HC Deb 10 February 1953 vol 511 cc349-61
Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move, in page 38, line 8, at the end, to insert: (3) At the end of the said section seventy-one there shall be added the following subsection— (5) The Committee shall keep a register of agreements as to traffic, rates (including through rates) and similar matters made between persons engaged in or representing the interests of on the one hand coastal shipping and on the other the business of carrying goods by road for hire or reward and the Committee shall report to the Minister and the Minister shall communicate to licensing authorities acting under Part I of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 (which provides for the licensing of goods vehicles) agreements so registered. This Amendment follows on an earlier discussion we had about the exclusion of the road hauliers from the arrangements under which coastwise shipping enterprises may appeal against the rates that are charged by the railways. I do not think there is need to detain the House very long on this, except to say that the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee which was set up by the 1947 Act was beginning to serve a very useful purpose. It brought together the coastal shipping interests and the road and rail long distance haulage interests, in the person of the British Transport Commission.

It was possible for the coastal shipping interests, who found themselves under a difficulty in maintaining their services, to bring before the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee, and therefore before the Commission, the difficulties under which they laboured, and it was possible for the Commission to agree that certain rates should be charged by their own enterprises, namely, by the railways and by the Road Haulage Executive's long-distance lorries, which would not have the effect of undermining coastwise shipping and putting it out of the market.

The Bill is emasculating these useful functions of the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. From now on, under the Clause to which we have put down this Amendment, the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee will be able only to discuss difficulties that arise in the coastal shipping interest and it will be impossible for the Commission to enter into arrangements which will bind anybody but their own railways. The Minister is attempting to meet the situation by including in his Clause persons representing the interests of carriers of goods by road for hire or reward. We all know how anarchic the road haulage industry is. Whatever may be talked about it in the atmosphere of the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee, the road hauliers cannot undertake gentlemen's agreements that stand any chance of being observed by their members.

9.45 p.m.

If the history of this industry is to be any guide in the future, the whole process of undercutting each other—never mind undercutting the coastal shipping—is to go on once more. We are trying to remedy one of the evils which will fall upon coastwise shipping arising from the Bill. The way we are attempting to remedy this evil is by trying to give the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee some powers they do not possess at the present time.

This Amendment goes with those we did not move yesterday to Clause 8 in respect of the licensing decision, and although it would be out of order if I referred to those at any length, perhaps I may do so in passing. Briefly, we suggest that the persons who are to be added to the committee as representing the road hauliers should be able to enter into agreements with the railways and the coastwise shipping people for the maintenance of certain rates. The Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee, when this three-cornered agreement has been reached, should keep a register of certain agreements as to traffic rates and similar matters, and report the agreements that are made for the maintenance of proper rates to the Minister and the Minister shall communicate those rates to the licensing authorities for road haulage vehicles.

Our earlier Amendments to Clause 8, which were not called, would then have provided, among other matters, that a licensing authority, when considering an application for a renewal of licence by a road haulier, must take into account whether or not he had observed the agreements entered into on his behalf by his representatives on the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. If the Minister were to accept the principle of this Amendment, some further machinery would have to be put in in another place. However, I do not suppose that would deter the right hon. Gentleman from accepting the principle now in view of the fact that we have now reached the end of the Report stage.

I suggest to the Minister that this is the only way in which he can put teeth into his committee, having emasculated its functions by withdrawing the responsibility of the Transport Commission for road haulage. He could only give back again to the coastal shipping people the protection they deserve by giving the committee the opportunity of entering into agreements which should be observed by road hauliers when they are operating their enterprises. This seems to us to be an extremely sensible Amendment, and one that I do not think the Minister could refuse on grounds of equity to the coastwise shipping interests.

I see that the Minister has put his name to the next Amendment, to line 14, which frankly, if I may say so in advance, is merely a piece of persiflage—

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Nothing of the sort.

Mr. Callaghan

Then it is verbiage. I am sure that if the name of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is put to it, it must be both persiflage and verbiage.

Certainly, it consists of a number of words which mean very little when added up, and will not give to the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee any executive functions. We want them to have real powers. We do not want this to be a committee which will talk and do nothing; we want it to be a committee which will operate in the interests of coastal shipping and of the proper regulation of road, rail and coastwise shipping interests. I hope that on this last occasion, when we are entering the straight of the Report stage, the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Hargreaves

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the hon. Gentleman had really been so anxious that the concluding stages of the Report stage should end in harmony and good will—as, indeed, I hope he still is; I certainly am—I wish that it had been found possible so to conduct the previous business that I should have been able to say something about compensation for railwaymen.

Mr. Callaghan

If the Minister could have persuaded his hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) not to move his Amendment, he would have had that opportunity.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The record will show that there were three divisions in an unusually short time, and, no doubt, railwaymen and others will draw their own conclusions.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

On a point of order. Is it not correct to say that the authority which determines the utilisation of time in this Chamber is the Government, and that if they choose to afford the time necessary to make known their policy in regard to the future of railway employees, they can find such time quite adequately?

Mr. Speaker

In the case of a Bill going through its various stages, the consumption of time is regulated not by the Opposition nor by the Government, but by a sense of compromise and good feeling between the two.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Amendment must be considered in conjunction with two Amendments to Clause 8 which were not moved yesterday. The hon. Gentleman said that he was very anxious to put teeth into the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee and that it should not be a body to engage merely in talking but would do something. Were the Amendment accepted, it would certainly do something, but it would be wholly contrary to the purposes for which this body was set up.

If the Amendment were accepted, a sanction would be imposed which would take the form of the revocation of the A and B licences, this sanction being used for the enforcement of any rate agreement arrived at by road hauliers for the protection of coastal shipping. It would be a sanction that would impose this suspension of the A and B licences.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the anarchy in the road haulage industry. If he is really anxious, as we all are, to maintain where it exists, and to introduce where it does not exist, a sense of trade discipline into the road haulage industry, I wonder how much he thinks his continual wounding words are making that more and more difficult?

It is our belief that the Road Haulage Association throughout very difficult periods in the last few years—difficulties imposed upon them by the action of the last Government: the arbitrary 25-mile limit, the capricious exercise of permits and many other difficulties—have kept their membership and their standard of behaviour remarkably well. We are anxious that the best elements in that Association should be encouraged, and we very much hope to see a growing sense of discipline among their members, and, indeed, in many other activities of life also. They have nothing to be ashamed of in regard to the work they are doing.

We believe that the freedom that they are now to exercise will help them in coming to worth-while agreements among each other and with their co-operators in the field of transport. If the hon. Gentleman really believes in the value of responsibility and that the only way to learn to play the harp is to play the harp, he ought to welcome the chance that will be given to road hauliers to show the opportunity for decision, which, we are sure, they are fully capable of making.

Under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, however, the licensing authority would come in as being responsible for the detailed enforcement of individual charges made by road hauliers. Earlier, I was very much reproved because in Clause 8 I recommended to the House certain things for which, it was said, I had no endorsement from the licensing authorities; but I cannot imagine a task which the licensing authorities would find more wholly inappropriate to their composition and to their desires than this proposed procedure. On that ground alone, the Amendment should fall.

But that is not the only objection to it. The Amendment would turn the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee into a body for the registration of agreements. One of the features of this Committee which has given it its value and success has been its advisory nature. It would be quite wrong to saddle it with an executive task of this kind. Were such a task imposed on it it would very quickly break up. We know perfectly well that the party opposite do not like voluntary agreements, but prefer statutory enforcements and undertakings with the sanction of the law behind every association. We do not share that desire for constant legal obligations. We believe in voluntary association and we are quite sure that the best way to make this voluntary association effective is to move along the lines advocated by the Government.

When I come to the next Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whose identification with it we all welcome and which gives it added point and quality, I shall hope to give some indication of how we hope to see this most important advisory body become more effective. So I hope, in an effort to show that harmony which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked me to show and after my convincing explanation, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. D. Jones

Whom did the Minister convince?

Mr. Sparks

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has told the whole story.

Mr. Gibson

The old, old story.

Mr. Sparks

I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman refers to the relevant Section of the Transport Act, 1947, unless I am very much mistaken he will find that the Minister has certain powers over the Commission in enforcing agreements arrived at by the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee.

That Committee was previously composed of two elements, the coastal shipping advisory people and the British Transport Commission, and the powers given in the 1947 Act, amongst others, were to fix charges and arrange throughout charges between the undertakings. I believe that I am right in saying that if the Transport Commission fail to observe the agreements the Minister has certain powers to direct them to carry out their obligations.

Under this Bill the Minister has a third element which he is introducing into the Advisory Committee, namely, the road hauliers. I believe that we are quite entitled to ask that, in regard to the road hauliers, the Minister should exercise similar restraint to that which I believe he has the power to exercise in the case of the Transport Commission. Therefore, if the activities of the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee are to be effective, it is necessary that all three bodies—the Advisory Committee, the Transport Commission and the road hauliers—should honourably observe the rates and charges and throughout services agreed upon.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

From where does the hon. Member get the assumption that I was putting road hauliers on the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee? Here we are dealing with a method of imposing some automatic sanction against road hauliers at the orders of other people. There is nothing in the Bill at the moment about the appointment of road hauliers to the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee.

Mr. Sparks

I think that if the right hon. Gentleman reads the Clause he will see that he is altering the constitution of the Committee and introducing into it, apart from the coastal shipping interests and the Transport Commission, a private road hauliers' element.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I was referring to the Amendment. This Amendment does not deal with that matter. When I come to the next Amendment, I shall make a reference to what we propose in regard to the composition, including the moment when it would appear appropriate to put road hauliers on this Committee. That will be made in another place. I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman for taking it for granted he would have known that when, of course, he could not possibly have known it.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Sparks

It meets my point if the Minister admits there is an obligation on the part of private road haulage interests represented on the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee to observe the agreement entered into in regard to freight rates and charges, as there is an obligation on the Commission. If the Minister now admits the necessity for that, he has conceded our point to a certain extent, and I shall listen with interest to what he has to say on the next Amendment.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

This is quite an important Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I think it deserves the consideration of the House, even at this late stage. In conformity with the general character of what the Labour Party is trying to do to the Bill, it provides for streamlining, and for the delegation of executive functions ultimately to those concerned. The hon. Gentleman was at pains to say that the road haulage industry was an anarchic organisation. It needed discipline.

In so far as the Road Haulage Association has disciplined itself for the purpose of putting forward coherent and clear Amendments to the Bill, we welcome that discipline. But in so far as the hon. Gentleman wishes that there shall be a thoroughly groomed, efficient Road Haulage Association, obedient to the dictates of someone else and carrying out the wishes of some supreme authority in road transport, we cannot in the least agree. I would welcome the prospect of an increase in ill-discipline on the road if discipline means what we have had under the Transport Commission's operations for the last few years.

Here we clearly see the mood of the Labour Party working. My right hon. Friend has made certain amendments to the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends say that the committee is not to be entirely advisory, but has to do certain other things. It should keep a register of agreements as to traffics and rates. When it has got to know what all these rates and traffics are, and has done a bit of analytical work, and prepared a few schedules, it is to send all those things to the Minister. The Minister then is to communicate to the licensing authorities.

I stop there, because this is the most sinister intention that I have so far seen suggested in the Amendments to this Bill put forward by the Labour Party. For the first time they suppose a set of conditions under which the licensing authorities shall work. They are suggesting that these facts and figures accumulated by the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee should be handed on to the licensing authorities, presuming that the licensing authorities are to neglect the general considerations they take into account when granting or withholding licences, and are to take this other series of operations into account, The Labour Party are not at all averse to using the impersonal, impartial and completely judicial character of the licensing authorities as a new device to carry out their wishes. That comes out very nicely in this Amendment. I call the attention of the House to what is being done here.

Mr. Hargreaves

Is not the noble Lord falling into the same error as the Minister fell into when he suggested that the licensing authority had no regard to the charges made for conveyance? That is their job in relation to passengers. Presumably, the noble Lord is overlooking that. They take fares into account. They are enjoined to do so.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Yes. They take fares into account, but here is a whole series of new matters that they are required to take into account. What is meant by the words: agreements as to traffic"? What are those agreements which are to be taken into account? The whole Amendment is vague and ill-considered, and it has been brought in at a late stage. It is an after-thought produced by the former Attorney-General, whose absence we deplore because at least he is a person who can put a coherent case and very ably argue when he chooses to do so. But, for some reason best known to himself, the former Attorney-General does not appear very frequently during our debates. When he does he produces an interesting and coherent argument, but he is absent tonight.

Looking at the names associated with this Amendment and having heard the arguments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I suggest that we cannot do other than congratulate my right hon. Friend on having turned down the whole purport of this Amendment and convinced us that it is unworkable.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move, in page 38, line 14, at the end, to insert: (4) As from the passing of this Act it shall be part of the functions of the said Committee to take all steps open to them to secure the establishment and maintenance of suitable arrangements for promoting consultation between persons affording services and facilities for the carriage of goods by coastal shipping and by rail, road and inland waterway. respectively. I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks). He is quite right. I have no wish either to mislead him or to challenge his accuracy unjustly. The situation is, as he says, that it is true that under subsection (2, c) provision is made for the addition to the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee of: such number of persons representing the interests of carriers of goods by road for hire or reward as the Minister thinks fit, to be appointed by him after consultation with such body or bodies as he thinks fit, being a body or bodies who appear to him to be representative of those carriers". But it is my intention, or the intention of the Government—because I am referring to what will happen in another place—temporarily to hold up the application of this subsection. This is in accordance with the views of the Commission. It is undeniable that there is a certain reluctance in some quarters to disclose confidential trade rates to trade competitors in advance of a general organisation among all road hauliers which is as good as that organisation which the Road Haulage Association has among its own members.

I hope that the time will not be long delayed. I was for a moment misled by having lived with this problem so much lately. I thought that the hon. Gentleman also knew, though of course he could not possibly have known, that we propose to recommend in another place the temporary holding up of this provision. I hope that it will not be long before it is possible to see all the sections of the transport industry sitting down together harmoniously and effectively trying to secure ordered competition. [Interruption.] Certainly. I think it is a much more cheerful prospect than the dragooning of the last few years, which, despite the fact that thousands of people were deprived of their livelihood, has completely failed to give us the integrated system that we were promised. That Amendment will be introduced in another place, and then we shall have the provisions in this subsection retained, but their application only temporarily delayed.

The Amendment which I am moving enjoins the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee to promote consultations between the various forms of transport, including persons affording services and facilities to meet the needs of coastal shipping and representing the railways and inland waterways, respectively. The hon. Gentleman at first said that it was persiflage and then that it was verbiage, but it seems to me to be a highly desirable objective. The conference arrangement. as the House will well know, established between the railways and the coastal shipping lines before the war and continued since, has worked extremely well, and we have no intention whatever of that work being interfered with or jeopardised by the addition of road hauliers or others to the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee or by any of the powers with which that admirable Committee is equipped.

It is the view of the Commission and the Chamber of Shipping that the Advisory Committee should not—and there is no suggestion that they should—assume control of these conferences or supervise their work. This arrangement has done splendid work on a voluntary basis, and the Government are confident that it will continue to do so, but it does appear to us that, as a preliminary to the further Amendment to be introduced in another place, the addition of these words would appeal as meeting a desirable public need.

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

May I take this opportunity of thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister for moving this Amendment and for generally having the interests of the coastwise shipping industry at heart?, All concerned will be very grateful to. him.

Mr. Nabarro

I want to add my word of thanks to those expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Commander Scott-Miller), because, as hon. Gentlemen opposite observed a few moments ago, my name stands in support of that of my right hon. Friend on this Amendment, and, indeed, stood in support of a similar Amendment, which, unfortunately, could not be called on the Committee stage.

What the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) conveniently omitted to make reference to a few moments ago was the point at which interests conflict between coastal shipping and the railways. In fact, 80 per cent. of coastwise travel is here concerned with coal. The road hauliers in competition with coastwise shipping are very limited indeed. There is only a very narrow sector in which the road haulage interest can find itself in competition with coastwise shipping. I think it is most desirable, in the interests of delivering coal and other solid fuel, largely to nationalised undertakings in London and the South of England, that this form of collaboration in regard to rates between coastal shipping interests and the railways should be placed on a permanent and, indeed, statutory basis. It has long been a subject of complaint from householders, as well as from industrial consumers in London and elsewhere in the South, that their solid fuel costs them too much.

The railways in certain instances could have an unfair advantage over coastal shipping. They could, in fact, subsidise at the expense of certain routes that were in conflict with coastal shipping inter- ests the cost of transportation and make up their losses in other directions where there was no such conflict with coastal shipping interests. It was therefore desirable, to use a word of which hon. Members opposite are rather too fond, that there should be an attempt to integrate the interests of the two authorities especially as, for the most part, it is a nationalised railway undertaking delivering coal from a nationalised pit to a nationalised gas works and a nationalised electricity undertaking in London. That is 75 to 80 per cent. of the traffic.

10.15 p.m.

I think my right hon. Friend has behaved with commendable generosity in this matter. He has sponsored this Amendment right through the Committee stage, carried through a great deal of negotiation with the Chamber of Shipping and with my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and I am glad that such a satisfactory solution has been achieved. My last word is to say to my right hon. Friend that I hope the delay to which he referred will not last any longer than the time that will elapse between this Measure leaving this Chamber and going to another place. The delay, I hope, will be minimised.

Amendment agreed to.