of public enterprise in all its forms when it is efficient, will be glad to hear this: British Road Services are serving their customers well and it is an advantage to major firms to have one main transport account rather than many with smaller operators. The traffic personnel of B.R.S. know each and every kind of specialised traffic and they move it with great efficiency. Firms are appreciative of this excellent service. It would, however, be most uneconomical should transport lose the services of these experts and it is proposed that the Clearing House should re-engage them as part of its staff. That is the proposal of a number of gentlemen who intend to become interested in the transport world in connection with road haulage when these assets are sold off, and it is a proposal by them to set up an organisation which will do, in fact, what British Road Services are doing today. They go on to say: When the de-nationalisation of road transport takes place it may well be that transport in the Tees-side area will be disturbed. Indeed, it will be disturbed. So they propose to overcome that disturbance by recreating the organisation which the Minister is now destroying. In other words, they recognise that road haulage is no longer a matter of a little man with a lorry, but that if industry and trade are to be served efficiently it must be organised much on the lines that the 1947 Act envisaged, as is being done by British Road Services. It is precisely because this evidence is accumulating that we dislike and detest the proposals in this Bill and will continue to fight it here and in another place when it gets there. [Interruption.] I hope that the noble Lord will not be translated.

We therefore have to apply our minds to how we can try to obliterate some of the major defects of this Bill, recognising that unfortunately the Government are insisting on breaking up British Road Services. We have tried to do it in this way: we have approached the matter from the simple angle of, assuming that this job has to be done, which method will secure the best price for the public? We believe that the method we are proposing will secure that price.

We acknowledge our indebtedness in this connection to the hon. Members for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) and Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), whose original Amendment we could not support on the Committee stage, when we were fighting the whole principle, but which we found acceptable in some degree at that time. Indeed, we were prepared to vote for it in the hope of attracting the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby but, unfortunately, the net was cast in the sight of the bird and he supported the Minister against his own Amendment. We hope for better luck this time. We hope for even better luck; we hope that the Minister will have been impressed by the size of the body of criticism which he has had to face on this issue.

We propose that instead of selling off these lorries higgledy-piggledy, one by one, in a sort of Dutch auction, so incurring a maximum loss in the sale and destroying all the good-will of the undertaking, the Transport Commission shall be required to form a number of companies, and to transfer to those companies the assets which now stand in the name of British Road Services, so that instead of the lorries being sold individually a number of companies will be created to which the businesses will be allocated, and that share capital shall be created. I miss out a number of intervening stages except to say that it will still be within the power of the Minister, under the terms of our Amendment, to alter the scheme if he thinks it is not achieving the purposes of his miserable Bill. We propose to give him that right, but having done so we say that it shall be the duty of the Commission to market those shares at such times and in such a way as the market will bear in order to secure the best price.

It might be that this would not be done in the nine months which the Minister envisaged and which the Parliamentary Secretary said was an objection to the scheme when it was originally put forward by the hon. Member for Hall Green. Our scheme is slightly different from that of the hon. Member in some ways but fundamentally the principle is the same. We do not see any disadvantage in delay; neither do trade and industry. They are interested in preserving the network of services built up. They do not mind whether the process of transferring these from public to private ownership takes nine months or three years if they can be assured that this network of services and the efficient organisation will not be broken down in a mad rush to get hold of lorries at the cheapest price.

I do not think that the argument about delay will appeal to trade and industry, even though the Government think it essential to carry out the operation at the maximum breakneck speed in order to redeem their Election promises. We go so far as to say—with considerable reluctance—that although the Commission should have the power to market these shares at a time they will command the best price they must in the long run dispose of the shares. The Minister will realise how that goes against the grain with me. We on this side of the House do not want to see the Commission out of business in that way but we are seeking to do our best to make this scheme palatable to the Minister in the long-term overall interest of trade and industry—the maintenance of the network of services; and secondly, in order to get the best possible price for the public assets that are to be put up for sale.

5.15 p.m.

I now come to a reason which will appeal to hon. Members who support the Minister, even if what I have said up to now has not appealed to them. They have all been subjected to bombardment by their constituents about the levy. The Central Committee of Transport Users made arrangements to send deputations at regional levels to all Conservative Members of Parliament. For some reason they did not approach my hon. Friends, though we are not only opposed to the levy, we voted against it and are prepared to fight it. They apparently thought it more worth their while to convert hon. Members opposite, who say they dislike the levy and yet go on voting for it.

The British Road Federation, the F.B.I., the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Manufacturers, the Traders' Road Transport Association and the Traders Co-ordinating Committee on Transport have been busy during the Recess approaching Members of Parliament. There was a deputation to West Midlands Members, and many other Conservative Members have had deputations of that sort, inviting them to get rid of the levy. If hon. Gentlemen who support the Minister know their business, this is the way to get rid of the levy, because if these assets are sold at a proper price, at such a time as the shares will command the best price in the market, then the loss which will fall upon the Commission by their sale will clearly be by no means as heavy. That will mean that the levy will be correspondingly lower. There are indeed some optimists—I am not one of them—who think that the levy might be completely obliterated by that method.

I do not know what the Minister will have to say about this, but I say to him and to his hon. Friends—I know he does not like the levy, he has said he does not—that if he wishes to translate his dislike into action he should adopt this method which we propose of disposing of the assets. He will thereby secure the best possible price for this public service and he will at the same time satisfy the Traders' Consultative Committee, so he will kill two birds with one stone.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how he assumes that if these vehicles are marketed on a share basis a better price will necessarily be obtained than if they are disposed of in the manner laid down in the Bill?

Mr. Callaghan

I thought I had made that clear, but I will say briefly again that there are a variety of reasons why that should be so. First, there will be no forced sale within a period of nine months. The Minister indicated that he expected to get the whole operation through in that period of time. Everybody who thinks about this subject knows that if 40,000 vehicles are shovelled on the market, and if it is expected that they will be got rid of between Easter and next Christmas, there is bound to be a buyers' market. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not 40,000."] Forty thousand less 5,000 which the Commission are to retain. If the hon. Member thinks that makes all the difference to the argument, his view is different from mine.

There will clearly be a buyers' market unless the argument is that the vehicles will not sell. I am assuming that there will be purchases. If shares are marketed one chooses one's moment for putting them on the market. It seems to me to follow that without a rushed disposal of the physical assets, the businesses will be preserved in their physical entities with all their connections, trade and customers; in fact the goodwill of the business will be preserved. It must follow that the price secured by that means will be higher. I am sure that that was the basis underlying the original Amendment of the hon. Member for Hall Green. Indeed that method has a further advantage which I commend to the Minister. It is roughly what is proposed to be done under the Iron and Steel Bill.

Although the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister—I am not sure who it was—gave us an answer last time as to why this method could not be adopted in the same way in this Bill as in the Iron and Steel Bill, he did not convince us. What he said was, "In the Iron and Steel Bill, we are proposing to sell shares. In this Bill, we are selling assets." The decision to sell assets is the Minister's decision, and not ours, and he need not sell assets if he does not want to.

By this method which we propose, the Minister can convert British Road Services into a series of companies which shall themselves own the assets and then market their shares. If the Minister has the public welfare at heart. I see no difficulty whatever in achieving the end that he wants to achieve and at the same time getting the best possible price for these assets.

I hope very much that the Minister will look at the Amendment in the spirit in which it has been put forward: namely, an attempt to see that the best possible price is got for these public assets that, we believe, he is at present wantonly, wilfully and unnecessarily throwing away in an unbusinesslike operation that we would never have expected from a Government of so-called businessmen.

I therefore say to my hon. Friends that I hope we will follow up this proposal. I hope that we will attract some support from hon. Gentlemen opposite if they have been convinced by the arguments that have been advanced, and that we shall between us bring pressure to bear upon the Minister so that he can forget what he was saddled with when he joined this particular Ministry. He can leave all that behind him, and he will be able to strike out afresh and embark upon a course which, whilst still bad from the point of view of the long-term integration of road and rail, will at least, within the short-term context of the Bill, make a better job of the pretty botch that we have got now.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I support the Amendment. In doing so, I make a fresh appeal to the Minister on the narrow point of the setting up of large companies to deal with the transport assets. At the same time, I share the views of my right hon. and hon. Friends that the Bill is a bad Bill. It renders a disservice, not only to the nation, but to the transport industry, in which many of us have given a lifetime of service.

I put these points to the Minister from the point of view of the interest of the industry and of the interest and welfare of those engaged in it. If the Minister accepts the suggestion that there should be large companies, it will mean that we are assured of the maintenance of existing services. Everybody who has been associated with the transport industry knows that the larger the undertaking, the greater the efficiency in providing the services that are required by expanding industry. There is no question whatever that the large transport undertakings, whether private or nationally owned, are preferable to small undertakings which have neither the resources nor the manpower to maintain an adequate and efficient service.

There also arises the question of trying to avoid undue disturbance of staff. Surely, the staff of the transport industry are entitled to some protection and consideration in this matter. If we establish large companies, and particularly if the Transport Commission is allowed to insist that in the interests of industry those companies carry out the services which those sections of the undertaking were carrying out at the time of their separation from the Commission, we shall not only ensure that industry gets its essential service, but we ensure that the men engaged in the industry have a better chance of retaining their job and of being retained on the same line of traffic in which they have been engaged and are expert, and in which they have made a contribution to the efficiency of industry generally. All these points I urge upon the Minister from a practical point of view. I am not so much concerned about oratory in these matters as with the practical approach to these problems, which are of vital importance to the nation at this time.

Furthermore, there is the question of maintaining an adequate system for dealing with the conditions and wages of those engaged in the industry. It is indisputable that with a large undertaking, whether in transport or in anything else, there is a better chance of securing and maintaining a system of fair and adequate negotiation than with the small, private undertaking which cannot afford to give the wages and conditions of employment which a large company can provide. Another point is the question of welfare services. In every large industry we find developments along the lines of welfare services, recreational facilities and all kinds of services in the factory in order to assist the workers and to render welfare services to them. This never occurred with the small transport undertakings, for whom it was financially impossible to render these services. Even the Conservative Party are entitled to accept the view that what is good for big private industry, by way of machinery for negotiating wages and conditions of employment and the provision of welfare services, should be good enough to be provided for in the Bill.

Unless the Minister is prepared to accept the Amendment, I unhesitatingly say that he is encouraging the establishment of a system of small ownership of transport vehicles which will deny to those engaged in the industry the opportunity and facilities which are provided by large private firms in other sectors of industry.

The Minister knows my view of the Bill. I believe that it is a disservice to the nation. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that, bad as the Bill may be, in the last resort it is our responsibility, as a responsible Opposition, to try to make it more acceptable to those engaged in the industry, whether on the side of the employers or of the workers, and to make it possible for the service that is required to be provided for the industrial life of the nation. The Bill may do serious damage to the industrial life of the nation by dislocating the transport industry.

5.30 p.m.

I make this appeal to the Minister on behalf of the organised labour in the industry: If you are to denationalise, then set up the type of organisation which will give us the chance to maintain our present standard of life, our conditions of service and some of the welfare services which were being applied by the Transport Commission. We are entitled to ask this Conservative Government to give us at least the conditions whereby the welfare of the men in the industry can be safeguarded, because the Minister has always been ready to pay tribute to these men for their war service. It was very nice of him, when I raised a Question some months ago about the service that these men had rendered in the dark days of the war—I remember being with some of them when they were doing it—to say words to this effect, "I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Member has said. All praise to the transport workers."

I invite the Minister to translate his praises into effective action. We like that tribute, but we would also like it to be translated into action. The best tribute that the Minister can pay to the transport workers who have rendered service to the nation both during and since the war is to say, "We shall do everything we can to preserve their standard of life and to give them an opportunity of a square deal through a properly organised large-company system of private ownership."

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Will the hon. Member tell us whether the interesting argument that he has been putting forward in favour of the large private company was advanced on behalf only of himself or of the Opposition? I find some difficulty in reconciling his argument with that put forward by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) when we were discussing Clause 16, in Committee.

Mr. McLeavy

If the hon. Member had been listening to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when moving the Amendment he would realise that while we are opposed to the principles of the Bill we believe that if there is to be denationalisation—I am speaking for the Opposition—and a breakup of the nationalised system of transport, it is far better in the interest of the nation and of those engaged in the industry that large holding companies should be constituted because they could maintain the services and provide the standards to which the men are entitled.

Mr. Wilson

That is not an answer to the question I asked. I asked whether, if the hon. Gentleman wants a private company, he wants or does not want a big one?

Mr. McLeavy

So far as I am concerned, and speaking for myself on this point, I believe that the larger the com- pany the better the public service and the better the conditions of those who are employed in the industry.

Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I am honoured that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) modelled his Amendment at least in part on the proposals which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) and myself put forward in Committee. In so far as the hon. Member has faithfully copied the model, I agree with him, but in so far as he has departed from the original—and he has departed from it—I must disagree with him.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I indicated, first of all, the area of agreement and then pointed out one or two points of disagreement. With what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said about the defects of this part of the Bill as it now stands I substantially agree.

The defects in Clause 3 as it is now drafted seem to me to be two. In the first place, the Bill seems to contemplate what I can only call a piecemeal approach. Clause 3 enjoins on the Commission the duty to sell from time to time, on lines agreed in consultation with the Disposal Board from time to time, the operative phrase being "from time to time." What does that phrase mean? I can read only one meaning in it. It is that we detach a piece of property from the whole, and sell it. Then we detach a further piece of property, and we sell that. We are dealing with a very complicated business undertaking, and when you detach pieces from a business undertaking inevitably there are repercussions throughout the whole system. There are strains and stresses throughout the whole structure.

It seems to me to be wholly wrong to detach a piece of property from time to time and then to sit back and look at the repercussions. The proper thing to do is to look at all the possible repercussions in advance and, in the light of those repercussions, to determine what it is that we will sell. That is the first defect.

The second defect—and here I endorse what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said—is that the Clause is unduly limiting. The Commission, according to the Clause, can sell one or more vehicles and other property. In other words, it can sell only bundles of physical assets. If it wanted to, even if it favoured the sale, it could not sell shares. That is not opinion but is, I think, incontrovertible fact.

Some of the undertakings taken over on nationalisation were large. Indeed, I would say that the tendency was for the unit to increase in size. What has happened under nationalisation is that that tendency has been vastly accelerated. If anything in the present system has to be preserved, some of the units sold must be large in size. It is extremely difficult to sell a large business undertaking merely by means of physical assets. I would ask those of my hon. Friends who have any business experience how often they have heard of large aggregates of physical assets, amounting, shall we say, to about £2 million, which I think is the worth of the Carter Paterson assets, being sold just as physical assets?

Just think of the enormous inventories involved. Think of how the items in those inventories are bound to change from day to day, between the time when the inventories are begun and the moment when they are ended. I am prepared to assert that unless the Commission can sell by shares, the sale of the undertakings in large units is practically impossible. Those, then, are the two defects and in the aggregate they can only mean that this undertaking will be sold, if it is sold at all, in small physical bundles regardless of all the intangible values which, with the physical assets, are equally part of a business undertaking.

What is the remedy? Once again, I agree substantially with the broad outlines of the remedy recommended by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East. I think that the Commission and the Disposal Board must sit down and map out in advance the territory, the undertaking which they have to sell. They must look at it as a whole and single out the units into which it would naturally fall. Then I go a step further and suggest that they be given the option to sell some of these units as companies. That is one difference between the Opposition Amendment and mine. As I understand their Amendment, they would make the formation of companies obligatory when, to my mind, it should be merely optional. I had the impression, during the Committee stage, that there was some misunderstanding of what it was that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East and myself had in mind. May I make it clear that this proposal does not rule out the sale of individual physical items? When the units have been organised there will be vehicles surplus to the requirements of some of them and certainly they can be sold individually. All I am proposing is that in addition to the sale of individual lorries and garages there should be a sale of business units, some of them large and some not so large.

The merit of this proposal is again that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East. This proposal, which is an attempt to decentralise the undertaking in the first instance and then to sell the decentralised units, is bound to minimise the dislocation. It minimises the revenue losses in which the Commission is likely to be involved and also the shift of labour. Further, and this is the most important aspect, it must minimise the capital loss because an attempt is being made to sell the physical assets together with all the intangible values which they have now accumulated.

Here, again, I must indicate a point of difference between our Amendment and the Amendment of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East would countenance no sale at all if it is at a loss. I do not go that far. This House has decided on broad economic grounds that it is right to sell this undertaking. I accept and endorse that but I add as a rider that, having taken that decision, it is proper to see that the capital loss is kept to a minimum. The Bill seems to me to rest on the assumption that there must be quite a sizeable capital loss and to compensate for that loss the later levy Clauses must automatically come into operation. I do not share the initial assumption that there must be a large capital loss.

There were certain physical assets, with certain intangible values attached to them, taken over by the Road Haulage Executive. Those intangible values have in the meantime been changed. The old goodwill has gone but a new goodwill of quite a different kind has been created and how it compares with the old in financial value I defy anyone to say. It may well be at the end of the day, if an attempt is made to retain the intangible value and only in that event, that there will be no capital loss. In that case I want to put a suggestion before my right hon. Friend.

5.45 p.m.

I said earlier that the levy Clauses come into operation automatically, and if the capital loss is a sizeable one, they certainly should come into operation. However, should there be anything in what I have said, and should my right hon. Friend be disposed to accept any part of what I have said, and there is no such sizeable capital loss, he should retain to himself a right to waive the operation of the levy Clauses. In short, I suggest to him that the levy Clauses, instead of being compulsory as they now are, should be made discretionary.

This, in substance, is the case for the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend and myself. Having made the case for it, probably I have a duty to put the case against—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—or at least to examine the case against as it was put in Committee by the Parliamentary Secretary and by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I have re-read their speeches and it seems to me that they adduced only one argument of any substance, the argument of delay.

I was sorry about that because it seemed that they were suspecting me of sabotaging tendencies, of heretical traits which are far from my character. I am not out to sabotage this Bill, I want to see this undertaking sold, but may I point out that the speed at which any operation, for example a military operation, is concluded does not depend so much on the moment it is begun but on the forethought given to it.

I do not deny that if there were a plan of the kind I have mentioned, there may be delay in the initial point of sale, but the essence of the plan is that it tries to provide for the maximum saleability of the entire undertaking. If we provide for that, clearly we can complete a larger proportion of the sale at the end of a shorter space of time. If we try to make splinter sales or detach pieces of property from the rest of the undertaking without having regard to the repercussions, we shall block the sale of the rest of the undertaking. The purpose of our Amendment is not to delay but to facilitate, to remove those impediments. I suggest respectfully to my hon. Friends who were unable to agree with me in Committee that this is the issue which they have to face.

In conclusion, I want to point out that in view of the two objections which I raised to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, I cannot vote for it. Nor do I stand by the wording of my own Amendment. I confess that I found the job of drafting it quite as difficult as the job of selling off the Road Haulage Executive will be. One begins a draft, changes a word and then there are repercussions all through the system. I have not attempted to follow the repercussions. I am the first to say that the wording is faulty, but I hope that on this occasion—on the previous occasion the reply was made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary—my right hon. Friend will consider what I have said to be worthy of a full reply.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

The reasons given by the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) for the principle which he was putting forward seemed to me to be so cogent and sensible that I was a little disappointed at the end of his speech to hear that he did not propose to support what he recognises to be the same principle on grounds of difference which I found it rather hard to detect at all. So far as I did detect them, I regarded them as rather trifling. I shall certainly not quarrel with him on those small matters and I shall say first why I object, and as I understand it he also objects, so strongly to what is at present in the Bill.

It looks to me as if this method of disposal had been prepared for the benefit and the advantage of the prospective purchasers, the road hauliers, without regard to the interests of industry as a consumer of transport, without regard to the interests of the men working in the industry and, somewhat surprisingly in view of the frequent protestations of the Tory Government, without regard to the best interests of the public Exchequer.

I propose, if I may, to try and substantiate all those three points. I am not going to say much about the second one, because it has already been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). As regards industry, what are we going to have? We are going to have a disposal by what are curiously called "transport units." When we come to look at the Bill, we discover that a transport unit may be one single lorry of an uncertain age, and it becomes a transport unit because it is sold separately. That is the only reason for calling anything a transport unit.

The purpose of selling by this curious form of jumble sale is simply to dispose of the property. There is not a word about the interests of transport or the interests of the industry which has got to be served during this—I hope I am not using an un-Parliamentary expression, but this is all I can call it—higgledy-piggledy business. Those two interests are not mentioned. They do not come into it. The governing factor seems to be sell, sell and sell as fast as can be done, and give the purchaser what he wants in a buyers' market without regard to the country, to transport or to trade and industry.

The essential point between the two Amendments under discussion—because I take into account in this respect the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Hall Green—is what we contemplate as workable units. It does not seem to me to matter very much, but I think it is rather a minor difference of method. The truth is—and I think general business experience supports us in this—that the Government are unlikely to get a workable unit except in the form of a company.

We have another reason for wanting those units to be sizeable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East said, we want sizeable units because of the unfortunate experience which transport workers have had in the past from very small employers or from a single man in a family business. I am not going into all that now, but the facts show that before nationalisation there were in that field a larger proportion of breaches of the law made to protect the men working in the industry. After all, we might reasonably expect on a matter of this sort that the experience and judgment of such a large and well-run organisation as the men's own union should be of some account. We would prefer sizeable units and companies, and I think that is an important point.

It is important also that those units should be sizeable from one other point of view. We are particularly anxious to maintain what the Transport Commission through the Road Haulage Executive has helped to set up in a way that did not exist before, that is, the organised long-distance services in this country. We do not want them broken up and sold as chattels in bits and pieces. It does not matter whether they are called bits and pieces, transport units or anything else. A rose by any other name smells just as sweet, and a single battered old lorry remains just that, whether it is called a transport unit or anything else.

We think that the disregard of long-distance transport and the large scale needs of industry is somewhat irresponsible. As we see it, it neglects the best interests of industry and the best interests of the country, and we say that we cannot afford that sort of thing. That is one of the reasons we have put forward this Amendment.

Next I come to the question of the public Exchequer. I cannot understand what the objection is from that point of view to what is proposed in our Amendment. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Hall Green said, that no one in business—and I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members opposite know something about that—would ever dream of disposing of an undertaking of this size in this kind of way. It is only when it is public property that they so magnificently disregard the dictates of ordinary commercial prudence and business experience.

For this purpose only, of course, we accept the principle of the Bill, not because we believe in it but because we have to accept it. Having accepted it, we are trying to apply it as sensibly and as prudently as we can. Do not let us discuss now whether to sell is good or bad. That is over, but why should it be done in this crack-brained fashion? What is the object of it?

I have been trying to put myself into the mind of the Minister. Might I say at once that I would not for one moment suggest that the Minister is crack-brained. I find it rather difficult to discover the reason for this particular method of disposal. I can hardly believe that, with all the resources of wisdom and experience which no doubt lurk in that mysterious place, the Conservative Central Office, and which to some degree are reflected in the Government and their supporters, they could not really think of something better than this. This appears to be the negation of order, with the complete absence of an idea. It leaves the whole thing to chance and to misfortune in a way which, even when we are dealing with public matters, I should have thought that the Conservative Party might have avoided.

Let us consider what is going to happen from another point of view. We are going to have this infamous higgledy-piggledy operation going on continuously, at any rate for a period of nine months or so, with the only object to sell, sell and sell again. What better method could we possibly have for the break-up of a transport organisation in nine months? It is stated that a million pounds or something of that sort is going to compensate the Commission for some of its losses. It may compensate the Commission, but it will certainly not compensate the country or industry for the muddle and confusion that are bound to result from trying to deal with this business in this sort of way.

What we suggest is that we should make up workable—I hesitate to use the word; it has been so overworked recently—units, form companies and sell the shares of those companies as a whole or bit by bit as the market allows and for the best price that can be got instead of selling them at a loss because the Government are in such a hurry to get the whole thing through in nine months. Do it gradually. Do it as any sensible man would do it, in such a way as to get the best price according to the market at the time. Meanwhile, we shall have the workable units; they will go on working: they will not be broken up by splitting the ownership. As the shares are sold gradually, the purpose of the Bill will be effected, and they will be transferred to private ownership, but as an operating unit they will remain the whole time.

6.0 p.m.

That seems to me to have every possible advantage from a workable point of view and from the point of view of the Exchequer. Surely, as a matter of common sense and experience, we shall get a far better price that way than by flinging these thousands of vehicles on to a somewhat shy and reluctant market. I say "shy and reluctant market" for the very good reason that it is perfectly obvious that any buyers of these vehicles will have in mind the probability that the transport industry will be nationalised again quite soon. If people are dealt with while they are in that frame of mind, I suggest that the method suggested in this Amendment is a very much easier way of doing this in the interests of the Exchequer than the absence of method suggested in the Bill.

I do not know that there is very much more I can say by way of argument, except one general thing. I know it is late in the day. I know that we are now on the Report stage and that it may seem strange for the Minister to accept what is proposed at this stage. But, after all, this Bill, not only in its drafting but in what preceded it and in what has gone on ever since, bears all the marks of haste and lack of deliberation, and I say that in those circumstances the right thing for a courageous Minister to do is to dismiss for the moment some of his own prejudices, to dismiss for the moment any lurking resentment he may feel about his hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green and his inconvenient observations, and in the public interest to do what is the right thing for the country, for the industry and for public funds.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has obviously come back from the Recess with a great deal of energy to expend. I am told he moves with equal facility between the two complicated de-nationalisation Bills which are now passing through the House, and, so far as I know, nobody else is able to do that. I cannot, I am afraid, suggest that his contribution this evening has carried with it that lucidity of mind for which we find him famous on other occasions. I suggest to him more bluntly that he has missed the point of the Clause introduced by my right hon. Friend.

We on this side of the House have not, fortunately, the passion for legislation possessed by hon. Members opposite, and we are not wont to put into Acts of Parliament the exact form, method and device by which everything shall be done at all times in the future. As I see it, the virtue in this Clause, as I sought to show in Committee, is that it leaves to the Disposal Board and to the Commission some work to do under the guidance of my right hon. Friend. It is they who are to decide upon the method of sale and to consult with my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), on the other hand, appears to have expended most of his energy during the Recess, although he has not expended quite so much as he did during the Summer Recess, because I remember in Committee he described in very graphic terms the clearing house of garages belonging to the Commission that he had seen, and how busy and active it was. This time, I fear, he has done no more than secure from one of his hon. Friends a document describing a clearing house to be established in the North of England. He was very upset because he seemed to think that we were undoing something in order to re-form it and re-do it in another fashion. He is in the same dilemma as his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), because the Labour Party are forced into the position of disliking the Bill in principle and having to do something positive about reaching some of the purposes of it. Having exposed this clearing house which the hon. Gentleman thinks is to be fashioned by us at a later stage, he is compelled to move an Amendment which scientifically devises the means of de-centralising and selling off the vehicles from the organisation he cherishes so closely at heart.

It appears that he has been more active than that during the Recess, because he has been going round the country discovering sources of trouble and opposition to this Bill which do not exist. Of course, we know that the Labour Party, and to some extent the trade union movement behind them—though, I am glad to say, not to the same extent as formerly—are opposed to this Bill. He is quite right in suggesting that the Commission also are opposed to some of the main purposes of the Bill, but we have always taken the view that the Commission are a most unlikely body to want to see their own services and physical assets distributed and sold.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the noble Lord explain what he means when he says that the trade unions are not opposed to this Bill so much as formerly? As far as I am aware, there has been no change whatsoever in the trade unions' unqualified opposition to this Bill.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

What I was meaning to say was that the association of hon. Members opposite and the trade union leaders is not so close as it was. And who knows but that it may not lead in a few months to a different attitude being taken towards some of the policies of hon. Members opposite? I do not say that is happening now, but I would not be a bit surprised to see it in the future. So much for the opposition to this Clause and the method of distribution enshrined in it, which is, of course, automatic.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East went further. He began to talk about the famous memorandum of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. Well, there is not much difficulty about that now. We have disposed of that as a one-day canard. They wrote their memorandum on the first Bill produced by my right hon. Friend, not the second Bill.

The hon. Gentleman did, in trying to arrange all these people into opposition to us, give one source of intelligence which I find more agreeable, and that was the letter in "The Times" from Mr. Roger Sewell. I read that letter, and it seemed to make sound sense. If, on the method and distribution and sale of vehicles we can get nearer to the purposes Mr. Sewell had in mind in that letter, I think we should do well. When I read the letter I felt it was very likely that my right hon. Friend would at the time of the sale have devised a method which approximated to his wishes.

Mr. Callaghan

To avoid misunderstanding, what I was quoting with approval was Mr. Roger Sewell's criticism of the Bill. I said nothing about his positive proposal that the Commission should be allowed to keep only 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles, because I should be opposed to that. I should regard that as falling far short of what I wanted, but I agree with him in his analysis that the Bill as it stands completely fails to meet the needs of the situation.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

That shows that Mr. Roger Sewell is closer to some of us than he is to some hon. Gentlemen opposite. Perhaps we can more readily welcome him as an ally.

With regard to the Amendment, it is rather interesting to observe how the Labour Party find themselves drawn more and more to commercial methods in their legislative suggestions. When the Labour Party began nationalising, they dealt in a comprehensive way with giant physical assets. To my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, I would say that they can be enlarged, as shown by the nationalisation of the coal mines.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

With very great difficulty.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I agree. As the Labour Party came through their nationalisation Bills to steel, they found that they were able to do these things by commercial devices. It is interesting that the Labour Party should be the first of the two parties to look away from the physical method of dealing with a sale and to suggest the formation of public companies. How democratic and capitalist the Labour Party are becoming.

The difference between the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite and that of my hon. Friend is the one which my hon. Friend gave. The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite requires the sale of these vehicles to take place at the maximum price, and I understand that the sale does not take place unless that can be done. The proposal of my hon. Friend is more flexible in that he suggests that certain units and certain companies should be formed and that they should be sold at the best price obtainable, but if the maximum price at which they stand in the books is not obtained, the levy should come into operation, with the sanction of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Mitchison

In order to avoid misunderstanding, might I point out that there is no reason why the process contemplated in our Amendment should not come into operation at once? All we say is that it is better to do the thing in an orderly manner, and it seems to me it is more and not less flexible.

6.15 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman very much. I quite agree with him, but I still believe that the method presented by my hon. Friend is a more flexible one. I am constantly concerned to see that as much latitude as possible is given to my right hon. Friend to devise the scheme of distribution and as little as possible is put into the Bill requiring him to observe certain terms and devices.

The original Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman was turned down in Committee by the Parliamentary Secretary, not solely on the grounds of the delay which was likely to ensue if the units were formed into companies, but also upon other grounds on which I sought to say something. I was alarmed at the time at the possibility of small men who were going to buy the units being confused and worried by the very devices which the Labour Party seemed so eager to chuck at them, such as finance companies, shares, money considerations and so on. We may presume that those men wanted a few simple vehicles and perhaps a garage. It would be easier for them to make a bid for that kind of thing. They would then get the vehicles and the garage and know what they were getting in physical terms, and they could perhaps wrap what they got inside the interests which they already had. That would be easier for them than dealing with shares.

If my right hon. Friend feels inclined towards the method of distribution proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, I hope he will distinguish between the big concerns and the small ones, the small ones being kept as far as possible in physical terms and the bigger units of, say, 50 vehicles being put up for consideration for formation into companies. In the case of the big men, delay is not quite so important because they will know what is coming to them. They can see the thing in financial terms if the vehicles and garages can be earmarked for them by the Disposal Board; the companies can be formed at the same time and the whole thing can go through.

In general terms, I would give a blessing, if it is not too presumptuous to do so, to the scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider for a later stage of the Bill, or for instruction to the Disposal Board, some suggestions on the lines that he has made.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

It is not often that I rise to congratulate the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I do so on this occasion because I think he has, with great difficulty, stepped into the breach on behalf of the committee of which he is the distinguished chairman. Throughout almost the whole of his speech, I thought he was against the series of Amendments on the Order Paper, the first of which has been moved in token fashion by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), but at the end of his speech I assumed that he was in favour of the Amendments. If he is in favour of the Amendments, I hope that that, together with the attitude of his hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones), will have its effect upon the Minister.

I do not say this in any way offensively, but the noble Lord rather twitted the Opposition for having put down this series of Amendments—[Interruption.] Was that not a good word?

Mr. Ernest Davies

The noble Lord twittered.

Mr. Lindgren

For a moment I thought I had said something unparliamentary. The noble Lord twitted us for putting forward a series of Amendments which commercialised the disposal of the assets. The difference between the noble Lord and ourselves is that we have had to work for our living in the industry, and having worked for our living and worked in association with those who are in transport, we appreciate that we cannot always get our own way.

We started out to get the full measure of what we wanted. What we wanted was the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading, but because of the composition of the House that was not possible, the Government securing a majority for the Second Reading. It is not an unfair assumption that, with its majority, the Government can carry the Bill through its stages to the House of Lords. That being so, the Opposition has the duty of ensuring that, as far as is humanly possible, measures are adopted during the passage of the Bill to try to persuade the Minister to take action which will make the ultimate result of the passing of the Bill less injurious to the consumers of the transport services provided in the country and also less injurious to those who work in the transport industry. Being realists, and not being able to secure the maintenance of the Transport Commission and its full assets as they are at the present time, I feel it our duty to see that we secure the best possible alternative; that is, a set-up in which there are larger units which can integrate among themselves.

The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South put no case whatever against this series of Amendments, and I would put this to him: what was the general experience of transport during the interwar years? We are dealing now with the road section of transport and so we must confine ourselves to that. Week by week, month by month, year by year, the number of transport firms operating within the road sector were getting fewer and fewer. Within that period of 20 years we saw the development of large amalgamations and with those amalgamations there followed a better service to the consumer.

Whenever hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about transport, their knowledge seems to extend no further than to the fellow with a lorry who is doing day hire work for a sand and gravel merchant. That seems to be their conception of transport. Prior to nationalisation there was not a reasonable transport firm in this country which had not been enlarged by the amalgamation of a number of small fellows who could not maintain themselves. I speak as one who has suffered from low wages and from conditions of employment which were not as good as they ought to have been because of the operation of small people in transport. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are always paying lip-service to the need for a reasonable standard of wages and conditions for workers in industry. Their actions outside, particularly when as trade unionists we met them round the table, were very different.

The greatest difficulty we experienced regarding wages and conditions was not with the larger companies, with Carter Paterson, Pickford's and Hay's Wharf, but with the small fellow, with one, two, three, up to 12 lorries. I had some sympathy with the larger employers who said quite openly, "You come to us and put forward your case, which we admit to some extent; but how can we admit your claim and accept it honourably when in fact you are letting these little fellows get away with under-cutting us on rates for the goods carried, because they are not observing a proper standard of wages and conditions? You, as a trade union movement, are not making them do it." But we as a trade union movement could not make these people observe such a standard. Our members who worked for such firms could not use their industrial power because, unfortunately, at that time there were numbers of unemployed who were only too anxious to get even that miserable job rather than be unemployed, despite the fact that wages and conditions were bad and hours were long.

I would say sincerely to hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they are concerned with the conditions of those employed in the industry, they should see that there is a reasonable organisation which would make it possible for those running the concerns to grant reasonable conditions of employment. They should also see to it that units are sufficiently large to maintain some form of discipline within the industry itself. Unless that is done, how is it possible to secure a main trunk service running from north to south or east to west in this country?

A fellow with three or four lorries cannot operate a scheduled, regular service between, say, Manchester and London, or Newcastle and London. Of course he cannot. The man with a single lorry can only do what I referred to just now, short-haul, day-to-day hire work for sand and gravel merchants, or builders' merchants and the rest—tramp work. We must have an organisation capable and large enough to give the service required by the people of this country. We cannot go against the experience of the industry itself. Why was it that during the whole period of the inter-war years those amalgamations took place, and we had larger companies formed?

The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South suggested that the trade union movement was not wholeheartedly behind this Bill. He can make what little capital he likes in a speech in this House. I should be the last to complain, because perhaps I am as guilty as any other of saying harsh things, and perhaps even exaggerating on some occasions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I have done my share, so I do not object to the noble Lord doing it; but I would say to him that those who are associated within the trade union movement in transport arc wholeheartedly against this Bill. There have been dissentients. I come from one of those unions on the clerical side, where the members sometimes felt themselves a little better than the fellows in the yard doing the manual work. Some did deflect and associate with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I see that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) is smiling; but I would recall that when my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) and myself attended our annual conference last year, an officer of one of the Harrow Tory parties came over from them to us. He did go to the Liberals for a while, but he has now left them to come to us because of this Transport Bill, which has caused consolidation within the trade union movement—

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

That is why I was smiling. The hon. Gentleman's organisation is welcome to that man.

Mr. Lindgren

"There is more joy in heaven over"—but perhaps I had better not go on with that quotation, because my limitations might be shown up. There is a consolidation within the trade union movement against this Bill, irrespective of political opinion among trade unionists. We are wholeheartedly against it.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that last May branches of the Transport and General Workers' Union throughout Scotland were circularised with copies of the White Paper, and were invited forthwith to write to their Tory or Liberal Member of Parliament, protesting against the Bill? In my constituency there is one major depot at Abington, to which reference has been made a number of times, and also a smaller depot, and not one protest has been made.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. S. S. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us who sent this circular to the branches of the Transport and General Workers' Union?

Mr. Maitland

I have not got it here. It is in my locker, and I could get it. It was sent from the commercial convener in Glasgow and signed with the name, "Willie Scholes."

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman is not as well up in Scottish affairs as he should be. If my information is correct, he is referring to the Scottish Horse and Motormen's Union and not to the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Mr. Maitland

No. There is a sharp distinction, well known even to myself, between the two unions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I am referring to the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Mr. Speaker

I am trying to relate these observations to the Amendment which is before the House, and I must say that I find it very difficult.

Mr. Lindgren

I accept your rebuke, Mr. Speaker. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take my willing acceptance of that rebuke as meaning that I have not got the obvious answer to him.

On the question of the maintenance of the vehicles, I should like to point out that we have a road system which was constructed on the basis of horse transport. Our road system was not constructed to carry the transport which we have today. I will not argue the causes of that: we accept it as a fact. That being so, there is considerable danger on our roads. The major cause of that danger is the state of roadworthiness of the vehicles.

Again, I do not want to be unduly critical of the small operator, but in the past the largest number of vehicles not in a roadworthy condition came from the small operators. They were guilty of the largest number of infringements. When one gets to undertakings of the size of Pickford's, Hay's Wharf, or any of the larger undertakings of British Road Services, one finds that behind them they have an organisation for the maintenance of the vehicles which is worthy of the industry. This piecemeal breaking up of the industry into small units with the sale to people who have not adequate means for the maintenance of vehicles will endanger public safety.

The commercial aspect was ably put before the House by the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). In addition there are the services to the community which I have mentioned. These factors require that the Government should accept some method of disposing of these vehicles such as that suggested in this series of Amendments. Then, when the sale has taken place, there may be an organisation which, though it will be under private enterprise so as to satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite, will at least have a form of control which will stand a better chance of giving a better service to the public, with reasonable conditions to those in the industry. I hope that the Minister will consider this Amendment sympathetically.

Mr. Ian Harvey

I should like briefly to associate myself with the sentiments expressed and the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) gave us rather more than a kiss of death in the speech that he made. In fact, it was a veritable embrace which would have been the envy of nearly every highly-paid American screen star.

Nevertheless, we have persevered in this matter. We brought forward this issue in Committee, and we must confess that we were somewhat disappointed with the result. We preferred to go with my right hon. Friend than to find ourselves associated with others whose motives we trust rather less. Despite the treatment which we received at the hands of my right hon. Friend, we have persevered because we believe that he is so broadminded and open to argument that it may be possible that this evening he will give more encouragement to us than was meted out to us at the hands of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green has outlined, we have put this Amendment down quite unrepentant and still unconvinced, even after the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), that the Clause as drafted is in the general interests of the operation of this Bill. I refer primarily to the important aspect of continuity. We think that, whatever the political principles held by the Government of the day, it is imperative that a transition of this sort and of such magnitude should be operated with the minimum upheaval to the services involved.

That does not mean that we associate ourselves in any way with the principles which motivated the Act of 1947. An hon. Member says that we are creating the upheaval. The original upheaval was created by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are doing our best to rectify the situation that we have inherited.

Mr. Awbery

Does not the hon. Gentleman know that things are going on very smoothly in the industry at present and that the relationship between employers and employees is better than ever? Yet the Conservative Party are coming in to break up the harmony which has existed for the last five years.

Mr. Harvey

If the hon. Gentleman means that he is "taking the nation for a ride," he is perfectly right, but it is not the sort of ride that the nation wants. I doubt whether his argument will be so well received by those who are having to pay the increased prices which his system has imposed upon them.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Can the hon. Gentleman say that he has been inundated with complaints from traders about the service given to them by British Road Haulage?

Mr. Harvey

I have been inundated by letters about the charges which are the result, obvious to all of us, of the general inefficiency which prevails.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman produce some proof that the charges of the nationalised undertakings are greater than the charges made today by private road haulage firms? Is not it correct that the charges by British Road Services have gone up by a lesser amount than the charges of the private long-distance road haulier?

Mr. Harvey

I do not accept that, but I think I should be ruled out of order if I were to enter into a long controversy on that issue at this stage.

May I deal with the point raised by my noble Friend in regard to our Amendment? He admitted, in discussing the point with my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, that there would be considerable difficulties in disposing of the assets in the way which is indicated in the Bill. I think he also admitted by inference that the transfer envisaged in the Amendment would be found easier. I would ask my noble Friend why he should want to create little difficulties when the problem can be overcome in this way. He also suggested—though I cannot see the basis for his suggestion and, no doubt, he will enlighten me if he feels so inclined—that we were writing into the Bill a detailed operation which would not fit in with it. I do not think it is a detailed operation; it is, in fact, particularly flexible, and I therefore think that his argument does not actually hold good.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green has referred very rightly to the question of goodwill, and, whatever may be the political views of hon. Members of the parties on both sides of the House with regard to the operation of transport, undoubtedly, in the day-to-day operation of transport, under whatever aegis, good will is engendered between the operator and the public. If there is any bad feeling instead of good will, it soon makes itself felt. We think that there will be an unnecessary dissipation of such good will as there is by the operation of the Clause as it now stands, and it is for that reason that we have put our Amendment before my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to the little man with one lorry. I think that is a type of over-simplification which is not in our minds, nor in the minds of any of those who are concerned with this Amendment. We think that transport should be diverse and competitive, and that is the principle underlying this Bill. We believe that there should be scope for the disposal of these units in large, medium and small units, and that is the intention behind the Amendment. I feel that the noble Lord was less than fair to the small operator in suggesting that he would not understand the general transactions which we have in mind. Quite honestly, if the operator were so simple, I should be amongst those who would feel that he should not be entrusted with the operation.

In this Amendment we have regard to the fact that we are confronted, for political reasons, with an operation of some difficulty. We have had a national transport system; now we propose to denationalise it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in optimistic mood, have referred to re-nationalisation on their return to office. We will not discuss the possibility of their return, as it would be out of order, but I very much agreed with my noble Friend, who felt that there might not be unanimity among the ranks on the other side in regard to re-nationalisation or further activities in the field of nationalisation, which has not proved the success that it was originally intended to be.

Therefore, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the principle underlying our Amendment, because, although we in no way accept nationalisation as a system, we believe that no Government, whatever their views, would be justified, because of opposition to a system, in destroying it so completely that the nation would thereby lose. I know that my right hon. Friend is of such a nature that he will consider very carefully a principle of this sort, and, despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was unable to acquiesce in the suggestion put forward, perhaps my right hon. Friend will have different views.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Popplewell

I hope the Minister will listen to the arguments put forward not only from these benches but from his own. It seems to me that, as the moment, he is holding a very troublesome baby, a baby that nobody seems to want except himself. As he is the father, one can understand his love for the child, but I hope he will listen with more reason and be able to accept the Amendment.

No one who understands transport at all gives a blessing to the Minister's proposal in this particular direction. If he insists upon these proposals, the Minister will be simply flouting transport history. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) very rightly pointed out the transport history of the pre-war years, and we have seen the development that has taken place from 1918 onwards. We saw the small men coming in and commencing business, later being absorbed, and the big businesses establishing themselves. How necessary it is to understand that if we want to get anything like an efficient transport system in this country.

How can we possibly organise long-distance transport on the basis of the small individual unit suggested by the Minister? Does the Minister really understand what the transport business is today? Does he understand the integration that takes place in order that vehicles and goods can be moved by road from the north of England, or even from the north of Scotland, down to the south and vice versa? Does he think for a moment that it is possible to do that with small, individual units?

The Minister may argue, in accordance with the terms of the Bill, that he has power to approve the sale of larger units than those outlined in the Bill, but I suggest that it would be very dishonest indeed to take refuge in those words. The actual realities of transport indicate that there must be some large-scale businesses, with large units in operation. Today, we have built up, and are in the process of making still more efficient, a really splendid road transport system in this country.

What does this proposal mean? It does not mean that these operations can be carried out by one or two people with a small number of lorries, because there are depots to establish, maintenance to provide for and administrative centres, with arrangements for collection and delivery, to be provided. If we get away from this idea, it will mean a very serious blow indeed to the users of transport, and a very serious blow to everyone engaged in the transport industry, as well as to the nation as a whole.

I hope the Minister will continue the open mind which he has had on transport questions. He has already had three bites at the cherry and changed his mind on most things, and I therefore suggest that, on this fourth occasion, he might also give consideration to the proposals now put forward by people who understand transport. The only people opposed to them must be the Road Haulage Association, who, though contributing to the funds of the Conservative Party, are certainly not consumers of transport. In an integrated transport system, we have to establish some unanimity of services, with regular schedules in operation. Is it possible for this to be done by means of small units?

Some of my hon. Friends have rightly referred to the deplorable conditions that existed in those small units in pre-war days, and the constant violation of the law which then took place. This House was engaged from time to time in passing legislation with a view to checking those evils.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

The hon. Gentleman talks about violations of the law. Perhaps he was not present during the Committee stage when I drew attention to most flagrant and very widespread violations of the law by the Road Haulage Executive. Does not he agree that it is rather a case of the pot calling the kettle black if public enterprise and private enterprise start accusing each other of breaking the law in this matter?

Mr. Popplewell

I was present during the Committee stage when the hon. Member made his observation, and I remember that it was confined to a particular depot where one supervisor was responsible for putting the thing into operation. On that occasion, the hon. Member charged the Transport Commission with something which they had not done. He was asked to give further instances, which he could not, and it was pointed out to him that he was taking an individual case out of the whole context and magnifying the incident. Out of some thousands of cases, he had to dig very deep in the mud to get that one, whereas in pre-war days, taking the North-West Traffic Commissioner's area alone, there were something like 10,000 prosecutions each quarter.

It is acknowledged that this House had to spend a great deal of time in pre-war days passing legislation to check violations of the law relating to the loading of vehicles, the road-worthiness of vehicles and hours of work.

Mr. Renton

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is still confining the evidence he is purporting to give to the pre-war period, but, surely, it is important and necessary to compare the postwar record of private enterprise in this matter with the post-war record of the Transport Commission. If he does that, he will find that the standards of the one are as high, or, if he likes, as low, as the standards of the other. I would also point out that the case which I cited before in this House was by no means an isolated case, as the hon. Gentleman will find if he turns up the record.

Mr. Popplewell

The hon. Gentleman had very great difficulty in citing another case when challenged to do so. He is not correct in saying that there have been more prosecutions in the case of Transport Commission vehicles than there were of private enterprise vehicles. Anyone of us who serves as a magistrate knows that private enterprise prosecutions outnumber Transport Commission prosecutions by about a hundred to one.

If the Minister gets his way with the Bill the House will again have to waste time trying to tighten up the law. I suggest, therefore, that in the interests of everyone concerned we must attempt, even in these denationalisation proposals, to preserve a reasonably efficient system. Speaking as a trade unionist and as one who knows something about negotiations within the transport industry, I can assure the House that in the past we always had difficulty in getting anything like decent conditions for the men engaged in small units. It was always easier to negotiate with a large-scale organisation.

A big organisation can put more efficient methods into operation such, for instance, as giving the driver of the vehicle the right to say when it was not fit to go on the road without any penalising clauses. Again, a big organisation is usually willing to give reasonable welfare facilities, and, on the whole, it is far easier to get common sense and reason out of a big organisation than out of a number of small units. Though the small units might be quite willing to do these things, their financial situation makes it absolutely impossible for them to do them. Hence, we get the worst of two worlds.

I sincerely hope the Minister will say that he is prepared to listen to transport experts outside the House and to what hon. Members have had to say up to now—none of whom has been in favour of the proposal—and that, even if he cannot accept our Amendment as drafted, he will at least accept the principle and will draft his own Amendment to meet the particular circumstances, if not on the Report stage, when the Bill goes to another place.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) told us that he has risked the kiss of death. I think he was absolutely right in that for he was risking a kiss of death by putting down an Amendment which, to some extent, supported the point of view he put forward during the Committee stage. However, I remember that on the Committee stage the hon. Gentleman did not risk the political death that might have come to him from his right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary by going into the Division Lobby in support of his point of view.

Mr. Ian Harvey

It is always important to live to fight another day.

Mr. Champion

I can well imagine that the hon. Gentleman intends to take the same cowardly action again today, and that he will not risk political death by going into the Division Lobby in support of his Amendment.

I must say that the points of view put forward both by the hon. Gentleman himself and by the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) are deserving of consideration by the Minister. They relate to the break-up of this undertaking and to the set up that is to take its place, and are of considerable importance. They were well thought out, and had ideas behind them which I am sure ought to be put into operation in view of the decision to break up the present transport undertaking.

7.0 p.m.

I must pass now to my main criticism of the Bill as it stands and of this Clause, and to my support of the Amendment on which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) spoke. It is true, and I think inevitable, that there will be a loss on the sale of these vehicles, despite anything which the hon. Member for Hall Green has said about the possibility of the creation of a new form of goodwill as a result of the operation of the Road Haulage Executive. Here we are in danger of selling at a loss which will fall upon the other road users who will have to pay the levy and, in turn, will fall upon those who use those transport undertakings.

I have had evidence from my local Co-operative Society to the effect that the amount of levy to be paid by them as a result of these proposals will be something like £1,000 per annum. That is a large sum to be paid over the number of years during which this levy might operate and from which they will not gain anything that will add to the value of their undertakings. It seems to me that our suggested Amendment would prevent something which I fear will happen in this sale. There is already some evidence, though it is true that it is not the kind that one could use in a court of law, that people are beginning to talk in terms of getting together to carve up the sale of this undertaking between them in such a way that they will not pay the total sum which ought to be paid for the undertaking, but will pay as little as they possibly can and will afterwards auction the undertaking between themselves at the true value.

This is an old experience of mine in the agricultural industry. Time after time butchers would go to fat stock markets and arrange beforehand that only one of them should bid for a beast. After the beast had been bought they went to the local public-house and there decided the true value of the beast, auctioned it among themselves, and split up between them the difference between the true value and the amount they had actually paid There are rumours, which I think the Minister ought to take into consideration, that something of this sort is likely to happen in the sale of these vehicles. This is an important point which the Minister must have in his mind. It is disturbing to all who have to think in terms of the sale of these vehicles and the possible losses which will have to be met out of the Transport Levy.

The words of the Bill are not sufficient to guard against this happening. I am sure that a much better safeguard is to be found in the Amendment on which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South-East spoke. That Amendment provides that … the price payable on such purchase to be not less than the amount at which such property stands in the balance sheets of the Commission at the date of the passing of this Act, and to be satisfied by the allocation to the Commission of the whole of the authorised share capital carrying voting rights in such companies, and to carry on business as carriers of goods by road for hire or reward; … It seems to me that this would be something like a safeguard against the difficulties which I think will arise from the sale of these vehicles and possibly as a result of the carve up which I fear.

I am amazed to find that on this stage of the Bill, as well as in Committee, no one from the Government benches has voiced the fears of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. Those were clearly stated in the booklet, some aspects of which we have already discussed. But hon. Members on the Government side, closely associated as they are with that organisation, have voiced the fears of the users of this newly created undertaking that as a result of what is to happen in the sale of these vehicles they will lose the service which they want.

All the repudiations which came about possibly as a result of the intervention of the Minister of Transport and of the Government have not caused the Association to withdraw their expressions of fear. They still stand, and they are still extremely important. I think that some hon. Members opposite ought to have faced the possibility of the political death to which I referred just now by pressing upon the Minister of Transport the point of view of their friends. These fears were voiced on behalf of some 60,000 users of the haulage undertaking, big and small, and I am sure that they are entitled to some representation in this House.

I am expressing those fears because no one on that side of the House appears to be willing to do so. I feel that it is my duty to act on this occasion on behalf of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. I ask the Minister to accept the Amendment to which I have referred, not for the sake of the trade unionists—although they are extremely important and I support everything that my hon. Friends have said with regard to them—but on behalf of the chambers of commerce.

Mr. Cole

As all hon. Members know, the purpose of the Government in this Bill is to denationalise transport and to hand back all operations of transport, by and large, to the small man. That is not to say that the large operator is not very much needed for the bigger undertakings, but the general purpose is to bring the small haulier back into the industry as it was before nationalisation.

The suggested creation of companies, a suggestion which was made on the Committee stage and is being made again tonight, will do just the opposite. It will put the whole structure of the industry into the hands of a number of companies who in everything but size will be on the same basis as is the State-owned industry today. Our whole point on this side of the House is that these machines should be owned by the small man and operated by the small man, giving a service and providing competition for the benefit of users as a whole. That cannot happen if the entire services are run by these companies with boards of directors and a number of shareholders. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept the Amendment for the reason, amongst others, that it will go counter to the whole spirit and purpose of the Bill.

I and my hon. Friends have constituents who want the opportunity to acquire these vehicles. Are we to fly in the face of all our promises to the body politic and turn this service into a company-controlled business? I suggest that we would be breaking faith with the hauliers if we accepted the suggested Amendment.

Mr. McLeavy

Would the hon. Member give us his views about maintaining the standard of wages and conditions of employment of those engaged in the industry? Have they not the right to be considered?

Mr. Cole

Of course, they have every right to be considered. I have heard no argument from the opposite benches which has convinced me, or, I believe, any other hon. Member on this side of the House, that it is impossible to look after the interests of the workers by a properly organised system, through the trade unions and by means of the normal Government regulations, without having to use these large organisations. Is there any guarantee that these proposed 20 or 30 official companies would give better conditions of service and pension rights than any haulier can give? I believe that the hauliers of this country are and will be as jealous of the interests and the welfare of those who work for them as any State-owned industry will ever be. I do not believe it is right to assume that the only way to preserve the rights of the workers is by having large organisations to look after them.

Mr. Awbery

Would the hon. Member extend his argument to the question of the roads? Does he suggest that the roads should be divided and given to separate owners?

Mr. Cole

My answer is that I do not believe that all the frantic worries of the Opposition will be realised. I sincerely hope not, anyway. I believe that the hauliers of this country, the people who started this industry many years ago, will enter the industry in the service of their customers. If there is a customer who is prepared to give a paying load to a haulier, there will be a haulier to take that load and who will be prepared to work out the necessary arrangements.

I believe there is implicit in this Amendment the facility for the easy re-nationalisation of this industry if the party opposite return to power.

Mr. Awbery

That will not be long.

Mr. Cole

That may or may not have been in the minds of hon. Members opposite, but in this Amendment, which otherwise looks innocuous, there is the germ of future re-nationalisation in the unfortunate event of the party opposite returning to power.

I want to turn my remarks to the contention made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). He said that by turning this disposal arrangement into a company system, automatically more money would be obtained from the sale of these units in disposing of vehicles and garages. I asked him in an intervention what reasons he could give to support that contention, because I do not believe that it is necessarily so. I suggest that anybody's guess is as good as anybody else's as to the time when those units would produce the most. It is well known that the whole question of placing shares upon the market, whether in the City of London or elsewhere, is a very hazardous undertaking.

The Amendment says that the British Transport Commission shall await the appropriate and the best time to put the scheme into effect. When is that time? Is it now, or in five years' time? Will it be said in two years' time, "We wish we had done it before because it was a better time then than now"? How long is this thing going on? I suggest that it will not be nine months, but that it may well be nine years. The purpose of this Amendment may well be to delay the whole process of de-nationalisation.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said that if the sale of these vehicles produced more revenue through the sale of the shares, the Transport Levy would be reduced. That is true, but if less were produced the Transport Levy would be increased. If we are going to have these guesses from the Opposition as to the benefits of this Amendment, let us have a guess from this side and look at the other side of the medal—

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Member has not quite understood my point, which is simply this. It is proposed in the Amendment that the shares will not be marketed by the Commission until they can see that no loss will be sustained on their sales. If that procedure is followed, no additional Transport Levy can arise from the sale of the shares at a loss.

Mr. Cole

I am glad the hon. Member gave that reply because it leads to my next point. I do not know whether the House appreciates this point. Let me quote the words at the end of the Amendment. These shares are to be sold so that in the case of any such transport unit the portion of the price received or receivable on the sale of such shares which is fairly attributable to that transport unit shall not be less, all due allowances and adjustments being made, than the amount at which that transport unit stands in the balance sheets of the Commission … That means that there is not to be a price at which the market will want those shares but that the price of the shares is to be related to the value of the vehicles as it stands in the Transport Commission's books. That is an arbitrary figure over which this House and the public will have no control. Therefore, I suggest to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that the scales are weighed against his contention and in favour of the possibility that these shares may not be taken up. Shares which are not taken up in the market immediately fall in value. The important part of the Amendment is not in the general principle at the beginning but in the words at the end, which tie hand and foot what should be a free issue and a free offer to the public to an entirely arbitrary figure put down in the books of the British Transport Commission.

As I have already said, the whole idea of this Bill is to provide the small haulier with the possibility to enter into this industry. Side by side with that and superimposed on it is additional efficiency to the traders who will use that transport service. Despite the alleged protests of which we have heard from 60,000 transport users, I believe that by and large the users will be glad that the industry has been de-nationalised and put back into the hands of the road hauliers. I do not believe that we shall have that incentive of competition, and that spirit of service to industry if this scheme is carried out by means of placing shares upon the general market in the manner proposed in the Amendment.

Mr. Awbery

If the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) had carried his argument to its logical conclusion he would have been advocating a return to the turnpike trusts, under which the roads were divided between a large number of owners.

I should like to reinforce the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who emphasised that the great trade union movement were unanimously opposed to this Bill. When the original nationalisation Measure was introduced, the then Opposition argued that the trade unionists had not had an opportunity of considering the matter. Since then the trade unionists have had experience not only of the competitive system but of the new system of State ownership, and the whole of the trade union movement are now 100 per cent. behind the Opposition in resisting the return of the road transport industry to private enterprise.

I want hon. Members opposite to understand that. Meetings have been held up and down the country—

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

How many people attended them?

Mr. Awbery

—not sponsored by the heads of the unions, but started from the bottom by the men themselves. They were well attended and well organised meetings, some of which I addressed myself, where the resolutions were unanimous because experienced men were dealing with the problem and expressing their opinion. There is greater satisfaction in the industry today than there has ever been before.

Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North)

Would the hon. Member agree that at one of those mass meetings affecting his constituency and my own only 28 people turned up?

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Before my hon. Friend answers that question, can he tell us whether the attendance at these meetings—to be taken as representative of the interest in this Bill—was any greater than the attendance on the other side of the House at the moment, where, I understood, there was some interest in the Bill?

Mr. Awbery

The interest taken by the trade unionists in this Bill is greater than that taken in any other Bill I have ever known—and I have had 20 years' experience in the trade union movement. If hon. Members opposite want to know why trade unionists are opposed to the de-nationalisation of this industry I can tell them that they referred to it at my meetings as the "sell-out and the shell-out" by the Government to their friends.

I am opposed to the return of any of these vehicles, whether they are sold in units of tens, hundreds or thousands. I object to going back to the old system of which we have had so much experience. Five years ago we bought up a large number of these vehicles. They were then scrap iron and if we wanted to find out their condition at that time we had to ask not the owner of the vehicles but the operatives themselves, who were compelled to take vehicles out on the road when they were unfit for road service because if they did not take them out they were sacked.

One does not find that happening in the road transport industry today. I have known scores of cases where men have been sacked because they refused to take out vehicles. I have known many cases where men applied for positions as drivers of lorries and, having taken them out on the roads, complained that the lorries were not fit for use because the brakes were unsatisfactory. They went back to their employers who said. "You are not the man we want."

Mr. G. Wilson

How recently have these cases come to the notice of the hon. Member?

Mr. Awbery

They occurred before we nationalised the industry. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) gave instances where men were compelled to violate the law to maintain their jobs. I can give cases, from my own experience, of men being compelled to violate the law and to work in violation of the fair wage clauses of their contracts. They were afraid to complain because if they did they were sacked. They carried on with their jobs because of the economic circumstances existing at that time.

That is one of the reasons why the men in this industry are opposed to this Bill. There are others. I remember the previous great sell-out. I became an official of the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1920. It was about that time that the surplus vehicles from the 1914–18 war were being sold. They were not sold to one big concern but to individuals. A man would buy one or two vehicles and then begin to compete with other men who had bought vehicles to get the work that was available. They had to undercut in price to get the jobs. After they got the contract they found that they were unable to carry it out at the agreed price and then they began attacking the wages of the workers, and from 1920 onwards those wages came tumbling down because of this multiplicity of small owners.

The hon. Member for Bradford, East explained that it was far better for a trade union to negotiate with a large organisation than with a multitude of smaller employers. That is why we should like to see a large rather than a small organisation; but rather than a large one I should prefer to see the State owning these vehicles.

A change of ownership will not do everything. Something more is required. If one is to have success in industry one needs the co-operation and good will of the men who are employed in it. As these men drive their red vehicles along the roads today they feel that they are part of the industry and have a say in what they are doing. They feel that they are working for the nation. These are the men who have built up this organisation and, by this Bill, we are now going to destroy the greatest asset we have—the asset of good will and good relations between employers and employees.

I realise that we cannot stop this Bill going through. Although this is a minority Government they can carry the Bill through the Lobbies of the House of Commons. But if they sell this industry back to their friends at low prices we shall buy it back again later. The time is not far ahead when a Labour Government will be returned and an opportunity will be given for the people in this industry to express their wishes.

Mr. Cole

Did the hon. Member say, "We shall buy it back again"?

Mr. Awbery

The opinion of a large number of my friends is that the time will come, very shortly, when a Labour Government will be returned again and they will then have an opportunity of buying back the industry which the Government are taking away today. But I warn hon. Members opposite that the terms of compensation will not be the same as they were on the last occasion. We shall have to have regard to the circumstances prevailing at the time and I am afraid that the people will not agree to our doing what we did on the last occasion. It may be necessary then for us to tax the profits of the industry.

In the interim, these vehicles may be allowed to run down in order that the owners may make high profits and they may be in an unsatisfactory state and need repair when we take them over again. There is no reason why we should not repair these vehicles out of the profits of the industry. I would remind prospective buyers that they must beware, because the time will come, and I think not very far hence, when we shall have to do our duty to the people of this country and to do in reverse what the Government are doing today—to buy back the industry which they are selling.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We are now considering 16 Amendments together, and I had intended to wait a little longer before I intervened. I certainly have no wish to cut short the debate. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is anxious to follow me immediately, however, as he has a dinner engagement; and, despite the rather harsh observations of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), I am anxious to meet the right hon. Gentleman's convenience. The only reference I will make to the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central is this: when we come back to power he said—and there were not very substantial cheers of confidence from the benches opposite—we shall tax the profits of road haulage.

Mr. Awbery

I said it might be necessary to do so.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

But there are no profits now. Indeed, at a proper stage I shall be very glad to give the House any information at my disposal on this subject, or to answer questions, but I very much fear that, despite their most strenuous efforts, the Road Haulage Executive are not making a profit; and this was so many months before the present situation arose. If the hon. Member anticipates profits arising as a result of de-nationalisation, then I think the long-suffering taxpayers of Britain, of every shade of opinion, will be glad to think that profits are around the corner.

Mr. Awbery

If no profits are made out of the industry, nobody will buy it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

A great many people have confidence that what is unprofitable in the hands of other people may in their own hands be turned to profit.

Mr. Mitchison

Does that mean higher prices?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

At no point has it been seriously suggested that the charges of private operators are higher than the charges of the Road Haulage Executive.

Mr. Popplewell

Yes, very seriously, and the figures prove it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If that is so—and I deny it—then ordinary economic circumstances would have seen that traffic went to the Road Haulage Executive, but the tragedy is that they have not been holding their own in the market; they have not been acquiring the position which last year and the year before it seemed that they might acquire.

Mr. Popplewell


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I must not give way too often because I am anxious in spirit, as well as in the letter, to carry out my promise to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) began this omnibus discussion by saying that never, he imagined, in the field of transport history had any Minister come to the House of Commons to say that one party to the transaction were wholly opposed to what the Government were doing. I believed it my duty to say what the British Transport Commission felt. I am their Parliamentary spokesman, and they have no opportunity of making statements in Parliament except through me. But I think the hon. Member's memory is a little at fault. Only five years ago, when the nationalisation of road haulage took place, no fewer than 3,289 people owning 30,000 vehicles had to be acquired by compulsion and were wholly opposed to the proposals of the Government. That did not prevent the then Government from coming to Parliament and asking for approval of their Measure—a Measure in which all but 477 owners had to be taken over by compulsion, only 477 agreeing voluntarily. I will not labour that point very much, but I hope that the argument will not emerge again.

Running through this debate—and I think this is the major debate on the Report stage on the part of the Bill dealing with the Road Haulage Executive's activities—has been the feeling that the Government, in their desire to take action speedily, intend to carry out the transaction with undue haste. I must once again reassure anybody who is ready to be reassured. We are anxious to carry this through as quickly as is reasonably practicable. We do not believe it to be a good thing that uncertainty should continue longer than it need. We have no intention of doing this in an undue or indecent hurry, but we want to carry it through as quickly as is reasonably practicable.

I notice with interest that one of the 16 Amendments which we are now considering—the Amendment to Clause 1—seeks to omit the words "as quickly as is reasonably practicable." Never at any time have we said that we are anxious to do it as quickly as possible. Those words have been put into our mouths by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. Throughout, we have said that our intention will be governed by Clause 1 (2), that these transactions must be carried through without avoidable disturbance of the transport system of the country. Again, it has been suggested that we are anxious to put on the market all at once 35,000 vehicles. But the Bill clearly demonstrates that the Commission are to put the vehicles which they have to sell on the market not all at once—those words do not appear in the Bill—but "from time to time."

Another thought running through the discussion has been this: why should the Government have a procedure for the Steel Bill different from that for the Transport Bill? In our discussion on the Steel Bill we have reached only Clause 3, and no doubt other arguments may well be adduced as that debate develops, but, in fact, the situations are quite different. The nationalisation of the steel industry did not basically change the structure of the industry as it had been developed under private enterprise. The State acquired the steel industry by acquiring the shares, and it is reasonable that the restoration to private hands should follow the same pattern.

In the Iron and Steel Bill, the present Corporation is to disappear entirely and all its assets are being transferred to the Agency to carry out the disposal. Under the Transport Bill, on the other hand, the Commission will still remain as a very formidable and important body which will have the duty of disposing of the assets of one part—only a minor part—of their transport undertaking; and, in doing so, the Commission are to act on lines agreed with the Disposal Board.

Those are two important differences and, in fact, there is a third. Under the Iron and Steel Bill the Agency are to dispose of securities, whereas under the Transport Bill the Commission are mainly—and I shall have a good deal to say on this theme—but perhaps not entirely, to dispose of physical assets. Those are differences which any Government anxious to relate their solution to the individual peculiarities of the problem were bound to bear in mind.

We have had a great many suggestions, many of which I recognise as quite disinterested, on the best way to carry out the Government's intention. They come from all sorts of people, often people who are vehemently opposed to the proposals in the Bill but who, like patriotic people, are anxious to see what they regard as a wrong step carried out with the least possible disturbance. We have received many ideas, and I am reassured to know that that is no new thing when major legislation is before Parliament. According to Kipling, such things happened even in the neolithic age, for he says: There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, And—every—single—one—of—them—isright! The Government may conceivably be right. We hear the various forms which this structure may take from people who speak as if there were no alternative solution and as if only their ideas were right, but I ask hon. Members to consider for a moment that the Government may also be right. Many alternative suggestions have been made. I have read much about them and I have listened to them patiently, and I think I can say that in almost every case I have met their authors personally, often many times.

We have had, first of all—they were referred to today by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East—the proposals made by Mr. Roger Sewell, a great friend of many of us, and one, I must point out, who is an eminent director of Aims of Industry. I was a little surprised that his particular contribution had not been more often mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I suppose that was because Aims of Industry is supposed, in the imagination of many Socialist speakers, to keep a sinister place behind the ranks of the Tory Party. I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that Mr. Sewell speaks with considerable authority.

What has Mr. Sewell suggested? I hope that in my brief analysis of the various contributions I shall not be misrepresenting anybody. The British Transport Commission, says the Aims of Industry, should just be a board of directors with the powers of a holding company. There should be six regional transport boards for road and rail, and they should be set up in the areas under the authority of the board of directors. Only 25 per cent. of the road haulage concern should be sold off to private enterprise: say, 10,000 vehicles. This is the gentleman who speaks, says the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East, with great authority. Only 25 per cent. should be sold off. The rest would be organised by the area boards. There is no provision for private enterprise to acquire any great stake in the British Transport Commission's road haulage activities.

That is clearly inconsistent with the Government's proposals. It is not merely a difference on machinery. It is a difference of intention. We intend to break the monopoly of the Road Haulage Executive, and this particular proposal, interesting though it is—and I have had many talks with Mr. Sewell about it—is inconsistent with the Government's main intention—though I have profited by those talks, and I hope that the solution, when I come to it, will give some indication of how we have all profited by conversations of that kind.

Next, I come to the proposal of the Chambers of Commerce. It is true that the Socialist Party thought they had a heaven-sent opportunity of dividing a powerful organisation normally supporting the Tory ranks from its political paymasters. I am only using the sort of language one hears from time to time in other people's speeches at the weekends. It is true also that it was immediately repudiated by a number of eminent branches of the Chambers of Commerce. None the less, it is a very interesting suggestion. But it is not the same suggestion as that of the Aims of Industry.

The Road Haulage Executive was to be immediately divorced—immediately—from the B.T.C. and placed under a board, and the board should be a holding company. The Road Haulage Executive would be reorganised into a number of separate companies with individual boards of directors. It is curious how the board of directors conception comes in all these things, and is held to be so much preferable to the Conservative Party conception. Each of these boards would have its own share capital, which would be available for sale to private enterprise.

In our view, this would throw a protective shield around the whole of the reorganised Road Haulage Executive. Private enterprise could buy shares in the subsidiary companies, but the general structure would be maintained, and the ultimate control would be vested in the board acting as a holding company. In our view, again, this would be inconsistent with the declared intentions of the Government, on which the country exercised its choice a year or so ago.

Then we have another interesting suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) which they made in December and again today, much simpler in form to the procedure suggested by the Chambers of Commerce; broadly the same idea, but infinitely simpler in form. My hon. Friend said he thought there must have been some misunderstanding at the Committee stage. There certainly was as to the scope of the proposal, whether it included all vehicles for disposal or whether some vehicles were to be left out. I think his most admirable speech today helped to clarify the issue.

My hon. Friends' proposals, as I originally understood them, were that the Executive would be divided into transport units to which a value would be assigned, including the goodwill, and the transport units should equal the total capital value of the Road Haulage Executive as shown in the Commission's accounts; each transport unit should be run separately until the disposal; they might then be incorporated, and the shares transferred, in whole or in part, to private enterprise: or the units might be sold as going concerns and without incorporation.

7.45 p.m.

Now, my hon. Friends' proposals have extreme attractions. We are very anxious to carry this disposal through in an orderly and proper way—in a decent way. The proposals of my hon. Friends, in our view, would impose a rigid and preconceived pattern on the companies to be set up by their proposals, which might be quite unacceptable to the private buyer, and the prices of which might also be wholly unacceptable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green made an outstanding contribution today. I think all who heard his speech will agree, in both matter and manner; and the way he made his speech without any notes at all recalled earlier days in Parliament. It was a most admirable contribution. In it he asked me a certain question in regard to the levy. He asked whether it would not be possible to hold the levy in suspense. I have never made any pretence that I like any charge of any kind. This levy is not a tax. All taxation is undesirable, if it can be avoided—avoided legitimately. This levy is not a tax, but I like it no more than any other charge. But, of course, as my hon. Friend will realise, the size of this levy will also depend—I hope it will be small and that it will not last very long—on the prices received for the assets.

We have heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, Central, who has now gone out before I have finished dealing with all the points he made, that the Commission paid large sums of money for what he called "scrap iron." If in fact the Commission paid more than it should have done under the late Government in voluntary acquisition of what was really scrap iron, one cannot expect that there will be all that return when the sale takes place.

Mr. Callaghan

I only want to say that my hon. Friend was not being discourteous in leaving the Chamber, I am sure. There is an important trade union function in the building tonight. It accounts for the absence of a number of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There is also a very important Conservative dinner, which is another explanation. I am very sorry if inadvertently suggested that the hon. Member had been discourteous. I certainly did not mean that.

In addition to that, of course, the levy will have to cover the costs of running the Disposal Board and the payment to the Commission for disturbance, and though I hope that the levy will be short-lived, and that the prices received will be satisfactory, I could not undertake to hold it in suspense. None the less it is a very interesting suggestion made by my hon. Friend.

Now we come to the proposals put before the House today by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East. I must, of course, assume that the main purpose behind the hon. Gentleman's proposals is the desire to help, but I must confess that I find running through the whole of his Amendment an emphasis on delay. We must also read this in the light of the Amendment proposed to Clause 1. We make the modest suggestion in the Bill that this should be done as quickly as is reasonably practicable. I think it is not being unfair to the Opposition to say that they anticipate a very long-drawn-out process, during which perhaps, they hope changes may take place elsewhere which may prejudice the Government's scheme.

Their proposal would provide for a distribution scheme subject to the approval of the Minister, and would create a number of limited liability companies empowered to buy transport units at their capital value, and then to split the Road Haulage Executive into transport units each capable of being operated separately, and transferring them by purchase to the companies. These companies, I understand, would be administered by the Commission, and when the Commission deemed best, it would sell that part of the share capital it thought expedient.

Though, I agree, in the ultimate it would all be disposed of, in our view this would lead to inordinate delay. It would leave the Commission with the sole responsibility for setting the tempo of the sale, and though I recognise the Commission would discharge its duties laid on it by Parliament, it is really expecting too much to leave to the Commission the sole control over the speed with which the transaction is carried out.

As to the purchaser, what is he going to get? He is going to get a minority of the shareholding. I cannot see any assurance that a large proportion of the shares, when they are eventually sold off, is going to be sold to the same person. Even if it were so, for quite a considerable time, perhaps an indefinite time it would be only a minority shareholding, and if the hon. Gentleman really thinks this would lead to a good price for the Commission for these businesses, he is deeply mistaken.

None of the proposals made to us seems to be devised wholly adequately—and the last one seems wholly inadequate—to further our object, which is a smooth, orderly and rapid manner of distribution. I am advised, however, by our legal advisers that if the Commission and the Disposal Board come to the conclusion that for part of the assets now held by the Road Haulage Executive some form of company structure is desirable, the present wording of the Bill would not enable that to happen, that only physical assets can be disposed of; so I now come to a definite practical suggestion.

I have had talks with the Commission, and so have my advisers. The Commission have most strongly urged that a limited application of the company principle would not only facilitate disposal but would very much help them in dealing with their highly complicated internal problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green dealt with some of those problems, as indeed many others have done—the question of constantly changing the accounts structure, debit and credit accounts, the stores of surplus equipment of all kinds, and all the other imponderable assets that go to making a modern business. They have said it would help them considerably if there were permissive provision in the Bill for some such company structure.

I am also very impressed by the argument, given expression to by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), that some such structure might well help the confidence of the staff by identifying the staff with a particular part of an undertaking which was to be disposed of as a whole, and give them a sense of security, easing the change-over to private enterprise. The hon. Gentleman made a number of other points with which I will deal on the appropriate Clauses of the Bill, and I hope to have something worth while to say later on about the wage structure of the companies that will be retained by the Commission.

I must make it quite plain that we recognise—as my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has stressed throughout, and I agree with him—the need for flexibility in this operation, but there is no question whatever of setting up a rigid mosaic of companies covering the whole country and offering any hope that they will conform to what the purchasers want. Some may want a company structure. Those whose families have long been in transport, if they could see the creation of some company which bore a strong resemblance to the company that they reluctantly surrendered under nationalisation, might be very glad indeed to come back through that machinery.

Others may not want a company. It may be too elaborate an organisation for some small people, or they may want to add the business to their own existing business. But I do think that there should be some power to do so, and I was very surprised to find that the actual wording would have the effect of precluding that. So we are proposing seriously to consider further with the Commission the question of meeting this particular need, but we must take steps, as I said, to see that this is not a rigid stereotyped pattern; but the pattern of likely demand in the country, which it will be much easier to gauge when this Bill leaves this House, should guide us in the formation of these companies.

If, as I hope, the talks with the Commission reach a fruitful conclusion, it must be left to the Disposal Board and the Commission how best to use the new powers that may be given to them. I have been urged by the Commission that it will help them in their own internal problems, and I am very anxious to do so. Some difficulties yet remain to be settled if we are to decide to do this, and I think the arguments are extremely strong and weighty. It will necessitate some rather complicated Amendments. The principle is simple. The Amendments may look formidable, but they will not be formidable save in words. In substance the machinery would be perfectly simple.

If, as I hope, it is possible to introduce Amendments in another place, they will then come back to this House where we shall have a chance to consider them and their full implications. However, I would ask hon. Members not to be deceived by the volume of lines which may be necessary in order to give effect to this very simple improvement, but to realise that, though the machinery may appear complicated, on closer examination it will not be so formidable.

Mr. Mitchison

Will not the result of this be that there will come back here from the other place complicated and lengthy Amendments which we shall have no opportunity ourselves to amend?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I see no reason whatever to anticipate that we shall not have a proper discussion on them. The rules of the House will apply, and no dogmatic assertion of mine can vary them. As the House knows, there is machinery for the discussion of Lords' Amendments, and there are many opportunities in another place, where the Opposition are well represented in the transport field, to consider these problems there, in the first instance, on their merits. They will not involve any great changes, certainly no changes of principle, but they will be an improvement in machinery which has been asked for from both sides of the House. I think it would be a little strange if, in a desire to listen to the advice that has been profferred, and which I think has got great merit in it, and using the normal Parliamentary machinery open to us, we were in any way criticised for taking the next step in that way.

Mr. Mitchison

These requests were made in Committee.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am quite prepared to return to that again. We have had a lengthy and most helpful discussion with the Commission: there are innumerable difficulties in this field, which hon. Members and those who have experience in the Ministry of Transport will recognise take a considerable time to resolve, but we are, I hope, near to resolving them. As this is a bicameral legislature, it seems wholly appropriate that some important issues should first see the light of day in another place, and then reach here eventually, where they can certainly be fully considered.

There is a point which has not yet been mentioned, but which I think may be raised, and in case the right hon. Gentleman refers to it I hope the House will forgive me for dealing with it for a moment. I have put my name to an Amendment of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) designed to ensure that there should not be too great a concentration in too few hands. In Clause 3, page 6, line 3, at the end, to insert: (6) In determining which tenders for transport units are to be accepted and which refused, the Commission shall have regard to the desirability of avoiding the ownership or control of the property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking being concentrated in too few hands. We have been anxious throughout that in breaking up a public monopoly we should not establish a private monopoly instead. The figures are very difficult to come by, and the latest date for which figures are obtainable in this respect is in 1938. In 1938 there were only 79 holders of "A" licences with more than 50 vehicles each, and 22 with more than 100. The average number of "A" licences to each licence holder was 3.20 in 1938 and 4.77 in 1947. There were a number of very large companies, not all of which by any means were in railway hands; there were Holdsworth and Hanson, Fisher-Renwick and a number of others.

When we say we do not want to see this industry concentrated in too few hands, we do not mean we believe there is no case whatever for large-scale organisation. Indeed there is. I was delighted to hear the tribute to large-scale organisation paid by the hon. Member for Bradford, East. Of course there will be a need for a considerable number of substantial businesses, but we are anxious that over a wide field there shall be many openings for smaller people, and that is why we have included in the Bill provision whereby for more than 50 vehicles or vehicles of more than 200 tons unladen total weight approval must be sought from the Minister. I recognise the probability, nay, the certainty, of a considerable number of applications to do that, but I think it is important that a Minister who is openly breaking a public monopoly should have the responsibility of judging every application which, in his view, might lead to the creation of a private monopoly instead, and we have no intention whatever of not providing in a free road haulage industry the best possible blend of large-scale and small-scale organisations.

I cannot ask the House to accept any of these Amendments, but I give an undertaking that we shall continue the talks we are having with profit, and I hope that in another place we shall find that an agreed solution will be reached.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for meeting my personal convenience as to the time at which he spoke. I will come to the merits of his positive proposals quite quickly. I must, however, first say a word about the allegation that the Road Haulage Executive are now making no profits. They were, quite recently, making a noticeable profit, but there is this to be said about that. They have suffered a great deal of disturbance at the hands of the Government. The Government have limited them in certain ways and have bad this Bill hanging over their heads, and, by propaganda, the Conservative Party have done everything they could do to damage the work of the Road Haulage Executive. It would, therefore, be a wonder if they had not been hurt by it.

No doubt, other people have taken other action with a view to diverting business from the Road Haulage Executive. They have also had to carry a substantially increased petrol tax, which is a considerable burden on industry. That was due to the action of the Government. They have also had to carry increased wages, partly as the result of the Government's budgetary action in increasing the cost of food by stopping the subsidies. That has had a bad effect upon them. There is insurance as well.

I am told that private enterprise sought an agreement with the Transport Commission or the Road Haulage Executive to put up their charges, because evidently private enterprise was feeling the draught very badly. What their present profits are has not been stated. It has been said that they made £10 million a year before, but that is partly because they evaded the law. There had been many breaches of the law, as is well known, and the conditions of vehicles and the conditions of labour had left much to be desired. Therefore, if private enterprise wanted to increase charges and the Executive would not agree, to that extent British industry has to thank the existence of the Road Haulage Executive.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that a few weeks ago the Transport Commission came to me, as they are obliged to do under the terms of the Transport Act, and as there is no merchandise charges scheme in existence, to ask my approval for an application to be made to the Transport Tribunal for an increase of road and rail freight charges, which increase I announced in the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I do not think that this arises on the Amendment.

Mr. Morrison

I am answering the Minister. I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I shall not irritate you any more than I can avoid. I was answering the Minister's point on the allegation that the Road Haulage Executive were not making money. I was referring just now to the period 1949–50.

The Commission take the view, as I understand from what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has said, that not only is the present shape of the Bill unfortunate, and they do not like it, but that it is unworkable and that this method of disposal should not be engaged in it. It is true, as the Minister has pointed out, that under Clause 1 (2) the disposal is to take place with the minimum of disturbance. But it is also directed that special regard shall be paid to small owners and to the sale of small units, and, moreover, the Minister has stated that it is his wish that this process should be finished by 31st December, 1953.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

This is an important point. I was asked in Committee how long I thought it would take. I said words to the effect that I hoped very much that it would be done by the end of the year, but I think that that is hoping for too much, and I have no wish whatever to spur on the Disposal Board or the Commission in a way which will weaken our declared intention to do this in an orderly manner and with the least avoidable disturbance. I think it would be in everyone's interest if it could be done as quickly as practicable. because no one wants an uncertain situation as a result of continuing this process longer than is necessary.

Mr. Morrison

The Minister said that the Bill must be taken as a whole. By time, we do not mean over the years. it was his hope that it will be possible to finish with the procedure of disposal by the end of the year. I gather that the Minister has now altered his mind about that being a practical proposition.

The approach which we are making is similar to the approach of the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). The Government expressed the view at the beginning of this battle that they wanted this break up of the Road Haulage Executive to take place as soon as possible, and with a view to the units being as small as practicable; that is to say, they wanted the number of vehicles managed by any individual to be as small as possible. They had a bias that way, and the whole of their propaganda against the Transport Act and in favour of this Bill has been on the basis of elevating the small man and discouraging the larger operator and the larger undertaking.

What we are apprehensive about is not the bias in favour of the small man as such. What we want, if this denationalisation is to take place—to which. of course, we are utterly opposed. because we think it is wrong—is that the process should be as smooth as possible and cause the minimum disturbance to the road haulage industry. The end of it should be that we ought to have something like a comprehensive and orderly road haulage system.

A document has been quoted, which comes from Tees-side, in which an enterprising gentleman has now propounded a scheme under which he wants to preserve all the advantages of public ownership. Indeed, it is extraordinary that he praises public ownership and the work of the Transport Commission in the process. I will not quote from the document because that has already been done. He is hoping to provide a private enterprise scheme which will give the world private enterprise coupled with the benefits of nationalisation, which is rather reversing my own philosophy of a public corporation to give one public enterprise and public ownership combined with business enterprise and business management.

It is a good thing, assuming that this deed is to be done, to which we are opposed, to try to have something like an orderly road haulage system in the country, although it cannot possibly be as good as it would have been under the Transport Commission. That is what we are getting at, and that is what the hon. Member for Hall Green has been getting at. It is what the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and other people have been getting at in the course of these arguments.

Make no mistake about it, the idea which we, the chambers of Commerce and the gentleman from Tees-side, are advocating is in complete contradiction to the basis on which the Government brought in this Bill. The basis on which they brought it in, the basis of the propaganda which led up to it, and the basis of the Minister's remarks hitherto, is that they wanted the maximum practicable number of small units, which must lead to muddle, confusion and a chaotic situation in the road haulage industry.

By the way, we did not say that private purchasers should, under our Amendment, have only a minority of holdings. If the Minister will look at lines 33 and 34 of our Amendment which directs the Commission to sell all or such quantities of the shares in the said companies held by the Commission as they deem appropriate.. he will see that there is nothing about their having to maintain a majority of the shares.

We are very glad that the Minister has gradually been partially educated—I wish very much that I could say he has been completely educated—by the arguments which we have advanced during the course of the Bill, aided by the hon. Member for Hall Green. My trade union colleagues who have argued the case have also argued it from the point of view that if the industry goes back to small limited units all competing with each other under the old anarchy of the road haulage industry, it is as certain as we are here that trade union standards will be damaged and that the practicability of making collective agreements with the unions will have been made more difficult. That is why there is a bias in favour of something in the way of decent organisation even if it has to go back to private enterprise.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman is not paying a very pretty compliment to the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has already done splendid work in arranging better labour relations between the owners of small businesses and their employees than prevailed in the past. Is there any reason to suppose that the good work of the Union should not continue?

Mr. Morrison

Some of my hon. Friends belong to the Union, and I have memories of the late Mr. Bevin and of Mr. Deakin and others who have been responsible officers in that great Union repeatedly saying that they had the utmost difficulty in getting collective agreements in the industry and getting those agreements properly recognised and enforced—and that was not so long ago—whereas they have been able to do effective and reliable business with the Road Haulage Executive, knowing that when an agreement had been reached it would be honoured and carried out.

Mr. G. Wilson

What does the Union do now with the private haulier, who employs the vast majority of lorry drivers?

Mr. Morrison

There has been some improvement under pressure and persuasion, but the Union still has difficulty with the private haulier. If we break the industry up into very small units we are bound to have difficulty. I am not blaming it on to the original sin of the small owner. It is in the nature of a system of small competitive ownership that it is difficult to reach collective agreements and to enforce them.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There is constant talk about small units as if even a small number of vehicles was a small business. The maximum number which can be grouped together without Ministerial approval is 50. If each vehicle is worth £3,000, such a business would be worth £150,000, which is a substantial undertaking.

Mr. Morrison

That is true, but I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is changing his philosophy. I am not complaining about it. On the whole, his philosophy has improved somewhat since he began. But the Bill does not say "50 vehicles"; it says "not more than 50 vehicles," and it has a bias in favour of a much smaller number than 50. It can be one vehicle. The Bill declares in favour of the small units. All the propaganda has been on that basis.

The Conservative Party has sought to get votes on the basis of looking after the little men. I never believed that the Conservative Party could go on looking after the little men for ever. It is not that sort of party. It is naturally the party of big business. We are the party of the small men. If there were any Liberals here, and there are not, I would even give them some share of credit for standing up for the small men. In fact, they have stood up for the small men to such an extent that they have completely wiped themselves out and are not here at all.

The Minister is now changing his tune. He is changing it partly because of our education and partly because of the education given to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, to whom he has, rightly, been very nice. If one is to reject an Amendment by an hon. Gentleman on one's own side it is wise to be flattering to him until one brings down the axe and cuts off his head. The Minister did it charmingly. If he could only be as nice to us as he was to his hon. Friend we should get on better—or else we should be under suspicion. 8.15 p.m.

However, he has now changed his tune, partly because of our propaganda and educational work and partly because of the natural tendency of the Conservative Party to go in for big business. He is now beginning to see the light. We are always ready to express our pleasure about the sinner that repenteth, and even if he has not completely repented, but only partly, he is at any rate on the way to salvation, and we are all in favour of that. If he achieves salvation through another place, which I have always said has its uses as a revising Chamber so long as it is not mischievous, we shall not grumble about that either.

We welcome the statement of the Minister as far it goes, but it does not tell us very much and we really cannot judge whether it will be satisfactory until we see the Amendment which, no doubt, in due course will come back to us from another place. We must reserve our complete freedom about it. But the minister is getting on. He is learning about the in-

dustry as he goes on with the Bill. My hon. Friends are teaching him day by day. and by the time we have really finished with the Bill he may be a much better Minister of Transport than he was at beginning of our debates.

The doctrine that this is a Bill of the small men is now thrown over. This is a Bill under which the small men may have a chance but there will be a bias in favour of the bigger men. On the whole, if it is possible to organise a better transport system that way, it is good. Nevertheless, while we welcome the improvement in the state of mind of the Minister as far as it has gone—and it has gone some way—we do not feel entirely satisfied, and I am afraid that at the appropriate time it will be necessary for us to divide the House in favour of our Amendments.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 228; Noes, 206.

Division No. 73.] AYES [8.18 p.m.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Crouch, R. F. Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hichingbrooke, Viscount
Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton) Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Hirst, Geoffrey
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Deedes, W. F. Holland-Martin, C. J.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Digby, S. Wingfield Hollis, M. C.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr J. M. Doods-Parker, A. D. Holt, A. F.
Baldwin, A. E. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry
Banks, Col. C. Donner, P. W. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.
Barlow, Sir John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Horobin, I. M.
Baxter, A. B. Drayson, G. B. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence
Beach, Maj. Hicks Drewe, C. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Finlay, Graeme Hurd, A. R.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Fisher, Nigel Hutchinson, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Hutchinson, James (Scotstoun)
Bishop, F. P. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.
Black, C. W. Fort, R. Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.
Bossom, A. C. Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Bowen, E. R. Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Jennings, R.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Boyle, Sir Edward Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Johnson, Horward (Kemptown)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Gammans, L. D. Jones, A. (Hall Green)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.) Garner-Evans, E. H. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Kaberry, D.
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Godber, J. B. Keeling, Sir Edward
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Lambert, Hon. G.
Bullard, D. G. Gower, H. R. Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.
Bullock, Capt. M. Graham, Sir Fergus Leather, E. H. C.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Gridley, Sir Arnold Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Grimond, J. Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)
Campbell, Sir David Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.
Carr, Robert Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Linstead, H. N.
Carson Hon. E. Hall, John (Wycombe) Llewellyn, D. T.
Cary, Sir Robert Hare, Hon. J. H. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.
Channon, H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Low, A. R. W.
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Harris, Reader (Heston) Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth,W.) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L. Harvey, Air Cdre A. V. (Macclesfield) McCallum, Major D
Cole, Norman Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.
Colegate, W. A. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Macdonald, Sir Peter
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Hay, John McKie, J. H. (Galloway)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Heald, Sir Llonel Maclean, Fitzroy
Cranborne, Viscount Heath, Edward Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Higgs, J. M. C. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)
Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries) Pitman, I. J. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Powell, J. Enoch Storey, S.
Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Markham, Major S. F. Profume, J. D. Summers, G. S.
Marlowe, A. A. H. Raikes, Sir Victor Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Marples, A. E. Rayner, Brig. R. Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton) Redmayne, M. Teeling, W.
Maude, Angus Remnant, Hon. P. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L C. Renton, D. L. M. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Medlicott, Brig. F. Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Mellor, Sir John Robertson, Sir David Tilney, John
Molson, A. H. E. Robson-Brown, W. Turner, H. F. L.
Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Turton, R. H.
Morrison, John (Salisbury) Roper, Sir Harold Tweedsmuir, Lady
Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Vosper, D. F.
Nabarro, G. D. N. Russell, R. S. Wade, D. W.
Nicholls, Harmar Ryder, Capt. R. E. D. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)
Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Scott, R. Donald Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Nugent, G. R. H. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Oakshott, H. D. Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Odey, G. W. Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington) Watkinson, H. A.
O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood) Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Snadden, W. McN. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Soames, Capt. C. Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Speir, R. M. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Peyton, J. W. W. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Pickthorn, K. W. M. Stevens, G. P. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.) Major Conant and Mr. Wills.
Acland, Sir Richard Dodds, N. N. Jones, David (Hartlepool)
Adams, Richard Donnelly, D. L. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)
Albu, A. H. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell) Edelman, M. Keenan, W.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Edwards, John (Brighouse) Kenyon, C.
Awbery, S. S. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) King, Dr. H. M.
Baird, J. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Balfour, A. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Bartley, P. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Lewis, Arthur
Bence, C. R. Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Lindgren, G. S.
Benn, Wedgwood Fernyhough, E. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Benson, G. Finch, H. J. MacColl, J. E.
Beswick, F. Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.) McGhee, H. G.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Follick, M. McInnes, J.
Bing, G. H. C. Foot, M. M. McLeavy, F.
Blackburn, F. Forman, J. C. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Blenkinsop, A. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Blyton, W. R. Freeman, John (Watford) Mainwaring, W. H.
Boardman, H. Freeman, Peter (Newport) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Gibson, C. W. Manuel, A. C.
Bowden, H. W. Glanville, James Mayhew, C. P.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Mellish, R. J.
Brockway, A. F. Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield) Messer, F.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mikardo, Ian
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mitchison, G. R.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Monslow, W.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Moody, A. S.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Hamilton, W. W. Morley, R.
Callaghan, L. J. Hardy, E. A. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Carmichael, J. Hargreaves, A. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Moyle, A.
Champion, A. J. Hastings, S. Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Chapman, W. D. Hayman, F. H. O'Brien, T.
Chetwynd, G. R. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Oldfield, W. H.
Clunie, J. Healy, Cahir (Fermanagh) O'Neill, Michael (Mid Ulster)
Coldrick, W. Herbison, Miss M. Orbach, M.
Collick, P. H. Hewitson, Capt. M. Oswald, T.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hobson, C. R. Padley, W. E.
Cove, W. G. Houghton, Douglas Paget, R. T.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Crosland, C. A. R. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Palmer, A. M. F.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pannell, Charles
Daines, P. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pargiter, G. A.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Parker, J.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Pearson, A.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Peart, T. F.
Davies, stephen (Merthyr) Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Plummer, Sir Leslie
de Freitas Geoffrey Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Popplewell, E.
Deer, G. Jeger, George (Goole) Porter, G.
Price Joseph T. (Westhoughton) Sparks, J. A. Weitzman, D.
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Wells, William (Walsall)
Proctor, W. T. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J. West, D. G.
Pursey, Cmdr. H Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John
Reeves, J. Swingler, S. T. Wheeldon, W. E.
Reid, Thomas (Swindon) Sylvester, G. O. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Reid, Witham (Camlachie) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Richards, R. Taylor, John (West Lothian) Wilkins, W. A.
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth) Williams, David (Neath)
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Thomas, David (Aberdare) Williams, Rev. Llwelyn (Abertillery)
Ross, William Thomas, George (Cardiff) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Shackleton, E. A. A. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Williams, W. R. (Droylsdon)
Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Short, E. W. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) Woodburn, R. Hon. A
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Thurtle, Ernest Wyatt, W. L.
Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Tomney, F. Yates, V. F.
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Turner-Samuels, M.
Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Snow, J. W. Viant, S. P. Mr. Holmes and Mr. James Johnson.
Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank Wallace, H. W.


Mr. Ernest Davies

I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, at the end, to insert: (7) No person other than a person nominated by the Commission under paragraph (a) of subsection (4) of this section shall be appointed a member of the Board who immediately before the sixth day of August nineteen hundred and forty-seven was or at any time since has been actively and regularly engaged in the road transport industry or any branch thereof. We now come to Clause 2, on which we had very little discussion in Committee. In the brief period in which the Guillotine permitted us to discuss this question on certain Amendments which we had put down we made it clear that we were opposed to the creation of the Disposal Board. We pointed out that we preferred that the responsiblity for the disposal of the transport units should be in the hands of the Commission; that they were the body entrusted with the responsibility of operating road haulage; and that they should be responsible for disposing of these public assets.

The main argument on which we based our view that the Disposal Board is an inappropriate body to dispose of public assets was that under the Clause now before us it will be composed of persons who are largely interested parties. The purpose of our Amendment is to make certain as far as possible that the persons appointed to the Board shall not have an interest in road haulage at present and, further, that they shall not have had an interest in it immediately prior to the provisional appointment of the members of the Transport Commission.

The first appointments to the Commission were made in August, 1947, and we consider that anyone who immediately prior to that date was engaged in road haulage would be an interested party, because he would be a person who had voluntarily or compulsorily disposed of his assets to the Commission. We further say that anyone who has since been engaged in the road transport industry or any branch thereof should be disqualified from serving on the Board.

The reason for that is that the composition of the Board indicates that there is every likelihood of those persons appointed by the Minister being interested parties. In the first place, there is one member appointed from the persons nominated by the Commission, which is as it should be, although in Committee we suggested that that should be increased from one to two or even more. In the second place, one member shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies representative of trade and industry as the Minister thinks fit. Clearly, that person might be an interested party.

8.30 p.m.

The third person is to be appointed after consultation with such bodies representative of persons holding A or B licences as the Minister thinks fit. There, clearly and beyond any question of doubt, is someone highly likely to be interested in road haulage. Surely if such a person is on the Board he will be interested in the manner in which the assets are disposed of and in the price at which they are sold. It is hardly likely that such a person will be concerned primarily with carrying out the other Clauses of the Bill which provide for the disposal at as reasonable a price as possible. The other person is to be appointed after consultations with such bodies representative of persons holding C licences as the Minister thinks fit. Here, again, he will be an interested party. It is true he may not be engaged in the industry for hire or reward, but many C licence holders may be disposed to purchase these assets if they are to be obtained cheaply and if a profit may be made out of them. It is true that in subsection (7) of the Clause it is provided that a member of the Board who is directly or indirectly interested in any transaction has to disclose his interest, and shall not take part in the deliberations of the Board, but we consider that that is wholly inadequate, because it refers only to the transactions in which he himself is directly or indirectly interested, and, therefore, to specific transactions.

Our argument is that persons generally interested in road haulage operating under private enterprise would be interested parties and would not be primarily concerned with the interests of the State, of disposing of the assets of the Commission at the best possible price and in the most orderly manner.

In this connection, various Amendments were put before the Committee during our previous discussions, and it is because none of those put forward by us was accepted that we feel it even more important that there should be this protection. There was an Amendment put forward by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) which, at that time, the Minister said he would accept. It was an Amendment to include on the Board representatives of the trade unions. We on this side of the House objected strongly, because we were aware that the trade unions had stated they had no intention of serving on the Board, that they would not be involved in the disposal of national assets in which they had an interest, so far as working conditions, and so on, were concerned, apart from the general public interest.

Despite the protests of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and the rather heated exchanges between him and the Minister of Transport, the Minister insisted that he would accept the Amendment of the noble Lord and introduce it on Report. I should like to know why that Amendment has not been put down. The mere fact that it does not appear on the Order Paper today is an indication that the Minister has discovered that what we told him on that occasion was correct, and that he has to throw aside the obstinacy he then displayed, because of what he has since learned from the trade unions. He stated categorically that he had no intention of going back on his undertaking to put down this Amendment which, we pointed out, was not in accordance with the wishes of the trade unions.

It seems to us that the responsibilities of the Board require that its members should be completely above suspicion and that in every way the public interest should be protected. If the majority of the members are representative of industry, especially the industry with which the Bill is concerned, we cannot believe that they will be above suspicion, that they will be disinterested parties and that they will put the national interest first.

What is the national interest? Through this Bill we are disposing of extremely valuable assets which are vested in the nation. It is in the interests of the country that they should be disposed of at as satisfactory a price as possible, with as little loss and with the least possible disturbance to the industry while disposal is taking place. They should be disposed of in such a manner that the road haulage industry operates in the national interest, as far as practicable under private enterprise, after disposal has taken place.

If we have on the Board parties who are interested in themselves or in their friends acquiring part of the road haulage undertaking, it will be impossible for them to put the public interest first and to obtain the best price. It will be in their interest and the interest of their friends not that the best price is obtained but that the lowest price is paid at which they can persuade their fellow members on the Board, or the other persons concerned, to agree that the units shall be disposed of. In other words, the interests of those serving on the Board will be contrary to the public interest.

We should not have a Board whose interests conflict with the public interest when the Board is concerned with selling assets which belong to the community. In any case, I cannot see how this Board will work satisfactorily unless the Minis- ter brings in an Amendment in another place so that the whole manner of disposal is materially changed.

Those, in brief, are the main reasons why we have put down this Amendment. We ask the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to explain to us how he thinks that those persons who represent an industry, who might be concerned themselves in participating in the purchase of the public asset concerned, will best serve the public interest. We should like to know why there should not be an additional safeguard which is simple in form, and which would appear to us to be an obvious safeguard. That safeguard is that there shall not be a member of the Board who was engaged in road haulage immediately before the Transport Commission was appointed or since.

Mr. P. Morris

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Amendment has a three-fold purpose and I trust that the Minister will find it acceptable. First, it is intended to protect the Minister from public criticism. If our previous debate today has served any purpose at all it has been to reveal the Minister's task in its true perspective. He is faced with an industry which is well equipped, thoroughly staffed and exceedingly well organised. It is one of the most compact of our industries.

From his point of view, and that of his hon. Friends, such an industry ought not to be left in the hands of a Government. It is thought that it would fare very much better under private enterprise. He has the difficult task of separating this great industry from Government control, in the main, and dispersing it among a lot of people who may take it over in units of anything from one lorry to 50 lorries. If the Minister is to have the confidence of the House, and, indeed, of the country, it must be beyond all doubt that, in setting up a board to dispose of this industry, everybody should be perfectly free. Those of us who are engaged in politics recognise how ready people are to criticise us if our actions can be misinterpreted in the slightest degree.

I think that, even from the point of view of the Minister himself, the Amendment should be accepted, because we are criticising him very severely indeed for handing over such a valuable commercial asset to private enterprise, especially when we recall what has happened in the last five years, and he should be above reproach. Nationalisation was one of the greatest administrative achievements in the history of the country, and these assets are worth millions of pounds to those who are likely to take them up. I therefore commend the Amendment to the Minister for his own protection.

Secondly, and almost for the same reason, I think the Amendment should be accepted in the interests of those who will be members of the Disposal Board. We have observed from time to time that a good many people have what we have termed a vested interest in transport, and it has not been to the advantage of the country, or the advantage of the employees in the industry. Indeed, our trade and commerce have been hindered as well. If these people, whether few or many, are to be entrusted with the task of disposing of these very valuable commercial assets, they must be completely above suspicion, and the suggestion made by my hon. Friend will make it possible for the Minister to select people who will commend themselves to the House, to business generally and to the public.

The third reason that I would advance is that, in the interests of the public, the men entrusted with this task ought not to have had the slightest association with the industry just before nationalisation or have such an association with it in the months or years that are to come. It is said almost as a platitude that justice must not only be done but must appear to be done, and, in this particular matter, rectitude must not only be observed, but must have every appearance of being observed. It would be a very bad thing indeed if the Disposal Board was subject to criticism or suspicion on the part of any of the people concerned, whether it be Parliament, the public or the employees in the industry itself.

I hope that the Minister will feel that this is not a matter upon which he need divide the House, especially in view of the fact that we are trying to help him. My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that the trade unions say that they prefer not to have a nominee on the board, and that is for the reasons I have just advanced. It would be a very bad thing if they were to be mixed up with this kind of auction. whether private or public. It would be far better that the work should be done by people who are absolutely independent, but who have integrity and business ability as well, because we are hoping, in view of the fact that our earlier suggestions have been rejected, that the Minister will make the best possible bargain, without dislocating the transport industry. After all, the livelihood of a million people is dependent on the success of transport, apart from the contribution which it makes to the prosperity of the country.

The suggestion we make is in the interests of probity and commercial integrity all round, and we make this suggestion before any names are mentioned and before anybody comes under criticism. I commend the Amendment to the Minister, and I hope he will accept it, recognising it as a genuine effort on our part to lend him a helping hand.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Renton

I assume, in favour of the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Amendment, that their speeches are not inspired by the meanness and suspicion which so often characterises the speeches, policy and propaganda of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but that they are on this occasion genuinely trying to ensure that public property is properly disposed of.

Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I took such steps as I could during the Recess to get in touch with members of trade unions who were affected by this Bill, and I succeeded in meeting a good many. Among the many comments I heard—some of them very constructive comments—the only one which really seemed to me of great importance, or, indeed, of very great passion, concerning the question of the disposal of the Road Haulage Executive was this. One trade unionist said to me, "Well, I hope you will manage to do better than they did in the disposal of surplus war stores."

I think there is an unfortunate precedent of bad disposal of public assets, and if there are any lessons to be learned from the unfortunate way in which stores were disposed of after the war, I hope the Government will learn them. But assuming, as I do, that hon. Gentlemen opposite are prompted by genuine fear and not by suspicion, I would still say to them that in my respectful submission their Amendment is not necessary.

I say that for this reason. There are six members of this Board, and at the very most only two of those members could possibly be representative of people in the road haulage industry. Under Clause 2 (4, c), of course, one of them has to be a representative of A or B licence holders. I suggest that is a very good provision because it ensures that people who know the job will get stuck into it, if I may use a vernacular expression.

It may be that hon. Members opposite think it a wise provision of legislation and administration that as many things as possible should be entrusted to people who do not know how to do the job. That, of course, is how they conducted themselves and the country for quite a long time, but we suggest that it is much better to get the people who really know the job stuck right into it. That is why I am very glad that the provision that one of the people shall be a representative of A and B licence holders has been inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is no such provision in Clause 2(4,c)?

Mr. Renton

It says: Of the remaining members of the Board— (c) one member shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies representative of persons holding A or B licences as the Minister thinks fit. What have I said that is wrong? Perhaps if I give way again to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he will tell me.

Mr. Mitchison

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman said that one person holding an A or B licence had to be appointed to the Board. There is no such provision. I am sure he said it involuntarily, but as his statements are reported it is better to correct it now.

Mr. Renton

Either I was speaking a little faster than I should have been—which I often do and as I know the hon. and learned Gentleman rarely does—if I made that mistake, or else the hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear me correctly. I certainly had no intention of saying that one of the people appointed to the Board had to hold an A or B licence. What I may have said and what I intended to say was that it is likely that under paragraph (c) someone will be chosen who is a representative of those who hold A or B licences. That is plain enough.

As the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) pointed out, it is possible that one of the Members appointed, after consultation with such bodies representative of trade and industry as the Minister thinks fit, might have some road haulage interest. I agree that that is possible. But surely the Minister, who has a public responsibility and has to consult trade and industry, will not double up the road haulage representation in a clandestine manner. Is that what the hon. Member for Enfield, East is suggesting? That is what his remarks would lead the House to believe. Personally, I believe that no such thing would happen, and the hon. Member knows it.

Mr. Ernest Davies

If that is so, if the hon. Member thinks that his interpretation is correct, what harm would there be in accepting the Amendment? It is only protecting the Minister for his own good against making any mistake in that particular.

Mr. Renton

I am trying to say in developing my argument, if the hon. Member will let me do so, that in any event the Amendment is unnecessary. One of the reasons for that is that out of the six members of the Board two at the very most, and I would say really only one if the Bill is interpreted properly by the Minister, could possibly hold a road haulage interest, and he would be outvoted by the others. In any event, before there is any voting at all, interest has to be declared.

Really, hon. Members opposite are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. If the hon. Member for Enfield, East says that this Amendment is so harmless that there is no reason why it should not be accepted, then I think that that is the poorest argument ever put forward for any Amendment that has been brought before this House. If Amendments put forward were to be inserted in a Bill on those grounds, our Bills would be cluttered up with unnecessary stuff.

Mr. P. Morris

Will the hon. Member allow me to intervene?

Mr. Renton

No, I want to get on with the business and I want hon. Members opposite to have sufficient time on their own Amendment. I do not want to waste too much time by giving way to interruptions.

The British Transport Commission, quite rightly, will be represented on the Disposal Board. If they are to be represented on the Board and if, as is conceded, there will be somebody representing A and B licence holders also on the Board, why should there be discrimination against representatives of the A and B licence holders, and why should not the Commission, who, it may be said, in a public kind of way have an interest at stake, be treated in the same way?

Mr. Ernest Davies

Surely the hon. Member is able to see the difference. The Commission are acting for the State. The Commission are in the position of trustees of national assets and it is their duty to protect those assets and to dispose of them at the best possible price. The Commission are a public body appointed by a Minister who is responsible to this House. The other people, the A and B licence holders, are simply interested in making a profit out of the industry.

Mr. P. Morris


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I would remind hon. Members that this is not the Committee stage of the Bill.

Mr. Renton

However much hon. Members opposite tempt me, I am not anxious to make a long speech. May I answer the hon. Member for Enfield, East by saying that I well appreciate that point of view? It is interesting that when the hon. Member's Government were in power and the then Minister of Transport had to appoint a Road Haulage Executive, the Government appointed as members—and I do not complain of it because I think that it was a good thing—people who had a very serious conflict of interest between the activities of the Road Haulage Executive and the activities of private enterprise road haulage.

I do not think that that was a bad thing to have done. I am sure that those gentlemen would always have disclosed their interest if it were necessary to do so. They were honourable men and we all knew them. But surely it does not lie in the mouth of an hon. Member to say that complete care has always been taken by his party to ensure that nobody should ever have a conflict of interest on a public board. It just has not happened.

While not doubting the sincerity with which the Amendment was moved, I suggest that the Amendment is quite unnecessary and that there must be some degree of trust placed in whoever is going to be the Minister of Transport, whatever party he comes from, in matters of this kind.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

The remark which we have just heard was rather outstanding in view of all that has happened prior to the introduction of this Bill. The fact is that we have no trust in the Minister of Transport. The interests that he consulted before the creation of this Bill were the interests of the very people whom we are concerned not to have on this Disposal Board.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said that there could only be one or two members against whom we could level our criticisms. But the present Minister of Transport has been consulting the people in the private sector of the road haulage industry, according to their own statements. The Minister of Transport is responsible for the appointment of the chairman and the deputy-chairman, as well as of the other two members. There are, therefore, four out of six who could all be connected, either in the pre-1947 days or since, with the private sector of road haulage.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon does not understand the feeling in the country among the people concerned with transport if he thinks this is a matter of little importance. The people in my part of the country regard this as the "Lorriesfor-the-lads Bill." A most unenviable task is to fall on this Disposal Board. There is no doubt that they will be subject to criticism. The Minister should reflect on the experience that we on these benches had when we set up boards. It was not members of the public but an hon. Member of this House, and one who now sits on the Front Bench, who took it upon himself to suggest, before they were appointed, that certain people would be quislings if they were given appointments.

If we are to have a Board to dispose of public assets, it is only common sense for the Minister to go out of his way to ensure that that Board should be above criticism. That is all we ask, and nothing else. When we consider the task they have, and the industry that they are going to dispose of, it is obvious that the interest of the nation should come first and should be seen to come first, in the creation of this Board. I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept this Amendment, which we regard as very important.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

This Clause seems to have a fatal fascination for the Opposition. They always get themselves tied up in their endeavours to deal with it.

In his arguments in favour of this Amendment the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) succeeded in demolishing a number of those advanced in support of the Amendments with which the House has just parted. He said that the Disposal Board would have two main objects, two considerations to keep in view—that there should be the minimum disturbance caused and the maximum price obtained. Therefore, he said, we must avoid having on this Board two particular interests. He maintained that we must avoid having represented on it either trade and industry—particularly the C licence holders—or the A and B licence holders. Yet those are exactly the two classes of interest which stand to gain most by the achievement of the twofold object.

9.0 p.m.

We have been told that trade and industry are most concerned that there should be the minimum disturbance to the transport system. If so, we ought to ensure that they have the fullest representation on the Disposal Board which is to watch over the process. We were told earlier that if no other reason recommended the Opposition's Amendment to my right hon. Friend he ought to accept it on the ground that it would diminish the loss to the Commission and thereby reduce or even eliminate the necessity for the Transport Levy.

Who are more concerned and anxious about the incidence of the Transport Levy than A, B and C licence holders? If the second great object of the Disposal Board is to secure the maximum price for these assets, the persons who will be most anxious to see that the maximum price is obtained and the losses to the Commission—and, in consequence, the scope of the Transport Levy—minimised, will be the A, B and C licence holders.

The argument is completely self-destroying. I could have understood the Amendment better if the Opposition had proposed to omit altogether paragraph (c). But apparently they still think that there should be a member of the Disposal Board who is representative of A and B licence holders. How absurd it is to ask for a representative of those licence holders and yet say that the person appointed to perform that function shall be a person who has had no connection with the road transport industry at or since vesting day. It is not clear from the terms of the Amendment whether … engaged in the road transport industry or any branch thereof would include a C licence holder. It seems to me that it would. In that case, paragraph (d) would also be stultified.

Any legitimate anxiety there might be about the good name either of the Disposal Board or its individual members—any wish to remove from the public mind suspicion that there might be underhand dealings—is completely dealt with by the provisions of subsection (7), which requires a member of the Board to declare any interest he may have in any transaction which comes under the Board's purview. It is quite obvious that neither the bodies who have to advise the Minister on appointments nor the Minister himself could appoint to the Board persons who would be constantly placed in the position of having to declare such an interest.

By subsection (7) the House is taking perfectly adequate steps to ensure that the Disposal Board is above suspicion. I remarked at the outset that this Clause has been a stumbling block to the Opposition. I recall that during the Committee stage the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) declared that the Government's intention—which on that occasion he burst open and disclosed to the public at large—was … to have a majority of the Disposal Board made up of people who stand to benefit.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1678.] By that single admission he made a good deal of the case for the Bill as a whole.

Let us assume that the Minister is to appoint both as chairman and as deputy-chairman people who have an interest in the operation of the Bill. Let us also assume that the person appointed under paragraph (c)—the representative of the A and B licence holders—is considered to have an interest in the effect of the Bill. We then have three out of a Board of six. Who is to be the fourth to make the majority? Presumably it is not the Committee's nominee under paragraph (a). The possibility is narrowed down to two—a representative of trade or industry or a representative of the C licence holders. Hon. Members opposite can have it whichever way they like, but whichever way they choose the admission by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East on this Clause has conceded the major case for the Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

There is no doubt of the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) in this Amendment. I fully understand, of course, that the motive behind it is a desire to make the personnel of the Disposal Board as satisfactory as possible. Hon. Members opposite have more than once this afternoon told us where they stand. The Bill is now through its Second Reading and Committee stage. Had they had their way, there would have been no disposal and therefore no Disposal Board. We are now looking in some detail at the question of who should sit on the Board, and I want to examine quite dispassionately and, I hope, very calmly, the merits of the Amendment now before us.

The effect of it, of course, would be to prevent anybody, unless a nominee of the Commission, who was "actively and regularly engaged" in any branch of the road transport industry immediately prior to the passing of the 1947 Act and any person so engaged since that date—which, incidentally, was 6th August, 1947—from serving on the Disposal Board. It means that if the Amendment were embodied in the Bill, selection would be limited to those who left the industry before the passage of the 1947 Act and have not since returned to it. The House will see at once that the effect would be to defeat our intention that one member of the Board should be appointed for his knowledge and experience of the road transport industry in present conditions, in the year 1953—that is, six years after the Royal Assent was given to the Act of 1947. Other hon. Members have pointed out that Clause 2 (4) makes provision that one member of the Board shall be appointed by the Minister, after consultation with those bodies representative of A and B licensees. That is clearly laid down and is our intention.

Perhaps I may digress for a moment to answer a point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East when we asked what had happened to the Amendment about a seat for the trade unions.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Yes. What has happened?

Mr. Braithwaite

My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) had such an Amendment on the Paper when the Bill was in Committee, and my right hon. Friend indicated his intention of dealing with it on the Report stage.

Mr. Davies

He more than indicated it.

Mr. Braithwaite

As the point has been raised, I hope I may be allowed to give a perfectly frank reply. I think the House will then see that the reply is inevitable in the circumstances. The reason why my right hon. Friend indicated his acceptance of that proposal was to show that the door was wide open for the trade unions to participate in the work of the Disposal Board. My right hon. Friend regrets very much that they did not see their way to do so, and, if I may say so, in my humble capacity so do I. I think it would have been of great value had the trade unions been prepared to co-operate. In accepting the principle at the time, the intention was to show that the door was wide open.

Since then, consultations have taken place with representatives of the trade unions, as the House is aware, at which they indicated that they were not prepared to serve on the Board. That being the case, lamentable as we think it to be, no useful purpose would be served by inserting such a provision in the Bill. That is the situation, and we deplore it.

Provisions have been made for the Board to include persons likely to have special knowledge of the requirements of road hauliers, and there are two main purposes for this: first, that the Board, in exercising their powers under Clause 3 (6) will be in a position to judge what types of units will be most likely to meet the needs of those who desire to enter or re-enter the road haulage industry and which will enable them to function without delay—for that we regard as important; and secondly, to safeguard the interests of A and B licensees, who will be paying the levy.

This point was brought out admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) a few minutes ago. No one can be more anxious to obtain the best possible price for the assets of the road haulage industry than those who are called upon to pay the levy, because the higher the price obtained the less the levy to be paid, and I suggest that they will not only be satisfactory but zealous members of the Disposal Board from that aspect of the case, that the best possible price should be obtained for the public. I think that not even the members of the Transport Commission who have been so rightly extolled by hon. Gentlemen opposite, will display greater enthusiasm towards that end.

The Amendment would, therefore, limit the Minister's choice to those who retired from business over five years ago. No haulier now in business could serve. That is, in our view, a grave disadvantage Also, most of the hauliers—and I have not heard this mentioned by any hon. Member taking part in the debate, but I suggest to the House that here is a point of very considerable substance—who were conducting ordinary long-distance services prior to nationalisation remained in business until their undertakings were acquired by the Commission—and, indeed, had to do so under the 1947 Act.

It was obligatory upon them to take that course, and as such nationalisation necessarily took place after the passage of the 1947 Act those ex-hauliers who, although not now in busines, could offer the most valuable advice, and bring to bear their experience of the working of the industry prior to nationalisation, would, if this Amendment were accepted, be precluded from serving on the Disposal Board. We think that that would take out of our field of selection a most valuable body of persons, whose experience would be extremely useful to the country in this capacity.

Mr. Callaghan

Interested parties.

Mr. Braithwaite

They are not now in business.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I quite appreciate that these gentlemen are not now in the road haulage business, but surely the point of the argument put forward on the other side has been that these are people whom the Government want to get back into the industry, and invite to come into the industry, and for whom they are making provision to come back into the industry. Therefore, I say they are interested parties, and I say there should not be interested parties serving on the Board.

Mr. P. Morris

Surely the Parliamentary Secretary is not suggesting there is not a wide range of business men of capacity and integrity outside the transport industry who would have the capacity to assess the value of these things. Surely the range of choice is very much wider than simply from among those who were in the industry earlier.

Mr. Braithwaite

I do not know which hon. Gentleman to answer first. When one gives way in duplicate it is a bit difficult, but if I may take first the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East, who adorns the Opposition Front Bench, I would say we do regard these gentlemen who were in business prior to nationalisation and during nationalisation—because that is what they had to do: it was during the transition period under the 1947 Act that they had to continue to run those long distance services—we do regard those gentlemen as having a range of experience of which we ought to avail ourselves.

Now I come to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris). Of course, there is a wide field; of course there is. But when we come to the difficult task—because that is what it is—of the disposal of assets of the Road Haulage Executive it is not a bad thing to have people on the Board who really know the industry and who know the business. That, at any rate, is our view.

9.15 p.m.

It was obvious from the speeches of hon. Members opposite that they are anxious—and I think they are quite right—to prevent any possible chance of a road haulier, or, for that matter, an ex-road haulier, abusing his position on the Board for his own personal advantage or that of his friends in the industry. That is a very laudable ambition, but I do suggest, with great respect, that, wide as is the wording of the Amendment—and it is wider than the Amendment put down in Committee—there is no certainty that it would prove effective for its purpose. We suggest that we have written into the Bill words which do protect the public from just the danger about which hon. Members opposite feel so strongly.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East said how important it was to have on the Board—and I agree with him—those with an unblemished record, and who are entirely above suspicion. That is a very good definition of how the members of the Board should be selected, but I would remind the House that the Bill already contains effective safeguards against such abuse. The road haulage member is to be appointed by the Minister. Subsection (7) lays it down specifically—and it is worth repeating—that if any member of the Board is in any way directly or indirectly interested in any transaction … with which the Board are concerned such member must disclose the nature of his interest—a procedure we are familiar with in this honourable House—and he is thereby debarred from taking any part in the deliberation or decision of the Board on that transaction.

We feel that this is quite effective machinery for the purpose. We do not desire to deprive ourselves of the service of gentlemen who have experience of the industry during these recent yearsof transition and translation into nationalisation, and for that reason I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 199; Noes, 227.

Division No. 74. AYES [9.17 p.m.
Acland, Sir Richard Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Pannell, Charles
Adams, Richard Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Pargiter, G. A.
Albu, A. H. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Parker, J.
Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell) Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Peart, T. F.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Hamilton, W. W. Plummer, Sir Leslie
Awbery, S. S. Hardy, E. A. Popplewell, E.
Balfour, A. Hargraves, A. Porter, G.
Bartley, P. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Price, Joseph T.(Westhoughton)
Bence, C. R. Hastings, S. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Benn, Wedgwood Hayman, F. H. Proctor, W. T.
Benson, G. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Beswick, F. Herbison, Miss M. Reeves, J.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hewitson, Capt. M. Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Bing, G. H. C. Hobson, C. R. Reid, William (Camlachie)
Blackburn, F. Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth) Richards, R.
Blenkinsop, A. Houghton, Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Blyton, W. R. Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Boardman, H. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Ross, William
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Bowden, H. W. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Braddook, Mrs. Elizabeth Hynd, H. (Accrington) Short, E. W.
Brockway, A. F. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D Irvine, W. J. (Wood Green) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Burton, Miss F. E. Johnson, James (Rugby) Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Jones, David (Hartlepool) Snow, J. W.
Callaghan, L. J. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Carmichael, J. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Sparks, J. A.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Keenan, W. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Champion, A. J. Kenyon, C. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Chapman, W. D. King, Dr. H. M. Swingler, S. T.
Chetwynd, G. R. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Sylvester, G. O.
Clunie, J. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Coldrick, W. Lewis, Arthur Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Collick, P. H. Lindgren, G. S. Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Corbel, Mrs. Freda Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Cove, W. G. MacColl, J. E. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) McGhee, H. G. Thomas, Iorweth (Rhodda, W.)
Callen, Mrs. A. McInnes, J. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McLeavy, F. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Darling, George (Hillsborough) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Thurtle, Ernest
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Mainwaring, W. H. Tomney, F.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Turner-Samuels, M.
Deer, G. Manuel, A. C. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Dodds, N. N. Mayhew, C. P. Viant, S. P.
Donnelly, D. L. Mellish, R. J. Wallace, H. W.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Messer, F. Weitzman, D.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mikardo, Ian Wells, William (Walsall)
Edwards, John (Brighouse) Mitchison, G. R. West, D. G.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Monslow, W. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Moody, A. S. Wheeldon, W. E.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Morley, R. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. Moyle, A. Williams, David (Neath)
Finch, H. J. Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Fletcher, Erie (Islington, E.) O'Brien, T. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Folliok, M. Oldfield, W. H. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Foot, M. M. O'Neill, Michael (Mid Ulster) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Orbach, M. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Freeman, John (Watford) Oswald, T. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Gibson, C. W. Padley, W. E. Wyatt, W. L.
Glanville, James Paget, R. T. Yates, V. F.
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield) Palmer, A. M. F. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Pearson and Mr. Arthur Allen.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Beamish, Maj. Tufton Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.
Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton) Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Bullard, D. G.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Bishop, F. P. Bullock, Capt. M.
Baldwin, A. E. Black, C. W. Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.
Banks, Col. C. Bossom, A. C. Butcher, Sir Herbert
Barber, Anthony Bowen, E. R. Campbell, Sir David
Barlow, Sir John Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Carr, Robert
Baxter, A. B. Boyle, Sir Edward Carson, Hon. E.
Beach, Maj. Hicks Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Cary, Sir Robert
Channon, H. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Powell, J. Enoch
Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Price-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Hurd, A. R. Profumo, J. D.
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L. Hutchinson, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.) Raikes, Sir Victor
Cole, Norman Hutchinson, James (Scotstoun) Raynor, Brig. R.
Calegate, W. A. Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Redmayne, M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Remnant, Hon. P.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Renton, D. L. M.
Craddock, Berestord (Spelthorne) Jennings, R. Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Cranborne, Viscount Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Robertson, Sir David
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. 0. E. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Robson-Brown, W.
Crouch, R. F. Jones, A. (Hall Green) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Roper, Sir Harold
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Keeling, Sir Edward Ropner, Col. Sir Leonad
Deedes, W. F. Lambert, Hon. G. Russell, R. S.
Digby, S. Wingfield Lambton, Viscount Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Savery, Prof. Sir Douglas
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Legh, P. R. (Petersfield) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)
Donner, P. W. Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Scott, R. Donald
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Linstead, H. N. Shepherd, william
Drayson, G. B. Llewellyn, D. T. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Drewe, C. Lookwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Low, A. R. W. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Snadden, W. McN.
Finlay, Graeme Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Soames, Capt. C.
Fisher, Nigel McCallum, Major D. Speir, R. M.
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Macdonald, Sir Peter Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Fort, R. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Stevens, G. P.
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Maclean, Fitzroy Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, w.) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Storey, S.
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Gammans, L. D. Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Summers, G. S.
George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Gociber, J. B. Markham, Major S. F. Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Marlowe, A. A. H. Teeling, W.
Gower, H. R. Marples, A. E. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Graham, Sir Fergus Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Gridley, Sir Arnold Maude, Angus Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Grimond, J. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Tilney, John
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Medlicott, Brig. F. Turner, H. F. L.
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Mellor, Sir John Turton, R. H.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Molson, A. H. E. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Hare, Hon. J. H. Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Vosper, D. F.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Wade, D. W.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Harvey, Air Cdre, A. V. (Macclesfield) Nabarro, G. D. N. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Nicholls, Harmar Walker-Smith, D. C.
Harvie-Watt, Sir George Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Hay, John Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Heald, Sir Lionel Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Waterhouse, Capt. Hon. C.
Heath, Edward Nugent, G. R. H. Watkinson, H. A.
Higgs. J. M. C. Oakshott, H. D. Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminister)
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Odey, G. W. Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hirst, Geoffrey Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. William, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Holland-Martin, C. J. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hollis, M. C. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Holt, A. F. Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Peyton, J. W. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Mr. Kaberry and Mr. Wills.
Horobin, I. M. Pitman, I. J.


Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 4, line 46, at the end, to insert: (2) In cases where at the date of the passing of this Act there is an agreement between the Road Haulage Executive on behalf of the Commission and a trader in relation to a vehicle or vehicles operated by the Road Haulage Executive under contract, the said specified condtions shall include a condition whereby the purchaser as successor to the said Executive shall take over all the rights and obligations of the said Executive under the said agreement. It is an honourable tradition of this House that when we legislate we do so as far as possible in such a way 'as not to disturb existing contractual obligations, and more especially, I think we should say, contractual obligations already existing between public authorities and private citizens.

The facts which underline the need for the Amendment are these. Under the Transport Act, 1947, the Road Haulage Executive acquired a considerable number of contract A vehicles. Those vehicles were already hired out by their former owners to various manufacturers and traders, and the hiring agreements were very frequently intended to last for a number of years and gave the trader or manufacturer an option to purchase the vehicle.

It may seem strange to hon. Gentlemen opposite, because it has very little to do with integration, that the Road Haulage Executive, instead of scrapping them, carried the agreements on. Indeed, we have reason to believe that at this moment there are no fewer than 4,500 vehicles owned by the Road Haulage Executive and let out to manufacturers and traders under hiring agreements. In many cases the vehicles subject to these hiring agreements are not the original vehicles acquired in 1947 or a year or so after. They have been replaced, but the agreements and the terms in many cases subsist, and the rights and obligations still continue. The fact that there are certain rights, sometimes including options to purchase, has been a determining factor in deciding what price the Road Haulage Executive should charge for the hire of the vehicles.

9.30 p.m.

The case which I am putting is short and simple. It would be inequitable for those vehicles to be sold amongst the vehicles contained in transport units unless the rights and obligations attached to them under hiring agreements were continued. In this Amendment we suggest that we should cover that situation, by ensuring that specified conditions which the Disposal Board may attach on the sale of the transport unit shall include a condition that any existing rights or obligations under these hiring agreements shall be continued.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I beg to second the Amendment.

I think I am right in saying that we are not wedded to the full words of the Amendment. It may be they are more than it would be reasonable for the Government to concede. The trading community have expressed some alarm at what they think will be the automatic cessation of these contracts immediately the sales begin. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) pointed to one or two examples. We want, and I am sure the Government want, to disturb existing trading patterns as little as possible, and in cases where the Road Haulage Executive have got these contracts, which are to the benefit of the trading community generally, it would be a pity if they were to be violently disturbed as a result of the sales.

Where individual vehicles are put into a unit and sold as vehicles, it may be in some cases unreasonable to expect the purchasers to satisfy and fulfil the conditions which those vehicles fulfilled in the pattern under the Road Haulage Executive. I can see difficulties arising there, and to that extent the words in this Amendment may go a little bit too far. Where my right hon. Friend is going to create companies, as has been suggested today, and the vehicles are to be put into a company set-up and shares sold, then I should have thought that the purchaser might be required to take over the contract aspect of the former trading pattern.

We should be quite content if my right hon. Friend could indicate that some of these fears which have been fairly forcibly expressed by important bodies representing the trading community will be taken care of even in that limited sense.

Mr. Mitchison

I do not wonder that traders are somewhat apprehensive of this Bill. But this Amendment is unnecessary and I am glad to hear that the noble Lord recognises that in the form in which it is drafted it is also unworkable. I hope we shall not spend too much time on it, and I trust that the Minister will reject it.

It is unnecessary because the Bill already provides that there may be attached, as it were, to a vehicle, or to use the fashionable phrase in the Bill, a "transport unit," rights and obligations connected with the subject matter of the purchase. If the question rests in the first place with the Commission, they may receive, and perhaps on such a point would receive, general directions from the Board; and in the event of disagreement between them there is an appeal to the Minister.

This is an unnecessary attempt to tie their hands, and it appears to involve the assumption that, were there any question of appeal, both the public bodies concerned as well as the Minister would act unreasonably. I suggest that in any form it is quite unnecessary, having regard to those provisions and the measure of confidence which the Minister has already expressed, and which we in this House certainly feel, regarding the operations of the Commission on matters of this sort.

As to it being unworkable, it applies, of course, to any agreement and not merely to the particular type of agreement which the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) mentioned. It is sufficient to point out that the purchaser may be buying vehicles from a variety of sources, and similarly, a number of vehicles may be sold to the purchaser. One can easily visualise an agreement which would involve a fleet of vehicles sold in the course of the Commission's performance of its functions to a number of purchasers, no single one of whom would be in a position to carry out the obligations attaching to the whole fleet. It depends entirely on what type of agreement is being considered.

This is a case where hon. Members opposite have sought to do that which we were accused of doing; that is to say, setting up rigid imperative machinery when there is already provision for sensible discretion in the matter, and when rights and obligations are impliedly recognised.

Mr. Renton

I think I should pay credit to the party of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) by reminding him that in the Transport Act, 1947, they insisted that the British Transport Commission should take over the rights and liabilities of the railways and various other bodies being acquired.

Mr. Mitchison

That is an entirely different case, for in that case there was one purchaser, and here a whole number of purchasers are contemplated. If a fleet of vehicles as a fleet is under some obligation or there is an obligation which can only be performed by a fleet, and those vehicles are sold to a number of purchasers, how on earth is this provision to be enforced, and what on earth does it mean in those circumstances?

The Clause is so widely drawn, and I think must be so widely drawn, that it is bound to be unworkable. The sensible thing to do is to assume that the Commission, the Disposal Board and the Minister between them will not be so regardless of private obligations and so idiotic as regards the industry of the country as to do any of the things which apparently the sponsors of this Amend- ment seem to think that they might do. The apprehensions of the traders on this point, though not on others, seem to me to be completely unjustified. I should have thought that it was the business of each one of us on a point of this sort to reassure them and to give that measure of trust to the public bodies who are concerned.

Mr. Sparks

This Amendment clearly supports the criticism which has come from these benches about the complete chaos which is likely to exist in the road haulage services as a result of the denationalisation proposals of this Bill. The sponsors of the Amendment are most anxious to see that the conditions embodied in agreements entered into between the Road Haulage Executive and private traders shall be observed by those who are to succeed them. They know that if those who are to succeed them are to be free, as they want them to be free, there is bound to be disorganisation and chaos so far as those persons are concerned who have goods and commodities to transport by road.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been very anxious to emphasise that they want these vehicles to be sold in small lots to small people. Small people cannot undertake the responsibilities that the Road Haulage Executive have entered into by agreement. It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite shaking their heads. That is so. Many cases could be quoted which would clearly indicate that the responsibilities embodied in agreements of this nature can be undertaken only by substantial bodies having at their disposal a fairly substantial number of vehicles to carry out the conditions of these various and many agreements.

Not only does this apply to those traders who have agreements with the Road Haulage Executive, but it applies to all of them, agreement or no agreement. This emphasises once again the great concern on the part of the traders that the proposals of the Government will result in a complete dislocation of the present system of the carriage of their goods which they can now rely upon, and upon which they have a certain basis of security.

I am not at all sure that the Minister can accept this Amendment as it stands. If he does, it certainly cannot be operated in most cases unless he intends to sell the transport units in fairly substantial numbers. That is quite contrary to the Government's proposal. Therefore, the Minister will be compelled to reject this Amendment or, if he accepts it, he will find that it is completely unworkable.

It is all very well to talk about disposing of road haulage vehicles and parcelling them out to other people, to convey the traffic; but is the traffic likely to be there to convey? It will be found that, as a result of disorganising the road haulage system as it now exists, a large and increasing number of private traders will take out C licences. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes. That has been the tendency throughout the years. It is a natural tendency. Whether we have denationalisation or not, the C licence system is in many cases much more satisfactory to a person who has a sufficient volume of goods to be transported, or to a combination of such persons.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I think that C licences are rather remote from this Amendment.

Mr. Sparks

I must admit that they are rather remote, Mr. Speaker, but not as remote as all that, because if the Minister is not prepared to accede to the wishes of his hon. Friends, that is precisely the development which will take place, and therefore it does to some extent have some connection with the principle which hon. Gentlemen are trying to force upon the Minister.

I would therefore say that I am very glad that hon. Gentlemen opposite have seen fit to emphasise most clearly what we on this side have been emphasising—that the Government's proposals, as they now stand, will be injurious to the traders of this country and will create chaos and anarchy in the transport of goods by road.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It was agreeable to have the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) making his detached and objective contribution to this discussion, which was well suited to the High Court of Parliament, and we all welcome it. The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. If the apprehensions of traders in this particular field are substantial, they are probably not very well founded. After all—and this is the answer to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks)—this service was provided in a large number of cases by private operators long before nationalisation. This particular method of helping trade and industry was not devised by British Road Services; they inherited it, and if it has expanded in recent years, I am very glad, because it would equally have expanded in private hands. What was provided at first, when the Commission took over, it will be easy to continue in private hands.

The purpose of this Amendment would be to make it mandatory on the Commission and the Disposal Board to attach a condition to continue the exact contract to the prospective purchaser. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) was right in saying that there may be some 5,000 vehicles involved, but I understand that there are only 500 where the obligation to purchase the vehicle if the contract is terminated applies. I do not mean that 500 vehicles is a negligible number, or that justice should not be done to every individual, but rather that the difficulty is that the terms and conditions of these contracts vary very much, and neither the trader nor the purchaser will find it easy to continue exactly that undertaking. To make it mandatory would frequently not be to the desire of either party.

There is also the point which was well made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that it is one thing that these businesses were being grouped together in the hands of a State monopoly and quite another to spread them over a wide field of private ownership, where the obligation may have been upon a whole fleet and would be incapable of fulfilment if that fleet were broken up.

In Clause 3, the Commission and the Board are quite free to require purchasers to take over the Commission's rights and obligations and there might very well be such a right and obligation in individual cases. Trade and industry will have representation on the Board. Indeed. the C licence representative as well might well be held to have a knowledge of trade and industry, so that trade and industry will have two representatives on the Board, and I hope that the whole Board itself will be conscious of the needs of trade and industry. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord has said, that this may be easier of fulfilment by administrative action through the company structure for a limited number of vehicles, the first outline of which I sketched earlier on this afternoon. It may, therefore, be easier in this way for the Commission by administrative action to ensure that arrangements of this kind can continue.

Bearing this in mind, and in the knowledge that this admirable service was given to trade and industry by private enterprise, which will perfect and improve it when the organisation is restored to them, I would ask the noble Lord and my hon. Friend to withdraw their Amendment.

Mr. Renton

In view of the devastating alliance formed between my right hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I beg to move, in page 6, line 3, at the end, to insert: (6) In determining which tenders for transport units are to be accepted and which refused, the Commission shall have regard to the desirability of avoiding the ownership or control of the property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking being concentrated in too few hands. This Amendment was briefly referred to by my right hon. Friend in the speech he made on the previous group of Amendments earlier today. In moving it I am conscious of the fact that my right hon. Friend has given it a fair wave of the hand by speech and also by putting his name at the top of the Amendment on the Order Paper.

It is desired to insert in this Measure the cherished principle of the party on these benches that in undoing a State monopoly we should not set up a private monopoly. I think we are at one with the Labour Party in saying that if there is to be a monopoly of any kind it is better to have it under the umbrella of the State rather than for it to exist outside.

The experience of the last few years has shown how terribly the party opposite have failed in their so-called democratisation of these large-scale industries and services. They created vast monopolies which they deemed to be public monopolies, but which are, in fact, technically irresponsible to Parliament. We are seeking by this Amendment to ensure that in unravelling this gigantic process which they have so ill-advisedly begun we do not set up a form of private monopoly which is universally detested in this country.

Therefore, it is to be the duty of the Commission and of the Road Haulage Disposal Board to sell out units in such a way that they cannot on sale pass into the hands of a group of private people and be immediately re-amalgamated, and then acquire the characteristics I have described. Human nature being what it is, it might be that if there were no such provision as this certain financial trusts of size would set up dummy organisations to bid for these units as representing small men and that the Commission and the Road Haulage Disposal Board might be gulled into accepting their bids, sell them the vehicles, and that then these dummies would go back to their masters and the whole thing would be concentrated once again into a large-scale private monopoly.

Our objective is to ensure that the Commission and the Disposal Board are warned in time of the possible intentions of such persons. We want to ensure that they shall actively inquire not only about these units and the pattern that they will make but the antecedents and the prospects of the bidders for them. I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend and the Government have readily fallen in with the ideas that we have in this Amendment and that they will give this statutory instruction to the Commission and to the Disposal Board.

Mr. G. Wilson

I beg to second the Amendment.

In view of the time I do so almost formally. I should like, however, to make one observation in view of the discussions which we have had on other Amendments today. Either wilfully or because they cannot help it, hon. Members opposite seem to be misunderstanding the whole of our policy with regard to disposal. On the one hand, some of them accuse us of trying to break up the whole of the industry into minute units. I think that one hon. Member suggested that the unit which we have in mind is one.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

A unit is one.

Mr. Wilson

I mean units of one each. On the other hand, some hon. Members opposite seem to suppose that we are aiming at very big units indeed. I am not one who has any fear of a big unit in private enterprise. I believe that it is very often quite true, as an hon. Member opposite said, that big units are very efficient and have better opportunities of dealing with their staffs than have small units. But in transport we want to keep a general pattern which is varied. The chief feature of transport is that it is never alike in two places or in its method of dealing with any two trades. We should like some big units and some small units.

This Amendment is calculated to satisfy those men who were in the industry before nationalisation and to whom we have promised the opportunity to come back. Many who were formerly in the industry have been excluded. They were quite small men who would very much like to come back. We know that the big units can come back with the permission of the Minister, if they so wish. There is no difficulty in their case. This Amendment is moved to ensure that the small men will have a fair share of what will be sold.

Mr. Callaghan

This is one of the occasions when I regret more than ever the operation of the Guillotine. We have one more Amendment to which we are anxious to proceed and which the Minister would like to have discussed, but what fun we would have had if the lawyers could have been let loose on the words the Commission shall have regard to the desirability of avoiding the ownership or control of the property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking being concentrated in too few hands. What do the words "too few hands" mean? Who is to determine the meaning? How is it to be defined? This is an incredibly naïve Amendment and I cannot understand the Minister putting his name at the top of it, especially when this afternoon he has reversed his philosophy and has told us—and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) is following in his wake—that he sees the case for a large-scale organisation in road transport.

This is no time, and I have not the time, to rub the nose of the hon. Member for Truro in that. I am only too delighted to learn that his conversion is proceeding apace. Undoubtedly, the industry will be plunged into a further period of uncertainty in view of the Minister's statement this afternoon, because he is facing both ways. On one and the same afternoon he departs from his original philosophy to provide for companies to be formed. Quite contrary to anything that has been said from last May until 4th February, we now hear in the House in one afternoon that he is agreeable to the formation of large-scale companies—and we are glad to hear it. But in the same afternoon he assents to an Amendment which provides that the industry shall not be concentrated into too few hands.

10.0 p.m.

I hope that the Minister will not be too long in producing the Amendments that he intends to place on the Order Paper when this Bill gets to another place, so that the industry will have an idea of what this further change of Government policy, which we welcome, is to mean to them when they come to work out their plans. We know that plans are taking place. It may well be that this change in policy that the Minister has announced to us this afternoon will result in him being able to sell more vehicles than he could otherwise have done. That is something for which he will be able to take credit in due course.

I do not intend to spend longer on this Amendment, except to repeat that I do not know what the words "too few hands" mean. I do not suppose any lawyer knows what they mean. I am sure that nobody would particularly care to defend the definition of them if he undertook to give one. I suppose this is one of those harmless things that will be written into the Bill and then be forgotten.

Mr. Braithwaite

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) held out to us the alluring prospect of the amusement that we might have had over this Amendment had the the lawyers would have had if they had been let loose on this Amendment. The lawyers have been let loose on it, and this is the form of words which they have chosen. If the hon. Gentleman wants a definition of "too few hands" I can tell him that it is the situation on the benches opposite when they go to a Division.

Mr. Frederick Messer (Tottenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman put that into the Bill?

Mr. Braithwaite

No, I do not think it is a definition which need be written into the text of the Bill.

My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has described with such admirable clarity the object of this Amendment, that it is not necessary for me to add more than a few words. It will be placed. when embodied in the Clause, before the present subsection (6) which describes the duties of the Disposal Board. It makes it necessary for the Board, in agreeing the general lines on which the Commission are to proceed and in approving acceptance or rejection of tenders, to have regard to the desirability of avoiding concentration in too few hands, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East has reminded us.

The hon. Member made some play with the fact that my right hon. Friend, earlier in the day, had indicated a system of disposal in which a company structure might function. But it is possible for both these systems to operate, and to operate successfully. One of the difficulties from which hon. Members opposite suffer, if I may say so in all good temper, is a certain rigidity of mind. They feel that it is impossible for more than one system to operate at any one time.

As drafted, the Amendment would not prevent the sale of more than one unit to a purchaser, but, nevertheless—and I think this is important—it absolves the Commission and the Board from the criticism that in certain cases they have conducted a sale so as not to accept the highest tender which may have been offered to them. That criticism is obviated by this Amendment. They might be criticised on the ground that they have not secured the best adequate price which might have been obtained, but it is important, in our view, to prevent one person from gaining control of too many vehicles.

Hon. Members will have noticed that my right hon. Friend has added his name to this Amendment, partly to protect it against the possible fall of the Guillotine, and also because he regards it as a valuable means of helping to ensure proper conditions for fair and effective competition. It is for that reason that the Government welcome the Amendment and ask the House to embody it in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield, Neepsend)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 15, at the end, to insert: and is in any event in relation to each motor vehicle comprised in the transport unit, not less than the cost as determined by the Board of replacing at the date when their approval is sought, the motor vehicle by a new vehicle of the same or, so far as possible, a similar type, due allowance being made for the age and condition of the motor vehicle. The object of this Amendment is to introduce a provision for a reserve price in the cost of the vehicles. The House and the Minister know the anxiety which hon. Members on this side feel lest the property and the vehicles are disposed of at a price which is quite unfair to the public. We feel that they may be got rid of at a price which is far too low. On many occasions we have deployed the reasons for those anxieties and in successive Amendments we have endeavoured to alter the Bill in order to provide some safeguard against that possibility. We have suggested proposals for an orderly disposal of the assets.

None of those Amendments has been accepted, although the Minister intimated this afternoon that he saw some ground for altering the present scheme in the Bill in order to provide for some more reasonable and orderly disposal of the assets. But we do not think that he has gone far enough. Nowhere in the Bill is there any provision for a reserve price. Clause 3 (6), to which I shall refer in a moment, makes some provision to try to ensure that a reasonable price is obtained; equally, Clause 10 provides that the levy is to make good the deficiency which is described in Clause 12 as the road haulage capital loss and which represents the deficiency of the price received as measured against the book value of the assets sold.

During the debate in the Committee we tried to improve that particular provision by introducing a different definition of the value against which the price received was to be measured; but we were unsuccessful and, in consequence, Clause 12 stands unamended. Apart from Clause 3 (6), there is no provision to ensure that not less than a particular reserve price is obtained. We accept the fact that it is not easy to devise a really satisfactory system to ensure that such a price is obtained, but in this Amendment we have sought to introduce a system which we hope the Minister will be able to accept or at any rate say that he feels can be considered, if necessary after some adaptation, in another place.

Clause 3 (6) provides that no tender is to be accepted unless the Board approve of it, and the Board is not to approve of it unless it is satisfied that the price which is to be obtained is a reasonable one having regard to the value to the purchaser of the property disposed of. We feel that that is a wholly unsatisfactory test because it is a fluctuating and wholly uncertain one. The words … having regard to the value to the purchaser of the property seem to connote the degree to which the purchaser requires to use the property. It is more valuable to him if a particular vehicle is more suitable to his business and less valuable to him if it is less suitable.

In our view, the test should be objective. We suggest that it should be a minimum price which can be ascertained objectively. It really does no more than extend in a particular direction what is already done by the subsection to which I have just referred, which says that the Board shall not approve of the price unless they are satisfied that it is a reasonable one having regard to the value which the purchaser obtains. We say that it should go further and provide that the Board shall not approve of the price unless it is one which is equivalent to the cost of a new vehicle of that type, due allowance being made for the age and condition of the vehicle.

If we are talking of a garage which is to be sold, it is difficult to apply any objective test, but I submit to the House that when we are talking about a motor vehicle, it is, on the whole, fairly easy—not always easy—to apply such a test. If a lorry is being sold, we have to ask ourselves what is the price of a new lorry of that sort, and we have to ask ourselves how old is the lorry and what sort of condition it is in so that we may write down the price of a new lorry by reference to age and condition That has to be done by the Board.

We on this side of the House do not feel that it is imposing upon the Board an undue burden to require that they, having already to bring their minds to bear on the terms of the tender, should also ask themselves whether the price which is being paid for the vehicle is one which meets the conditions I have indicated. In other words, they should not approve of a purchase until not only are they satisfied that the price is reasonable having regard to the value of the vehicle to the purchaser, but they are also satisfied, looking at the price of a new vehicle of that sort, that the price to be obtained is the price of a new vehicle written down by reference to the age and condition of the vehicle to be sold.

We hope that the Minister will at any rate see that there is reason behind the Amendment, which I can assure him is meant sincerely and is proposed in order to improve the Bill. I hope he will at least agree with me on this point—that the Bill is open to criticism in that at the moment there is insufficient safeguard to ensure that the public receive a fair price for the vehicles. There is some safeguard but not that which is necessary.

As I have said, the safeguard provided is in the form of a fluctuating and uncertain test; it is by reference to the needs of the purchaser and the convenience of the purchase, to the advantage which he will gain from the use of the vehicle. That is not enough, and I hope the Minister will agree that it is not enough and that we ought to go further and to have some objective test such as that which I have proposed.

Searching for an objective test, the only test we have found is that which takes the cost of a new vehicle of that type or, as far as one can be found, a new vehicle of a similar type. and writes it down by reference to the fact that the vehicle to be sold may be three or four or five years old and may be in a bad condition or, conversely, may be in a good condition.

I hope the Minister will give very serious consideration to the Amendment. If we do not have some objective test, all that is left is the very uncertain test of value to the producer. That might be very low. For instance, he might buy an excellent vehicle, but, as far as he is concerned, it might be unsuitable for his needs. He might use it faut de mieux, in which case the value would be low—much less than the value which the public ought to get for the disposal of that vehicle.

I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment or, if he cannot accept it—no doubt there are defects in drafting—that he will be able to say that in principle he is in agreement that an Amendment on these lines is necessary and that he will take counsel with those who advise him with a view to inserting in another place some Amendment which will achieve the objective which we on this side of the House had in mind when we put this Amendment down.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been saying is not complete unless he deals with the last words of subsection (3), which to my mind slightly qualify his argument.

Sir F. Soskice

I am not quite sure what point the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

I was trying to point out, if I may be forgiven, that, overriding all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, is the obligation to see that the totality of the undertakings purchased, the aggregate, reach the best possible price. We can differ about what is the best possible price, but they are fairly cogent words.

10.15 p.m.

Sir F. Soskice

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but that really does not meet what we think is necessary. The endeavour to get the best possible price is not an endeavour which must result in the price which we think, as formulated in the Amendment, must be the minimum price obtained, but if that price cannot be obtained, then the vehicle should not be given away at a lesser price. If it cannot be disposed of at that price, then it should be kept. It should belong to the public instead of being given away to a private purchaser at a price which may be the best one that can be obtained, in that it is the best one he will pay, but nevertheless is one much less than the price which the public ought to receive.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, whatever I was able to say, he hoped I should understand the reason behind this Amendment and its sincerity. I certainly do see the reason behind the Amendment, and I do not for a moment doubt his sincerity, or, indeed, that of his party.

We are very anxious that there should be no suggestion that the Commission should receive a price less than it would otherwise receive from a willing buyer, but we have to be realists in this matter. The Disposal Board will obviously have very much in its mind the need to see that the price is fair to the Commission, that the price in the aggregate is the best possible price. Then, after all, it is not only selling vehicles or transport units. It is selling also various other highly valuable rights—the right to run with an automatic A licence, and the right to be free straight away of the 25-mile limit. These are very considerable factors in the price that it should obtain.

But in regard to the value of the vehicles, for example, the Opposition cannot have the best of both worlds. They cannot argue that we should hx a price—a reserve price, a published price—and, at the same time, argue that the Commission took over a large number of very poor assets for which it paid a very large sum of public money. We are very concerned indeed that the best possible price should be paid, and I do not doubt that the Disposal Board and the Commission will undoubtedly bear in mind the replacement cost, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, as a factor in making up their minds what is a fair price at which to sell; but to make it obligatory on the Commission and the Disposal Board that this replacement price must in fact be asked for may hold up the sales. As I say, it is the sort of factor to which, obviously, they will pay account, and I quite recognise that the replacement value is a sort of consideration to which they will pay account.

But the Opposition earlier on tonight moved an Amendment the effect of which would have been that the purchasers of the companies' shares—the shares of the companies that they would set up—would have no greater security than the possibility of a minority shareholding in one of their companies, and this undoubtedly would not have succeeded in enhancing the prices the Commission would receive.

There is a further factor why I should find it impossible to accept this Amendment, even though I recognise the spirit behind it. It would undoubtedly run the risk of prolonging the process of sale unduly. I went at great length earlier on tonight, in a speech which, I am afraid, lasted nearly half an hour, into our approach to the problem of disposal, and I do not want to do so again, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to what may well happen if a rigid procedure of this kind were in fact imposed.

The object of this Amendment is to put a reserve price, replacement cost, with allowance for age and condition, on each

individual vehicle sold as part of a unit. It seeks, in effect, to apply to sales in the open market the same formula of valuation as in the Act of 1947 was applied in determining compensation. What is the position in regard to the working out of that compensation? The Socialist Act came into operation on 1st January, 1948, and the last figures, in January, 1953, show that between £8½ million and £12½ million worth of claims are still outstanding in regard to compulsory acquisition, and that £37½ million have already been paid out.

It is, in our view, highly desirable that there should be no unnecessary hold up in the settlement of the disposal, and we do not want to repeat the long delays that have proved inevitable as a result of the inevitably rigid procedure of the 1947 Act. For these reasons, while appreciating the motives of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I must ask the House to decline to accept the Amendment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 202; Noes, 230.

Division No. 75.] AYES [10.20 p.m.
Acland, Sir Richard Darling, George (Hillsborough) Hewitson, Capt. M.
Adams, Richard Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Hobson, C. R.
Albu, A. H. Davies, stephen (Merthyr) Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)
Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell) Deer, G. Houghton, Douglas
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Dodds, N. N. Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)
Awbery, S. S. Donnelly, D. L. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Balfour, A. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Bartley, P. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Bence, C. R. Edelman, M. Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Benn, Wedgwood Edwards, John (Brighouse) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Benson, G. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Beswick, F. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.
Bing, G. H. C. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Johnson, James (Rugby)
Blackburn, F. Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Jones, David (Hartlepool)
Blenkinsop, A. Fernyhough, E. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)
Blyton, W. R. Finch, H. J. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Boardman, H. Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.) Keenan, W.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Follick, M. Kenyon, C.
Bowden, H. W. Foot, M. M. King, Dr. H. M.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Forman, J. C. Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Brockway, A. F. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Freeman, John (Watford) Lewis, Arthur
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Freeman, Peter (Newport) Lindgren, G. S.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Gibson, C. W. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Burton, Miss F. E. Glanville, James MacColl, J. E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) McGhee, H. G.
Callaghan, L. J. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield) McInnes, J.
Carmichael, J. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McLeavy, F.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Champion, A. J. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Chapman, W. D. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Mainwaring, W. H.
Chetwynd, G. R. Hamilton, W. W. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Clunie, J. Hardy, E. A. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Coldrick, W. Hargreaves, A. Manuel, A. C.
CoHick, P. H. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Mayhew, C. P.
Corbel, Mrs. Freda Hastings, S. Mellish, R. J.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hayman, F. H. Messer, F.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Mikardo, Ian
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Herbison, Miss M Mitchinson, G. R.
Monslow, W. Richards, R. Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Moody, A. S. Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thurtle, Ernest
Morley, R. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Tomney, F.
Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Ross, William Turner-Samuels, M.
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H (Lewisham, S.) Shackleton, E. A. A. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Moyle, A. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Viant, S. P.
Mulley, F. W. Short, E. W. Wallace, H. W.
Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Weitzman, D.
O'Brien, T. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Wells, William (Walsall)
Oldfield, W. H. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) West, D. G.
Orbach, M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John
Oswald, T. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.) Wheeldon, W. E.
Padley, W. E. Snow, J. W. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Paget, R. T. Sorensen, R. W. Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Wilkins, W. A.
Pannell, Charles Sparks, J. A. Williams, David (Neath)
Pargiter, G. A. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Parker, J. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Pearson, A. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Pearl, T. F. Swingler, S. T. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Plummer, Sir Leslie Sylvester, G. O. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Porter, G. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton) Taylor, John (West Lothian) Wyatt, W. L.
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth) Yates, V. F.
Proctor, W. T. Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Pursey, Cmdr. H. Thomas, George (Cardiff) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Reeves, J. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Mr. Popplewell and
Reid, Thomas (Swindon) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Mr. Arthur Allen.
Reid, William (Camlachie) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Digby, S. Wingfield Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Dodds-Parker, A. D. Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.
Amory, Heathcoal (Tiverton) Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Donner, P. W. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Jennings, R.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Drayson, G. B. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Baldwin, A. E. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)
Banks, Col. C. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Jones, A. (Hall Green)
Barber, Anthony Finlay, Graeme Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.
Barlow, Sir John Fisher, Nigel Kaberry, D.
Baxter, A. B. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Keeling, Sir Edward
Beach, Major Hicks Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lambert, Hon. G.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Fort, R. Lambton, Viscount
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Linstead, H. N.
Bishop, F. P. Gammans, L. D. Llewellyn, D. T.
Black, C. W. Garner-Evans, E. H. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.
Bossom, A. C. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Low, A. R. W.
Bowen, E. R. Glyn, Sir Ralph Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Godber, J. B. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)
Boyle, Sir Edward Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. McCallum, Major D.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Gower, H. R. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.) Graham, Sir Fergus Macdonald, Sir Peter
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Gridley, Sir Arnold McKie, J. H. (Galloway)
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Grimond, J. Maclean, Fitzroy
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Bullard, D. G. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)
Bullock, Capt. M. Hall, John (Wycombe) MacPherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hare, Hon. J. H. Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Campbell, Sir David Harris, Reader (Heston) Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.
Carr, Robert Harvey, Air Cdre A. V. (Macclesfield) Markham, Major S. F.
Carson, Hon. E. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Cary, Sir Robert Harvie-Watt, Sir George Marples, A. E.
Channon, H. Hay, John Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)
Churchilt, Rt. Hon. W. S. Heald, Sir Llonel Maude, Angus
Clarke, Cal. Ralph (East Grinstead) Heath, Edward Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Higgs, J. M. C. Medlicott, Brig. F.
Clyde, Rt. Hon, J. L. Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Mellor, Sir John
Cole, Norman Hichingbrooke, Viscount Molson, A. H. E.
Colegate, W. A. Hirst, Geoffrey Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Holland-Martin, C. J. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Hollis, M. C. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Holt, A. F. Nicholls, Harmar
Cranborne, Viscount Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Crouch, R. F. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Horobin, I. M. Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.
Crowder, Petro (Ruislip—Northwood) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Nugent, G. R. H.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgshire) Oakshott, H. D.
Davidson, Viscountess Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Odey, G. W.
Deedes, W. F. Hurd, A. R. O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)
Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Ryder, Capt. R. E. D. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Savery, Prof. Sir Douglas Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale) Tilney, John
Peyton, J. W. W. Scott, R. Donald Turner, H. F. L.
Pickthorn, K. W. M. Shepherd, William Turton, R. H.
Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Pitman, I. J. Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Wade, D. W.
Powell, J. Enoch Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Snadden, W. McN. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)
Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Soames, Capt. C. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Profumo, J. D. Speir, R. M. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Raikes, Sir Victor Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Rayner, Brig. R. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Redmayne, M. Stevens, G. P. Watkinson, H. A.
Remnant, Hon. P. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.) Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminister)
Renton, D. L. M. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Storey, S. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Robertson, Sir David Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.) Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Robson-Brown, W. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Summers, G. S. Wills, G.
Roper, Sir Harold Sutcliffe, Sir Harold Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Russell, R. S. Teeling, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Drewe and Mr. Vosper.

It being after half-past Ten o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded. pursuant to Orders, to put forthwith the Question on an Amendment, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at half-past Ten o'Clock.

Amendment made: In line 25, at end, insert: Where Scotland is affected, the Minister shall consult the Secretary of State for Scotland before giving any directions under this subsection.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Kaberry.]

Bill, as amended, to be further considered Tomorrow.