HC Deb 16 April 1956 vol 551 cc753-809
Mr. Mellish

I beg to move, in page 7, line 36, to leave out "either".

Mr. Speaker

Can the hon. Member discuss the next Amendment at the same time?

Mr. Mellish

Yes, Mr. Speaker. It is the Amendment in page 7, line 38, to leave out from "company" to the end of line 41.

The purpose of the Amendments is to remove from the Bill the right of the Minister to nominate directors of his own choosing to the boards of the companies which are established for the purpose of the disposal of meat and parcels services.

We had a long debate in Committee on this matter, and I hope that I shall be forgiven if I repeat some of the arguments which I used on that occasion. The objection which we had to the right of the Minister to appoint these directors is because there is no safeguard, and the directors may well have a private vested interest in the disposal of road haulage vehicles for their own personal benefit.

We had from the Minister a speech in which he gave as much assurance as I think he could. He said that he would try to get impartial advice in appointing directors. As I have said before, speaking for myself, I believe that to be true of the present Minister of Transport, but knowing the activities of this Government and remembering that we have had three Ministers of Transport in three years—

Mr. Nabarro

We have had four.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

All bad.

Mr. Mellish

Very well, four. There is no guarantee that the present Minister will stay in his office very long, and we have no guarantee concerning any future Minister that is appointed.

As I pointed out in Committee, it would be shocking if the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) were ever appointed Minister of Transport, although I agree that that is most unlikely in view of the powers contained in the Bill. The hon. Member has already disclosed that he is President of the Road Haulage Association—

Mr. Nabarro


Mr. Mellish

—and what he would do if he were Minister.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member must take that off the record. It is a blatant mis-statement. What I said was that I was President of the Road Passenger and Transport Association, a body complementary in its principles, but not to be confused with the Road Haulage Association.

Mr. Mellish

It is just as bad as if the hon. Member were President of the Road Haulage Association.

We on this side are worried at the prospect of Ministers having the authority to appoint to the boards of the companies people whom we would regard as most undesirable. The expression "jobs for the boys" has often been used. In this case, the Minister could appoint people with leanings towards denationalisation and private vested interests. We do not yet know what the pay for these jobs is to be, but they certainly would be jobs for the boys in that sense. We are asking for this power of appointment by the Minister to be deleted.

In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary rather gave the game away. He reminded us that this part of the Clause must be read in conjunction with Clause 2 (1, d), which uses the words: or undertake to procure persons to purchase all or any of the securities or who agree themselves to purchase all or any of the securities not otherwise sold as the result of the offer. The Parliamentary Secretary quoted that as showing that the kind of people whom it was desired to have on the boards were those who could choose the people to buy the securities.

Of course, we on this side are opposed to this part of the Bill in principle. We think that the parcels and meat services should not be interfered with. We have had some assurance that for a year, or for two or three years, perhaps, they will not be interfered with, but I do not see how the Minister can justify the Bill in its present form without giving us more than the verbal assurances that he has given so far.

We need protection against future Ministers of Transport. I am convinced that the right hon. Gentleman has enough enemies of transport behind him on the benches opposite to use all their influence to get on to the boards of companies the kind of people who would go to almost any limits to dispose of these services and at prices which may well not be economic. We have already argued that both these services are doing a fine job. The fact that they are making a substantial profit should appeal to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, and they are needed by the trade.

Mr. Pargiter

I beg to second the Amendment.

This is an important Amendment. We are not so much concerned with a question of bad faith on the part of Ministers as with the inevitable difficulties in which any Minister would be placed in consultations with anyone concerning people suitable for nomination as directors of one of the companies. The appointment will not be limited to one financial adviser. The Minister may make any number of appointments providing that those whom he appoints are not in a majority on the board. Therefore, if the board comprised 12 members, he could appoint five of the directors.

I am sure that the Minister would take great care in endeavouring to find the right people whose knowledge would be of advantage to the company. He must appeal to specific interests, either in transport or in finance, or both, but these interests would not necessarily be the same as those of the companies so long as they remain under national control; in fact, they might well be precisely the opposite. Therefore, even with the best of intentions by the Minister, and with every intention by these people as collective bodies to be impartial, there would obviously be a leaning towards people who, while their advice would not necessarily be against the sound financial running of the company, would be subjected to pressure from the other side to ensure that the interests were disposed of.

It might appear to be a safeguard that the Minister will not appoint a majority of the directors. Nevertheless, those whom he appoints could make representations to him. They or any other group of interested people might make representations to him so plausibly that the Minister considers there is a good deal in what they say; and quite apart from what the company or the main body of directors thinks, the Minister could give directions as to how they act in the disposal of securities or other matters. We are much afraid that this wide power which the Minister is given could operate against the best interests of the companies, either in continuing to be run by the Commission or by being disposed of at unrealistic prices.

To give it the worst possible complexion, it is quite possible that there would be a number of part-time directors with a direct interest, either financial or in transport, in the type of work done by the companies in other directions and by other competing companies. It is asking too much to expect that they would lean over backwards to keep the companies in the hands of the Commission when they could be disposed of and when these people would be in the position of advising on their disposal as well as advising those who buy the companies.

We do not like this dangerous position. We do not think that the Minister, even with the best intentions, would be able to obtain impartial people. It is all very well to get a business man to advise and act on a nationalised board when it is known that it continues to run as a nationalised undertaking and any public-spirited person wants to run it in the best national interests, but when people are to be appointed for creating confidence in the City and among others for the disposal of the assets, it may well be that the confidence is very much misplaced. These people may have, if not a direct interest, a considerable indirect interest in the disposal of the companies. At the worst it could lead to corruption and at best it is very dangerous indeed, and the Minister ought not to do it.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Watkinson

I am not quite sure how seriously hon. Members opposite mean their Amendment, because while it is a very attractive political argument to say that businessmen are public spirited when they serve, for example, in the regional management of British Railways, but will not be public spirited when they serve on one of these companies, it is an argument which is a little difficult to support on practical grounds.

The safeguard which hon. Members have tried to get round, but which remains, is that I have no power to appoint a majority of the directors of the boards of these companies. I think everybody in the House knows quite well that in these companies to be set up there is no way by which the policy of the companies can be decided, if a division of opinion occurs, but by the majority. Therefore, there is no possibility at all of these gentlemen being able to impose an improper course of action upon a company. Even if they should try, I still have my powers and responsibilities, and I made it quite clear, when we discussed this matter before, that I propose to arm myself with advice, if the Disposal Board is no longer in operation, so that I can carry out the final responsibility which I have in these matters in the public interest.

While I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite putting down the Amendment, perhaps to obtain this further assurance, I must say that there is no danger here. It is absolutely necessary to have these directors as representatives of special interests to facilitate the sale of the companies and to ensure the security of their profitable operation should they be so sold. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will not press the Amendment. If they do, I cannot advise the House to accept it.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I regret that I am quite unconvinced by the easy way in which the Minister has attempted to brush aside this Amendment. We had a comparatively lengthy discussion of this matter in Committee, and my hon. Friends and I were not at all happy over the explanations which were given us then by both the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister himself, and I certainly do not feel any better satisfied by the brief remarks of the Minister tonight. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are honourable, but he is setting himself an impossible task, for the very reasons which have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who made a convincing case about the danger which lies in the power vested in the Minister.

It was the Parliamentary Secretary who really gave the show away in Committee, when he said: If there is to be any prospect of selling the parcels company successfully to financial interests, it will be most desirable to have on the board business men in whom the City would have confidence and who would continue to remain on the board after the ownership of the shares had been transferred from the Commission to the private investors."—[OFFICAL REPORT, Standing Committee D. 15th March, 1956; c. 166.]

Mr. G. Wilson

So what?

Mr. Davies

That is what is worrying us over these boards and appointments. It seems to us that the Minister is taking power which he will, on his own confession, use to appoint to these boards people who are interested parties, who will be interested either in transport, as my hon. Friend pointed out, in running competitive transport concerns, or interested in finance and in the purchase of the securities of these companies.

We consider that that is wrong and, as has been said, could lead to doubtful dealings, or to doubtful interests being represented and to their desires being pressed upon the Minister or the Disposal Board, whoever is responsible for the sale; dealings resulting in gain to themselves. It certainly would be a scandal if the persons appointed to these boards were themselves later financially interested in the operation of these companies once they had been transferred from public to private ownership if they were representatives appointed by the Minister but, at the same time, were interested in transport and in finance outside of the nationally owned undertaking upon which they were serving.

They might assist in fattening it so that it would, upon being sold off, be a very profitable concern, if they continued as members of the board, as the Parliamentary Secretary suggested. What worries us is the possibility that persons will be appointed to these boards, possibly in all good faith, who will remain interested parties after a transfer has taken place. We do not consider that that is right or in accordance with normal practice in Government affairs.

We could consent not to divide the House only if we could receive a sufficient assurance from the Minister that he will not appoint to these boards anybody who is a potential purchaser of the companies; that no one will serve on one of these boards and then, on the transfer from public to private ownership, become an interested party in the company. We require an assurance that no members of the boards of the parcels or meat companies will have any financial interest direct or indirect in the purchase of the company; in other words, he should not be a party to the transfer and retain any financial interest in it. Unless we get such an assurance from the Minister I shall have to advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to divide the House.

There is another point I would make which arises from the Committee's proceedings on the Bill. The other reason which the Parliamentary Secretary gave why it was necessary for the Minister to have this power to appoint persons to the boards other than those whom the Commission itself appointed to its subsidiary companies was this: If a subsidiary company is formed which owns the parcels service, it is, in the first place, probable that the gentlemen responsible for the administration of British Road Services will not take as much interest in the parcels company, which they know is likely to be sold, as they will in the larger concerns which they know they are to keep."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 15th March, 1956; c. 166.] That is quite unconvincing in the light of the manner in which the Commission has carried on since the 1953 Act. From the time that the Commission was instructed to dispose of its undertakings it has acted in good faith. It is incredible that it has carried on so successfully, operating profitably, at the same time as it has been disposing of its vehicles. Although it has known that the number of vehicles at its disposal was steadily to decline it has continued to operate to the best of its ability, and has done so very successfully indeed. It is an insult to the Commission to suggest that because the parcels and meat services are to be sold—and it was well known that they were to be sold or to be put up for sale after the passing of the 1953 Act—it will not do its utmost to operate them successfully until they are disposed of. How is it that the parcels company is continuing to operate at the present time at a profit at the rate of £1 million a year? It is a most successful undertaking, despite the fact that it has been put up for sale once.

The argument put forward in Committee by the Parliamentary Secretary, and the unconvincing arguments put forward by the Minister tonight, have not in any way changed the attitude which we took in Committee and which led us to put down this Amendment, an Amendment designed only to protect the community against the abuse of the manner in which national assets are put up for disposal.

Mr. G. Wilson

The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that their ideology runs away with them so much that they sometimes believe it themselves. Apparently, they think that profits are a bad thing and something dishonest, and that, therefore, anybody interested in profits must also be dishonest. I would ask the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) to move along the Front Bench and talk with his right hon. Friend on his left, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who knows a great deal about private enterprise in industry.

Directors of companies, simply because they are interested in profits, in making a concern profitable and not running it at a loss, are not necessarily the sort of people who will act in a dishonest way. Any person of whom there is any doubt is not likely to be appointed by the Minister, who will appoint reasonable and responsible persons, who, as my right hon. Friend says, will have the confidence of the City. [Laughter.] After all, if we are asking people to put their money into a company, we must appoint directors who are not only competent but honest. What I have said is nothing to be laughed at, but common sense.

If we want to run a concern by private enterprise, it is reasonable to appoint as directors people with experience of it and particular experience of the things with which they will be dealing. It is going rather far to suggest that the Minister should only appoint directors in conditions in which they would know nothing of, or would not be likely to be interested in, the business to which they are appointed. That is going much too far, and I therefore hope that the Minister will resist the Amendment.

Mr. Sparks

I should like to make a short intervention in reply to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). I think the hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag when he said that his right hon. Friend would appoint on the boards of these companies persons who would be acceptable to the City. What sort of persons will they be? If they were to be persons conversant with the transport problems of the country, who had the interests of our transport resources and the public at heart, we should not have much disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Truro has confirmed our suspicions that it is his intention, under this part of the Clause, to put a kind of fifth column individual on these boards to see that these undertakings shall as rapidly as possible be diverted from the British Transport Commission into a new form of capitalist enterprise. Presumably, from what the hon. Member for Truro said, they will, to a man, be capitalists first and everything else will be subordinated to that interest.

We are opposing that, because, first, we think it is quite unnecessary for the right hon. Gentleman to have this sort of fifth columnist on the boards of any public companies to advise him. If the purpose is to advise him, then there is something radically wrong with his own Department if, within it, he has not already got people who are competent to advise him about putting into operation the provisions of this Bill and the transfer of the Commission's undertakings to these companies. There is something radically wrong in his Department if that is so, because I should have thought that there were men and probably women of

first-class competence who could advise him on these matters.

To suggest that he will go into the City and pick out all the hard-boiled capitalists he can find, plant them on these boards to make sure that the public are robbed of their assets, and that the speed with which they are robbed of their assets, which are then to be handed over to private enterprise, is to be accelerated, we think is quite wrong. The right hon. Gentleman cannot blame us for this situation. His hon. Friends have just told us what the intention is. They so much hate the idea of public enterprise that they cannot leave it to the Commission to do the right thing by this House and by the law. They are suspicious of it, and, therefore, want to bring in these individuals to watch the Commission and the other directors to make sure that the concerns are run down as rapidly as possible and taken over by a new form of organisation. I hope that the House will support our Amendment, because it is designed in the public interest.

Question put, That "either" stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 165.

Division No. 146.] AYES [7.15 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Cooper-Key, E. M. Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Aitken, W. T. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Harris, Reader (Heston)
Alport, C. J. M. Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne) Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Crouch, R. F. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)
Arbuthnot, John Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Armstrong, C. W. Dance, J. C. G. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Atkins, H. E. Deedes, W. F. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.
Baldwin, A. E. Digby, Simon Wingfield Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Balniel, Lord Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hill, John (S. Norfolk)
Barlow, Sir John Doughty, C. J. A. Hirst, Geoffrey
Barter, John Drayson, G. B. Holland-Martin, C. J.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton du Cann, E. D. L. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Horobin, Sir Ian
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Warwick & L'm'tn) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Errington, Sir Eric Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)
Bidgood, J. C. Farey-Jones, F. W. Howard, John (Test)
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Fell, A. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Finlay, Graeme Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.
Bishop, F. P. Fisher, Nigel Hulbert, Sir Norman
Black, C. W. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Hyde, Montgomery
Body, R. F. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.
Boothby, Sir Robert Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Iremonger, T. L.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Freeth, D. K. Irvine, Byant Codman (Rye)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Gibson-Watt, D. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Glover, D. Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bryan, P. Godber, J. B. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Gower, H. R. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Burden, F. F. A. Graham, Sir Fergus Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Green, A. Joseph, Sir Keith
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Gresham Cooke, R. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot
Channon, H. Grimond, J. Keegan, D.
Chichester-Clark, R. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Kerr, H. W.
Cole, Norman Gurden, Harold Kershaw, J. A.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hall, John (Wycombe) Kimball, M.
Lambton, Viscount Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Leavey, J. A. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Teeling, W.
Leburn, W. G. Page, R. G. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Partridge, E. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Linstead, Sir H. N. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Pitman, I. J. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Pott, H. P. Touche, Sir Gordon
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Powell, J. Enoch Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Macdonald, Sir Peter Rawlinson, Peter Tweedsmuir, Lady
McKibbin, A. J. Redmayne, M. Vane, W. M. F.
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Rees-Davies, W. R. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Remnant, Hon. P. Vickers, Miss J. H.
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Renton, D. L. M. Vosper, D. F.
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Ridsdale, J. E. Wade, D. W.
Maddan, Martin Rippon, A. G. F. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Roper, Sir Harold Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Russell, R. S. Wall, Major Patrick
Markham, Major Sir Frank Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Marlowe, A. A. H. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Marples, A. E. Shepherd, William Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Marshall, Douglas Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Webbe, Sir H.
Mathew, R. Soames, Capt. C. Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)
Maude, Angus Spearman, A. C. M. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Mawby, R. L. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Molson, A. H. E. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Nabarro, G. D. N. Stevens, Geoffrey Woollam, John Victor
Nairn, D. L. S. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Neave, Airey Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Nicholls, Harmar Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Nield, Basil (Chester) Studholme, H. G. Colonel J. H. Harrison and
Nugent, G. R. H. Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury) Mr. Richard Thompson.
Ainsley, J. W. Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Messer, Sir F.
Albu, A. H. Greenwood, Anthony Mitchison, G. H.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Monslow, W.
Anderson, Frank Grey, C. F. Moody, A. S.
Bacon, Miss Alice Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Moss, R.
Bartley, P. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Moyle, A.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Benson, G. Hamilton, W. W. Oliver, G. H.
Beswick, F. Hannan, W. Oram, A. E.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hastings, S. Orbach, M.
Blackburn, F. Hayman, F. H. Oswald, T.
Blenkinsop, A. Healey, Denis Owen, W. J.
Boardman, H. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Padley, W. E.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Herbison, Miss M. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Hobson, C. R. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Boyd, T. G. Holman, P. Palmer, A. M. F.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Houghton, Douglas Pargiter, G. A.
Brockway, A. F. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Paton, J.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Pearson, A.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Plummer, Sir Leslie
Burke, W. A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Burton, Miss F. E. Hunter, A. E. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Probert, A. R.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Janner, B. Proctor, W. T.
Callaghan, L. J. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Randall, H. E.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Johnson, James (Rugby) Rankin, John
Champion, A. J. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Redhead, E. C.
Chetwynd, G. R. Kenyon, C. Reeves, J.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Reid, William
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) King, Dr. H. M. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lee, Frederick (Newton) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Cove, W. G. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Cronin, J. D. Lindgren, G. S. Ross, William
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Davies, Harold (Leek) Logan, D. G. Shinwell, R. Hon. E.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Short, E. W.
Delargy, H. J. MacColl, J. E. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Dodds, N. N. McGhee, H. G. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Donnelly, D. L. McKay, John (Wallsend) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McLeavy, Frank Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Skeffington, A. M.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Mahon, Simon Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Sorensen, R. W.
Fernyhough, E. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddertfd, E.) Sparks, J. A.
Fletcher, Eric Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Mason, Roy Stokes, R. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)
Gibson, C. W. Mellish, R. J. Stones, W. (Consett)
Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Williams, W. B. (Openshaw)
Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Warbey, W. N. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Wells, Percy (Faversham) Woof, R. E.
Sylvester, G. O. Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) West, D. G. Zilliacus, K.
Taylor, John (West Lothian) Wheeldon, W. E.
Thornton, E. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Turner-Samuels, M. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery) Mr. Holmes and Mr. Deer.

Resolution agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. H. Molson.]

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Proctor

The Bill is designed to mitigate some of the evils of the Transport Act, 1953, but it has not gone as far as we wanted. When the Tory Party came to power, it observed that road transport was a very prosperous section of the transport industry and it decided to take that prosperous part and to give it to its friends. It was as simple as that. To make it appear a little more palatable, it said that the British Transport Commission should be compensated, but the basis of compensation was not fair and was never accepted by the Commission. The basis of compensation could not be made fair without altogether destroying the Transport Act, 1953.

The then Minister of Transport, now the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, indicated that the loss to the Commission would be about £20 million. The Commission never accepted that figure. Millions of pounds were lost to the public as a result of that legislation. The Tory Government found, despite the clamour by City financiers and the wide-awake gentlemen who want something for nothing, and who called for all the Commission's lorries to be sold at knock-down prices, that they were unable to continue with that policy.

The Commission considered that the Government should have taken the opportunity afforded by the Bill to review the whole basis of compensation. The Commission is in a difficulty, because there is no one in the House in a position to speak for it. We should have heard more about the Commission's request to have the basis of compensation revised. The only reference to that was a casual reference made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in Committee when he said that the Commission had asked that the opportunity of revising the basis of compensation should be taken.

During discussion of the Bill, the parcels organisation and the meat organisation have been very fully considered. It is suggested that in some mysterious way the two organisations will benefit from having been given a very low value. It seems to me that if a business is appropriated at a very low rate and is then sold, a very nice profit will be made.

What is to happen to the parcels and meat sections of the industry as a result of the Bill is extraordinary. Companies are to be promoted to run the organisations efficiently. People from the City are to be brought in to do this. I do not know who these people are to be, but in days gone by Bottomley, Hatry, Hooley, or Jabez Balfour might have been interested in these jobs.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) referred to someone who had the confidence of the City. These people who have the confidence of the City have a duty to perform. They are to look into the organisation of the parcels and meat sections of the industry and assist in their sale to private enterprise. It is an extraordinary procedure. As matters stand, the Bill means that whilst insufficient private money comes forward to buy these concerns on a fair basis, public money is to be used.

We are concerned that, under the provisions of the Bill, payments to the Commission are to cease in a very short time. It is claimed that £12¼ million is sufficient to compensate the Commission. I have pointed out that the Commission does not accept the figure and considers the basis of the calculation to be disastrously unfair to nationalised transport. It should be remembered that the transport levy was never a labour policy. Responsibility for the levy rests squarely upon the Tory Government and hon. Members opposite. Every man who pays the transport levy knows that it is a burden placed upon him as a result of Tory policy. We on this side of the House have never accepted it as a fair basis for dealing with this matter and in our opinion £12¼ million is not a proper estimate.

We should have liked to have had an independent person appointed to go fairly and properly into this whole matter. All that can be said for the Bill is that, accepting the principle of the 1953 Act, the Commission's auditors say that they have no quarrel with the figures. We are very anxious to see an auditor independent of the Commission and of the Government have a real look at the situation so that we may be sure that the fair thing is being done.

I am sorry to say that we have reached the miserable position in which the only custodians of the public interest in this matter sit on this side of the House. Hon. Members opposite have at heart the interests of their friends and not the interests of nationalised industry. It is a sad situation for the nation. The Commission makes no great attempt to put its position before anyone except the Minister. The Commission has no right to put out propaganda on its own behalf. We therefore have a situation in which a Government and a Ministry which are prejudiced against nationalisation are the only vehicle for the enlightenment of the public.

Mr. Watkinson

Is the hon. Member saying that I have ever refused to put to the House any point which the Commission thought it proper that I should put to it?

Mr. Proctor

I am certainly not saying that. I am saying that the Commission has no vehicle for the expression of its opinion on these matters. The Commission owes it first loyalty, naturally, to the Minister of Transport and his Joint Parliamentary Secretary. There is an eminent general at the head of the Commission, and loyalty ranks high in the breast of any military gentleman. He possibly regards the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary as field marshals and considers that his loyalty is to them. I say that it is we on this side of the House who have to put the situation before the House and the people and defend the interests of the Commission.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Some generals have loyalty to their troops.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

The hon. Member should get to his feet if he wants to say anything.

Mr. Proctor

The Government have not attempted to put this kind of policy in operation in the case of other nationalised industries. They would not think of saying to the National Coal Board, "Divest yourself of some of your most prosperous subsidiary undertakings." We should have had complete disaster in the mining industry if the Government had done that. The railwaymen and transport workers have observed closely what the Government's policy has been. I put the most serious point to the Tory Party that in relation to railwaymen and other transport workers we on this side of the House have been always mindful of the fact that we had to make nationalisation pay and had to keep nationalised industry prosperous.

If increased wages were demanded, the financial position of the industries had always to be considered. However, when the railwaymen and other transport workers saw the Government deliberately taking action that could end only in financial distaster, they said, "We cannot be held responsible for this" and they put before the Transport Commission an unwavering demand for a living wage which should not be dependent upon the financial position of the industry. A famous decision by the Tribunal said that the nation willed the end and, therefore, must will the means, and we have had chaos in the industry as a result of Government policy.

Railwaymen won the point that they are entitled to a full living wage irrespective of whether the industry pays or not; and the taxpayer will have to pay for the Government's folly. The Government ought to have called together the trade unions and the Transport Commission and ought to have taken into consultation the most brilliant brains in private industry. They should have said, "What can we do now to place before the community a new conception of efficiency in nationalised industry which would make certain that we should have an efficient instrument to serve the needs of this great industrial community?" What chances the Government have had to do that! Instead, the Government come forward with this miserable Bill.

I view with great concern the fact that the Government are prejudiced against nationalised transport. The Tory Party has accepted the idea of nationalisation and public ownership in some other spheres. It has accepted that public ownership of the Post Office and of some of our great docks is essential. Nationalisation of public houses in Carlisle was accepted in 1917 and the principle has continued in operation ever since. I beg them now to change their ideas and outlook and to accept that it is in the public interest that we should have a strong and efficient nationalised transport system. We shall get that not by the sale of these lorries and the continuance of this present policy, but by going back to the policy of a controlled nationalised industry which will serve the needs of the whole community. I am sorry to find the Government so adamant. I ask them to review the position once again.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Davies

To listen to the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) one might think that we were denationalising further instead of to some extent again renationalising the industry. But I am not sure that I wish to go into arguments quite so wide which perhaps the hon. Member was fortunate in being able to advance without interruption. I wish to confine myself to a number of issues of great importance to at least one sector of this industry, the long-distance road hauliers, who do not have the honour to serve British Road Services but who, none the less, may well change their employment and be working for private employers at one time and British Road Services at others.

I wish to make one remark to hon. Members opposite which is tinged with regret. When they talk of British Road Services as if it is the only road haulage interest of any importance in this country, they are doing a great disservice to the many thousands of men who drive for a number of great concerns and on whose behalf I speak tonight. The views I put forward and the thoughts I express tonight are not only those of the National Conference, but are also voiced on behalf of the Road Hauliers' Association. I consider them a fair summary, if not a detailed generality, of the views of this section of men, and a very large number of men who work with them share these views.

As a matter of principle, I think it can be truly stated that hon. Members on this side of the House, and the Government, believe that the proper aim is a fairly balanced competitive co-existence. That phrase is not mine; it came originally from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). I think it fairly expresses the feelings of the Government and the Conservative Party on this partisan issue and what we believe should be achieved.

This Bill must be examined as only part of the pattern to see whether it furthers that objective. It was because there was a grave fear in the minds of the members of the road haulage industry that it would deter any advance to that objective that this Bill has not been well received by any part of the industry under private enterprise. Indeed, it was opposed root and branch by all those involved. But that was the view at the outset, and tonight I would say that while there are still the gravest misgivings about this Bill, a large number of these misgivings have been dealt with in the course of discussion and rediscussion, both before the Second Reading debate and following it; and after people in the industry had the opportunity of consultations with the Minister and his colleagues, and with hon. Members on this side of the House who have discussed with these men the various issues involved.

The first and, I think, the greatest assurance which they have received was given them in the words of the Minister himself, who said, during the Second Reading debate: In other words, I think that it should not become monopolistic, that it should play fair and exercise fair competitive methods, and that it should not, for example, be able to cut its prices on the ground of being able to increase its deficit or any particular practice of that kind. That is the kind of control to which we wish to subject the transport industry; subject only to one other thing. … that we think we have introduced into the industry enough competition to make both sectors of it work at their maximum efficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 1937.] We on this side of the House, and think, through us, many of those who have long experience of the transport industry, are prepared to take a good deal on trust from this Minister and from this Government. We believe that the Minister will continue to keep a watchful eye over the operation of the provisions of this Bill in the future. Unlike the provisions of so many other Bills, that will be a continuing process. It is a continuous process industry, and this is only one of a number of Measures. If, therefore, as I believe the figure which has been written into the Bill is too high, it is not irrevocable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or too low."]—yes, it is the same argument, or too low. It is not irrevocable.

I believe that the figure is too high. I did not serve on the Standing Committee responsible for the Committee stage of this Bill, and I gave careful thought to whether it was right for me, on Report stage, to table again Amendments along lines similar to those moved during the Committee stage. Very naturally, I discussed the proposed Amendments with the Associations. I would point out that these Associations cannot be composed of the type of people which hon. Members opposite suggest, because we have not been troubled with any Amendments from them. I say categorically that had there been strong feeling expressed by the whole road haulage industry, I should have felt it my duty to see that that feeling was ventilated on Report stage. In fact, the matter has been left for these opinions to be expressed during this Third Reading debate.

In my view, if 3,300 vehicles was the actual figure for long-distance road haulage, and if we allow a figure of 1,500 on top for feeder services, making 4,800, we must allow a reasonable number in addition to that, and I should have said that 6,000 was a reasonable figure on the basis of the existing services of British Road Services. That is to say, on the trunk routes they are running. What happened is that Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve had to determine something not mathematically, but as a matter of opinion, and he did what I should have done in his position; and as a good private enterprise man in charge of a State-controlled industry. Obviously, he tried to arrive at something on which he thought he could get agreement. He realised that they would probably ask for 10,000 or 12,000 as their figure, and he realised, of course, that something like 5,000 was about as much as the private interests would be prepared to agree.

Naturally, therefore, he advised something between the two figures. I certainly do not criticise him for doing so. On the contrary, I think that he was wise as it turned out, because it looks as though he may manage to get away with it. However, there it is. I do not think it is the right figure because, as a Conservative, I should look for a figure which was the minimum required to ensure that the trunk services were adequately and properly supplied. Solely on that test 6,000 would be ample.

I wish to pass from that, because I think there is still time to look at that figure in another place, and it should be examined. It should be carefully considered in the light of the experience of many other people who have knowledge of this industry. None the less, the really important question, as I have already said, is to ensure that there should not be monopolistic trading conditions, but that a future should be obtained for this industry of competitive co-existence—that most attractive phrase coined by my hon. Friend—and I pass on now to the second main principle.

I believe it to be the Government's view that, as a matter of principle, British Road Services should run along the same lines and be subject to the same conditions as is private enterprise. In one respect the Minister has indicated quite emphatically that that should be so with regard to the parcels and the meat companies. In the Second Reading debate he said: I think it is our duty now, in the public interest, to run this company as a proper operating commercial concern for a period and then see how it gets on. It will also show what sort of trading results it can give, and that is the right thing to do in the public interest, certainly not to attempt to sell again at this moment when it is obvious that we cannot get any acceptable offer. The same general principle applies to the meat company. The importance of that statement is that it underlies the principle which he has in mind, namely, to run these companies as commercial concerns, upon the same lines as private enterprise.

If that is so in relation to the companies, it must also apply in relation to the services and structure of British Road Services. It is not only a question of the companies which B.R.S. operates being run under these conditions; it is, as was alluded to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—whether or not he was in order—a question of the principle which should apply to the whole of British Road Services. There is, therefore, a great deal of weight in these arguments.

I now turn to the third principle, which has been much neglected hitherto. Those of us who are associated with the private associations will assist in every way in trying to ensure that, in future, there is close joint consultation between the private and public sectors of the transport industry and, of course, between them and the Minister. At the moment, there is not the slightest doubt that the private sector can see the Minister, and that the Minister can see the public sector—but the apex of the triangle never converges. To some extent the public and private services are at arms length. If we make an approach of this kind we can achieve the hopes which the Minister referred to, again during the Second Reading debate, when he said: If I may give them both a word of advice"— that is, the public and private sectors of the industry— they should do what all other competitive industries do, and that is, while having free and frank competition, none the less, consult one another on the matters of general interest to the industry as a whole. There is great scope there for co-operation. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 1936–7.] The Bill is certainly beneficial to the extent that it narrows the margin between the parties concerned. We may now, as a result of the difficulties which have arisen, be able to achieve a closer co-operation between the various interests in the industry. To my mind, that is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of a Bill which, in so many other respects, I am forced to criticise.

I hope that it will introduce a new spirit. If it does, that new spirit will arise very largely from the personal handling of this industry in future by the Minister and also by Sir Brian Robertson and the other leaders associated with him. Hon. Members on both sides of the House can play a great part in bringing together the two sectors of the industry in order to achieve genuine competition and discontinue some of the practices which those whom I represent complain about and to which I shall allude briefly before I conclude.

There are still many sales to be undertaken because the Bill, as amended, retains the provisions of Section 1 of the Transport Act, 1953. As the Parliamentary Secretary said during the Committee stage: We are not able to say exactly how many vehicles are still to be sold … I would point out that Section 1 of the Transport Act, 1953, will continue to apply even after this Bill is on the Statute Book … we do not intend that as a result of the passing of the Bill there shall be any slowing down in the disposal of the vehicles which remain …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 6th March, 1956; c. 44–5.] The Bill therefore provides an opportunity to avoid what I regard as the mistakes of the past. Until the Bill had received its Second Reading, I did not understand—and I do not believe other people associated with the industry understood—that the long distance road hauliers, who wanted to buy ten, twenty or thirty vehicles, have always insisted that they never had a proper chance to do so, under the S.4 list or anything else. They say that although 80 per cent. of the industry has had an opportunity to get back its vehicles, the long distance operators have not been able to do so.

I raise that point solely in relation to the sales which will continue to take place of the balance of the vehicles. I earnestly ask the Minister to give us an assurance that in these further sales he will obtain the views of the Road Haulage Association and the National Conference, with a view to seeing that the units to be sold in the winding up operations are properly constituted into lots which can be disposed of satisfactorily, especially in relation to the six- and eight-wheelers. Among the remaining vehicles to be sold there are many which can be easily and properly disposed of in that way. That will also assist the wishes of hon. Members opposite, who have drawn attention to the necessity for speeding up the balance of this operation. It is also in accordance with the statement of the Minister.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Can the hon. Member explain what units he has in mind? As I understand, there are very few vehicles left to be sold under the provisions of Section 1 of the 1953 Act. The present Bill provides for the sale of vehicles to companies, mainly comprising the parcels and meat organisations. Apart from that, I do not think that there are sufficient units to be offered under Section 1.

Mr. Rees-Davies

We do not know anything about the number involved, but I want to give an illustration of what I have in mind. I think that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) will then appreciate my point. Mr. Hayman, a managing director of J. and H. Transport Services, says that his company operates 49 vehicles. Eight are of seven tons unladen weight; one is of five tons unladen weight, and the remaining 40 of three tons unladen weight. That company is obviously out of balance for large carrying capacity vehicles. It therefore finds it very difficult to compete with the trunk services of B.R.S., which has a much higher ratio of large carrying capacity vehicles. He wants to buy 20 of the six or eight wheelers so that he can get rid of the 40 three-tonners.

Vehicles of large carrying capacity should not be sold in the same lot as three-tonners. The real demand at the moment is for the heavy vehicles, and they should be sold all together in one lot. If they are so sold in one lot much greater care should be taken to see that different makes of vehicles are not mixed together, as has happened regularly in the past. Vehicles not only of different ages but of different classes have been sold in the same lot. I hope that great care will be taken to see that these vehicles are disposed of in the most acceptable condition.

I pass from that to the question of accounts. If the principles which were advocated before the Minister came in are accepted in British Road Services, then I am right in asking that B.R.S. should be made to run in all respects in fair competition with private enterprise. I do not ask the Minister to give me a definite answer now but that he should consider what he will do on the question of financial guarantees by the Treasury.

In the light of what has been said about the electricity industry, the Cabinet should consider whether the time has not come to remove the guarantee from British Road Services and allow the concern to operate independently. It should go through the open market for the money it needs, on the basis that it can be run as a profitable, independent concern, liable for full interest rates and liable to the terms of the Companies Act.

As British Road Services cover wider and more powerful interests than normal companies, I am asking that the same principles should be applied to British Road Services. This matter might well be considered before the Bill goes to another place to see whether this principle can be written into the Bill. If so, the Bill might well be the forerunner of a plan which could be applied to other nationalised industries. I invite the Minister to give us an assurance that he will bear this matter in mind and will raise it at the appropriate time and place as one of considerable national importance.

A matter of most critical concern is licensing. I ask hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House how they would like to be in competition with an organisation which can switch vehicles all over the country in order to build up the pattern it desires, so that if it has to appear before a court it can put its competitors in the position that they cannot prove their case.

There are two points to raise on this important question of licensing: one is a principle which I believe the Government support, namely, that the licensing position between British Road Services and the private haulier should be fairly balanced. The Transport Act says specifically that the conditions of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, should apply. As a result there are very good tribunals, fairly constituted and with competent chairmen, but there are two advantages which go to the benefit of British Road Services. The first is that it is favoured as a concern engaged in long-distance road haulage and has far more vehicles and can provide far more services, than its competitors.

The second point is more important; it can switch vehicles from one area to another so as to build up whatever pattern it desires when appearing on an application before a tribunal. In a place like Buckinghamshire it can denude the area so as to make additional vehicles appear to be necessary. In other areas where it wishes to oppose applications by private hauliers it can bring in large numbers of vehicles to show that ample services are already provided. In either case, by virtue of its size, British Road Services is in a position to build up whatever pattern it likes. So long as we allow the licence to be a sort of open general licence, it can do whatever it pleases. Anybody who is an advocate can understand the enormous advantages which this gives B.R.S. before a tribunal.

Under the Bill the Minister has specific power in relation to licensing. I want him to consider an Amendment in another place to specify that a licence to British Road Services should be based on the area in which a particular vehicle operates and would not apply throughout the country. That will prevent the switching policy of B.R.S. and will bring it into line with private enterprise. I may be told that that is unnecessary and that there are arguments against it. If my suggestion cannot be followed I ask the Minister to watch the point extremely carefully to see that B.R.S. is not able to build up the kind of picture it wants.

Despite the difficulties that have arisen and the inherent powers which the Minister has in these matters and which, over a period of time he can exercise by persuasion and discretion, I believe that the Bill does not hold the terrors which, when I first looked at it, I thought it held for the private haulier. For that reason, and particularly because it abolishes the hated levy, we support the Bill.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

I compliment the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) on the way in which he has presented his case. Those whom he represents in this House can take great pride at least in the way their case has been presented. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport ought to be congratulated also on his most powerful speech. He dashed to the Box like a cavalier and moved, "That the Bill be now read the Third time." That was the most effective speech I have ever heard from him.

Evidently we are to hear from the Minister himself later and I am looking forward to his speech. Above all else, I hope he will let it be known that it is the Government's intention to keep this industry out of politics, at least for the remainder of their term of office. The way in which this industry has been banded about since 1953 is sickening.

Looking back, it was a tragedy that the Government did not look at this matter in another way, in order to improve the 1947 Act, rather than just smash it to pieces in the way they did. The 1953 Act was an attempt by the Conservative Government to hand back to private enterprise all transport vehicles particularly those in trunk services, and also, as we know, to sell the parcels service and vehicles.

The history from 1953 onwards is clear, and it is a consequence of the failure of the Conservative Government to achieve just that. As we on this side of the House knew it would be, it was found that the Transport Commission had, in fact, done a fine job in the limited time available to it, and that its consumers, the users of transport all over the country, were very worried at the prospect of losing a first-class service, particularly in long-distance work. There was no doubt at all that the Tories completely failed in what they had in mind.

It has been put on record, and it can be said again, that in its attempt to destroy what we had attempted to do in the 1947 Act, the Conservative Party has cost the community £12 million. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) said we should be glad to see the levy go. It is all part of it. It was really a scandalous loss to impose on an industry which was at that time beginning to show a reasonable profit.

Like the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, I find good and bad in this Bill, though, of course, the difference between us is that what he finds bad I find good, and what he finds good I find bad. As regards the trunk services, I say again that this Bill in itself is an expression of admitted failure by the Conservative Party to achieve what it set out to do in 1953. Many statements have been by people not members of my party to prove that point. From the local point of view, I represent a constituency which is, of course, a transport area; the docks and road transport are very much in our line. I have myself seen the effects of previous acts of this Government, and some of them have really been quite tragic. One cannot explain to ordinary men in a constituency like mine why a depôt making £90,000 a year profit, giving first-class wages and conditions to the men and first-class service to the community, should be closed. When they are told, as they must be, that it is done under an Act of Parliament, they simply cannot understand why depôts have to be closed. They do not understand why they should be told that the drivers are to be channelled to any private enterprise people who want them.

I hope that the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet will listen when I say that some of those whom he represents are already, in my view, starting again what they were guilty of before the 1947 Act, namely, over-working drivers. Of course, I am not saying all; they may be only exceptions to the rule; but there are those who are ignoring the question of hours. Why do the men not report them? The answer is that in transport there are not the jobs to be had like that.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Yes, there are. Take the most recent case I can think of as an example, where, at Ealing, five men gave up their jobs because they could get jobs at £22 a week rather than £20 per week. There are ample jobs in the industry. Furthermore, there is not only the law which may be enforced but there are the trade unions to whom the men can go; and, if they are at all good at the job, they can find another job, usually in the same part of the country or, if not, elsewhere.

Mr. Mellish

With respect, though I do not doubt what the hon. Gentleman says, that is not my experience. I come from an area where the situation is by no means so good. In any event, if a man has had one job for many years, he is not anxious to start another.

The position of private enterprise is, of course, very different. The hon. Gentleman said that he feared that private enterprise would suffer in competition with the Transport Commission. I agree with him at once that whilst the Commission is allowed to continue, private enterprise will get weaker and weaker. I hold the view that within a measurable distance of time we shall see the end of the transport argument in this country, because, in the very nature of the case, State ownership of transport throughout will become accepted. I believe that time will show that the arguments we have advanced in the past are still basically sound today. It should be remembered that in any argument as regards the ownership of this basic transport industry, we are aided and abetted by the views of the Royal Commission which was set up by this House to deal with the problem of transport.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet—together with many hon. Gentlemen opposite—quite sincerely put forward the argument that private enterprise will always be best, that competition is a good thing, and so on. But he really ought to know, as I have known since I was 14 years of age, and started in the transport industry, that the industry was so bad that Government after Government had to deal with private enterprise in order to get some sense out of it. It is on record that the Liberal Party—and be it noted, that not a single Liberal Member has been here all day today—said that it would go back to the days before the licensing system. At any rate, the Bill does not provide for that.

I firmly hold the view that the time must come when State ownership will be accepted as a matter of course. I look to the day when Parliament itself will be active in industry, and succeeding Governments will compete with each other to make it more efficient. It is a great tragedy that that was not the sort of frame of mind adopted when the 1953 Act was being promoted.

The good part of the Bill is that which allows the retention by British Road Services of over 7,000 vehicles for the trunk services. Attempts have been made in Committee and on Report even further to reduce this figure. We have had the argument about the 7½ per cent. The bad part of the Bill is the intention of the Government even now at this late stage to get rid of the parcels service, although we have some assurance from the Minister that they will not attempt this for some time.

Once again, here is the story. When we nationalised the industry in 1947 and British Road Services came to being, it took over the parcels service, the old Carter Paterson undertaking. By the middle of last year the parcels service had over 4,000 motor vehicles and trailers, three times as many as when the fleet was taken over. It was made truly national in operation. Eight areas were set up. Overlapping services were cut out. Fresh routes were started. Consignments up to a ton in weight were carried. The service ran night and day carrying parcels and packages. Last year it handled 100,000,000 packages. Moreover, it makes money; it made over £1 million profit last year.

In spite of that wonderful record, there is a determination on the part of the Tory Government to smash it because it created a monopoly. With respect, what was Carter Paterson before 1947, if it was not a monopoly? It was quite impossible for an ordinary man to go out and compete with Carter Paterson. Of course, when British Road Services came into being, Carter Paterson had to go. There is that wonderful record, a record which ought to go into HANSARD. Whenever we do come to discuss these matters again we shall realise that even at this late hour the Government ought really to consider whether or not they should proceed with the breaking down of this first-class service.

I should like to pay my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member far Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) for the work they have done on this Bill. They have given the guiding spirit, as far as we are concerned, in promoting the Amendments, and I must say I have derived great confidence from sitting behind them in Committee or on the Floor of this House. I believe that neither of them can be beaten in this House in their knowledge of transport. Let me add that as we on these benches are not in office there is no possibility of my becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have no such job in mind.

I should like to conclude with a personal remark to the Minister. I believe that he has the interests of transport at heart. He is about the best Minister of Transport produced by this Government—and I can remember four Ministers of Transport in about four years. Let us hope that we shall get some continuity of policy while this Government lasts. The transport industry, and certainly the Transport Commission, can go to the present Minister, state a case fairly and he will listen to their case. Also, I am sure that he will have the courage to keep his wild men quiet. There are some hon. Members behind him who have no idea of the national needs. All they are concerned with are private vested interests. The transport industry has been badly knocked about by the Conservative Party. I hope we shall now give the industry a chance to prove, as the Transport Commission has already proved, that it can do a fine job.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. G. Wilson

There would be some danger of this debate telling a twice-told tale if the tale had not been told a good deal more than twice already. All the arguments have already been deployed, but there are two points that I should like to mention briefly.

This Bill is an amendment of the Transport Act, 1953, which, I hope hon. Members opposite will remember, was in itself to some extent a compromise. There were those on this side of the House, with their supporters outside, who would have liked a far greater measure of denationalisation than was ever intended in the 1953 Act. Therefore, when a further Measure was introduced for modifying the provisions of the 1953 Act, that was a substantial concession to the views of those who originally believed in denationalisation. When hon. Members opposite attack this Bill on the ground that even now it goes too far in the direction of denationalisation, I hope they will appreciate that it goes a good deal less further than many hon. Members on this side of the House and their supporters outside regarded as a bear minimum in the 1953 Act.

We have made a considerable contribution to compromise and peace in industry, about which it has now become the fashion, quite rightly, to talk in connection with this industry. I hope that point will be remembered, because it is essential that we should get some peace in industry.

I should like to deal with one point which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). He envisages, whether we like it or not, that sooner or later all transport will be in public hands. I am not making a political point when I suggest that that was wishful thinking, because in the experience of this and other countries the competitor of public transport is not private enterprise haulage; it is the privately-owned vehicle. It is the man who buys his own vehicle and runs it for himself—the C licensee in the case of haulage, and the man who buys his own car in the case of passenger transport.

This applies to railways, buses and long-distance haulage. It is happening all over the world, and on the other side of the Atlantic it is happening to an even greater extent than in this country. It is apparent from the O.E.E.C. transport report that this sort of thing has developed on a large scale in America. A large quantity of people's goods is carried in their own vehicles. That trend will affect the transport industry more and more—both the British Transport Commission and the private haulier as well as B.R.S. The sooner they get together and try to provide an efficient public transport service in co-operation with each other, the better it will be for all concerned.

It is time that we stopped all this argument. In saying that, I do not expect concessions to be all one way. If we are prepared to make certain concessions from time to time, hon. Members opposite should not expect to get the complete nationalisation which, at one time, they envisaged.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Sparks

This evening we are witnessing the passing of a Measure which indicates the failure of the policy of the present Government. My mind goes back three years ago when the Government introduced the Act of 1953 to denationalise the road haulage section of the British Transport Commission. I was present during the passing of that Measure. When that Measure was passing through the House I doubt whether any hon. Members opposite would have believed that in three years' time they would be coming to this House again to admit their failure and to introduce a new Bill to make good some of the damage.

In the 1953 Act it was expected that the whole of the vehicles of the Transport Commission could be sold off in nine months. We knew that it was impossible to dispose of them, but the Government supporters held to their view. They believed that many small transport people who had gone out of business as a result of the 1947 Act would be ready to rush back into business again and would buy up all the vehicles that were offered for sale. The fact is that there were very few men in a small way in the transport industry in 1947, and fewer still who wanted to come back in 1953.

The difference between hon. Members opposite and ourselves is precisely a difference in ideology. They believe that it is better for the country to be organised by private individuals working for themselves and making profit out of the enterprise for themselves, whereas we believe that it is in the best interests of the country for the people themselves to organise their resources without the necessity of making large profits for private individuals.

This to some extent explains the failure of the 1953 Act: the prospect for any small man today, or even in 1947 and 1953, to enter the road haulage business—unless he had an ample supply of capital—was remote. He could not expect by his own merit and ability to build up a large transport undertaking. That might have been possible after the First World War, but the history of the process from 1918 to 1939, and indeed to 1947, has been one of evolution, with the small men, who started in 1919, having almost all been gobbled up by 1947. The industry itself has been evolving into larger and larger transport groups, and in 1947, when the Act of nationalisation was passed, there were not very many small men left in transport.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

This seems to me to be more relevant to a Second Reading debate than to Third Reading.

Mr. Sparks

I was trying to lead up to the point I want to make in connection with the Bill. This is one of a series of Bills and cannot be taken in isolation and without some reference to the Acts of 1947 and 1953. It arises out of the historical background. I was trying to emphasise that in 1953 the industry was not essentially an industry run by small men.

In 1953, however, hon. Members expected the small men to come back into the industry, and they were surprised to find that they could not dispose of all the vehicles. We find from the last report of the Disposal Board, from which the Bill arises, that the number of vehicles for disposal in 1953 was 32,819. Of these, 29,321 were offered for sale, but only 18,699 were sold. In other words, up to the Third Reading of the Bill, 10,622 vehicles remained unsold. Many were put up for sale twice or three times, but could not be sold.

The Government had to do something about this, despite the ideology of hon. Members opposite, unless they wished to commit a grave offence against the community. They were faced with a situation in which 10,622 vehicles could not be sold, even after several of them had been offered for sale many times. If they had attempted to throw the vehicles away at knock-down prices they would have been driven from office. They had to face reality, and we must give them credit for having faced reality.

As a result, we have the Bill—and that is the only piece of credit I can give to hon. Members opposite. But here is the weakness: hon. Members opposite ought to have put an end once and for all to the process of denationalisation. They have had three long years in which to carry out the principles of the 1953 Act and completely to denationalise road haulage, they have done their best, they have seen how far their policy can go, and at the end of three years they might well have called a halt and brought the whole thing to an end.

Our complaint is that they have not done so. They have brought the process of denationalisation, started in 1953, only partly to a halt, although their policy has not been successful. Of the 10,600 vehicles unsold, 4,106 are in the parcels company and 498 are meat vehicles. Those are the vehicles which the Government intend to dispose of over an unknown period of years. The remaining proportion of 5,400 they intend to allow the Transport Commission to retain for long-distance road haulage services, and on that account we must give the Government credit. But greater credit, as I have said, would have been due to them had they decided to call the whole thing to a halt and finish with it once and for all.

During the last three years there has been a good deal of unrest in the transport industry. For many years I was a railway clerk. It was my professional occupation, or whatever one likes to call it. At the age of 17 I joined the old Great Western Railway Company and since then I have been concerned with transport problems. All those who have had to wrestle with national transport problems have realised that the future of our country, our ability to organise our economic resources and export our goods has become more and more, dependent upon efficient transport organisation.

The evil which we see in the 1953 Act is that the Government have thrown and are throwing the whole thing into the melting pot, and they will continue to retain in the melting pot the issue of the parcels company and the meat fleet. Industry has been through a difficult time largely as a result of the 1953 Act, and now we have a continuance in the parcels company and the meat vehicles of the uncertainty as to what is to happen. There is uncertainty of the staff, because how can we expect the best from the staff when the staff do not know whether they are to be employees of the British Transport Commission or whether they are to be handed over to someone else, unknown at the moment? The same applies to the operators of the meat vehicles. The customers of the parcels service and the meat vehicles transport service are not to know with whom they are having to do business over the next few years and, therefore, the whole service ought to have been brought to a halt.

Whether we like it or not, the evolutionary trend in transport, as well as in many other enterprises, indicates quite clearly that transport is evolving will nilly into a national form of organisation. Today the private enterprise of the small man in road haulage has gone in the same way as the private enterprise of the small man in railway organisation, gas, electricity and water has gone. I see that you are about to rise Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so I will not mention all the others, but they must be present in the minds of hon. Members, and they must know that the idea of small man private enterprise has departed long since from the basic industries of our country, of which transport is one.

When I say "basic industries," I do not mean only the railways and docks. I mean the roads as well, because the development of long-distance road haulage is a comparatively modern development over the last twenty or thirty years. It has, however, become as vital to the interests of the country as any of the others I have mentioned.

Mr. G. Wilson

How does the hon. Member reconcile that with the fact that the number of C licences is rocketing and that they are mostly for people with quite small numbers of lorries and not big concerns?

Mr. Sparks

It may well be that the number of C licences is rocketing, but if he analysed the situation the hon. Member would know that hundreds of thousands of them are for the little milk carts which have taken the place of the old push-barrow or horse-drawn milk float. Hundreds of thousands of C licences have gone to these electrically-propelled vehicles. But I do not want to be diverted into that line, because I should be out of order.

Despite what the hon. Member says, he will find in the years ahead a development of the tendency for larger concerns to swallow up the smaller ones. The process continues because large-scale organisation is more economical and provides the consumer with a better and more efficient service at a lower cost. Our objection is that that advantage is in many cases enjoyed by private individuals who put the advantage into their own pockets when it should go to the community and to the State.

In the course of the years, all that hon. Members opposite did in 1953 will gradually be undone and there will be the development of large-scale organisations. The time will come when the people will decide that this Measure which we are about to pass and the previous one from which it has arisen will be wiped off the Statute Book and we shall give to transport its rightful place in the national economy. We shall see that it joins with all the other great basic industries and is used in the interests of the country and of the people to develop the economic resources of the nation to the highest point of efficiency.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) rather over-painted the picture in recalling that a short time ago British Road Services had 36,000 vehicles and already three-quarters of them have been disposed of to private enterprise; and before the whole tale is told, about five-sixths of them will have been got rid of and handed back. He cannot, therefore, say that the Government have not substantially carried out what they promised.

I would, however, agree with the implications of the hon. Member's remarks to the extent that we in this House tend to place too much emphasis on the question of ownership. We know that shareholders in private industry do not have very great power, and certainly, as representatives in this House who are shareholders of nationalised industries, we have very little power indeed. We are living in an age of management and of managerial revolution. Now that the question of ownership has been disposed of, we can let the managers of the nationalised industry and of the private sector fight it out to see which will be the better in future.

My appeal tonight is to reinforce what has been said. Let us hope that the Bill will take road transport out of politics for the future. I appeal to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) not to put this subject back in their programme for the future. That is not to say that they would ever have the opportunity to put it into effect even if they did include it in their programme. I seriously hope that they will seize this opportunity to take road transport out of politics. It would be a good thing for the industry and for industry and trade generally to know that for the next ten or twenty years the pattern would be as we have laid it down in the Bill. This is a fair compromise, hammered out under the auspices of my right hon. Friend, and I hope that the Opposition will accept it so that we can look forward to some stability in the road transport industry in the next ten or twenty years.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Pargiter

Whenever an industry is being handed over to private enterprise or preserved for private enterprise hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite lecture us on the desirability of keeping that industry out of politics, but whenever an industry is nationalised or sought to be nationalised by the Labour Party the Tory Party thinks it desirable to keep that industry in politics, so we do not value too highly statements made so glibly on that side of the House about the deplorable effects of politics on this or any other industry. Whether we like it or not, politics are taking an increasing part in industry. It is almost impossible to think of an industry in which the State has not some stake, direct or indirect.

Presumably this Bill will become an Act of Parliament. When it does, I suggest that a copy of it, with a copy of the 1953 Act, should be nailed to the mast at the Tory Party's headquarters as a confession of the Tory Party's failure in transport. It would, perhaps, be more appropriate to nail them at half mast. The Tory Party has made a deplorable failure of the problem of transport.

When it came to power it thought it would be so easy to denationalise all the road transport industry. It found first that a large part was virtually nationalised before the war, and so the Tory Government could not do much about that. Considering what they could do they found they had to leave a large portion of the British Transport Commission's undertakings with the Commission. They found this was so even with road transport. Then their troubles really began.

They found that the Commission was operating vehicles efficiently, and far more efficiently than they had been operated under private enterprise. They found they could not take all the vehicles from the Commission, and then they found that to potential buyers of the Commission's vehicles it was not such an attractive proposition to buy them, as it would have been if all the vehicles could have been sold. That was the first sign of the failure of the Tory Government's policy in the denationalisation of road transport.

So there was a forced sale of thousands of vehicles with the very modest calculation of compensation fixed in 1953. The Commission did not accept the basis of compensation in the 1953 Act as being fair or reasonable, and it has suffered losses because of those forced sales, losses amounting to about £20 million. That is £20 million of public money which has to be found somehow or another. When it bought the undertakings under the original Act the Commission did not drive hard bargains but paid fair prices to the various companies concerned. Under the forced sale there was no question of a fair price. It was a question of the boys muscling in to get the assets of the Commission at the best possible prices for themselves, without consideration of the very considerable losses in which the State would be involved.

If we accept the figure the right hon. Gentleman gave of £12¼ million, which is an extraordinary calculation, considering this is the amount of the levy, we are still faced with the fact that £12¼ million has gone down the drain somewhere. That is an indication of the failure of Tory policy in regard to transport, but if we accept that the true figure is about £20 million, it will be seen how great is the failure of the Tory Party in dealing with this problem of road transport. Not only have they got rid of national assets at a loss, but they have also robbed the country to a very considerable extent of efficient transport, and so much so that traders were alarmed at the risks which they were running in not being able to have their goods carried reasonably efficiently.

There is another side to the picture, of course. The Transport Levy was extremely unpopular with a lot of the constituents of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It may well be that, although there has been some pressure, possibly, from the back benches opposite against this particular Bill, there has been an awful lot of pressure for it, and not from the point of view of the transport industry, but because of the desire on the part of many people to be rid of the Transport Levy. So it was very carefully tied up with the Bill, and hon. Gentlemen opposite were able to say, "Never mind what are the losses of the British Transport Commission on the sale of vehicles, the Government can come to you now and say that they have got rid of the objectionable levy." I think that that may have been one of the major desires in the minds of the Cabinet in deciding to call a halt to the sale of vehicles from the nationalised industry.

An integrated service has been partly broken up, but the rot has been stopped, and I am satisfied that, given sufficient time, the nationalised section of transport will prove beyond all shadow of doubt not only its efficiency but its ability to give service to the public. I am quite satisfied that it will not be very long before we shall have hon. Gentlemen opposite who are representatives, directly or indirectly, of the various interests involved, coming along to the Minister and saying, "What are you going to do about the unfair competition from the nationalised industry?"

Mention has already been made, both in Committee and here again in the House, of this question of unfair trading. We have had some rather interesting examples of what is considered to be unfair trading. Anything which the British Transport Commission can do a little cheaper than private enterprise will be considered unfair trading. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the Clause which the Minister is putting into another Bill in connection with this matter, which is directly connected with this Bill. I appreciate that it has been taken out of this Bill at the moment, and, therefore, is not a subject for debate, but it will be very interesting to know where that will lead to.

What we can hope for is that the nationalised industry will continue to show, as part of an integrated service with the railways, that it can continue to make a profit, which will help to stem the tide of losses as far as the railways are concerned—losses which are inevitable. Nobody on the Government benches will talk about the denationalisation of the railways, because they are not making profits, and are not likely to do so for a long time. Nobody on that side is at all interested in the denationalisation of the railways, but they will obviously continue to be interested in the denationalisation of some of those industries which are profitable, as, for example, steel and road transport.

This Bill fails in many respects, because it should have stabilised the position for the British Transport Commission and ensured its ability to continue to run the whole of the services which it is now running successfully, and put a stop to this obvious failure of Tory policy. We were alarmed by some of the proposals in this Bill, and we have done our best to secure Amendments to the most objectionable proposals in it. I appreciate that the Minister, having regard to the susceptibilities of some of his own back benchers, was unable to make many concessions to us. We regret that, and I only express the hope that in the various processes that go on, it will be established that these various services that are supposed to be handed over to the companies will remain directly under the control of the Commission, in order that the general transport system of the country may not suffer and that industry may have the best possible advantage from an efficient transport system.

It is important, as I am sure the Minister will agree, that we should look at transport as a whole, and the internal transport arrangements of this country are no longer in a state to face up to any type of competition. They are complementary services and the fact that they are complementary has already been established by the Transport Commission. Now they are to be rudely interrupted. We shall look forward to the day when we are able to look at our transport system as a whole and devise a system which will have the effect of reintegrating these services. If anybody has any bright ideas that on this side of the House we shall be willing to pay twice for those sections of the industry for which we have already paid once, and paid very dearly compared with the price at which they have been sold, he has another think coming.

I hope that in another place there will be further Amendments which will make the Bill more acceptable for the time being and which will give the Transport Commission a fair chance. Above all we want to be able to look to the future. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred to stability. There is no sign of stability in the Bill with its hiving off of the parcels service and the meat service and the possibility of the formation of other companies with political or financial advisers about their disposal. That is not a policy of stability.

If the Government had said that they had failed in their attempt to dispose of road transport and had decided to call a halt and to allow the Transport Commission to continue with its services, that would be sensible and honest. The Government have not done that. That would have been much too bitter a pill for them to swallow. I hope that the future will give us some degree of stability and that the meat organisation and the parcels service will continue to flourish and continue to make profits as they are doing and that hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will be sufficiently public-spirited to think of the public purse, instead of the private purse as they have been doing.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Cole

In the concluding part of his speech, the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) used a rather ominous and sinister expression about the future of transport. I presume that he meant what would happen if his party got back into power. He said, "We shall not pay twice". I hope that that will remain on the record for us to note and for us to be beware of it in the future.

Mr. Pargiter

I am very happy for it to go on the record.

Mr. Cole

In the earlier part of his speech, the hon. Member said that we appealed for transport to be taken out of politics whenever private enterprise was gaining something of advantage. I entirely fail to understand his logic. Does he think that the private hauliers are glad to see the Bill, and, in particular, Clause 1, leaving 7,750 vehicles with the Commission? The hauliers do not like that part of the Bill. Despite that, my hon. Friends and I have felt and still feel that this should be the time when transport should be taken out of party politics. We are, in fact, making a concession to nationalisation by allowing the B.T.C. to retain all these vehicles.

Hon. Members know my views about the number of vehicles to be retained and my hon. Friends and I have done our best to get the numbers reduced. We still think that the number is too large and we are not happy about Clause 1. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend has had a most unpalatable task. He has had to put forward to the House, as a new Minister, a Bill which is certainly not persona grata with his own back benches and which, judging from the Divisions in Committee and in the House tonight, is not entirely acceptable to hon. Members opposite.

I commend my right hon. Friend upon the way he has guided the Bill through its stages, upon the plaudits he has earned from the other side of the House, and upon the celerity with which our work has been done. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and other hon. and right hon. Members opposite feel that within a measureable distance of time road transport will automatically become a nationalised undertaking by the ordinary passage of events and that private enterprise will no longer figure in the picture.

If that is the view held by hon. and right hon. Members opposite, they are sadly mistaken. They are very much under-rating the vitality of private enterprise if they think that it will vanish from the scene. On the contrary, one of the happy things about this set-up—and there are some unhappy aspects—is that private enterprise as a whole will set the pace and the British Transport Commission will bring its general procedure and efficiency to the standards of private enterprise. The Commission is more than capable of doing that.

There are things in the Bill on which we have all commented adversely, but there is one thing which I warmly commend. It is pleasant to see the approaching end of the Transport Levy. It has not been popular with anybody of any kind of politics or of no politics at all. After the Bill receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act, the levy will come to an end this year. I hope that we shall never see anything of the kind again.

I am glad that the Clause which we have lost from the Bill today will be inserted into another Measure, to control the industry. I do not think that the Transport Commission needs monopoly powers. It can stand on its own feet and go ahead by virtue of its own efficiency. We all hold the view that any kind of monopoly is anathema to the public interest and our way of life, and that applies in all connections. I am glad that we shall have a Clause in another Bill to regulate and control the situation generally.

I want to make an appeal which has been made several times already in the course of our debate. Perhaps the oftener it is made the greater will be its effect. We have had three transport Bills in less than nine years. Each has sought, in its own way, to make some vital change in transport. It has been truly said that our standard of life and the measure of our well-being depends upon the efficiency of our transport. It is possible that we have now arrived at some kind of happy solution of the problem, though no hon. Member can be entirely satisfied.

Despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Southall, and the question of whether what he said is in the programme of the party opposite, on the basis that we on this side of the House have made some concession to the nationalisation point of view in this Bill, I appeal to the party opposite to do its utmost, in the unlikely event of its coming into power, to carry on the practice which we have instituted and take transport out of the realm of politics. Transport policy, like foreign policy, should be on a bipartisan basis, in the sense that all the experts on transport in the House should get together and pool their ideas for the benefit of the industry.

Once again, I commend my right hon. Friend, who has had to introduce a Bill unpalatable to everyone. Despite criticism, he has brought this Measure to the stage at which it will, in a few minutes, receive its Third Reading.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies

We have reached the concluding stages of the Third Reading of this Bill, and I am disappointed that the Measure we are now considering does not differ materially from the one which received a Second Reading last February. There have been Amendments in certain particulars, some good and some bad, but by and large it is very much the same Bill. I am disappointed, because in the meantime there has been a change of Minister. Certain of my hon. Friends have paid compliments to the right hon. Gentleman on the manner in which he has piloted this Bill and the way in which he has approached transport problems. I had hoped that, as a consequence, some of the worst features of the Bill would have been eliminated or at least changed, and that the final Measure would be more acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House than is the present Bill.

It would seem that in effect this Bill is partly a compromise between different interests, but on balance it represents a reluctant, grudging, ungracious and inadequate admission by the Government of the failure of their policy as outlined in the 1953 Act and of the failure of their doctrinaire policy regarding denationalisation. The retentions provided for in Clause 1 reveal that the Government have had to surrender to the demands of industry to retain the most efficient transport service which has ever served it. Industry wished that the nationalised network of the trunk ser- vices and the associated services should be kept in being because it had proved so successful and because it was clear that, were a policy of denationalisation pressed, that valuable service would be disintegrated. On the other hand, the rest of the Bill represents a distinct surrender to the road haulage interests and particularly to the Road Haulage Association which pulls the strings governing the puppets on the Government back benches who have been backing this Bill.

All that was necessary was a one-Clause Bill to terminate the disposal of the road haulage organisation of the British Transport Commission. We support Clause 1 to the extent that it brings to an end the further disposal of the general haulage business of British Transport Commission. We regret, as we have stated during this debate, that it has been decided to cut down the number of special A licences to which the Commission is entitled to 7½ per cent. We consider that a fraudulent device in order to reduce the number of effective vehicles under the control of the Commission. We are opposed to the other Clauses in this Bill.

Some further information from the Minister would be welcome tonight, especially in regard to his intentions in relation to the final disposal of the balance of the British Transport Commission road haulage undertakings, namely, the parcels and meat services. During our debates the Minister indicated that he had no intention of disposing of the parcels service at present. During the Second Reading debate he said: Therefore I think it is our duty now, in the public interest, to run this company"— that is, the parcels company— as a proper operating commercial concern for a period and then see how it gets on. It will also show what sort of trading results it can give, and that is the right sort of thing to do in the public interest, certainly not to attempt to sell again at this moment when it is obvious that we cannot get any acceptable offer. He confirmed that during the Committee stage.

I was, therefore, very shocked to read these words, in the 13th April issue of Motor Transport, in an article from its political correspondent: M.P.s are impatient that the parcels company should be re-offered under the new terms permitted in the Bill, which they expect to see happen by June at the latest. If that statement is to be believed it means that pressure has already been put upon the Minister to re-offer the parcels company by June at the latest. When the Minister replies I hope that he will be able to assure the House that that article is at fault, and that he has no intention whatsoever of departing from his undertaking to this House, namely, that he is not intending to dispose of the parcels company for two or three years. Hon. Members on this side of the House, of course, hope that he will not dispose of it at all.

We have grounds for some doubts about the manner in which these intentions will be carried out—because the Minister also informed us that he thought it was not desirable to offer the meat company at the present time. It was only very shortly after he had told the House that that another offer of the meat vehicles was made. It would be interesting to know what the result of that re-offer has been.

Mr. Watkinson

As I explained during the Second Reading debate, there was a difference with regard to the meat service, and I said that if I got an acceptable offer I might decide to accept it.

Mr. Davies

That may be so, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said during the Second Reading debate. Following the words which I have previously quoted, he said: The same general principle applies to the meat company. There again we must, in view of the lack of an acceptable offer, say that it shall be run as a company for a time, and we will see what its results are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 1936.] It would be helpful to the House if the Minister could give us some indication of his intentions regarding the parcels company. We have fears about some of the statements he has made so far. The main one is that if the Commission continues to run the parcels service and builds up its business successfully, operating at a profit for a period of years, the Government will then offer it for sale. I ask the Minister whether that would be fair to the Commission. If the Commission carries the burden of operating this company and succeeds, why should it be deprived of this service as soon as it has proved that it is worth purchasing? It is not fair that the Commission should operate the parcels service and then lose it because it has succeeded in making it a profitable business. I hope that the Minister will not then say that there are purchasers in the market and that the service should be handed over to them.

The Commission would thereby be deprived not only of the assets but of the profits made by the parcels company. Goodness knows, the British Transport Commission needs every penny of revenue it can get. It is in a very bad financial situation, as we know from statements made recently by the Minister, it is even in a worse position because of the Minister interfering in its affairs and preventing it from putting up charges to fulfil its statutory obligations We have doubts about the final intentions of the Government in this respect.

We retain another cause for fear because, under Clause 2, the procedure for disposal is similar to that which was followed with steel. After the Bill becomes law, the parcels and meat companies can be re-organised and their securities can be sold, not necessarily in one parcel or necessarily all the securities at once. Sections of them can presumably be retained by the Commission. We have followed what has occurred with steel and have seen how profitable the disposal of the steel companies has been to speculators and investors who purchased the equity stock of a large number of steel companies. These were sold off at favourable prices and the value of them has consequently very considerably increased.

The Iron and Steel Realisation Agency has been left with the fixed interest-bearing securities. It would be helpful if the Minister gave an assurance that it is not in his mind that the Commission should follow the same procedure. Presuming that the assets of the parcels company are worth £12 million, if the steel procedure were followed it could lead to the capital being valued at £2 million and the remaining £10 million being issued in fixed interest-bearing securities. The Commission might then sell the £2 million equity which would entitle the purchasers to the profits which the Commission is at present earning, in which case the £1 million which would presumably continue to be earned by the parcels company would go into the private pockets of the purchasers of the equity stock. The Commission would be left with the £10 million fixed interest-bearing securities. That would be most unfair to the Commission because it would be getting no more than it is having to pay out on its own capital and it would be deprived of the very useful profits which are going into the general revenue of the Commission and helping to offset losses in other directions.

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that he has not that procedure at the back of his mind as to the manner in which the parcels company will be sold. We endeavoured to carry Amendments in Committee to prevent this from taking place but, unfortunately, the Minister rejected them.

We still have a number of objections to certain of the Clauses and we also regret some omissions. We regret, in particular, that the Clauses which provide for disposal do not include a time limit on sales. This means that the Commission will be left indefinitely in a state of uncertainty. Equally important, private enterprise will retain an indefinite option to purchase the securities of the Commission when a favourable time for private enterprise arises. It leaves in the Minister's hands power to select a time at an indefinite date when disposal will be completed.

Another strong objection which remains, which has been discussed in Committee and which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), is that there is no protection whatever for the Commission against loss on disposal. The Bill brings the levy to an end at the end of this year, but there is no guarantee that by that time it will have brought in sufficient to pay back to the Commission the loss which it has incurred through the sale of its assets. If it has not, the Commission must make up the difference. That is grossly unjust to the Commission and is a breach of the undertaking which was given to the House and the understanding under which the Commission disposed, of vehicles. I suggest that throughout the debates on the 1953 Act there was an implicit undertaking that the Commission would not bear any loss as a result of disposal but that the loss would be met out of the levy.

In view of the Commission's financial position today, it is more vital than ever that it should not incur a further loss on disposal. I contend that the estimated loss of £12½ million, which by coincidence is exactly the same as the levy is expected to bring in, is not a true estimate and will be inadequate to cover the real loss which the Commission will incur.

The 1953 Act provided for the estimation of the loss. The Commission never agreed with the basis, and I contend that it is quite inappropriate to estimate the loss on the basis of sales which have taken place to date and to ignore the changed position which results from the retentions provided for in Clause 1. The main reason for that is that under the 1953 Act the loss had to be estimated on the basis of taking into account the goodwill attached to the Road Services.

The goodwill carried in the balance sheet was estimated at £33 million, but it was based on the monopoly rights which the Commission had under the 1947 Act in long-distance commercial road haulage. The whole basis on which long-distance haulage was acquired, and for the permits the Commission granted to private enterprise to operate, was a form of monopoly in the commercial operation of long-distance transport. That system came to an end with the 1953 Act, but in estimating the loss the goodwill has been apportioned, we understand, between the vehicles which are sold and those which are retained, on the same basis.

In other words, it is estimated that the Commission retains between one-quarter and one-third of the vehicles which it originally held; and that the loss of goodwill is proportional to the number of vehicles which are sold. If the goodwill resulted from the giving of monopoly rights, and those monopoly rights are brought to an end, it cannot be said that a proportion of that goodwill remains in exact ratio to the number of vehicles which are retained. The goodwill which the B.R.S. has built up exists, of course, but that is not a monopoly goodwill. It is a goodwill which arises from the success of its operation.

If the loss were fairly assessed, it would certainly be considerably higher than £12,250,000. That £12,250,000 is on the basis of the parcels and meat being sold without further loss, so we were told by the Minister in Committee. That is to say, if the meat and parcels are now sold there will be no loss accruing to the Commission. If that is so, and if the meat and parcels were sold at a loss, that loss would be added to the £12,250,000 and it would mean that the Commission itself would have to meet the additional loss entailed by selling off the meat and parcels.

As the present estimate does not include any loss on parcels and meat, and since if they were sold at a loss the loss would fall upon the Commission, the Minister should assure the House that the sale of neither the meat section nor the parcels service would be authorised unless the prices realised were at least equal to those taken into account in estimating the total loss. That is the least that can be asked of the Minister to ensure that the Commission does not have to meet a loss which it incurs through no fault of its own.

What justification is there for insisting on the sale of the parcels service? It may be that the Minister is not going to sell for two or three years, but why does he now take the power to sell this service? What justification is there for insisting that because it had to be sold under the 1953 Act, disposal must still proceed? During the proceedings on this Bill not a single convincing argument has been submitted in justification of further sales. In fact, not a single reason has been given why the parcels service should be sold. No attempt has been made to inform the House of any advantage whatever that would accrue to the industry or to the transport user or to the community as a whole by the sale of the parcels service. There have been no complaints in this House about the operation of these services. We know how successful they are—a fact to which reference has been made by several hon. Members today. The Minister owes it to the House to say what is wrong with the B.R.S. operation of the parcels service that he insists that it must still be sold off.

In that connection, I would refer to the appeals which have been made by hon. Members opposite that transport should now be taken out of the arena of politics, that once this Bill is passed transport should be given a rest from politics. We on these benches agree completely that the greater the rest from interference which is given to transport and the less interference there is, the better it will be for the industry and for the service it gives. But I would add that there cannot be finality on the transport question if the parcels service of the British Transport Commission is disposed of.

If those parcels services are disposed of, the basis of the 1947 Act is undermined; the operation of a national service in the hands of the Commission is brought to an end, and the Government is thereby responsible for opening the door to the renationalisation of a section of the Commission's undertaking. If the Government want stability in the transport industry, as the Minister and his supporters say they do, then he must abandon this idea of disposing of the parcels services, or, for that matter, of the meat service as well.

This Bill does nothing to change the declared intentions of the Opposition in regard to transport policy on its return to power. The Labour Party, when it is in power, will see to it that the Commission is in no way handicapped in fulfilling the main purpose of the 1947 Act, namely, the establishment of a fully integrated, publicly owned transport service. To the extent that the expansion of its road haulage undertaking is necessary to that end, it will be facilitated. The Commission will be adequately empowered to build up these services to the extent necessary.

The Government's transport policy has been as disastrous a failure as its economic policy generally. It has interfered too much and too often with the affairs of the Commission. The best service it can now do, we fully agree, is to leave it alone to allow it to continue to serve the community without this threat of further disintegration hanging over it.

When the 1953 Act was being discussed, the Opposition predicted that the Government would have to come to the House to empower the Commission to retain certain of its services. We stated that it would not be possible for the Government, through the Road Haulage Disposal Board, to dispose of all those vehicles in regard to which powers were taken under the 1953 Act. This Bill shows that we were right. The Government has had to come to the House in order that the Commission might be given power to retain certain of its services. For that we are glad. I predict with equal confidence, as we did in 1953, that there will have to be another Measure brought before this House, a Measure to enable the Commission to retain its parcels services, because, before this Government can dispose of them, there will have been a change of Government in this country. I am confident that the next Transport Bill will be brought before the House by a Labour Government.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Watkinson

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has asked me a number of questions. I will endeavour to reply to some of them in making my winding-up speech on the Third Reading of this Measure.

I must say right away that it is no use right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that this Measure stems entirely, as their phrase is, from the failure of our transport policy. To be fair to them, that comment has been one of their few excursions into party politics; we have had, if I may say so, a very moderate, factual, and able debate.

A number of hon. Members opposite added remarks about "doctrinaire approach". If we had wanted to be doctrinaire, we could have sold every single lorry. I think it is well that that should be realised. If we had wanted to carry out this idea to its full extent, if we had decided that we must be able to say that we had fully implemented the 1953 Act, then, as I am sure anybody in the House who knows anything about transport realises, we could have done it, and done it easily. Indeed, I have been pressed quite properly to do this ever since I have been Minister, and this shows clearly the large unsatisfied demand that still exists, particularly for large heavy lorries offered in very small numbers.

I think that it is, therefore, only right that it should be known that the reason why this Measure is brought before the House is because—and on this I speak, I am sure, not only for the Government, but for every member of the Conservative Party—we attached more importance, in the public interest, to trying to make the transport system work and to keeping it a reasonably integrated system We put that aim a great deal ahead of any desire to implement the Act by smashing up the trunk services.

I say that this Act does not stem from failure. What it stems from is the kind of attitude which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed today. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) have asked, I know absolutely sincerely, "Is not it time that we really did give this industry a rest from the whirligigs of party politics?" Of course, it is. This Measure is an attempt to get a sensible, middle of the road solution.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey, who was, I think, excessively kind to me and I very much appreciate it because, whatever political views I may hold, I do believe in transport—said that the 1953 Act was a piece of party political warfare. So was the 1947 Act. Pendulums have a way of swinging one way or the other. The 1947 Act was just as big a piece of political foolery from our point of view as, no doubt, the 1953 Act is from the point of view of hon. Members opposite. This Measure is an attempt to put the pendulum where it ought to be, in the middle, and get a sensible solution.

Mr. Mellish

Our Act had at least some substance in that it was brought in on the recommendation earlier of the Royal Commission, but the 1953 Act was brought in to satisfy the Tory Party.

Mr. Watkinson

That is a matter of opinion. I do not think that we want to go into the past history of transport because I am more concerned, and so is this Measure, with the future of this great industry.

I want to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) about the future of the meat and parcels services. I will deal, first, with meat. The answer to that, as I said clearly on Second Reading, is that if I did not get an acceptable offer, it would be run on the same basis as the parcels, which I will describe in detail in a moment.

It so happens that another offer, as I think this House knows, has been made and I am awaiting the advice of the Disposal Board on that offer. I have not yet received it or I would tell the House what it is. As soon as I receive it, I will see that the House knows what the decision may be. I say again, that unless it is a fully acceptable offer, not only a proper financial offer but covering such things as the security of the staff, and so on, I shall not feel that it is in the public interest to accept it. If the offer is not accepted, then what do we do with these two companies?

The meat one is not very big; the parcels one is very big and very important, but both are important to the industries of this country. If we took a strictly doctrinaire approach, there would be no difficulty at all in selling the meat lorries tomorrow. As refrigerated lorries they would fetch good prices. There would be no difficulty in breaking up the parcels service and selling it off in penny numbers. We could do that with the greatest ease. What I have said—this is the assurance which I have made many times before—is that we are not prepared to do that. We are not prepared to break up these companies and sell them as chattels and single lorries, and so on, nor are we prepared to sell them off at bargain prices.

That was why we stood out against the Amendments moved by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, which would have put us under the pressure of an appointed selling day. As the right hon. Gentleman, with his financial knowledge, himself admits, that would be the best way of getting rid of them at a bargain price. Therefore, I have felt it right only to say that we will not sell off these companies at a job price to a job buyer. That is the first assurance.

It therefore flows logically from what I have said that it will be necessary, certainly as far as parcels are concerned, for us to run the parcels company for a period of years so that it may establish the proper trading record and proper balance sheet background that it should have. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has explained why he cannot be present just now, it is my intention that these companies should have clearly ascertainable accounts. Indeed, it is my intention that they should conform in that respect in all ways to the general principles of the Companies Act. Of course, they already give a great deal of information, in some cases more than they need give under the Companies Act; but let us run this company on a proper financial basis, with a proper board of directors, with a maximum of good will, and we shall see how we get on.

The only other things I will take into account if and when the time comes to sell are that some security of tenure for the staff must be present and that I would not be prepared to sell off the company under a "phoney" financial arrangement. The point made in that respect by the hon. Member for Enfield, East about leaving the Commission with all the debentures and selling off the interesting equity stock, and so on, is a quite proper one. It is to try to guard against that that I have already said—and I repeat it tonight—that I would not rest on my own advice alone when the time comes for these sales to be made and if the Disposal Board has gone, as it may well have done, I will take steps to see that impartial advice is available to me. I will not, therefore, act alone, but take the advice of people—perhaps of the nature of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve—who will certainly take the broad national view and advise me in the general national interest.

Further than that I cannot go, nor would it be proper for me to say more. I hope that that gives some sense of security and continuity to the people who work in these companies. I would only sum up by saying that it is my intention, and the intention of my successors, if that should be any, in this Government, that those people are given a fair deal. It is, I am sure, the view also of every member of the Conservative Party in this House.

The other main point raised by the hon. Member and by others concerns the question of the Transport Levy. I will not go into the great detail, but there are three points that make it quite plain that here again, taking one thing with another, the Commission has had a reasonably fair deal. The first thing is the amount of the levy to be paid as compensation being £12¼ million. Had that figure been wrong—everybody says that it is a great coincidence and it may be—we had plenty of time to alter the levy to acquire sufficient money fairly to compensate the Commission. The auditors of the Commission agreed that the estimate of the loss was a reasonable one in present circumstances.

Mr. Pargiter

Did they not say that it was reasonable in the light of the conditions laid down in the 1953 Act?

Mr. Watkinson

I was coming to that and was about to say that what I meant by "present circumstances", to be fair to the Commission, was with reference to the 1953 Act.

The other point of which hon. Members should take account is that when all this was looked into and when the calculations under the Third Schedule of the 1953 Act were made, the Commission's auditors did take the view after much consideration that this was on the whole a proper and practical division and I agree, bearing the Act in mind. All I would say, therefore, is that this is not something which has been done absolutely behind the Commission's back. Its auditors have had every chance to look at it. The Government would have continued the levy longer or increased its amount if the balance had not been recovered.

As to the selling off of the parcels and meat companies, if and when they should be sold, they are valued only at the written down value of their physical assets, and, taking into account the assurances which I have given, I do not think it is very likely that the Commission will suffer any loss in that transaction. Indeed, there should be every chance of its making a reasonable profit.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman, then, give a definite assurance that he will not authorise their sale unless there will be no loss resulting from their sale?

Mr. Watkinson

I am not going to bind myself further than I have done. I think I have given a formidable list of assurances, and I do not think anybody could expect me to go further.

There is one other matter which has been mentioned by many speakers and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), and that is the importance which so many of us I think on both sides of the House attach to this sort of competitive co-existence in the future in this great industry. The hon. Member for Enfield, East made the very interesting point in his concluding speech—I know he will correct me if I recall him wrongly—that he and his hon. Friends attached great importance to the sale of the parcels and meat companies, and that, if the companies were sold, they would pledge themselves to deal with them again. He was rather vague about what they would think of the future of this industry should the companies stay with the Commission.

I think that the country regards the organisational pattern of this great industry as settled. I shall not deal with the question whether the parcels company is sold, because, whether it be sold or not, it will be run as a separate entity with separate accounts, and so on, and that, I think, is right and in the public interest. Leaving that apart, I think the present set-up, the present organisational pattern, is right, and, I think, therefore, that all those in this House who sincerely believe in transport, as I certainly do, believe that it should now be left alone.

The hon. Gentleman said that we made no major improvements by this Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), dismissed with scant attention, I thought, my attempt to impose equal sanctions on all sections of the industry against unfair competition. Whatever the Opposition's view may be, the Government takes a very strong view of the necessity of having fair competition and no monopoly. This Measure has been carefully thought out to see that there is no unfair competition in the road haulage side of the industry. This matter will be dealt with in the Road Traffic Bill, and I shall press it as hard as I can, because I attach great importance to having a general principle of the kind added to that Bill. I agreed to delete it from this Bill only because I thought it fair to apply it to both sides of the industry.

That indicates our feeling that the important thing about this industry now is to get it working efficiently. I hope that both sides will come together, and that British Road Services and private enterprise will make full use of their joint consultative council and work together for the good of the industry as a whole. I pledge myself to try to bring the odd disposals that remain to an end as quickly as I can, and to try to tidy up things so that people can know what the future will be. I certainly will press on with that as quickly as I possibly can.

This is a part of the process of reshaping the industry. We have had nine years' experience now of this transport set-up in the form into which it was put—I know, most sincerely—in 1947. It is time, in any case, that we had another look at it, and it is a job to which the Commission and myself will have to give earnest and anxious thought over the next six months. This Bill is a part of that operation, because it has brought into the industry, I believe, a right and fair balance between private enterprise and public enterprise.

Therefore, I think it should enable us now to regard the Commission as no longer a sort of political object of either scorn or praise, because I do not think it is now fair to say that the Commission is either nationalised or de-nationalised. In its present organisation, I believe it has become—shall I say—a public utility. I think that is the right description. It is a utility which it is in the national interest of the country as a whole to support and to see that it is made as efficient as possible for the benefit of the whole of industry and commerce.

That is the object of the Government in bringing forward this Measure. It was not born in defeat or failure, but born in the hope that this is the end of a long and sordid story, and that this great transport industry is now to have the full benefit of public enterprise and private competitive enterprise working together for their own mutual benefit, and, what is much more important, for the benefit of the country as a whole. It is in the belief that this is the end of a long chapter, as well as the right end, that I commend this Measure to the House.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.