HC Deb 10 February 1953 vol 511 cc268-93
Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move, in page 27, line 46, to leave out from "Commission," to the end of line 4, on page 28. and to insert: or, so far as the enactments mentioned in paragraph (b) of this subsection are concerned; to any act on omission of the Commissions. (2) Section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921 (which contain provisions for the protection of coastwise shipping and the interests of canals), shall have effect in relation to charges made by the Commission subject to the provisions of the Schedule to this Act (Modifications and extensions of section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921) being provisions which amongst other things—

  1. (a) apply section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, to all charges made or proposed to be made by the Commission for the carriage of merchandise by railway other than standard charges and maximum charges, extend it so that it applies with modifications to harbour authorities as well as to coastwise shipping and provide for an expedited procedure under it in certain cases;
  2. (b) apply section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921. to all charges made or proposed to be made by the Commission for the carriage of merchandise by railway other than standard charges and maximum charges and extend it so that it applies to canal carriers as well as to canals,
and section thirty of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888 (which contains provisions for the protection of harbour authorities), shall not apply to any charges made by the Commission or to any other act or omission of the Commission. (3) As soon as a charges scheme comes into force with respect to charges for the carriage of merchandise by railway, the provisions of Part III of the Railways Act, 1921 (except sections twenty to twenty-six, thirty-nine and fifty-six), shall not apply to the Commission or to any charges made by the Commission. I understood, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) in page 26, line 23, was to be called.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Originally, it was to be called, but it is not now selected.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am afraid that I am entering into a rather lengthy speech. and I must apologise to the House for this necessity, but the Amendments which stand in my name to Clause 19 are made necessary by a number of undertakings which I gave in Committee.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate that any alterations to the very old railway charges structure in regard to merchandise in Great Britain involve a great deal of highly technical amendments of the law. I have quoted on Committee stage and on the Second Reading of the Bill a large number of Acts of Parliament which are involved, and I have been a little surprised at the comparative simplicity with which these very considerable Amendments have been made. I should like to express my appreciation, as I am sure the Opposition would have done if they had been responsible for these Amendments, to the draftsmen who have found it possible to do this at very great speed and under extreme pressure.

I should like to ask whether I am in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in moving this Amendment and also all the other Amendments that stand in my name on this Clause, and then moving the Amendment to Clause 34, page 40, line 40, which is linked to this Amendment and also the new Schedule.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

I can understand that it might be convenient for us to discuss these Amendments together, but am I right in thinking, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it will not be possible for the Minister to move them until we get to them on the Order Paper?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is so, but they can be discussed together, and when we come to them, we will put them in due course.

Mr. Callaghan

The only point on that is that there are two Amendments—one in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), to which the Minister has put his name, in page 38, line 14, and the one in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice)—page 38, line 8—which in some ways have, I think, relationship to the Schedule which the Minister wishes to discuss now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understood that it would be for the convenience of the House if the Amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for then, of course, the Minister's Amendment would be called on its own.

Mr. Callaghan

That was our understanding on the assumption that the Min- ister's two Amendments to Clause 29 and Clause 34 were going to be called and discussed at that time. We would like to ask, even though the discussion will now trespass and certainly entrench on the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, that we should still have an opportunity of moving the Amendment to Clause 29 in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend when the time comes.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity of moving that when the time comes, provided that the Guillotine does not upset the plan.

Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)

Is it now suggested that the Amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend—Clause 29, page 38, line 8—and the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend—Clause 29, page 38, line 14—should be brought within the scope of this discussion?

Mr. Callaghan

I should like to hear the views of the Minister on this because I do not know what speech he is going to make. But it seems to me that it is going to be rather difficult for him to make a speech which will not challenge the two Amendments.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I did not ask to be allowed to consider those two Amendments at the same time. There may be a slanting reference to them, but I think it proper to leave the discussion of these two Amendments until they are reached in the normal course of events.

As this is a complicated matter, I have tried by the issue of an explanatory memorandum to as many hon. Members as I was able to contact in the time, to make it slightly easier for hon. Members to follow this matter, and I hope that I shall be as clear as my explanatory memorandum, although I think that is rather an optimistic assumption.

The first two Amendments to Clause 19, the Amendment I have moved and the Amendment, in page 28, line 17, leave out from first "of," to end of line 26, and insert section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921, and the Schedule to this Act (Modifications and extensions of section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921). Notwithstanding anything in section fifty-seven of the Railways Act, 1921, the charges provided for by any agreement made under this subsection shall not be deemed to be exceptional charges within the meaning of Part III of that Act, and the expression 'exceptional rates' in the said Part III shall be construed accordingly,", deal with three points. In the first case they make it clear that existing enactments relating to other forms of undue preference, other than by way of charges, are no longer to apply to the Commission. Hon. Members will find in the OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1952, in column 1542, that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) raised this specific point with me. I had a discussion with him afterwards, and as a result of this we have moved this Amendment.

The other forms of undue preference may not seem anything like as important as charges—dealing with preferential loading and unloading and matters of that kind—but nonetheless, when we are making a sweep of legislation in which we think a breath of fresh air is long overdue, it is important that we should not neglect this possibility. That is the first point with regard to the first part of the first Amendment.

The second part—paragraph 2 of the first Amendment—gives effect to two undertakings which I gave on the Committee stage. The first undertaking will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1952, column 1529, which deals with the undertaking that I gave to consider the redrafting altogether of Clause 21, so as to preserve the protection given to coastal shipping, and in the course of that reconsideration, to consider also the position of harbour authorities. We think we have effectively met this in the second part of our first Amendment. Hon. Members will notice that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper in my name to leave out Clause 21, and that also, of course, should be borne in mind while we are making up our mind on these various Amendments. I shall come later to exactly how we think we have met the needs and anxieties of coastal shipping and harbour authorities.

The second intention I announced in the House on that occasion was not to proceed with that part of Clause 21 which gave protection to road hauliers against unduly low charges by the Commission. This part of the proposals in the original Bill was very much condemned from the Opposition benches, and found, I am bound to say on consideration, no support on Government benches either. It appeared to be taking away with one hand what was being given to the railways competitively with the other. I do not think it had that effect, but, nonetheless, I was glad when public opinion as represented in this House did not feel that this particular protection was necessary, and so we have decided to do away with it.

As hon. Members may remember, Clause 21 as originally drafted allowed coastal shipping, harbour authorities and road hauliers to challenge the rates of the Commission on the ground that they were uneconomic and that if persisted in for a long time they would cause loss to the Commission and were designed to eliminate competition. This appeared to be unduly restrictive on the Commission in their relation to road hauliers, and on coastal shipping if they had to prove these very difficult facts before they could get any protection. We think we have found a way to meet justice all round.

Since the Committee stage, I have had many talks with road hauliers, the Road Haulage Association, the Commission and the coastal shipping authorities, and indeed there has been a good deal of conversation and correspondence also with the harbour authorities. I should like to thank all these bodies for the help they have given, and though I do not commit any of the representative organisations to the precise way in which these Clauses are being amended, I think it fair to say that there is very general agreement between the Commission, coastal shipping, the harbour authorities and the road hauliers over the proposals I now make.

With regard to Clause 21, what we are doing with these Amendments is, first, to omit the hauliers' right to complain under Clause 21, and then the harbour authorities' right to complain of charges for port facilities, and lastly to limit their right to complaints about railway merchandise charges made in respect of the carriage to and from ports where the Commission themselves provide the port facilities.

I think hon. Members will see the justice of that because it might otherwise be thought to put a temptation in the way of the Commission to give facilities to their own particular traffic to the detriment of other traffic. This left the position of coastal shipping not wholly settled. I have always been anxious that there should be no avoidable difficulty for this great British interest, confronted as they are with many difficulties anyhow, and I was most anxious that the effect of the Bill, which will give a wide measure of competition to road hauliers and generally stimulate the flow of traffic, should not have a harmful result to quite the extent some had feared. Therefore we have amended the coastal shipping provisions of Clause 21 by providing that Section 39 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, should be adapted and extended to meet the new conditions which will be created by this Bill.

The Amendments in this field and the new Schedule accordingly provide that Section 39 of the 1933 Act shall apply to all charges made or proposed to be made by the Commission for the carriage of goods by rail other than standard or maximum charges, and not merely as now to exceptional rates or agreed charges, coastwise shipping will have a series of protective measures. They will have the right as at present to represent that a charge places coastal carriers at an undue or unfair disadvantage, or that the charges of the Commission are inadequate, having regard to the cost of affording the services. From now on they will have the protection of the amended and extended provisions of Section 39 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933.

If I am asked more about this particular point, I will attempt to deal with it in question and answer afterwards so as not to interrupt the flow of what I am saying. We are making provisions to meet certain circumstances which may confront coastal shipping in this field, provisions roughly corresponding to those we are making with regard to the Commission under Clause 22 in regard to merchandise, though, of course, the circumstances are different in this field.

Provision is also made for an expedited procedure where a representation is made wholly or partly on the ground that the charges in question place coastal carriers at an undue or unfair disadvantage. 1n such a case, if the Tribunal are of opinion that a reasonable case has been made out they may quickly and without publication or holding a public inquiry authorise an increase after consultation with the Commission. As soon as they have taken that action they must publish to traders and to others what they have done. They have got to be convinced that the charges are undue to such an extent as to prejudice the national interest, and traders will have an opportunity of complaining. Though the changes will come into operation straight away, traders will have an opportunity of complaining for a period of one month after which the Tribunal can either revoke or amend the order, when, after there has been a full inquiry, which traders are entitled to have, they make up their minds on a more final settlement.

We have also made special provisions in the case where there are, as there often are, agreements in writing. Under Clause 19 (2), for a period of not less than three months—

Mr. Callaghan

Would the right hon. Gentleman mind going a little slower because it is awfully difficult to follow what he is saying.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am sorry. I am afraid that if I went at the speed which the subject deserves and which would still be comprehensible to everybody I might unduly detain the House, but I will try to go a good deal slower now.

As I said, we are also anxious to provide protection where there has been written agreement, and under the Amendment as submitted protection has been given where there is such a written agreement which provides that for a period of not less than three months or for a period determinable by not less than three months' notice, certain charges shall operate or shall not be determined without three months' notice. In so far as any proposal made to the Tribunal would affect this agreement, the order is not to operate until one month after the publication of the order, and if a trader who is a party then objects to any part of the order, then that part of the order cannot operate until he has had an opportunity of putting his point of view. But if a trader does not object, then it can come into operation.

I believe this meets the view of those deeply concerned with the future prosperity of British coastal shipping. I know it largely commends itself to the friends and colleagues of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) who has been most helpful all through our discussions in regard to the need to give particular protection to coastal shipping. In addition, I am glad to be able to inform the House that the British Transport Commission have now formally given an assurance to the Chamber of Shipping that in the formulation of any future charges schemes for merchandise traffic they will be glad to consult with the representatives of coastal shipping in the same way as in the past, and to give them a reasonable opportunity of considering the effect of the proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Competition."] Hon. Members say "Competition." I think they will find that the difficulties in which coastal shipping is placed put it in rather a different position from any other operator. If they had the same close contact with the Commission that I have had they would certainly find that at no stage have they shown any anxiety to rid themselves of any obligations towards the great British coastal shipping interest.

6.0 p.m.

There remain just three other points to which I ought to draw the attention of the House. One relates to the position of the harbour authorities. Section 39 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, as we have adapted and extended it for coastal shipping, applies to harbour authorities as well, with the limitation that complaint can only be made about charges for the carriage of goods by rail to and from 'harbours where the Commission provides the port facilities. In Committee I was also asked a question by one of my hon. Friends about canals and canal carriers. Section 39 of the Railways Act, 1921, which provides for protection from exceptional rates and agreed charges, is now being extended to apply to all other charges by rail other than standard and maximum charges. I think that meets the main fear of the canals and canal carriers as to the possibilities of greater freedom to the Commission in merchandise freight charges and their possible effect on canals and canal carriers.

The third part of this Amendment, which is really the governing Amendment throughout, deals with Part III of the Railways Act, 1921. This third part of the Amendment provides that as soon as a merchandise charges scheme is brought into operation the provisions of Part III of the Railways Act, 1921, with certain exceptions, shall not apply to the Commission. Part III of the Railways Act, 1921, governs the system of standard and exceptional charges introduced by the 1921 Act. As so many of the restrictions continued through that Act from earlier days are now being lifted, that Part is not generally applicable to the circumstances of today. There are certain provisions in that Part—for example, the one dealing with the procedure of the Transport Tribunal—which we want to preserve, and that accounts for the limitations on the abolition of Part III of the Railways Act, 1921, which we found it necessary to insert.

Finally, I should like to say that I recognise that, even if I had made my observations at a very slow, pedestrian speed, they would still demand considerable powers of absorption, and I can only assure the House that there is nothing of any substance in these proposals which I now put before the House that I did not announce during the Committee stage. and that to the very best of my knowledge they go no further, apart from tidying up here and there, than meeting the points of view that I undertook to meet in Committee, as a result of which I spent a large part of the Christmas Recess in consultation with very important interests. Now I come to the most important interest of all, the House of Commons, and I commend these Amendments to the sympathy of both sides of the House.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

Before the Minister sits down, might I ask him one question? Am I right in understanding that these provisions will not mean that coastal shipping will get a protection by the railways having to lift certain rates to a higher figure than they would otherwise do in ordinary competition? If it does that, then the railways will be in an unfair competitive position with the road haulier who may actually be a third in the triangular situation for that particular traffic.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I do not think it would apply to that. I do not think the road haulier need be particularly anxious about his own level of charges. At a later stage we shall come to tentative proposals—under Clause 29, I think—to identify road hauliers with the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. I will not anticipate that now.

The main effect of the adaptation and extension of Section 39 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act to coastal shipping is that, instead of having to prove, as under the Bill as originally drafted, that any low charge by the Commission was designed so as to eliminate competition and if proceeded with would cause loss to the Commission, they have only to prove that the railway rates place them at an undue disadvantage and that this is not in the national interest. That also is a formidable undertaking to have to prove, but it is a good deal easier to prove that, than the more cumbersome obligation placed on coastal shipping in Clause 21.

In this matter we must move by stages. Here, undoubtedly, I believe we have found a way of getting justice between coastal shipping and the very powerful British Transport Commission. I do not think that the road haulage industry will be disadvantaged by this.

Mr. Holt

It is the railways.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Holt

I am sorry that I may not have made it clear.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the hon. Gentleman was dealing with the position of the railways, undoubtedly this might affect a charge that the railways might otherwise have been prepared to offer, but this does broadly represent an agreement that, if it has not been sanctioned, has anyhow the tacit blessing of both sides of this great industry, the Commission and coastal shipping. It seemed to us essential that there should be some protection to coastal shipping; if that protection is to have any reality it must conceivably involve the Commission in not being allowed to charge a low rate which they would otherwise be anxious to charge, and to that extent it is a restriction on their freedom. I know the hon. Gentleman's. point of view very well, but if we are concerned to preserve British coastal shipping, in peace and war alike, we must run a risk which may not be wholly palatable to the Liberal Party.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

This series of Amendments will, of course, be welcomed on this side of the House, particularly the deletion of Clause 21. The Minister has recalled the protests made from this side of the House, which, incidentally, were not echoed by hon. Members opposite, although hon. Members who might otherwise have intervened on that side are probably complimenting themselves now that they did not put both feet in it when they had the chance. The fact remains that we have eliminated one of the most vicious Clauses, and we compliment the Minister and ourselves on that.

There still remains, in my view, a great deal that the Minister and the Government have to answer for on this part of the Bill. In introducing these rather complicated Amendments, which he elucidated very clearly in the time at his disposal, the Minister apologised for the speed at which he had to present them. He said it would have been better if he could have dealt with them at a speed the subject deserves. He can easily correct that. Indeed, that is one of the main complaints we have made throughout all the stages of this Bill, that the Bill is not getting the attention it deserves. That is not the fault of the Opposition. It is entirely the fault of the Government. What we shall see as a result of the hurried way in which this is being done—and I think this view is shared by all my hon. and right hon. Friends, and by many people in the country—is a garbled Bill which in the end will not be workable and will do untold damage to the transport industry.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman has just paid a very courteous tribute to me. I ought to explain that when I said I wished I could have dealt with the matter with the speed that my subject deserved, I referred to my speech tonight. I did not mean that the matter had not been given the most exhaustive examination over many months. In consultation with all the proper authorities we have had a most searching consideration and reconsideration, and I do not believe that an extension by another six months in the time would have advanced the public interest in the slightest degree.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Minister has said that he was referring to his speech tonight. So was I. I am referring to the speed with which we are having to examine these Clauses, which do not get the consideration they deserve. When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the time given to the examination of the Bill as having taken many months, let me remind him that the Bill has only been in existence for two or three weeks. The propositions, in the form of the White Paper and of the first Bill, which took so many months to develop, have been scrapped as the result of public discussion and of criticism in this House. The Measure that we are discussing now has not been under discussion for so many months.

As I look at these Amendments I find that the Minister and his colleagues have put themselves in rather a quandary. We understood that the whole purpose of the Bill was to achieve free competition within the area of transport. Where is the competition in these proposals? According to my reading of the Minister's explanatory memorandum, which he has been good enough to circulate and of which I personally express my appreciation, I find, taking coastwise shipping, that in the event of the Commission's fixing a charge which the coastal shipping companies think is too low—in other words is competitive—they can complain.

Having complained that the Commission is becoming competitive, they can have the support of the Government and of the tribunal in order to vary, or even to revoke, the charge. When that has been done, if the trader complains that the charge has been put up too high, the tribunal have to meet again, and to consider the matter again from the point of view of the trader. If they are satisfied that the charge is now too high—the charge that they made themselves, having examined all the circumstances on the recommendation of the coastal shipping authorities—they can revoke or vary their previous Order.

Here is a Government who talk about bureaucracy and about committees and tribunals interfering with the free play of commercial enterprise. It is rather strange that we should hear about the bureaucracy and the red tape which surround nationalised enterprises but find that the Government are tying up private and nationalised enterprises with a complicated scheme of red tape such as we find in this proposal. Why should they not do in this case precisely as was done in regard to Clause 21, delete the proposition altogether?

The Minister said that special conditions applied to coastwise shipping, which is a very valuable aspect of our nationalised industry. There is no doubt at all that we must use to the fullest advantage the facilities that the sea provides. No one would question that, but I do not think that the Minister has justified his case for giving a preferential position to coastwise shipping in this form, involving meetings of tribunals, revocation of Orders, further meetings of tribunals at the behest of someone else and again revocation or variation of the previous Orders, in order to try to find a balance which is not a competitive balance. The tribunals are prevented from being competitive by this very procedure.

6.15 p.m.

What is the position in regard to coastwise shipping? Is it competitive or is it not? Can it compete with the railways or with motor transport. [Interruption.] An hon. Friend says "No." It can compete very advantageously with those services. Most hon. Members who know anything about coastwise shipping are aware of the tremendous advantages of the potato boats from London to Dundee and vice versa. They were able to carry those goods at very much lower rates than were the railways or the inland road services because they had cheaper facilities and there was no need for speed. They did very well with that kind of traffic. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a subsidy."] I am not so sure that they needed a subsidy.

In the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport, published in 1931, dealing with the co-ordination of transport—and not with its disorganisation. which is now the proposition—we find that the Ship-owners' Parliamentary Committee, which I presume consisted of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House —I am sure there were none from this side—with an interest in ship-owning, presented a memorandum to the Commission. In it they said: The British shipping industry holds strongly the view that the co-ordination and co-operation that is needed "— they were in favour of co-ordination and co-operation at that time— will be best effected through the normal interplay of economic and commercial factors, subject only to such legislative safeguards as may be found absolutely necessary in the public interest. The memorandum went on: In its opinion it is of the first importance that the various transport agencies, including shipping, should be allowed to develop without preferential treatment or differentiation as between one another. Why not? The arguments of the Minister and his colleagues on that side of the House throughout the proceedings on the Bill have been based on the merits of fair competition, competition without differentiation, without subsidy and without giving protection to one against another. The whole purpose of the Amendment that we are now discussing is to ensure that the national interest is hamstrung and that the benefits of free competition and protection shall be given only to the champions of private enterprise. In view of the opinions expressed by the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, which are in accordance with the views of the Government on all other aspects of the Bill, I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter again and, as he did with Clause 21, to scrap the whole proposition.

Sir L. Ropner

The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) has not only displayed lamentable ignorance of the organisation of the shipping industry, but an equally great ignorance of the peculiar difficulties of coastwise shipping. I suggest to him, with due deference, that he should at least know something about the subjects concerning which he intends to address this House.

My right hon. Friend who initiated the debate said that considerable powers of absorption were needed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite before they could fully understand the implications of all that he said on the Amendment which he was moving. Those remarks are equally applicable to hon. Gentlemen on this side. While I have attempted to reprove to some extent the hon. Member who has just sat down, I admit that for myself I am by no means certain that I understand every application of the Amendment that we are discussing.

Throughout very many weeks, and indeed months, of negotiation the Minister and his advisers have been most helpful, first endeavouring to appreciate, and finally completely appreciating, the special difficulties of coastal shipping. I am not a coastal shipper myself, but I have tried in this House to represent the views of coastal shippers. That section of this great industry is most appreciative of the genuine efforts which the Minister and his advisers have made to meet the special difficulties of this section of the Mercantile Marine.

Mr. H. Hynd

What are the special difficulties of coastal shipping?

Sir L. Ropner

I could spend a great deal of time mentioning the special difficulties, only I do not think that this is the occasion to do so.

Mr. Hargreaves

I want to thank the Minister for taking up the point, which I was unable to develop during the Committee stage, of the incidence of the archaic legislation concerning undue preference. I was on my feet when the Guillotine fell on the discussion of the Clause, and that experience adds point to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd). I consider that on all stages of this Bill the House of Commons has been denied the opportunity of giving to the Measure the consideration it deserves. A moment ago the Minister said that he had spent many months in consultation with what he called "all the proper authorities," which apparently excluded hon. Members of this House. Therefore, I ask the Minister to assure the House that in the matter of undue preference the Amendment to insert a definition Clause and this Amendment are linked and that they eliminate the Clauses concerning that archaic legislation.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance straight away. This is a tangled mass of legislation from previous years—indeed, it is nearly a century old—but as far as we can see every likely case of undue preference is taken up by the Bill and by the Amendments.

Mr. Hargreaves

I am much obliged to the Minister. With the greatest respect to the House, I want to reiterate the point that these matters deserve the most earnest consideration of hon. Members and that we have been denied that opportunity, yesterday and today, by the limitations of the Guillotine Motion. To add point to the protest made by my right hon. Friend, I analysed the speeches made yesterday and today. There were 14 speeches made from the opposite side of the House on three Amendments, none of which was pressed. Indeed, there was no intention on the part of hon. Gentlemen to press those Amendments to a Division. On the same subjects there were eight speeches from this side of the House.

This definitely limits the opportunity of the Opposition to bring to bear their knowledge of these matters. I am not denying that hon. Members opposite have equal knowledge, but by concentrating on Amendments which they know perfectly well will never be put to the vote, it is possible by means of the Guillotine procedure to ensure that the House shall not discuss Amendments and Clauses which we think all-important.

I was interested to note the view of the Minister in regard to the possible adverse effects of the competition of the Commission upon coastwise shipping services. I have many years' experience of the coastwise railway and road services working jointly in an area. In my view, the danger to coastwise shipping services in certain areas of the country is even greater from the road services than from the rail.

I know the degree of co-operation that existed between rail and coastwise services. For instance, they took advantage of port facilities common to both services and yet, even though they had the advantages of co-operative working, the road services of those days played a great part in creating the difficulties which confronted coastwise shipping and will continue to confront it under this Measure. This Amendment is aimed at the work of the British Transport Commission as though the Commission were the only competitive factor which coastwise services have to meet.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is because Clauses 18 to 23 deal with freeing the Commission from the charges restrictions. It is because of the anxiety caused by those in coastal shipping circles that this Amendment is necessary. We are not dealing here with road and rail charges. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because we are dealing with the old legislation which has for generations restricted the railways. No doubt the remarks of the hon. Gentleman are appropriate to other occasions. It may well be that coastal shipping difficulties may come through road hauliers, but we have concentrated here on the Commission because it is the Commission we are relieving of their old obligations.

Mr. Hargreaves

I agree that at this stage of the proceedings the Minister has not to take cognisance of the competitive factor as between road and coastwise services. I am merely placing before the House my own experience of co-operation between rail and coastwise shipping and suggesting that the real danger to coastwise shipping services comes not from rail but from road. I am suggesting to the Minister that there is not, in this Amendment or the subsequent one, a vestige of a grasp of that situation, and there is no attempt whatever made to meet it. That is the main point to which my argument is directed, and I think that it is fair and reasonable.

6.30 p.m.

I am not denying, as my experience goes to show, that there can be, as between rail and coastwise shipping, arrangements to their mutual advantage. I pointed to the interchange facilities that affect the conveyance of merchandise by the rail and cross-channel services. I consider that the Minister has completely overlooked the real need there is, while recognising, as we all must, the great importance of coastwise shipping to this country and the need to maintain it at its fullest efficiency, to see that the same efforts as he has made against the British Transport Commission in this connection shall be made against the road services in this country in order to preserve the balance as between the three main factors in the conveyance of merchandise in this country. Indeed, there are four factors if we take into account the degree to which canal traffic still exists in this country.

Mr. Holt

I rise to speak on this subject with some diffidence, because I am well aware that my knowledge of practical matters in relation to coastwise shipping is by no means what it ought to be. I am quite clear, however, about the principles which I wish to see running through this Bill. The Amendments which have been detailed by the Minister may be all right, but I must say that I am very suspicious. The outcome will largely turn upon the actual interpretation of Section 39 (2, a) of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933.

My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) rather overstated his case when he said that if coastwise shipping suddenly found that the railways had quoted a lower price, that they were competitive, as he put it, they would have the right to complain. Section 39 (2, b) of the 1933 Act states: are inadequate, having regard to the cost of affording the service or services in respect of which they are made or charged. It seems to me that if the charges of the railways were above their cost, the coastwise shipping would probably get short shift if they applied and said they were being—

Mr. J. Hynd

My hon. Friend has overlooked that we are dealing with a new Transport Bill which specifically provides that the coastal authorities can apply to the Transport Tribunal on the grounds that the railway charges are too competitive—too low.

Mr. Holt

I do, not see those words there.

Mr. Hynd

Oh, yes.

Mr. Holt

What I am concerned about is what will be done under Section 39 (2, a), the words of which are: place coastal carriers at an undue or unfair advantage; I agree that under that provision some very undesirable things might happen. A lot has been said as to whether coastal shipping can stand on its own feet against road and rail. I am not in a position to give a view one way or the other. I merely maintain that if some part of coastal shipping cannot stand on its own feet in fair competition, then that part should get out. It is quite wrong, and I suggest against the whole principle of the Bill, that the natural development of transport, whether it be by road, rail, canal or on the sea, should be distorted in any way by one type of transport subsidising another type of transport.

As I understand it, the whole purpose of this Bill is to avoid that kind of thing. I am most concerned to see that it should not happen to coastal shipping. I ask what I asked the Minister in an interruption when the matter came up during the Committee stage, that if some parts of coastal shipping cannot stand up in fair competition with the other transport services, will he not give consideration to whether it is not better, if it is felt that that part of coastal shipping should be kept in being for military, strategic or defence purposes, that it should obtain support from a Vote from the appropriate Government Department and it be made clear that that is a subsidy for strategic purposes? I stress that again, and ask the Minister to consider whether that is not possible and practicable.

I well understand that there may be practical difficulties in administering such a proposal but I should at least like to know that it has been considered and been turned down because it is quite impossible to administer it. if the railways are to be prevented, where they are in competition with coastal shipping, from charging that economic price which they would do in a free market, it will be putting the railways in that area at a disadvantage to the road haulier. The road haulier is to be allowed to charge what he likes and the railway can be made to increase its price and lose even more traffic. Thus it is quite likely that the whole purpose of these Amendments may be frustrated—that the traffic will not go to coastal shipping but will be lost both by the railways and coastal shipping and provide increased traffic on the roads. That is a most important point.

As I said when I began, I feel some diffidence on speaking on this matter. I have neither the knowledge nor the experience to say just what impact this provision will have, whether there will be many cases where the position will arise and whether a substantial amount will be involved. If it means a loss to the Commission of possibly £1,000 here and £1,000 there, it might be said that, taking into consideration their huge turnover, it is not worth bothering about. But if the figure is to run into substantial amounts which may affect considerably the successful working of the new railway system after the passing of this Bill, it is a matter that needs the closest examination. If the Minister is, as I think he is, unable to answer now, I shall be obliged if he will take the opportunity of doing so on a future occasion.

Mr. H. Hynd

I wish to reinforce as strongly as I can the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), that whereas the shipping companies will be able to complain about competition from the British Transport Commission—the railways—they are apparently not to be allowed to complain about competitive rates from private road hauliers. I think all hon. Members in the House, particularly perhaps the back benchers opposite, will be concerned about that sort of thing.

This is the very negation of competition. If the purposes of the Bill are, as the Minister contends, to provide competition which he thinks would be healthy for industry generally, he is going the wrong way about it by including provisions of this kind. He might have gone further and said that if the coastwise shipping and other people are to be able to complain about competitive rates from the railways the railways should be able to complain about competitive rates in these other forms of transport.

I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) has left the Chamber, because when he was challenged about his statement that the coastwise shipping people are faced with special difficulties he seemed quite contemptuous about lack of knowledge on this side of the House and refused to go into particulars. I do not think he should have been allowed to get away with it so lightly. What are these special difficulties? Are they financial difficulties?

The last time I interested myself in this matter in the House, I raised the question about heavy subsidies paid to coastal shipping. At that time one company was paying a 15 per cent. dividend plus a 3 per cent. tax-free capital bonus. I protested as vigorously as I could about public money being given by way of subsidy to companies paying heavy dividends. I should be interested to know whether those subsidies are still paid.

If the difficulties with which the companies are faced are not financial, what are their peculiar difficulties? If they are difficulties of keeping running for strategic and other purposes I would support what was said by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) about enabling them to run by some other method than by forcing other forms of transport in competition with them to increase charges in order to subsidise coastwise shipping in that way.

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) has been in politics for a long time. I have great respect for his political acumen, but I am very surprised that he should make the elementary mistake, which I thought we had all got over in our early days of propaganda, of assuming that the Conservative Party are in favour of competition. Nothing of the sort, they are in favour of profits and, preferably, the highest profits they can get.

Mr. H. Hynd

I was trying to be persuasive.

Mr. Callaghan

I understand that my hon. Friend is a very persuasive man, but he should state the position as we know it to be. The pretext which hon. Members opposite always put forward is that they are interested in competition. That is to disguise the fact that what they want is profits.

This is a most remarkable debate as, apart from the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), we have not had any hon. Member opposite speaking on these Amendments, although a number of hon. Members on this side of the House rose to continue the debate when I rose. What a commentary upon the real attitude of hon. Members opposite towards this question of competition, about which they prate so much. Where is the voice of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

It is coming soon.

Mr. Callaghan

I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord wishes to speak soon. But I understand that the Minister is anxious to get on to Clause 22, on which he has some Amendments. That is a matter on which he must make up his mind. In fact, until I had a go not a single hon. Member opposite showed any inclination to speak. The truth is that we are now embarked upon a particular facet of transport where competition does not and cannot operate if we are to keep coastwise shipping alive. No one dissents from that; the Minister does not, or he would not be introducing the Amendments now.

The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash said his party piece about how grateful he was to the Minister for all his kindly consideration. What a lot of nonsense! The consideration which is being given to the hon. and gallant Member is this; in the 1947 Act the industry was able to secure an arrangement both with the railways and road hauliers who were nationalised in order to ensure that coastwise shipping was not driven off the sea routes. They were able to do that because the British Transport Commission were charged with the responsibility of preparing charges schemes not only for the railways but also for the roads; that is why. Therefore, agreements entered into by the British Transport Commission with the coastwise shipping interests had the effect of protecting coastwise shipping against both railways and roads. What the hon. and gallant Member has been doing is thanking the Minister for depriving him of the protection which coastwise shipping had under the 1947 Act against the road hauliers.

6.45 p.m.

That seems to me an odd way of conducting one's business. If the hon. and gallant Member were not a supporter of the Minister, I do not think he would have made that speech which was so fulsome in thanks. I do not think the Minister knew what he is being thanked for as the hon. and gallant Member was thanking him for taking away the protection given under the 1947 Act.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) pointed out, there is no provision in this Clause for giving coastwise shipping the same opportunities of protesting against rates being charged by road hauliers as the opportunities they have to protest about rates to be charged by the railways—none at all. So perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, who certainly indicated he did not fully understand and comprehend all this, is beginning to see that the thanks he rendered to the Minister were slightly too great for the gift which was offered.

The Minister said that he had secured the broad agreement of the road hauliers to this phase of the operations. Of course he has. My word, the road hauliers have a lot to be grateful for in this Bill. In this section they have been removed from the ambit of challenge by the coastwise shipping people and do not have to account to anyone for the rates they are to charge. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) was quite right when he said that in many ways coastwise shipping interests—I hope the hon. and gallant Member will take note of this—have as much, or more, to fear from road hauliers as from the railways. Yet they have no protection at all against road hauliers.

One of our complaints against this Bill is that it destroys the integration of coastwise shipping with long-distance rail and long-distance road haulage services which is so necessary if all three are to be kept alive. My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe was quite right to taunt the Minister with not understanding the real situation and right in asking the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash what the difficulties of coastwise shipping were.

I said in the Second Reading debate that I have no doubt at all that there should be protection for coastwise shipping. On this side of the House we do not have to eat our words when we say this because we do not happen to believe that competition in transport is the right way to get the best service. Hon. Members opposite say that they do believe in it, but when it is put to the test in relation to the position of coastwise shipping, they have to eat their own words. They have to go back on all the propaganda they have put out to the country because, as has been fully exposed from his side of the House, there is no competition in what is proposed in this series of Amendments, or the Clause.

What the Minister is continuing—and in my judgment rightly continuing—is an arrangement under which the railways and coastwise shipping interests get together and decide the proper rates to be charged. That will keep coastwise shipping interests and the companies alive. There is no competition in rates here. This is an arrangement for charging such a rate as will ensure that one of the partners is not driven out of business. For strategic purposes, because of the national interest and the vital importance of coastwise shipping, we happen to agree with this. Provided hon. Members opposite realise that it cuts clean across the philosophy which they have been expressing in this House, I do not mind. I hope that one day they will wake up and see that what they are prepared to stomach in the relationship between coastwise shipping and the railways is also necessary in the relationship between the railways and road hauliers.

Mr. J. Hynd

And the canals.

Mr. Callaghan

And the canals. But there is no difference in principle at all in the points that we are discussing here. The only difference is that the Conservative Party still do not understand the transport issue. They made ridiculous pledges to the road hauliers which they now feel they are bound to carry out, irrespective of the consequence to the transport system of the country. In so far as these Amendments continue the arrangement that existed between railways and coastwise shipping, we do not wish to dissent from them. What we do dissent from is the fact that road hauliers are left completely outside the field of challenge.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington, who raised the issue, will turn to page 626 of the Order Paper, he will find an Amendment to which we may come later, in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice)—in Clause 29, page 38, line 8—which will put some teeth into the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee and will en able them to make arrangements that might bind the road hauliers. If we can do that, I think we shall have improved the Clause even beyond the improvement that the Minister is effecting at the present time.

I shall not ask my hon. Friends to take this series of Amendments to a Division, so that we may save time and get on to the next series of Amendments. As I have been rather harsh to the Minister, in conclusion I should like to thank him for the circular that he put out. Unfortunately, some of us had done our homework before we received it, and we had to fathom the Clause without the crib. There is no need for the Minister to accuse himself of being pedestrian in what he utters. I would never accuse him of being pedestrian. I accuse him throughout the whole of this Bill of dangerous driving.

Mr. Braithwaite

The speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) cannot be allowed to pass without some brief comment. The hon. Member complained that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) had delivered himself of what he called a party piece. It is very difficult to satisfy the Opposition during the progress of this Bill.

It is only a few minutes ago that we heard the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) complaining bitterly of the number of speeches made yesterday on this side of the House, which he said grievously handicapped hon. Members opposite in the ammunition which they were eager and anxious to fire at us, although it was not at all obvious during the whole course of the action what the ammunition was. Now the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East complains that my hon. Friends have not participated in the debate on this Amendment, with the one exception of my hon. and gallant Friend. There are means of ascertaining the wishes of the Opposition, and I understood some little time ago that hon. Members opposite wished to get on to Clause 22.

Mr. Callaghan

The Minister wants to.

Mr. Braithwaite

I understood that the Opposition also wanted to. It was to that end that I indicated that hon. Members on this side of the House might hold their peace and provide an opportunity for hon. Members opposite to make their speeches so that we could make progress. But it was necessary for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East to deliver his party piece before we part from this Amendment. I thought it was a very good party speech. I like it better every time he makes it. He will be word perfect, I have no doubt, before we get to the Third Reading.

Mr. Callaghan

I must challenge the Parliamentary Secretary on this point. I dissent from the suggestion that I am guilty of tedious repetition. If there is one thing on which I pride myself, it is that I do not have many notes in front of me.

Mr. Braithwaite

The hon. Gentleman is very eloquent. I have never accused him of being tedious; I have accused him of repetition—that is all. I merely wished to explain why my hon. Friends, all of whom had admirable speeches to deliver, were anxious to accommodate the Opposition, because I understood the Opposition wished to discuss Clause 22 before we get to the next Guillotine at half-past seven. I do not wish to stand between the House and Clause 22 any longer, but I cannot allow the speeches of hon. Members opposite to go unchallenged.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 28, line 17, leave out from first "of," to end of line 26, and insert: section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, section thirty-nine of the Railways Act, 1921, and the Schedule to this Act (Modifications and extensions of section thirty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and section thirty-nine of the Railways Act. 1921). Notwithstanding anything in section fifty-seven of the Railways Act, 1921, the charges provided for by any agreement made under this subsection shall not be deemed to be exceptional charges within the meaning of Part III of that Act, and the expression 'exceptional rates' in the said Part III shall be construed accordingly."—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]