HC Deb 05 December 1977 vol 940 cc1006-7
23. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether he will outline his reasons for directing the Price Commission to carry out a sectoral examination of the road haulage industry.

Mr. Hattersley

The criteria to which I must have regard in making a direction are set out in Section 2 of the Price Commission Act. In the case of this examination, I had particular regard to the industry's cost and price structure and to the likelihood that increased freight charges would ultimately affect a wider range of prices.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he indicate whether, in fact he intends, to refer each industry to the Price Commission for an investigation into its prices and structure? Furthermore, is he aware that the road haulage industry is one of the most competitive? Does he really feel that the reasons that he has given are good grounds for the recommendation which he has made?

Mr. Hattersley

I feel that they are good grounds. That is why I made the recommendation. We must await the outcome of the inquiry to see whether my judgment or that of the hon. Gentleman is correct.

Mr. Pavitt

Is it not nonsense that the profitable part of the transport industry—road haulage—is run entirely by private enterprise, with the profits going to private operators, whereas railway haulage has to be subsidised? Should it not be the policy of Her Majesty's Government, when they have won the next General Election, to nationalise the lot?

Mr. Hattersley

There is a publicly-owned sector of the road haulage industry—the National Freight Corporation. However, it is a very small proportion, and my hon. Friend is right in the basic thrust of his point. The effects that that has on keeping the industry competitive will again be revealed in the Price Commission's inquiry. Both my right hon. Friend and I will want to draw some conclusions from that report when it is published.

Mr. Adley

Does the right hon. Gentleman still support his party's proposals fully to nationalise the road haulage industry?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not want to say anything that prejudices my response to the report when it comes out, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will find some interesting grounds for speculation about the efficiency and, indeed, the competitiveness of that industry when the report is published.