HC Deb 17 October 1968 vol 770 cc701-28

Lords Amendment No. 84: In page 102, line 11, after "section" insert "which shall not be before 31st December 1971".

Read a Second time.

Mr. Marsh

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The purpose of the Amendment is very clear—and the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) will agree with me on that if on nothing else. In the course of the many long, sometimes tedious, but always interesting debates on the Bill, I doubt whether any part of the Bill has attracted more time, more comment and more misrepresentation than this part of it. What is sought is to defer the date of the introduction of quantity licensing. It is basically a political argument. There is nothing wrong with that in a House of politicians.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

The whole country would like to see this decision taken after another election, because the next election will be fought on this issue. It is political in so far as the electors have to choose which party should affect their destiny.

Mr. Marsh

The hon. Member conjures up the interesting, if somewhat frightening, picture that the next General Election will be fought on quantity licensing. It is possible, but I doubt it. He says that the whole country is against this proposal, but I doubt whether it is one of the issues uppermost in the minds of the country, although it is of considerable concern to the industry and it would be absurd to pretend otherwise.

The reason that it is a cause for concern is that hon. Members opposite, for reasons which are their own, since the introduction of the Bill have deliberately gone out of their way to paint this as the most terrifying piece of legislation ever enacted in this country. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who is more florid in his views, apparently disagrees, and he is more representative on this matter.

In the debate in another place Lord St. Oswald summed the position up very well. He said that in his opinion, because Mr. Edward Heath said that a Conservative Government intended to abolish licensing, he took it that by 31st December, 1971 a Conservative Government would have the power as well as the will to do that. The idea of anybody electing the Conservatives again is an absurdity, but if that were to happen, an interesting position would arise.

This part of the argument about the Bill was discussed clearly and at length in all its aspects—some of the points relevant and some of them not—during the passage of the Bill. What we are faced with by this Amendment is an attempt to prevent the Government from legislating on the basis of proposals which were in Committee and which have been before Parliament for all this time.

The House would perhaps be justified in agreeing with the Lords in this proposal if, and only if, hon. Members were of the opinion that the legislation—the quantity licensing system—was as bad, as serious and as dangerous as hon. Gentlemen opposite have attempted to paint it at the political hustings. The hon. Member for Hallam said that the industry thought that it was this bad. The hon. Gentleman no doubt knows as well as I do, from speaking to people in the industry, that that is not so.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

I was referring to the views of British Rail, too. The railways will be affected by this and the views that have been expressed include those of the railways.

Mr. Marsh

I cannot recall any violent representations against quantity licensing from British Rail, either from the management or unions. [Interruption.] I do not know what hon. Gentlemen opposite are complaining about, for if the men who work for the railways and their management are not representative of the industry, it is difficult to know who is. Some of my hon. Friends are more closely connected with the industry than I am. All the evidence proves that the railway industry would be upset if there were any attempt to stultify these proposals.

Generally speaking, people in the road haulage industry recognise, having read the Bill and the speeches that have been made during its passage, that this piece of legislation will have a minimal effect on road haulage. We have said on many occasions—a great many speeches have been made about quantity licensing and I do not intend to make a long speech on it now; indeed, we know each other's views so well that we could write each other's speeches—that with the freightliner trains in their early days, there will be an advantage to everyone if we get the freightliners in operation just that little bit earlier and transfer a very marginal quantity of freight to them. We have built into the Bill firm safeguards for everyone. Nobody will be forced, as was suggested in the beginning, to cart his goods many miles because they must go by rail. Time and again we have said that goods will be transferred to the railways only if British Rail can prove that, in terms of cost, reliability and speed—these three factors have been defined in the widest possible sense—the railways can offer as good or a better service than road transport.

We aim to achieve a marginal switch in the increase which we expect to accrue in traffic to the road haulage industry. It makes nonsense, at a time when we complain about congested roads and an insufficient return on capital invested in some of the nationalised industries, to adduce the sort of arguments expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite when we have here a service which has already begun to prove itself very well indeed, so that we can now take full advantage of it.

In short, the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite has been "phoney" from the beginning. [Interruption.] It has been phoney from the outset. It has been painted in colours which were lurid even by their standards.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor


Mr. Marsh

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart will agree that his hon. Friends can do a good job of painting any topic in lurid colours.

The hon. Member for Worcester has given his version of the implications of quantity licensing. I am sure that his remarks on this subject will trouble his conscience in years to come. There has been gross exaggeration about this and the industry recognises this. It would be absurd for any Government to produce a situation in which freight was being forced on to an uneconomic method of transportation. That is not our intention, and there is no way by which that can happen under the Bill.

If hon. Gentlemen opposite support the Lords Amendment, they should be fully aware that they are supporting what is only a wrecking proposal. It is intended to do nothing but put off the date for as long as possible. It is an attempt to use an argument different from that adduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite in Committee, where it was successfully, over many days, shot down by the Minister of State. I am surprised that that experience has not had its impact on them. This matter having been discussed so fully; I trust that hon. Members will not repeat all the arguments used in Committee.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I was wondering whether the Minister was himself not going rather wide of the Amendment. As I understand it, the Amendment does not permit of a general discussion of the principle involved but permits a discussion solely about the time when the Clause should come into operation.

Mr. Marsh

I agree that this is a narrow Amendment. It is concerned solely with the date of operation and I need not pursue the matter further, except to say that for the reasons I have given, to put the date off for the period proposed would deprive the railway industry of an advantage which it can otherwise obtain without any disadvantage to the road haulage industry.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. G. Campbell

We are glad that the Minister arrived in the Chamber just before this Amendment was called, but had he been here earlier he would not have said what he has just said about a Minister in the Standing Committee, because his colleagues the Ministers at the Ministry of Transport, have for the last 20 minutes or so been admitting that many of the Lords Amendments we have been welcoming were Amendments they rejected at that stage, and we were congratulating them on eventually seeing the light.

He would also have heard us discussing the fact that when he was speaking on quality licensing on Report and telling us about the transport manager's licence which could be held by the garage proprietor on behalf of a local farmer he was truly at sea and putting forward a preposterous suggestion which had to be put right in another place. Now he tells us about quantity licensing, and only in the last half hour have we been seeing how little he knew about quantity licensing on Report.

This sensible Amendment would give the country a chance to decide whether, amongst other follies of Socialism, the country wanted this new system of quantity licensing which is bound to slow down and hamper freight transport and also raise its costs. We submit that the date proposed would be an excellent addition to the Bill. Under the new procedures, a licence would be required by anyone wishing to send a heavy lorry over 100 miles, and a licence, known as a "special authorisation", would also be needed for loads of specified materials of over 11 tons for a very much shorter distance. That point in the quantity licensing proposal is very often overlooked, but it is a very severe matter. That is why we suggest that the date of the start of operation should be some considerable time hence.

Clause 71 and that part which follows it in the Bill is objected to by every body representing trade and industry in the country which has to move goods in quantities. It is thoroughly obnoxious, for example, to the C.B.I.—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will come to the Amendment, which is about the date.

Mr. Campbell

That is why we are suggesting that the starting date of the Clause should be postponed. If the C.B.I. had welcomed this proposal, with the rest of the associations representing trade and industry, we might have suggested that the date be put forward. It is because they all find it thoroughly obnoxious that we believe that the starting date of the operation of the Clause should be postponed—

Mr. Marsh

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I must draw your attention to the fact that a few minutes ago when precisely the same argument was put forward I was called to order, quite understandably, by Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the grounds that there was nothing in the Amendment other than the date.

Mr. Speaker

The Deputy Speaker called the Minister's attention to the fact, and I have already called the Opposition spokesman's attention to the same point.

Mr. Campbell

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the date is very important. That is why I intend to concentrate on it, because it is the users of transport throughout the country who are concerned that this Clause should not come into effect until the country has had an opportunity—because the date of operation would be after the next General Election—to decide whether this, amongst other Socialist proposals, should be put into effect. Otherwise, the users of transport—not the road haulage industry, to which the Minister referred—who are the main people concerned, will be deprived of choice of method of transport, and a bureaucratic and burdensome procedure will be imposed upon them for taking the decision for them.

There are some improvements to the system, but it remains an incubus threatening trade and industry—

Mr. Speaker

We are not discussing now the merits of the Clause. We are discussing whether it should come into operation on the date which the Amendment in another place proposed.

Mr. Campbell

Yes, Sir. Because I sat down immediately you rose, you did not hear me coming to the date. I was about to say: if the Clause is not postponed until the date suggested in the Amendment. The Minister knows that an alternative voluntary system has been suggested to him by the Traders Road Transport Association. The Association would be willing for its suggested system to start as soon as the procedure was ready for it. The Minister has rejected this alternative proposal.

The Minister said that the Clause, whose operation we seek to postpone, would have a minimal effect upon the road haulage industry. This is where the right hon. Gentleman makes a great mistake, because he talks about the road haulage industry. That is only the minor part of those affected. Only 40,000 of the 100,000 vehicles which are expected to be involved are part of the road haulage industry. The other vehicles are used by firms to carry their own goods. There are many other people affected by the Clause: although they do not operate transport, they must send quantities of goods about the country. Therefore, the road haulage industry is only a small part of those who are affected and who thoroughly object to the Clause being brought into operation on the earlier date which the Bill unamended would propose.

The Minister also spoke about road congestion. The Clause, if it is not postponed as we suggest, will make the roads even more congested, because it will encourage a growth in the number of vehicles of less than 16 tons laden weight. Vehicle manufacturers know that to avoid this tedious procedure and the uncertainty of whether licences will be issued the 32 tonners and other large vehicles are likely to be manufactured in smaller quantities in future and vehicles of 16 tons laden weight or less are likely to be manufactured in greater quantities. There will in future be two vehicles where before there was only one. The Minister is using congestion on the roads, which is something that everybody wishes to avoid, as a spurious excuse for bringing the Clause into operation earlier than we would wish.

Mr. Marsh

Since this is being argued in terms of an Amendment to the date of operation, can I make the point clearly that, if there is any tendency, which I doubt, towards smaller vehicles—in other words, for a person to double the size of his fleet so that he can cut the weight of each lorry in half—the only reason for this is that hon. Members opposite have greatly exaggerated the position. There will be a tiny diversion of traffic from road to rail, as hon. Members opposite know full well. It cannot be in anyone's interest to pursue the line which the hon. Gentleman is suggesting operators are pursuing of deliberately going over to uneconomic vehicles.

Mr. Campbell

On the question of the date and the postponement of the opera- tion of the Clause, the Minister says that we are in a minority in taking this view. The transport correspondent of The Times, Mr. Michael Baily, says this: The same cannot be said of the quantity licence, which remains, after the many fruitful modifications to the Bill"—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is again drifting into the merits of Clause 71. We are deciding tonight whether it should come into operation on the date appointed in the Bill or on the date proposed in the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman must address his remarks to that.

Mr. Campbell

I am very conscious, Mr. Speaker, that my argument must be related to the date. I am endeavouring to do that, but, as I explained, I must, at the same time, say—I hope that this is in order—why we consider that the operation of the Clause should be postponed and why the date in the Bill is too early. We regard the Clause as obnoxious, but I hope that you will not expect me to say simply that it is obnoxious and then sit down without explaining brieflly what the point is.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue on this Amendment that the Clause is obnoxious. He may have had the opportunity in the past, but he does not have it now. We are discussing the date on which the Clause shall come into operation.

Mr. Campbell

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should read what the transport correspondent of The Times said on 19th September. He made clear what trade and industry think of the Clause the operation of which we seek to postpone. He is not a party spokesman, but someone giving the views of trade and industry.

Earlier this year, I questioned the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor on the important question of date. I asked the right hon. Lady whether she had been accurately reported in saying that quantity licensing would not come into effect for two years. She replied that she had been misreported. I am sure that hon. Members remember that very well. The question was very much one of date, Mr. Speaker, and the right hon. Lady made clear—this is my interpretation—that she thought that two years was much too long a time. Two years would have taken us to the end of 1969. That is what we found objectionable and what the majority of trade and industry outside the House found very disappointing.

We were, therefore, somewhat reassured when the present Minister of Transport made a statement on 19th September. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that thus relates entirely to date. I have here a copy of the Ministry Press notice which was issued giving the Minister's statement. In it he said: Operators licensing will be introduced in the autumn of 1969 and the transport manager's licence by early 1970. And the probability is that the special authorisation system will take effect some months later, always provided that the freightliner services have developed sufficiently by that time. At that point "some months later" took us, perhaps, to the middle or end of 1970, a considerable advance on what the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said. She was not prepared to accept the end of 1969 in her reply to my question.

We are considerably reassured by the Minister's statement in September, and we feel that he is, perhaps, a more sensible Minister in this respect than his predecessor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that I am not one to throw abuse about. We see a difference between those two approaches, and we much prefer the approach of the present incumbent. We feel that the right hon. Gentleman is on this major matter seeing the light. We hope that he will go further and that the penny will not take such a long time to drop as it has on some of the previous Amendments.

With all the changes and reshuffles which happen in the Government—more today, I gather—there is a possibility that the present Minister of Transport will not stay in office very long. We do not know. In his previous incarnation as Minister of Power the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with industries that would be very much affected by quantity licensing, and he knows that many of them disliked it intensely. Therefore, he hopes that quantity licensing will not be started until the middle of 1970 or later. But if he left his present office and the right hon. Lady returned to it, or it were filled by somebody who thinks in the same way as she does, there is no cer- tainty that the view the Minister expressed in September, which almost meets the Lords' Amendment, would prevail.

Therefore, to safeguard the position it would be safer for the country and the House to adopt the Amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

I recognise the difficulty of keeping within your direction, which I think is the right one in the circumstances, Mr. Speaker. I want to try to confine my remarks to the straight issue of whether the orders should be applicable as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made or whether there are reasons for incorporating the date in the Lords' Amendment. On that narrow issue, I should like to advance certain transport reasons rather than the reasons of dogma that we too often hear.

First, it has been said that those most concerned are the fleet operators. I challenge that. I seriously challenge the inference behind it that fleet operators up and down the country are the people with the decisive voice on whether we should introduce more discipline onto the roads in this connection, and whether we should do it at a convenient date to them in the future.

I suppose that most of us are among the 9 million "other motorists" who use the roads. When I am with business associates and they are hampered in their journey, whether they are going over the hills from Lancashire or from Yorkshire, and have to slow down from a reasonable speed, they frequently say, "It is about time we found sensible ways of getting these unduly heavy vehicles off the roads."

The most remarkable thing is that a few months ago that sentiment was expressed to me by the traffic manager of a large fleet. One part of him subscribes to the views I have heard from hon. Members opposite, while another part is one of the 9 million people using the roads saying the sensible thing, that if there is limited road space and inconvenience resulting from the low speed of one form of vehicle in the open country, the Bill's provision is sensible and necessary.

The question is whether we should impose some discipline as soon as possible, as the Bill permits, or to defer what is right and proper until an arbitrary date plucked out of the air. We should put the dogma on one side and remember the need for a certain amount of discipline in transport matters. From the point of view of the family and residential areas, apart from the motorist, the proposal is the way forward, if it is administered sensibly and soon. Deliberate delay for three years would be an undue penalty, and I doubt whether constitutionally one sovereign House can impose it on another later.

My second point is the complete liberty that has been possible hitherto for the professional carrier or the head of a very large firm using very large vehicles with bulky contents. They have hitherto had practically unlimited liberty on the roads. I am not arguing about the fiscal basis on which they have done it. There are arguments at other times about this. I am concerned with the problem of liberty and whether it is desirable to limit it as soon as is sensible or whether we should in cold blood defer it for another three years. In 1962 we deferred the breathalyser test. In 1967 we had more sense, and the results are with us.

I suggest that in large measure we have all to face up to the fact that the abnormal vehicle on the road must be subject to some additional disciplines in respect to its movement. I would have had quantity licensing in a different way, but I do not want to discuss that at the moment. I am simply discussing whether we should impose a reasonable form of discipline in this respect on the open road, on which there are now 10 million drivers. Often probably 18 million people are travelling on roads of all types. We must consider to what extent, and when, we should apply some form of discipline to these essential loads for industry. Hon. Members opposite are very much concerned with dogma and forget the wider application for the people at large. The plain fact is that ordinary men and women want these abnormal loads taken off the roads so far as can sensibly be done.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying hard to keep in order, but he must keep to the question of the time, whether the clause comes into operation on the appointed day or on the date suggested in the Amendment.

Mr. Mapp

I was seeking to do that, Mr. Speaker. The ordinary person wants this to be done as soon as possible, and will not see any validity in the argument that once one has accepted the principle of some form of discipline it should be introduced at some time at the end of the next three years. This is the contradictory position of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

The hon. Gentleman has got me wrong. It is possible that the scheme will produce more congestion on the roads, and there is not time to have the roads built, particularly in our centres, if this is forced on us without some delaying operation, such as is provided by the Amendment.

Mr. Mapp

I know a little about the costings of vehicles, and I equally know of the first reaction of the businessman to do precisely the kind of thing to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. But the cold hard facts of costs would be such that the possibility of what the hon. Gentleman has said is likely to diminish the more he looks at it.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

The hon. Gentleman has got me wrong. I am not talking about costs. I am talking about the increased congestion as a result of the measures proposed in this legislation.

Mr. Mapp

I did not misunderstand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it leads logically to the businessman saying "Shall I put the second vehicle on, with all the costs that that involves, or should the 17-ton load go by railway?" This is not a political matter to the businessman. It is just the judgment of costing. At one time I was fairly familiar with this subject.

Lastly, if we are rejecting 1971, what should we then say to the Minister so as to allay fears about the early application of this legislation? Subject to the generality of the Bill, and the Act later, it is the responsibility of the Minister to make such consultations with all sides of industry, including the alternative rail transport facilities, so that the legislation can be brought into force as soon as possible. I think that the outside trading world, with perhaps the exception of the odd prejudiced person in the road haulage industry, will accept the fairness of this. Those of them who have no vested interest, and are not tied up with the professional problem of transporting goods by road, will see that we have brought a measure of discipline to this problem within a period much sooner than is provided in the Amendment.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

I had not intended to intervene in this debate. In Committee I pointed out the difficulties that this Measure would impose and I shall not reiterate those difficulties but concentrate on the question of time. I am not satisfied that the dialogue, not between politicians but between rail users, people who manage the commercial side of railway transport, freightliner transport people, people who handle the commercial side of road haulage and the industrial user is by any means complete.

During 1969 and 1970 we shall go through a period of economic stress. We shall want to get our goods rapidly, efficiently and at low cost from factory to customer and from factory to port.

I will not go through the arguments we had in Committee on the merits and demerits. The object of quantity licensing is to force goods off the road on to rail by means of legislation, regardless of the merits and demerits, but subject to the arbitrary decision of licensing authorities and other bodies. Hon. Members opposite imagine that we on this side of the House and the users of transport are against sending goods by rail. This is far from the case. Some criteria must be decided, and this must not be rushed, on what are the best goods to send by rail. Criteria must be established for taking goods off the road and reducing congestion wherever possible.

Mr. Marsh

What criteria would the hon. Gentleman suggest other than cost, reliability and speed?

Mr. Osborn

Choice is the main one, and flexibility. These factors have been suggested in Amendments, but the choice must not be a choice forced on people by legislation. It must be a choice—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must link what he says about criteria to the question of whether this legislation comes into force on the appointed date or on the date mentioned in the Amendment.

Mr. Osborn

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The Minister distracted me. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) suggested that we were tied by dogma. This is far from the case. Not only will loads be put into a large number of vehicles, but these vehicles will go through cities to reach freightliner terminals, resulting in increased congestion. One of the merits of delaying this is to ensure that we have ring roads around towns and cities before putting more traffic on to the roads.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I have followed closely the hon. Gentleman's argument about congestion as a result of traffic going to freightliner terminals, most of which are now in large towns. Would not the final result be that if, on the merits of cost, reliability and so on, traffic is diverted by the choice of the business management, the net road haul will be substantially less than if it was road-hauled throughout?

Mr. Osborn

I hope I will not be ruled out of order in explaining this point, which was debated fully in Committee. If goods have to be shipped from Sheffield to, perhaps, north of London, it is a matter of three to three and a half hours on a motorway, and that is over the 100-mile limit. The alternative is to go into Sheffield, to a freight depot, then into a London depot and out through North London to the customer. This not only increases the costs, but the congestion.

The Minister asked whether this issue was not a political one. Users of transport, those who have to shift goods from factory to customer or port, realise that forcing goods off the road on to rail—accepting that there may be more congestion, although I have not arbitrarily and dogmatically said that it will happen but it is quite likely—would sooner that other criteria had been applied than this cumbersome system of quantity licensing.

All responsible people wanted time to review this, and undoubtedly if there were a change of Government we would have had the time. Certainly this unworkable Measure would not have been forced on to the country at a time critical to its economic survival.

Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)

There are two very good reasons why this proposal should be delayed. First there is the question of costs. Although the Minister has said that the test will be on cost between road and rail, road costs will be substantially increased as a result of this Clause. Because of the difficulty of obtaining return loads higher rates will have to be charged for the initial load.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must link his argument about costs with the question of the date.

Mr. Doig

It is necessary, in view of the country's present financial position, that this proposal be delayed, because it will undoubtedly increase the cost of transporting goods needed for export.

The men who actually drive the vehicles as well as the owners, are convinced that this should be postponed. This is for a reason which the Minister glossed over when he said that it would have a minimal effect. That is purely a guess. No one can tell exactly what will be the effect, but the people involved in the industry are firmly convinced that it will be much greater than minimal. That is a second good reason why the date should be postponed.

Let us consider the alternative, the rail freightliners. In view of the rather slow growth in freightliner traffic since the service started and the much greater volume of traffic which would be transferred to the railways, it is very doubtful whether the freightliner service would be able to cope with the extra traffic within the time limits set by the Bill. Of all the road-ton mileage, 40 per cent. is now on journeys of more than 100 miles and will therefore be affected by quantity licensing. That is a considerable volume of traffic. Scotland would be particularly adversely affected, but that is a side issue and I cannot discuss it now. But all those are good reasons why the starting date should be postponed.

Mr. Bessell

It is probably a very good thing that our debate is inevitably limited by the terms of the Amendment. I am certain that if it were not, we should once more go over the arguments which, as the Minister has said, we went over at great length in Committee and on Report and which showed the wide division between the two sides of the House.

While we are discussing the date when quantity licensing should come into force, I particularly regret the absence of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), for I am certain that he would have supported us, judging from his comments in Standing Committee. However, I recognise that he is in North America on very important Parliamentary business, which is why he cannot be with us.

However, the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) submitted some cogent arguments in favour of postponing the date. He made a number of comments which I wanted to make myself. I am glad that he did, because the Minister may feel able to take advice from one of his colleagues more naturally than from me on the Opposition side of the House.

There is one matter on which the Government cannot be in any doubt when deciding whether to accept their Lordships' Amendment. It is that for whatever reason—and I am not allowed to go into the reasons and nor would I wish to do so—which one may care to advance, there is a considerable division of opinion in the country.

The Minister said that he could not support the postponing of the date on the ground that there was universal opposition to this part of the Bill. He may be right. The opposition may not be universal, but I am certain that if the date were postponed and the Minister and his colleagues debated this subject up and down the country during the course of an election campaign, which would be the effect of accepting their Lordships' Amendment, they would find, if not unanimity in opposing this Measure, very powerful opposition which was certainly not confined to the Road Hauliers Association. By postponing the date, the Labour Party itself might come to realise that, to put it at its lowest, this was not an issue which was popular with the electorate.

If there was not a change, and if the Labour Party was returned to office in 1971, hon. Gentlemen opposite might, as a result of their experience of campaigning in the country on this issue, decide that it was right for them to change this piece of legislation and not introduce it in its present form.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Gentleman is conversant with public opinion in his part of the country. He ought to know what view is taken in my area. There is a large road haulage depot in my area, and many of my constituents are long-distance road haulage drivers. I have received only one letter from a driver while the Bill has been going through the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) must not allow the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) to tempt him to get out of order.

Mr. Bessell

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), judging by the argument that he has advanced, might think that there is no value in postponing the date, but I do not think that that can be said to be the view of all hon. Members. As the hon. Gentleman said, I speak for my constituency. I shall not be a candidate at the next election, but I feel that this is a matter upon which the electorate will wish to make their views known to the candidates of the three respective parties, and indeed it might make a considerable difference in a constituency which, although not marginal, nevertheless has a small majority.

There is another strong reason for accepting the Lords Amendment and postponing the date. During the 1966 election campaign there was no indication that hon. Gentlemen opposite intended to introduce quantity licensing in this form. Therefore, by postponing its introduction until after the next General Election, there will be an opportunity to test public opinion. As the Minister rightly said, that is the only reason why the Amendment was introduced in another place. It was to get over the period until the next election, and to judge then, in the light of results, whether this should go forward.

I believe that there is another reason why time is needed. During the course of the debates today and yesterday—and particularly yesterday—we have all noted the valuable part which the freightliner service is playing in the transport of goods. This is a service which is building up, and for which there is an ever-increasing demand, one which cannot be met adequately by the present services. When this Clause comes into effect, there will be an increased demand upon the freightliner service. Leaving aside the political considerations which I have been arguing, if we postpone the date to 1971 the freightliner services will have an opportunity to build up their resources, to open their new depots, to provide the new trains, new vehicles, and additional containers which will be necessary.

If there is not a postponement of the operative date, the result could be very considerable congestion in the freightliner section of the railways. This would do infinite damage to the service, because if consumers found that the service was not able to provide the best possible means of transportation there would be a temptation to do the very thing which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) said, namely, to take a load which exceeded 17 tons and divide it into two.

If we postpone the date, the danger of that happening is very much reduced. If we do not postpone it, the danger is very real because, the average consumer will say, "All right. I cannot use the freightliner service because it has not yet been built up to a point at which it can provide me with the degree of efficiency that I need, and, therefore, I have no alternative but to take the goods by road, and take them in two vehicles instead of one".

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on Consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Marsh.]

Question again proposed, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Bessell

Despite everything that has been said by hon. Members opposite there is no doubt that when this part of the Bill comes into force there will be an immediate and substantial increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

By postponing the date the ill effects of the Clause may to some extent be mitigated. If we do not postpone the date, and if—as I have every reason to believe—people who are today conveying their goods from Cornwall to London decide to use two vehicles instead of one in order to escape the provisions of the Clause there will be a substantial increase in congestion. If we postpone the date there will at least be the advantage that the improvements which are taking place now—and I congratulate the Minister on the recent announcement in respect of improvements on the A38—will be partly completed and there will be less danger resulting from congestion than if the date is made effective within a short time.

I agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell). He summed up adequately and forcefully the reasons why their Lordships were right in suggesting this postponement. I shall not rehearse all the arguments. It is difficult to make the points one wants to make within the limited terms of this debate. I am merely thankful that I have not been called to order.

Mr. Marsh

With the permission of the House, I should like to say a few words on this subject. As has been said, the sole purpose of the Amendment is to put off the day. This is unacceptable to the Government, because to do so would be to limit the Government's degree of flexibility and fetter their discretion over the date. I have given the undertaking before, and I give it again, that quantity licensing will not be introduced until the Government are satisfied that the freight-liner service has proved itself in practice.

Having said that, if we accept the purpose of the Clause there seems no point in deliberately depriving the Government of freedom of action to introduce it at an earlier date than is provided in the Amendment if the freightliner service has proved itself by that time. I am confident that it will; indeed, it may do so before that date.

It has been suggested that we should postpone the quantity licensing provisions so that we can have a General Election on the topic of quantity licensing. It would be an unusual election, and some hon. Members on both sides of the House would find that the subject took up a very small part of their election addresses. This is a technical subject of considerable interest to people in the industry and to a relatively small group of people who are also involved. But for anyone seriously to suggest that we should have a General Election to determine a mandate for the introduction of licensing for heavy goods vehicles is stretching things a little far.

A great deal of fear has been expressed that the quantity licensing system is so inflexible that this is another reason for putting it off—so that one can have the opportunity, presumably, of taking precautions. One hon. Member wanted to postpone it until ring roads had been built round cities. That would put it off for rather a long time. The provisions are far more flexible than the critics have tried to make out. There has been a degree of misunderstanding and a degree of deliberate misrepresentation. The fear that in some urgent cases goods will be ready to move but will be prevented from doing so because the railways cannot take them and the consignor does not have the right quantity licence is totally groundless.

Hon. Members have put forward as a reason for postponing this provision additional cost to industry in carrying goods by freightliners instead of road haulage. If there is additional cost, a licence cannot be given to force goods to go by rail. Hon. Members have expressed the fear that certain types of goods cannot be carried by freightliners.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is drifting into the merits of the Clause. We are discussing the date.

Mr. Marsh

I accept that, Mr. Speaker. I am pointing out that the fears which have been advanced as reasons for postponing the introduction of the Clause are groundless and, therefore, the reasons for postponing the date are totally groundless. Some people have said that the date should be postponed because in some cases people's goods are liable to breakage. This is another case in which goods will not have to go by rail.

This matter has been argued at great length. Given the assurance that the new freightliner service will have proved itself before even this fairly minor piece of legislation is introduced, I see no reason for the House believing that it has lost its freedom of action.

Mr. Bessell

The Minister talks about the freightliner service proving itself. Does he mean that it will not be merely adequate to meet new demands but that there will not be the existing waiting list for use of the freightliner service?

Mr. Marsh

I mean even more than that. If there were long waiting lists and the facilities were not present, this of itself would be a reason for the goods going by road. We want an adequate network of freightliner terminals. Only when there is an adequate network will we beg n to introduce quantity licensing.

Mr. Peter Walker

The final words of the Minister illustrate the fallacy of his argument. If the time is reached when the freightliner trains have proved themselves to be successful, there will be no need for this ridiculous bureaucratic system of quantity licensing. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that quantity licensing will not be the main issue of the next general election campaign. I am the first to concede that the Government have provided as many issues which are as good as, if not better than, this one on which we can fight the next election.

I cannot think of anything which would be more in the national interest and less in the interests of a political party than this Amendment. It would be much to our party's advantage for quantity licensing to be introduced at the earliest opportunity because we should like the country to witness the absurd bureaucratic scheme which the Government have created for quantity licensing before the election. Kerbside scenes with lorries being stopped by officials and drivers being questioned as to whether they have travelled more than 100 miles as the crow flies would create the sort of situation which would show how absurd and ridiculous this scheme is.

It would be a good thing if the electorate were given the opportunity before the election to realise the additional costs involved in having no return loads without quantity licensing. I should like the Minister to be less reluctant than he is to introduce quantity licensing.

But in the national interest we thank the Minister for his reassuring statement, made the other day to the industry rather than to his party, in which he said that he could not envisage quantity licensing being introduced until a date which works out in practice to the end of 1970. As October, 1970 is possibly the latest date on which a General Election is likely, we understand that to be a firm pledge on the Minister's part that he, at any rate, will not introduce quantity licensing.

In the spirit of that firm pledge, I want to tell him that after the General Election there will certainly be no quantity licensing of any description. If by chance the present Government have by then introduced quantity licensing—and I offer this as a warning that they should not create all the bureaucracy required for quantity licensing—the moment that we come to power we shall end any form of quantity licensing that has been introduced.

In not accepting the Amendment the Minister is not listening to the plea made by his Prime Minister. In January the Prime Minister told the country that he had instructed all Ministers to see that there was no net increase in the number of civil servants in their Departments. It is true that in the following four months there was an increase of 4,000 civil servants, but to assist the Prime Minister—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I find it hard to see the connection between the argument and the Amendment.

Mr. Walker

It is very much connected with the Amendment. Presumably the Prime Minister wanted that instruction carried out over the next two or three years, so that by postponing the date until 1971 we should be assisting the Minister of Transport to carry out the Prime Minister's instruction that there should be no net increase in the number of civil servants.

The debate has been interesting. We heard from the hon. Member for Old-ham, East (Mr. Mapp)—and anyone who comes from Oldham will know how popular the Transport Bill was in the by-election fought in Oldham recently.

Mr. Mapp

As one who spent sometime in that by-election, I can assure the hon. Member that this aspect of transport was hardly in question at all.

Mr. Walker

Let me congratulate the hon. Member on having the political sense, when taking part in that by-election, not to mention the Transport Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is deciding whether this Clause shall come into operation on the appointed day or on the date in the Amendment.

Mr. Walker

We had a devastating attack on the whole system and a plea for deferring the date by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). We heard the spokesman of the Liberal Party. As has happened in every debate on quantity licensing, all the arguments have been against the Government. It is very much

in the national interest that this licensing proposal should be postponed until after a General Election, in the sure knowledge that when that General Election takes place a Government will be returned which will have nothing to do with quantity licensing.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 194.

Division No. 301.] AYES [10.14 p.m.
Albu, Austen Ensor, David Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Alldritt, Walter Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lipton, Marcus
Anderson, Donald Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lomas, Kenneth
Archer, Peter Faulds, Andrew Loughlin, Charles
Armstrong, Ernest Fernyhough, E. Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Ashley, Jack Finch, Harold Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkston) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Foley, Maurice McCann, John
Bagier, Gordon A. T. MacColl, James
Barnes, Michael Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) MacDermot, Niall
Barnett, Joel Ford, Ben Macdonald, A. H.
Baxter, William Forrester, John McGuire, Michael
Bence, Cyril Fraser, John (Norwood)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Freeson, Reginald McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Bidwell, Sydney Galpern, Sir Myer Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Bishop, E. S. Gardner, Tony Mackie, John
Blackburn, F. Garrett, W. E. Maclennan, Robert
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Booth, Albert Gourlay, Harry McNamara, J. Kevin
Boston, Terence Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) MacPherson, Malcolm
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Boyden, James Gregory, Arnold Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Grey, Charles (Durham) Manuel, Archie
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mapp, Charles
Brooks, Edwin Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Marks, Kenneth
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Marquand, David
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Harper, Joseph Mayhew, Christopher
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hazell, Bert Mendelson, J. J.
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Millan, Bruce
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Herbison, Rt, Hn. Margaret Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hilton, W. S. Moonman, Eric
Cant, R. B. Hobden, Dennis Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Carmichael, Neil Hooley, Frank Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Coe, Denis Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Morris, John (Aberavon)
Coleman, Donald Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Moyle, Roland
Concannon, J. D. Howie, W. Neal, Harold
Conlan, Bernard Hoy, James Newens, Stan
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oakes, Gordon
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Ogden, Eric
Crawshaw, Richard Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) O'Malley, Brian
Cronin, John Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oram, Albert E.
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hunter, Adam Orbach, Maurice
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hynd, John Orme, Stanley
Dalyell, Tam Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Oswald, Thomas
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Janner, Sir Barnett Palmer, Arthur
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jeger, Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras, S.) Park, Trevor
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Delargy, Hugh Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Pavitt, Laurence
Dell, Edmund Judd, Frank Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Dempsey, James Kelley, Richard Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Dewar, Donald Kenyon, Clifford Pentland, Norman
Dickens, James Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dobson, Ray Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dunn, James A. Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Leadbitter, Ted Price, William (Rugby)
Eadie, Alex Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Probert, Arthur
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Rankin, John
Ellis, John Lector, Miss Joan Rees, Merlyn
English, Michael Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy Spriggs, Leslie Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Whitaker, Ben
Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Whitlock, William
Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Swain, Thomas Wilkins, W. A.
Roebuck, Roy Swingler, Stephen Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Taverne, Dick Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Thomson, Rt. Hn. George Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Rowlands, E. Thornton, Ernest Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Tim, James Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Sheldon, Robert Tomney, Frank Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Urwin, T. W. Winnick, David
Short, Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Woof, Robert
Silverman, Julius Wallace, George
Skeffington. Arthur Watkins, David (Consett) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Slater, Joseph Weitzman, David Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Small, William Wellbeloved, James Mr. Neil McBride
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Glyn, Sir Richard Montgomery, Fergus
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Astor, John Goodhart, Philip Murton, Oscar
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Goodhew, Victor Neave, Airey
Awdry, Daniel Gower, Raymond Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Grant, Anthony Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Grant-Ferris, R. Nott, John
Balniel, Lord Grieve, Percy Onslow, Cranley
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Osborn, John (Hallam)
Batsford, Brian Gurden, Harold Page, Graham (Crosby)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Bell, Ronald Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Percival, Ian
Berry, Hon. Anthony Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pink, R. Bonner
Bessell, Peter Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Pounder, Rafton
Bitten, John Hastings, Stephen Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Hawkins, Paul Price, David (Eastleigh)
Black, Sir Cyril Hay, John Prior, J. M. L.
Blaker, Peter Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Pym, Francis
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Quennell, Miss J. M.
Bossom, Sir Clive Heseltine, Michael Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Higgins, Terence L.
Braine, Bernard Hill, J. E. B. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Brinton, Sir Tatton Holland, Philip Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bryan, Paul Hordern, Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M) Hornby, Richard Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Howell, David (Guildford) Ridsdale, Julian
Bullus, Sir Eric Hunt, John Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Burden, F. A. Hutchison, Michael Clark Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Iremonger, T. L. Royle, Anthony
Carnpbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Irvine, Bryant Codman (Rye) Russell, Sir Ronald
Carlisle, Mark Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Scott, Nicholas
Channon, H. P. G. Johnson Smith, C. (E. Grinstead)
Chichester-Clark, R. Jopling, Michael Scott-Hopkins, James
Clark, Henry Kaberry, Sir Donald Sharpies, Richard
Clegg, Walter Kerby, Capt. Henry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Cooke, Robert Kershaw, Anthony Silvester, Frederick
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kitson, Timothy Sinclair, Sir George
Cordle, John Knight, Mrs. Jill Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Corfield, F. V. Lambton, Viscount Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Speed, Keith
Crouch, David Lane, David Stainton, Keith
Crowder, F. P. Langford-Holt, Sir John Summers, Sir Spencer
Currie, G. B. H. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Tapsell, Peter
Dalkeith, Earl of Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Dance, James Longden, Gilbert Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dean, Paul Lubbock, Eric Teeling, Sir William
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) McAdden, Sir Stephen Temple, John M.
Doughty, Charles MacArthur, Ian Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Eden, Sir John Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McMaster, Stanley Tilney, John
Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Maddan, Martin Turten, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Errington, Sir Eric Maginnis, John E. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Farr, John Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Fisher, Nigel Marten, Neil Waddington, David
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Fortescue, Tim Mawby, Ray Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Foster, Sir John Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wall, Patrick
Fraser, Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Walters, Dennis
Calbraith, Hr. T. G. Mills, Peter (Torrington) Ward, Dame Irene
Gibson-Watt, David Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Weatherill, Bernard
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Miscampbell, Norman Webster, David
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Monro, Hector Wells, John (Maidstone)
Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William Winstanley, Dr. M. P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Williams, Donald (Dudley) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard Mr. Jasper More and
Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater) Woodnutt, Mark Mr. Reginald Eyre.
Wilson. Geoffrey (Truro) Wylie, N. R.

Further consideration of the Lords Amendments adjourned.—[Mr. Marsh.]

Lords Amendments to be further considered Tomorrow.