HC Deb 16 April 1956 vol 551 cc695-716

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, to leave out "three-fortieths" and to insert "one-fortieth."

The purpose of this Amendment is to reduce the number of unlicensed vehicles from the figure in the Bill, 7½ per cent., to 2½ per cent. While we on this side of the House do not think it is wise to stipulate in the Bill the precise number of vehicles which the Transport Commission should have out of service at any given time, we think in any case that the figure suggested in the Bill is far too high, that it will not afford the Commission with adequate vehicles to discharges its responsibilities to industry and certainly will not give to the Commission a reasonable reserve of vehicles for the purposes of meeting any emergencies which may arise.

So that the House should be in a fair position to appreciate the issues involved in this Amendment, it will be necessary to look at the whole background from which this stupid proposal of limitation of vehicles has emerged. By the provisions of the 1953 Act, the Transport Commission was allowed to retain only 3,500 vehicles of its vast road transport fleet. The rest were to be disposed of to private operators. It is quite clear that the Government had been very seriously misled by the extravagant claims of the Road Haulage Association that there was a ready market waiting for the rest of the vehicles to be sold by the Disposal Board.

In spite of the lapse of considerable time and of every conceivable manoeuvre and device being applied by the Government in order to dispose of the vehicles, the Government were unsuccessful in finding purchasers for the most important sections of British Road Services. Industry was becoming gravely concerned lest this efficient service would be impaired by further manoeuvres, and it made its views very forcibly felt in the Ministry of Transport. Failure to sell the vehicles at a fair price and the growing opposition of industry compelled a reluctant Minister of Transport to reconsider the whole question afresh.

Therefore, in July last year the then Minister of Transport announced to the House that, because of the success of British Road Services, particularly of the trunk services, and because industry was well satisfied with the service rendered to it, the Government had agreed that the Commission should be allowed to increase the number of vehicles that it would be allowed to retain for the maintenance of the services to industry. The Minister said: Her Majesty's Government have asked the Chairman of the Disposal Board to advise them as to the number of vehicles required to be retained for this purpose over and above the total of 3,500 vehicles for all purposes already authorised for retention. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 573.] My hon. Friends and I did not on that occasion seek to embarrass the Government in any way following this reversal of Government policy. We felt that it was at least to the Government's credit that they had realised their error and had had the courage to make amends. We were entitled to assume that, having made their decision, they would not again be driven by pressure to retrace their steps. Unfortunately, we were over optimistic in that assumption.

Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, Chairman of the Disposal Board, therefore, in accordance with the decision of the Government, proceeded to assess, in terms of vehicles, the Commission's requirements. We all know the outstanding ability of Sir Malcolm and the efficient and thorough way with which he discharges his duties in the public interest. No one would in any way doubt that any recommendations which he made would be based upon a realistic figure arrived at after a most searching investigation of all the surrounding circumstances. Sir Malcolm is not the type of public servant who would be swayed by pressure from any quarter. He would faithfully carry out his task without fear or favour.

It was, therefore, not surprising to us when the Government accepted his recommendation that the Commission, to carry out its responsibilities to industry, should retain an additional 7,500 vehicles. What did surprise us, however, was the sudden change of Minister followed by the equally sudden change in the number of vehicles to be licensed by the Commission. It is evident to us that the force at work must have been very strong, first to get rid of the Minister, and then to tamper with the terms of the recommendation by the Chairman of the Disposal Board which the Government had already accepted.

The present Minister's explanation of the extraordinary change of view on the part of the Government left the Standing Committee with the feeling that his explanation was, at least, very unsatisfactory and unconvincing. The Minister, first of all, said: I felt that I must look at that number and see whether there was a reasonable case for saying that it was either too high or too low. Surely this was the task which the Government had entrusted to Sir Malcolm and they had accepted his figures. Why this belated lack of confidence in the Chairman of the Board? What greater knowledge in transport matters has the present Minister of Transport over that of his predecessor to warrant this repudiation of Government policy?

The Minister also told the Standing Committee of the meeting between Sir Malcolm, Sir Brian Robertson and the interests representing the road hauliers at which the figure of 7½ per cent.—representing 582 lorries—was agreed. We understood from the Minister that the figure of 7½ per cent. was arrived at after taking into consideration vehicles which would normally be off the road for repair and other purposes. What right had the Road Haulage Association to attend such a conference? Surely it was a matter purely between the Board on the one hand and the Commission on the other. It was a rechecking of the requirements of the Commission, and that could more properly have been done by the two parties concerned instead of bringing in a third party.

The Minister also said—the longer he spends trying to explain away this extraordinary conduct, the more confused he becomes—that British Road Services will have the right to apply for A licences for the 582 vehicles which will be granted by the normal procedure if a case can be made in the ordinary way before the licensing authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 6th March, 1956; c. 5–6.] It is clear that the Minister was not sure whether the figure of 7½ per cent. was a just one, for he would otherwise not have referred to the possible application for additional licences.

My hon. Friends and I opposed the 7½ per cent. cut in the number of licensed vehicles. It is vindictive against the Commission, it is an appeasement of the worst possible kind to private road interests, it will increase the Commission's administrative costs, it is a miserable, petty, mean way of facing the problems confronting British transport, and it is entirely out of accord with what we are anticipating will be the appeal to the nation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer tomorrow.

We shall probably be told of the serious financial difficulties of the nation, of the need for the nation to cut out unnecessary expenses, to cut out wastage of manpower here and there, to make a supreme effort to keep down the cost of living, to try to make our goods at such a price that they will not be priced out of the export market—and here today, the day before the Budget, we are having this miserable provision, designed deliberately and wilfully, by the Minister of Transport to make it more difficult for the Transport Commission to provide an effective service to the trading interests of the country. It is designed to cause more administrative costs in the application for the transfer of licences. It is designed to make it more difficult for the Transport Commission to deal with the vast problems which confront it.

In these transport debates, I have always made an appeal for the application of common sense to these problems. This provision of 7½ per cent. is really a miserable attempt by the Government to appease the Road Haulage Association, after the Government's bitter let-down by the Association. I remember when the then Minister of Transport, the present Colonial Secretary, came to the Dispatch Box and how cocksure he was that the road hauliers were waiting only for Parliament to give them the authority to purchase these vehicles from the Transport Commission.

All the expectations of the Government, inspired by the misinformation and the optimism of the Road Haulage Association, failed to materialise. The Government then changed their Minister of Transport, who was no less opposed to nationalisation than the present Minister, because pressure was brought to bear, and then we got this miserable amendment in the Bill, which is a discredit—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is very wide of the Amendment.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order. I do not think it can have escaped the notice of many hon. Members in the House that all except the more impassioned and closing parts of the speech which we have just listened to were read, and I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will wish to give the House some good advice on the temptation of hon. Members to read their speeches.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members know the rules as well as I do. I must say, speaking frankly, that I was unconscious of the hon. Member reading his speech. Indeed, on the contrary, I heard several freely expressed passages in his speech in which he seemed to me to be flying on the unpinioned wing. It is out of order to read speeches.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I declare my interest at once as the President of the Road Passenger and Transport Association, an organisation primarily concerned with private enterprise long-distance haulage. I think that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), who moved this Amendment, has been a little less than just in indulging in so much vituperation of ministerial policy on this particular aspect. He might have mentioned in his speech that the figure of 7,750 vehicles put forward by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, supported by Sir Brian Robertson, was subsequently made the subject of a reduction of 7½ per cent., or 582 vehicles, after careful agreement between Sir Brian Robertson and Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)


Mr. Nabarro

Did the right hon. Gentleman say "Nonsense"? Is he controverting the ministerial statement made in Committee? Here are the exact words—

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Words from on high.

Mr. Nabarro

Not words from on high, but words quoted by the Minister in Committee. I was sorry not to be a member of that Standing Committee, but I was engaged on another at the time. He said: This particular method"— that is, the 7½ per cent.— was achieved by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, who called a meeting with Sir Brian Robertson and the interests representing private hauliers. At that meeting it was agreed that one way of meeting the admittedly difficult situation would be to adopt a device, which is not unknown in the road haulage industry, of regarding a certain number of lorries as being likely for one reason or another to be under repair or off the road for some purpose. It was agreed between them that the proportion should be 7½ per cent., or, perhaps what is of more interest to the Committee, 582 lorries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 6th March, 1956; c. 5.]

Mr. Strauss

That merely states the agreement of the Chairman of the Commission that the number of lorries normally off the road for the purposes of repair and overhaul is 7½ per cent. No one controverts that.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member for Bradford, East, throughout his speech, accused my right hon. Friend of violently discriminating against the Transport Commission. In fact, the Chairman of the Commission has given his consent to the figure of 7½ per cent. or, converted to number of vehicles, 582.

Mr. McLeavy

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for giving way.

I was not unjust to the Minister at all. What I referred to—and I am sure that the hon. Member, on reflection, will agree with this—was the original decision of the Government to invite the Chairman of the Disposal Board to examine the position as to how many vehicles were required to allow the Transport Commission to carry on its various services to industry. He reported, and his recommendation was 7,750 vehicles. That was considered by the former Minister of Transport, it was accepted by the Government and nothing further was heard of it until the new Minister came on the scene, when he, apparently for some unknown reason, asked the Chairman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. These interventions are too long to make in the middle of another hon. Member's speech. There will be opportunities for all the arguments to be answered in complete speeches. Do not let us allow the debate to degenerate into an argument.

Mr. Nabarro

I do not think that there can be any reasonable doubt that there was agreement as regards the figure of 7,750 vehicles and there was agreement as to the off-the-road or out-of-commission proportion, whichever description one likes to apply, of 7½ per cent.

There are two points that the House should carry in mind. There must be wide divergence of opinion as to whether 7,750 vehicles is the correct figure, or whether 7½ is the correct percentage. The fact is that private enterprise interests, of which I am privileged to be a small part, regard the 7,750 vehicles as much too high a figure. The Transport Commission regards it as considerably too low. The opposite applies to the percentage. The Commission regards the percentage of 7½ as being too high, and private enterprise interests regard it as being too low.

I believe that in this context, both in regard to the total number of vehicles and the percentage, a reasonable average or mean has been struck by my right hon. Friend, who has been guided by the prior agreement and consent of the principal contesting parties, namely, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, Sir Brian Robertson and the private enterprise interests. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will flatly reject the Amendment and that having upheld 7½ per cent., in the Standing Committee upstairs, he will not monkey about any further with the figures written into the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

By what authority does the hon. Member say that the Transport Commission gave consent to this figure?

Mr. Nabarro

I am quite certain of the integrity of my right hon. Friend and the accuracy of his figures. From the bottom of column 5 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, of the Standing Committee, I quote these words: It was agreed between them that the proportion should be 7½ per cent., or, perhaps what is of more interest to the Committee, 582 lorries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 6th March, 1956; c. 5.] I am, of course, precisely correct, and the hon. Member is exactly wrong, as always.

Mr. Davies

No. I ask the hon. Member to realise that when the Commission agreed to a certain figure it did so on the basis of there having to be a figure. It never agreed that there should be any figure whatever, as I understand it; it did not give its consent to this.

Mr. Nabarro

I am beginning to be driven to the conclusion that the hon. Member cannot read the English language.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

As I understand, what the Chairman of the Commission agreed to was that the figure of vehicles which might be off the road for various purposes at any time might be 7½ per cent. I challenge the Minister to say that he went beyond that. That is the point we want to get clear.

What the Minister has used, at the behest of the Road Haulage Association and its supporters and representatives, is that it was then said, "All right. We will freeze this figure of 7½ per cent. altogether. Those vehicles shall be regarded as not being available to be on the road." That is an entirely different picture altogether. What it amounts to is that a condition and principle have now been applied that as 7½ per cent. of the Commission's vehicles will be off the road for repairs or various other reasons, its number of licences will be reduced by 7½ per cent. That has never before been said to any organisation.

We would be happier if the Minister were to say that it was a good idea that the Commission needs to have this number of vehicles off the road to keep them in proper repair and safe for use. If he then said that he would treat everybody alike, private enterprise as well as the nationalised undertaking, that would be fair and equitable. But to say that the Commission must have a certain number of vehicles off the road and will, therefore, be deprived of that number of licences, with all the attendant administrative difficulties of changing licences and getting one vehicle back in service and another out of use, although it may sound an administrative detail, is something which must be recorded, which must take place and which would involve considerable administrative time. Those are the facts.

If the Minister were to say that the 7½ per cent. was agreed as the proportion of vehicles that the Commission might have off the road, but without any undertaking that it wished its fleet to be reduced by that amount, I should be perfectly happy; otherwise, I invite the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and the Minister to agree that what is sauce for the goose is equally sauce for the gander, and that what is good for public enterprise, if it is in the cause of road safety, is equally good for private enterprise.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I, also, must disclose an interest as President of the National Conference of Road Clearing Houses. The Amendment deals only with the percentage. It seeks to reduce the figure from 7½ to 2½ per cent. It does not deal with the global figure at all, as the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), who moved the Amendment, well knew.

Not one organisation in the country believes for a moment that 2½ per cent. is the proper number of vehicles to be off the road. As is reported at column 6 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee proceedings, Sir Brian Robertson agreed to the 7½ per cent. Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve certainly adopted that as the natural device. The long-distance road hauliers, to whom I have listened, have entirely endorsed 7½ per cent. as being the proper figure. The Amendment does not deal with the total number of vehicles which should or should not be allocated, and in my submission practically the whole of the speeches which dealt with those arguments were out of order.

I submit that we should get on to other matters, because there is nobody, trade union or otherwise, who can support a figure of 2½ per cent. as being the percentage of vehicles off the road; and that is the only point of the Amendment.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke of 7½ per cent. as being the right figure for the number of vehicles off the road, but can he point to any other legislation affecting any other firm or industry in which it is laid down that a certain percentage of vehicles must be off the road at the same time? Is it not most unfair that British Road Services should be singled out for this particular piece of bad legislation?

Does the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet not understand that the agreement to which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) referred was an agreement under pressure? That much is obvious. The original figure of 7,750 was put forward by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. It was accepted in principle by the British Road Services. The fact is that it was a consequence of the intervention by the Ministry of Transport that the figure has had to be reduced, because private enterprise was determined to lower the total number of vehicles available to B.R.S.

Why are the two hon. Members who have spoken from the benches opposite so keen to make sure that B.R.S. does not have sufficient vehicles? It is because B.R.S. is so efficient. The more vehicles B.R.S. has, the better service it can give. If the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) does not believe that, he has the evidence of his own Minister, who paid a compliment to the wonderful trunk services now available to the nation as a whole.

The Bill is an indictment of private enterprise. It is not being brought in because hon. Members opposite want it. Had they had their way, the Minister would not have brought in the Bill. They would have kept to the 1953 Act, and all that B.R.S. would have had would be the 3,000 or so vehicles. The fact is that the traders, who happen to be a little more important than either of the two hon. Members, suddenly realised that the trunk services which have been built up by B.R.S. were being destroyed and that the efficient service could not be maintained. So the cry was made both to the present Minister and to his predecessor that something must be done to stop the old system coming back.

That is why the Bill was introduced. Even so, during its last stage, efforts had to be made by the Government to try to appease the hon. Member for Kidderminster and the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, who are typical—

Mr. Rees-Davies

May I be permitted to say that there was no representation of which I am aware from either of the associations for whom I have been at one time or another concerned—or, I think I may say, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has been concerned—

Mr. Nabarro

Hear, hear.

Mr. Rees-Davies

—in any way in connection with the 7½ per cent. whatsoever, and that it is entirely the Government's own move in the matter and one which we endorse as being absolutely correct? We have not in any way sought to appease anybody.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member may be an able lawyer, but he has given his case away.

What did the Government do? They tried to find a device to cut down the global figure. What stuff and nonsense it is to talk about this being the number of vehicles off the road for maintenance. Everyone knows that B.R.S. maintain their vehicles in a better way than ever before. These 582 vehicles, which comprise the 7½ per cent. which is the substance of the Amendment, will not be licensed. Therefore, this proposal is a device to reduce the total number of vehicles available at once to B.R.S., and that is what we are protesting about.

The hon. Gentleman opposite says that his own organisation made no representations about the global figure, but it is a fact, as, I am sure, the Minister will agree, for one has only to read Motor Transport, the organ of the Road Haulage Association, to know it, that there were a good many representations to the Ministry about this matter. It would be most unfair to suggest that those organisations did not do very much about it.

I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) was the President of the National Conference of Road Clearing Houses. I can only hope and pray that there will not be a repetition of that unpleasant business we had before, when the clearing houses were one of the worst sinks of iniquity—

Mr. Rees-Davies

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If the hon. Member makes an iniquitous attack, without foundation and outside the scope of the Amendment, on an organisation I would respectfully submit to you that he is entirely out of order and will cause further vituperative replies which, in my opinion, it would be indelicate and inappropriate to utter.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I have only just arrived in the Chair. I have not heard the debate till now, but would point out that this is a narrow Amendment to reduce three-fortieths to one-fortieth. I hope that the House will deal with that.

Mr. Mellish

I am quite sure that both you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and Mr. Speaker, do not need to be told by the hon. Member, or the hon. Member for Kidderminster, whether I am in order or not. Neither is so capable as to be able to do your job as well as his own. Although I am quite prepared to take directions from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am not prepared to take them from them.

The argument has been about how the figure of 7½ per cent., which is the three-fortieths, came about. We were explaining, when you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, came into this most interesting argument, what it meant, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet raised the matter of the clearing houses, and I was saying, in a passing reference, what an iniquitous lot they were. I repeat that they were one of the worst gangs in transport, and I hope that we shall not see the like again. I shall leave it at that.

We ask the Minister for a positive answer to the question whether there was from him or his Department any pressure put upon the British Transport Commission to accept this figure. Is it not right that this figure was opposed in principle and in practice by B.R.S.? Is it not a fact that they did not want it, but had to have it? We are entitled to know. I do not disbelieve the Minister, because I know him very well personally, when he says, as he has said, that the figure was an agreed one.

This negotiation, however, was not unlike a trade union negotiation about wages. The trade union negotiators ask for £1 increase, but they come out from the conference with an increase of 5s. That is said to be the agreed figure, but that is not to say that they are satisfied with 5s. Was not this 7½ per cent. as welcome and as agreed as that? Would it not be right to say that there was great opposition by the Commission to the figure?

There is another consideration. I am sure that the Minister will admit that the Commission's work on maintenance has been first-class. That is one of the arguments why its trunk services should be retained. Moreover, B.R.S. mean a great deal to the drivers they employ, and they regret the iniquitous system of the clearing houses and the Haulage Association, and hope that there will not be a revival of that old, former business.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

It may be convenient if I intervene in the debate now. If I may use the words of Mr. Speaker, I should say that one or two hon. Members in the debate have been flying on unpinioned wings, and that perhaps I may now mention a few facts. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) made a very long and able speech, as he usually does, and paid tribute to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. I should like to endorse that tribute. The hon. Member was kind enough to say that Sir Malcolm could never be accused of doing other than trying to serve the public interest.

I must remind the hon. Gentleman and the House of what Sir Malcolm said, and this is the relevant statement on which I based my decision. Sir Malcolm, in his report to my predecessor, dealing with this question of the number of lorries, said: The answer to your reference to me"— that is, about the question of the number of lorries— is not capable of a mathematical answer. It involves a difficult matter of opinion. And, of course, so it does.

While my hon. Friends are quite correct in quoting me as saying in Committee that the Chairman of the Transport Commission and the private hauliers came together under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and agreed this 7½ per cent. figure, I want to make it quite plain, because I am the spokesman of the Commission to this House, that, of course, the Chairman of the Commission did not want to give up a single lorry if he could help it. I do not blame him for that. He wanted to maintain as large a number as he could, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) very rightly said, it has always been the Commission's view that 7,750 lorries was not as many as, in its view, it would like to use. Equally, it was the view of the private interests in the industry that that number was far too many.

Why I took the decision to embody in the Bill this 7½ per cent., which the hon. Member for Bradford, East and his hon. Friends are seeking to reduce to 2½ per cent., was that I could not feel myself satisfied that anybody could say—and I doubt whether Sir Malcolm himself would maintain—that there was any certainty about the exact figure. Therefore, when I found that both sides of the industry had agreed that the figure of 7½ per cent. had relevance to what I may call the number of lorries afloat, I accepted it.

I want to make this plain. This is not an enforced deduction in the number of lorries. This provision merely puts upon the Commission the necessity to ask for 1933 Act licences for these lorries, and if the Commission can justify the licences on the normal grounds it will get them.

Mr. Mellish

The 7,750 figure was not agreed upon, was it, in the sense that there was not pressure to make the Commission reduce the global figure? Would it not be right to say, to put it in a nutshell, that the 7½ per cent. is a device to reduce that figure?

Mr. Watkinson

It would not be right at all. I hope that I shall succeed in making plain exactly why I took this figure.

I took it, first, because this figure of 7½ per cent. was agreed. I have made plain how it was agreed. The percentage was a reasonable and practical float that any organisation might have. I did not decide to say we should deduct 7½ per cent. What I have said in the Bill is, "Let British Road Services justify these 582 vehicles on the grounds that they are necessary for the maintenance of their services." If they can do that, as far as I am concerned, and as far as all my colleagues are concerned, then good luck to them. All we say is that they are to be justified on the normal grounds that are put forward when one goes for a licence under the 1933 Act.

Therefore, the issue is not in any case—and the Amendment we are discussing does not deal with—the question of the total number of lorries. All that is necessary for me to do is to explain why this particular figure was written into the Bill. I think it is a proper test, which will give some satisfaction to the public and to the industries concerned, that the figure which we have chosen is a figure justified not by political but by practical reasons, and that is why I attach great importance to it.

Mr. Callaghan

If this is to be judged by practical, and not political, considerations, and I accept that for the moment, can the Minister tell us whether he was proposing to make a similar reduction in the special A licences of private firms?

Mr. Watkinson

The hon. Gentleman is not on a very good principle, because, in a matter which we shall discuss later, it will be clearly shown that I am only too anxious to apply tests and checks to both sides of the industry. In this case, it is purely a matter of opinion, and, obviously, it is not appropriate for me to say, as I was invited to do, that 7½ per cent. is the right percentage of vehicles off the road at any one time. That would be a stupid thing for me to do, and I have no intention of doing it.

There is some reasonable doubt whether the figure of 7,750 lorries is right or wrong, but I am sure that it is not absolutely wrong or absolutely right. I am simply saying that we will have that figure of 582 lorries, and if this can be justified by hard practice and the facts of operation, then good luck to British Road Services. What the Opposition are asking is that I should make that figure of 582 lorries into 194, which does not seem to me to be an important matter of principle, and I therefore could not advise the House to support the Amendment.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

The Government are very uncomfortable about the reason why this 7½ per cent. was first incorporated in the Bill. It was, in fact, not because the Government thought it was right to reduce the total number of vehicles by 7½ per cent., but because of the pressures brought to bear upon them, and I should like to put before the House—

Mr. Watkinson

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I have just said that I took the relevant decision on this matter, and I have explained to the House why I did it. If the right hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that I misinformed the House, I should be glad if he would say so in fact.

Mr. Strauss

I propose to put clearly before the House the history of this matter. What happened was this. The Government decided to retain the trunk services in the hands of the Commission. I will not now go into all the arguments about why they came to that decision, as it was a decision which we welcomed. Then, the Minister of Transport had confronting him the problem of how many lorries the Commission could retain for that purpose, and, as he quite rightly says, that was not a question to which there could be a satisfactory mathematical reply. If that had been so he would have decided it himself; but it is a question of balance.

For that purpose, he very wisely called in Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, the Chairman of the Disposal Board, as arbitrator to advise what was the right figure. Sir Malcolm said that this was a matter of opinion, and that, in his opinion the right figure was 7,750 lorries. Obviously, it was possible that that figure was either too high or too low, but that was the arbitrator's figure and it was the figure inserted in the Bill when it was published. That was to be the number of lorries which the Commission was to retain for running its trunk services.

When that figure was announced, as we have been told, the Road Haulage Association said "This figure is monstrous; it is far too high," and we should have expected them to do so. The arbitrator's figure was therefore reduced by the Government on two grounds, and they cannot make up their minds which was the real one. First, they say that it has been generally agreed that the number of lorries which are normally under repair in any organisation running lorries is about 7½ per cent. That being so, it was convenient to argue that the total should be reduced by that amount.

4.45 p.m.

The next thing was that we had an Amendment moved by the Government during the Committee stage of the Bill affecting this change, and we were told that those were the grounds for reducing the figure of 7,750. But when we argued, as one of my hon. Friends has pointed out just now, that this number of vehicles under repair at any time had nothing whatever to do with the case, any more than the flowers that bloom in the spring, because nobody ever dreamt of depriving of their A licences the vehicles belonging to private owners which were under repair, it became clear that the Minister's action had nothing to do with the number of vehicles under repair. He then said that it was his private decision, and that he did not justify it on those grounds.

Therefore, we have two grounds on which it is suggested the change has been made. One is that it has something to do with the number of vehicles under repair and the other is that it has nothing to do with that at all, but was the Minister's own opinion. I wonder if the Minister would have had that opinion if there had not been violent protests from the Road Haulage Association against the figure of 7,750 lorries.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage of the Bill, and at the concluding remarks of the Minister in introducing the Amendment, when he will find that my right hon. Friend said: They would mean that 582 lorries out of the total would not originally get A licences but would be entitled to have them if a case could be made out for granting them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 6th March, 1956; c. 6.] That is precisely what he said today, and it is no different from what he said at the time.

Mr. Strauss

I do not understand the hon. Member's point, although I heard what he said. The original idea was that, by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve's suggestion, the number of lorries which the Commission could own should be 7,750, with the implication that it would get special A licences for the whole lot. Now, a change has taken place, for the reasons which I have given, and the Commission is not to get 7,750, but that figure less 7½ per cent. If it wants A licences for the remainder, it must go through the procedure of the Traffic Commissioners, and it does not know what the answer will be.

My complaint is that the Road Haulage Association—maybe its representatives did not come here and see the Minister individually—put on him very severe political pressure and very sinister political pressure, and that, in fact, it was this that brought about the change in Government policy and caused him to reject the arbitrator's decision, which he would not have done if the Association had not raised its voice.

The Minister also says that we are suggesting a reduction from 7½ per cent. to 2½ per cent., although the Minister knows that it is the principle which we are discussing. In the Committee stage, we tried to secure the elimination of the 7½ per cent. altogether, but we were turned down by the Government, and, today, having been turned down we say, "Very well, we were voted down in the Committee and it is only open to us at this stage to modify the 7½ per cent. figure," which is what we are trying to do in this Amendment.

It is plain that the argument about the number of vehicles under repair is an attempt to find a plausible excuse to enable the Government to reduce the number of vehicles to which the Commission would otherwise have been entitled. I should like to ask them if they are going to apply the same principle to private operators in respect of the number of A licences to which they are entitled.

We are told that the Minister wants to sell the meat organisation and the parcels service. Both organisations have a substantial number of vehicles. Of those vehicles, 7½ per cent. will be under repair most of the time. When the parcels service vehicles are sold to some private owner or owners, will they be told that 7½ per cent. of their vehicles will not be entitled to A licences? I am sure that the answer is that the Government will take no such action over a fleet owned by private hauliers and that they confine such action to fleets which are publicly owned.

It was taken as a result of pressure, or if the Minister dislikes that word, because of the potential activities by politicians in the House expressing the resentment of the Haulage Association when it found that the Commission was to have 7,750 vehicles to compete with its members.

Normally when an arbitrator is appointed in some matter of dispute—and the word arbitrator was used not by us, but by the Government—the decisions of the arbitrator are accepted. In commerce and business, as hon. Members know, the arbitrator's decision is accepted by all sides, unless he is wrong on a point of law. That is the decent and honest thing to do. In this case the arbitrator tried to see that there was equity between the Association and the Commission. That figure is now rejected by the Government.

I know that we cannot carry the Amendment, because the Government have the majority, but we should not like the matter to leave the House before hon. Members and the public realise what has happened, what a sinister story it is, and what very real political strength the Road Haulage Association has on affairs of the Government and on the Minister of Transport; and that it is as a result of private pressure by private interests that the Government have changed their minds on a decision which they previously considered to be in the public interest. I hope that in the Division Lobby as many hon. Members as possible will support the Amendment.

Question put, That "three-fortieths" stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 156.

Division No. 143.] AYES [4.54 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Joseph, Sir Keith
Aitken, W. T. Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Warwick & L'm'tn) Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Farey-Jones, F. W. Keegan, D.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Fell, A. Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Arbuthnot, John Finlay, Graeme Kerr, H. W.
Armstrong, C. W. Fisher, Nigel Kershaw, J. A.
Atkins, H. E. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Kimball, M.
Balniel, Lord Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lambert, Hon. G.
Barlow, Sir John Freeth, D. K. Lambton, Viscount
Barter, John Gibson-Watt, D. Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Glover, D. Langford-Holt, J. A.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Godber, J. B. Leavey, J. A.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Gower, H. R. Leburn, W. G.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Graham, Sir Fergus Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Bidgood, J. C. Green, A. Linstead, Sir H. N.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Gresham Cooke, R. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)
Black, C. W. Gurden, Harold Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.
Body, R. F. Hall, John (Wycombe) Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Lucas, P. B. (Brantford & Chiswick)
Braine, B. R. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Macdonald, Sir Peter
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) McKibbin, A. J.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Bryan, P. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Madden, Martin
Burden, F. F. A. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Channon, H. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Chichester-Clark, R. Hirst, Geoffrey Marlowe, A. A. H.
Cole, Norman Holland-Martin, C. J. Marples, A. E.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Marshall, Douglas
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Horobin, Sir Ian Mathew, R.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Maude, Angus
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Howard, John (Test) Mawby, R. L.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Molson, A. H. E.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Moore, Sir Thomas
Crouch, R. F. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Crowder, Petra (Ruislip—Northwood) Hulbert, Sir Norman Nairn, D. L. S.
Dance, J. C. G. Hyde, Montgomery Neave, Airey
Digby, Simon Wingfield Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Nicholls, Harmar
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Iremonger, T. L. Nield, Basil (Chester)
Doughty, C. J. A. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nugent, G. R. H.
Drayson, G. B. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
du Cann, E. D. L. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Page, R. G.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Duthie, W. S. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Partridge, E.
Pickthorn, K. W. M. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.) Vane, W. M. F.
Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Pitman, I. J. Stevens, Geoffrey Vickers, Miss J. H.
Pott, H. P. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Vosper, D. F.
Powell, J. Enoch Stewart, Henderson, (Fife, E.) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Raikes, Sir Victor Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Rawlinson, Peter Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury) Wall, Major Patrick
Redmayne, M. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington) Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Rees-Davies, W. R. Teeing, W. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Remnant, Hon. P. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Renton, D. L. M. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway) Webbe, Sir H.
Ridsdale, J. E. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrth & Border)
Roper, Sir Harold Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Russell, R. S. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Wood, Hon. R.
Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Tilney, John (Wavertree) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Touche, Sir Gordon
Spearman, A. C. M. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Speir, R. M. Tweedsmuir, Lady Mr. Wills and Mr. Legh.
Ainsley, J. W. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Owen, W. J.
Albu, A. H. Hamilton, W. W. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Hannan, W. Palmer, A. M. F.
Anderson, Frank Hastings, S. Pargiter, G. A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hayman, F. H. Parker, J.
Bartley, P. Herbison, Miss M. Paton, J.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hobson, C. R. Pearson, A.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Holman, P. Peart, T. F.
Benson, G. Houghton, Douglas Plummer, Sir Leslie
Beswick, F. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Blackburn, F. Hubbard, T. F. Probert, A. R.
Blenkinsop, A. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Proctor, W. T.
Blyton, W. R. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Randall, H. E.
Boardman, H. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Rankin, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hunter, A. E. Reeves, J.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Reid, William
Boyd, T. C. Irving, S. (Dartford) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Brockway, A. F. Janner, B. Ross, William
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pancs, S.) Short, E. W.
Burke, W. A. Johnson, James (Rugby) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Burton, Miss F. E. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Kenyon, C. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Callaghan, L. J. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Skeffington, A. M.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Champion, A. J. Lewis, Arthur Sparks, J. A.
Chetwynd, G. R. Lindgren, G. S. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Stones, W. (Consett)
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Logan, D. G. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Cove, W. G. MacColl, J. E. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) McGhee, H. G. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Cronin, J. D. McKay, John (Wallsend) Sylvester, G. O.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McLeavy, Frank Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Davies, Harold (Leek) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Thornton, E.
Deer, G. Mahon, Simon Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Dodds, N. N. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Warbey, W. N.
Donnelly, D. L. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Weitzman, D.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mason, Roy Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mellish, R. J. West, D. G.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Messer, Sir F. Wheeldon, W. E.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Mitchison, G. R. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Fernyhough, E. Monslow, W. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Moody, A. S. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Gibson, C. W. Moss, R. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Moyle, A. Woof, R. E.
Greenwood, Anthony Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Oliver, G. H. Zilliacus, K.
Grey, C. F. Oram, A. E.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Orbach, M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Oswald, T. Mr. John Taylor and Mr. Rogers