HC Deb 10 February 1953 vol 511 cc306-21
Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I beg to move, in page 32, line 33, to leave out "ten," and to insert "fourteen."

In Clause 24, we return to the miscellaneous questions affecting the future operations of the Commission. The Amendment, by substituting "fourteen" for "ten," is designed to bring the membership of the Commission up to 14.

The Railway Executive is to go. The Docks and Inland Waterways and the London Passenger Executives will remain. The Commission is charged with the duty of preparing the scheme of reorganisation of the railways. The Commission will also have to supervise the management of the road passenger companies, which it now has to supervise, and of the new road haulage companies which are to be formed. It therefore will have a very large area of functions to look after, even if it is not responsible for executive decisions in the sense that it has been responsible hitherto. The assets, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) pointed out during the Committee stage, are of the order of £1,300 million, even if we strip the Commission of their interests in road haulage.

It is clear that the Commission will remain for, perhaps, all time a very important body indeed. I think it was felt in the Committee stage that the arguments that were adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and by other hon. Members that there was some case for increasing the membership of the Commission, were powerful arguments. In deciding what the number is to be, the guess of any hon. Member is as good as another's as to what functions precisely the Commission will discharge. I have always hoped that the Commission would consist of a chairman and vice-chairman and, perhaps, one other who would be full-time, and that all the others would be part-time; but whether these part-time members are to be the chairmen of the areas or regions, or outside persons altogether, has yet to be determined.

It is the practice, I think, in large-scale commercial companies that the directors should be numerous and should be drawn from widely differing spheres of interest, and I hope that this practice will be reproduced in the Commission. There was very little wrong with the higher management of the great railway groupings under the 1921 Act until a kind of political hatred was built up against them by members of the party opposite. I hope to see re-established a Commission largely resembling in character and in number the boards of either the London, Midland and Scottish, the London and North-Eastern or the Southern Railway.

It might interest the House to know the composition of the other public boards. I have divided the figures into the two categories of full-time members and part-time members. The British Overseas Airways Corporation has three full-time and seven part-time members, the three fulltime members including the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. For British European Airways Corporation, the figures are two and five; Cable and Wireless, two and three; National Coal Board, seven and four; Colonial Development Corporation, two and eight; Raw Cotton Commission, three and nine; British Electricity Authority, three and eight, and the Gas Council, two and 12. I have omitted the Transport Commission from this calculation because I have tried to make an analysis on average for each of these corporations as they will continue to appear from now on.

The average of these corporations and public boards works out at a full-time membership of three and a part-time membership of seven. I do not know that that proves anything in particular, as to whether it would be wise to set up a British Transport Commission on that average number. Indeed, the Amendment I am moving at the moment disproves it, because we are seeking to have 14. But it is interesting to reflect that the average of the existing corporations produced that result. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was anxious during the Committee stage to maintain the position which he always holds in this matter, that the full-time members of the Commission were of value. He said, speaking of the party opposite: We should prefer a co-ordinated full-time element of a chairman and four other members with others who are part-time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1952; Vol. 509. c. 1722.] On another occasion he instanced some of the functions which the Commission should discharge, namely, labour questions; the general control of capital expenditure; railway charges; and again the centralised control of the manufacture of locomotives, of mechanical vehicles, signals, automatic braking, and things of that kind. He seemed to think that the chairman and the four other permanent members should, in some way, be associated with these permanent centralised functions of the Commission.

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon who always goes part-way with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, at any rate on these technical questions, rather agreed with that view. He thought the Commission should have charge of the labour policy, the standardisation of locomotive manufacture—though not, I think, of design and general control. The hon. Member for Abingdon was concerned to see that the Commission should increase in number up to 20.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) in his place, because he originally moved the Amendment which I am now moving, and I am glad to see that his name is on the Order Paper supporting this Amendment. We do not agree that my right hon. Friend should now define what are to be the centralised functions of the Commission; nor that he should associate individual members of the Commission with those functions and thereby arrive at what number of permanent and of part-time mem- bers there should be. We gladly accept the provision in the Bill that there should be a permanent chairman and such other permanent members as the Minister will decide in due course. Obviously, he will decide according to the scheme prepared by the Commission. We merely wish to give him greater latitude in deciding between the permanent and nonpermanent members by increasing the number from 10 to 14.

Mr. Renton

I beg to second the Amendment.

The hope of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and myself, and those on this side of the House who support the Amendment, is that the Commission shall be broadly based and representative enough to represent the public interest, and, at the same time, small enough to be workable. As my noble Friend has said, the precise number which should be included is anybody's guess. I would offer the following considerations in determining what should be the size.

Apart from the chairman, anything up to perhaps half a dozen whole-time members will be required. It may be that four whole-time members, apart from the chairman would be enough. One should be a trade unionist, and concerned with labour relations. The other whole-time members should concentrate, as they do now, upon various aspects of the organisation of the Commission. But in order to ensure that the Commission is representative, I think we should aim at a situation in which each region in the country is represented in some way among the members of the Commission.

There should certainly be, for example, a Scottish and a Welsh member; someone from East Anglia; someone from the industrial Midlands; from the South-West and from the North. Superimposed upon that conception we should aim at providing that the various interests—besides the general public interest which the Commission will have to serve—are also representative. I hope to see a knowledgeable agriculturist of wide experience as a member. There might well be one part-time member of the National Coal Board; someone representing the iron and steel industry; another representing bricks and cement, and someone else representing fishing.

One could multiply the interests which might usefully be represented on the Board and at the conclusion find that the ideal Board would be too numerous. I therefore suggest that the modest proposal of my noble Friend to increase the total to 14 meets the situation.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Holt

I wish to support the Amendment which is similar to the one I originally moved in Committee. I hope later to make some further remarks on the type of people who ought to be on the Commission.

The purpose of this Bill is to allow the railways to act in future as a commercial organisation and so serve the public interest better than in the past. If the railways are to be run as a commercial organisation, the type of considerations which would influence a commercial company in forming its board should influence the Minister in this matter. I suggest that that will take the form of having one or two—probably not more—people who will be the leading lights and the driving force of the Transport Commission.

But if they are adequately to fulfil their task, it is essential that they should be supported by what amounts to a board of directors with the very widest knowledge and experience over the whole field of transport, the basic industries and the ancillary industries and services of this country. That cannot be obtained with the limited number of 10 which is allowed for in this Bill. The number should be at least 14, if not even more.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I do not know whether or not the fact that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) seconded this Amendment and the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has supported him foreshadows a reunion in the Liberal Party The views which they have expressed on this occasion were very close. That has not been very unusual in our debate because we have found the Liberals very much to the right of the Tories with the National-Liberals standing in between.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will not accept this Amendment on behalf of the Government. Although we admit that one needs a reasonable amount of flexibility in the size of these nationalised boards we do not feel that there is any necessity for increasing the number beyond the 10 proposed by the Minister, because for our part we thought that eight other members in addition to the Chairman, which was the number originally of the Transport Commission, were and remain sufficient.

I say that because our attitude towards the position of the boards of nationalised undertakings has always been that they should be composed of a representative team of qualified individuals capable of carrying on the general policy-making functions of the body. We have never envisaged that the boards themselves should be, as it were, executive, functional organisations, particularly in the case of transport where there were executives created for the purpose of carrying out the administration. We prefer to retain the Commission, even after the changes which this Bill brings about are in operation, largely as a policy-making and planning body.

I believe that one of the reasons this Amendment has been brought forward is that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) have in their minds the thought that perhaps the best organisation for the reconstructed railways of this country would be the old type of railway board with their chairman serving on the Transport Commission. I cannot quite understand why hon. Members opposite are so keen on reverting to the railway boards of directors.

Mr. G. Wilson

Because they worked.

Mr. Davies

It is suggested that they worked. But it is extremely hard for us to understand how railway directors, who in many cases held a dozen or more part-time directorships in banking, insurance and industrial undertakings, at the same time serving on railway boards, worked as functional executive operating the railway companies. If they did, they made a poor job of it, because before the war the railways were practically bankrupt.

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Davies

Look at the London and North-Eastern.

Mr. Wilson

Look at the Great Western Railway.

Mr. Davies

Look at the failure of the railways to electrify and to keep up with the technical developments which were required. We on this side of the House do not envisage a satisfactory operation of the Transport Commission if there are to be a large number of railway boards operating the railway regions and those railway chairmen serving on the Transport Commission.

I cannot quite understand the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South putting forward this proposal, because it is he and other hon. Members opposite who are always accusing the nationalised undertakings of having too many at the top, of being top-heavy in administration and directorship. Here, the noble Lord himself proposes that we should inflate this board of a nationalised undertaking and increase the number of members to 14 from 10 proposed in the Bill and eight laid down in our Act.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

It is the costly nature of a top-heavy bureaucratic organisation which we really resent. Part of our proposal here is to have part-time directors who will receive very small salaries indeed.

Mr. Davies

It is difficult to understand how one is cheapening the cost of operating an undertaking by increasing the membership of a board by four. I cannot follow the reasoning of the noble Lord.

As I stated, I hope that the Minister does not propose to accept this Amendment and that he will leave the Bill as it stands in this matter of membership. We hope that he does not envisage changing the type of this board from that of a policy-making and planning body to a part-time board of the type envisaged by the noble Lord.

Mr, G. Wilson

It is really time that hon. Members opposite stopped making ridiculous attacks on the old railway boards. The suggestion that those boards were inefficient and that the railways were inefficient before the war is complete nonsense and has no basis whatsoever. The suggestion that the railway companies were bankrupt is equally untrue. Hon. Members opposite seem to have omitted to notice that we have already adopted a Clause which proposes to abolish the Railways Executive. What exact system we shall have substituted for them we do not know. That remains for a scheme to be put forward by those who are responsible and we shall then study the matter. It may very well be that a greater function will fall to the Transport Commission.

Incidentally, the suggestion has been made in the House that the total fees of the railway directors before the war were in excess of the cost of the Railways Executive. That is completely untrue. In 1947, the total cost of all fees to railway directors in this country was £96,000 and the Railways Executive in 1951 cost something like £500,000.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The hon. Member is not only being completely unfair, but is putting the most ridiculous interpretation on the situation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I think that neither side can enter into this matter any further.

Mr. Davies

On a point of order. Surely when such a false statement is made it should be answered.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Both sides are completely out of order in their observations at the moment.

Mr. Mitchison

Further to that point of order. With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, one of the matters which we have to consider on the question of whether there should be 10 or 14 members of this board is the additional cost, if any, to the national Exchequer. Surely, we may properly consider in that light what they ought to be paid and for that purpose we can look at salaries paid to people who were doing comparable work before the war.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is not necessary on this Amendment that we should enter into a comparison between the prewar and the post-war situations.

Mr. G. Wilson

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was pointing out that hon. Members opposite have forgotten that we have already passed a Clause which will abolish the Railway Executive and the outcome of which will be a considerable saving.

It might be that greater functions would fall on the Transport Commission. From previous experience in the manage- ment of railways, I think it would be a very good thing to have part-time directors. One hon. Member opposite criticised those directors who had interests in a large number of concerns. One of the most notable of those was the late Lord Horne—

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order. Is the hon. Member in order in referring to that matter?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is not in order. The question is whether the number should be increased from 10 to 14.

Mr. Wilson

The suggestion was made that the 14 members should include a number of part-time directors, and in answer to that there was the criticism by hon. Members opposite that part-time directors might be useless because they were interested in too many concerns.

Mr. Sparks

The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) was proposing to have part-time directors because they could be got on the cheap—at about £200 a year.

Mr. Wilson

I shall not pursue that point, but it seems to me that the present number of 10 is too small and that we might very well increase it to 14. That would give a greater opportunity for the representation on that body of persons who have interests in many different directions or in many different trades. That is why I support the Amendment.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Braithwaite

I think we should be grateful to my noble Friend for giving us another opportunity of considering the question of the size of the reconstituted Commission. We need not discuss whether any particular hon. Member is deviating either to the Right or the Left, according to the view he takes.

At present, the Clause states that 10 shall be the number. In Committee two Amendments were taken together—one by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), which was moved by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) and which favoured 14, and the other by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) who wanted 20. On that occasion the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) indicated that he and his friends favoured 14. It was, therefore, a little difficult to follow the mental processes of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), a few minutes ago, when he indicated that he hoped I should resist this Amendment and said that he and his friends were opposed to it. It may be that they have had further opportunities of considering this matter since the Committee stage.

I would remind the House what my right hon. Friend said on 18th December about the Government's attitude on this point: Nor do we feel that there has yet been a case made out—and there will be other occasions when we can discuss this, both in another place and on the Report stage—for increasing the number of the Commission, but, as I have said, this is the sort of issue on which the wisdom of the Committee can well change Government policy, although it is my present intention to ask the Committee to reject both Amendments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 1726.] We have now had a further opportunity of discussing this question and I would submit to my noble Friend and the House in general that the most suitable number to form this Commission cannot be finally determined until the railway reorganisation scheme has been submitted to my right hon. Friend and approved by him. I think that the same applies to the geographical basis referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). We shall be in a far better position to judge what should be the numerical strength of the Commission when we know what is to be the reorganisation scheme. That will be the time to make a definite decision.

None the less, we do feel that there is much to be said for securing sufficient elbow room to allow for the appointment of a fairly substantial number of part-time members. It may be that 12 will prove to be a suitable number. [Laughter.] I see no reason for scorn. There is very little that separates us from the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, who indicated that 14 might be a suitable number. I see no reason for mocking laughter when I suggest 12. I would suggest to my noble Friend and to the House that this point could quite properly be left for some further discussion in another place. It would be interesting to hear the views of their Lordships in this matter when the Bill reaches another place.

Mr. Mitchison

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind one very important matter, A membership of 12, plus a chairman, will make a most unlucky number. It would be too bad if they all attended and the person who attended last died in the ensuing year, as superstition goes.

Mr. Braithwaite

The hon. and learned Gentleman holds out a macabre prospect. He has emphasised the necessity for some further thought on this matter—and that thought might come from another place, where so much knowledge exists on these various topics. I am sorry to note the superstitious character of the hon. and learned Member.

In the circumstances, knowing that this matter is very much in our minds, while we are not prepared to commit ourselves to a definite figure at this stage, it may be that my noble Friend will feel able to refrain from pressing this Amendment tonight.

Mr. H. Hynd

This is most unsatisfactory and I think we should hear a little more about it. We have now reached the stage where it is a question of, "Think of a number and then try to double it." What is the Government's proposal? The Parliamentary Secretary said that there was an indication from this side of the House—during the Committee stage—that 14 would be a possible number; but I would point out that there have been developments since then, and only yesterday and today has it begun to be fairly apparent that what is in the Government's mind on the question of the reorganisation of the railways is the creation of a series of boards in the various regions.

A few minutes ago we had a hint that the chairmen of those regional boards might serve on the Transport Commission. If that is the idea it will multiply the number of railway directors on the Commission. The position will not be as bad as it was in the old days, with 127 separate companies; but the number of directors will be multiplied. We used to hear a lot in this House about "jobs for the boys." This is beginning to look like a desire for "jobs for the boys," and when the Minister suggests that we might listen to what the other place has to say I suggest that we can guess what they might say. If it is a question of putting part- time people on this Commission the other place might have an interest to declare.

It is most unsatisfactory that this question should be left as it is. The Government should either stick to the number that has been agreed—10—or indicate clearly what are their future intentions.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I agree with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that, by implication, there is no desperate hurry about this matter. The Commission will not be in their full stride for some months to come and we can well afford the time to enable further deliberations to take place and for another place to pronounce upon this matter. I have no doubt that in the end the Government—which, in many cases, is capable of acting decisively and speedily in making decisions on matters of public policy—will decide that something on the lines of this Amendment is required.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the noble Lord desire to withdraw his Amendment?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. H. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 33, line 1, to leave out: (ii) a person who has had experience. I can move the Amendment quite shortly because, in view of the fact that the Minister has put his name to it, I assume that the Government will accept it. The House will observe from the provisions of this subsection that, under the Bill as it stands, it is intended that the Commission, whatever the number may be, shall include persons who between them have had experience in the management of railways and road transport; The second paragraph says, a person who has had experience in the organisation of workers. The third paragraph says, persons who, otherwise than by virtue of such experience as is mentioned in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii)…may between them be expected to be conversant with the requirements, as respects transport, of agriculture, commerce and industry. In Committee, we took exception to the provision whereby, as far as we could see, the Minister was limited to the appointment of one person only who had had experience in the organisation of workers, although theoretically it might be possible that people who had these other experiences might also have had experience in the organisation of workers on the trade union side. On the face of it, it appeared to be a limitation to the singular, to which we took strong exception. I understand that similar exception was taken on behalf of the trade unions concerned and of the Trades Union Congress as a whole and that conversations have taken place with the Minister as a result of which we have drafted this Amendment, which is somewhat different from the Amendment which we put down during the Committee stage. The Minister has been good enough to add his name to this Amendment and to the subsequent Amendment.

If these two Amendments are accepted, we shall omit the words at the top of page 33, "a person who has had experience." In that case, paragraph (c) would run as a whole, picking up these various qualifications and types of experience. The Minister would then have a free hand for appointments within these classes of experience and would not be prevented from appointing more than one person who had been associated with the organisation of workers.

Obviously the Amendment will be accepted, and I should like to express thanks to the Minister, not only on behalf of the Parliamentary Labour Party but on behalf of the Trades Union Congress, for having moved as far as he has moved. I also express the hope that when he makes the appointment he will not think in terms of the singular and of one person experienced in the organisation of workers but will think in rather more than the singular in drawing upon people with this valuable experience.

They are not bound to be transport workers, but they may be. It depends partly on whether they are to be full-time or part-time appointments. There is no doubt that the trade union world has an interesting, unique and valuable experience of industry, and it is of the greatest importance that we should draw adequately into the public service people with that class of experience.

I admit that the Amendment does not bind the Minister as to how many persons experienced in the organisation of workers he will appoint, but it leaves him free to appoint more than one, whereas it appeared to us that the Bill previously did not leave him free to do so. It is our hope that he will appoint more than one person in this class of experience to the Commission. Once more I thank the Minister for supporting this Amendment, which I hope will commend itself to the House.

8.15 p.m.

Mi. Lennox-Boyd

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courteous way in which he moved what I think I am entitled to call our Amendment. As the Opposition know, under the wording of the Labour Party's Transport Act of 1947—Part I, Clause 1 (2)—although persons who have had experience and have shown capacity in the organisation of workers were included, there was nothing in the wording which made it mandatory upon a Minister to appoint a trade unionist. Of course, it was then and is now inconceivable that no trade unionist would be appointed to the Transport Commission.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, both the Opposition and the T.U.C. would prefer the Minister to bind himself in this Clause to appoint two trade unionists. As we have not finally decided the number that there should be on the Commission, it would appear to be unwise to bind ourselves to have two trade unionists. We are fully prepared—and I can imagine no alternative cause—to bind ourselves to the fact that there shall be a trade unionist on the Commission, and I note with interest and understanding what the right hon. Gentleman said about going beyond that. As he said, there is nothing in the wording to prevent a second appointment.

I was glad to put my name to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, and I only wish I were not too optimistic in thinking that in return he might put his name on the back of the Bill.

Mr. Sparks

I will detain the House for only one or two moments, but I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the wording "in the organisation of workers." I thought he might have been able to bring forward a better form of words, because when he talks about persons who have had experience in the organisation of workers he could include almost anybody in a supervisory grade in the railway or road transport organisation. The term could include people who, day by day, were supervising the organisation of workers to perform a certain task.

If the Minister intended to seek a way out of the purpose of the Amendment and said that it did not insist that there should be more than one trade unionist, he could say that he was free to appoint one trade unionist and then appoint somebody else who had had no experience in trade union organisation; and that, in my view, would not meet the purpose of the Amendment. It would have been better had the right hon. Gentleman made these words more specific. He could have referred to persons who had had experience of organising the workers of the industry into a trade union, because undoubtedly that is a very valuable experience which should be expressed upon the Commission. To appoint merely one out of eight or ten is inadequate in the view of those who have had to do with the daily working of the industry.

I should like the point to be cleared up, because there may be some confusion between what we on this side of the House mean by these words and what hon. Members opposite mean. Can we be assured that we both mean the same thing in our interpretation of the words "in the organisation of workers"?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As I said, there is nothing to prevent the appointment of a second trade unionist. As to whom it should be—whether it should be from a union mainly concerned with supervisory work or whatever union it should be—I or my successor would go to the T.U.C. and ask whom they would like to sit on the Commission. In a matter of that kind I think it would be better for the decision to be in the hands of the T.U.C.

The words "the organisation of workers" were lifted in their entirety from that fountain of wisdom, the Socialist Act of 1947. If the hon. Gentleman prefers some other words and would not mind taking them from such a source, perhaps he can suggest to a Labour Peer in another place that he should find a form of words which would express the same purpose.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed: In page 33, line 4, leave out from "as," to "may," in line 5, and insert "aforesaid."—[Mr. H. Morrison.]

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Should I be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at this moment in referring to who the persons aforesaid are?

Mr. H. Morrison

As I moved the Amendment, may I explain? The words "as aforesaid" refer to the earlier words in the Clause as it is, that still survive; that is—and the Minister will correct me if he thinks I am not right—they take account of those classes together, instead of segregating them.

Major Legge-Bourke

That is precisely as I understood it. That is why I asked, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it would be in order to raise matters appertaining to the persons referred to aforesaid.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think it would be in order to raise the matter.

Major Legge-Bourke

What I have particularly in mind is the composition of the Commission, and I should very much like to develop the point, if I may be allowed to do so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that would be out of order. We have already passed it. It would be out of order to raise it at this stage, because we have already gone beyond that.

Major Legge-Bourke

May I refer, then, to paragraph (iii) which this Amendment is amending, and which refers to persons who, otherwise than by virtue of such experience as is mentioned in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) of this paragraph, may between them be expected to be conversant with the requirements, as respects transport, of agriculture, commerce and industry and in particular refer to transport, which is the point I wish to raise? If that would be in order I should like to do so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a part we have not reached. The other part we have passed. I do not think that would be in order.

Amendment agreed to.