§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, it is just a year since the subject of competition between road and rail was debated in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will remember that you then agreed to a Motion, moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster, which called upon the Government to take legislative action without delay. On that occasion my noble friend Lord Plymouth, who spoke on behalf of the Government, explained the reasons which rendered it impossible, at that particular time, for the Government to give a definite undertaking to introduce legislation in the next Session, but he also made clear 2 to your Lordships the deep concern of the Government and our full realisation of the need for dealing with this matter at the earliest possible opportunity. The Road and Rail Traffic Bill, which it is my duty to recommend to your Lordships for Second Reading to-day, was introduced in another place on the 7th of April last, and for fourteen days during the months of May, June and July was considered by a Standing Committee. It was presented to this House and read a first time on the 25th of July. I hope that your Lordships will that the Government have dealt with this matter in Government have dealt with this your Lordships' desire, as expeditiously as possible.
I need not weary your Lordships with any history of the rivalry between road and rail, which developed in the years after the War. Alike on the passenger and the goods side, the struggle threatened to become a national menace, and towards the end of 1928 His Majesty appointed a Royal Commission on Transport, under the able Chairmanship of Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, and on that Commission, as your Lordships are aware, your Lordships' House was represented. The terms of reference to the Royal Commission were wide, and covered practically the whole field of inland transport and particularly the problem of the better co-ordination of the various forms of transport one with another. The second Report of the Royal Commission was published in 3 October, 1929, and contained detailed recommendations regarding a system for licensing and regulating vehicles used for the purpose of carrying passengers by road. These recommendations were immediately adopted, almost without modification, in a Bill which subsequently received the Royal Assent in August, 1930, under the title of the Road Traffic Act. I think that the experience of the past two and a half years proves beyond doubt that the system of licensing for which that Act provides has gone far to remove the evils which it was designed to cure.
The final Report of the Royal Commission was presented in December, 1930. It included unanimous recommendations for the licensing of road vehicles carrying goods, with a view to the greater safety of users of the roads and the organisation of the road haulage business as an essential precedent to its co-ordination with other forms of transport. The Commissioners' recommendations provoked acute controversy. They were criticised in some quarters as going too far, and in others as not going far enough. There was wide divergence of opinion on the question of the proper functions of road and rail transport, and of the nature and extent of the regulation, which, in the economic development of to-day, should be applied to goods transport by road and rail. On these highly specialised questions the Government decided to seek the assistance of experts, and appointed a Conference consisting of the four chief officers of the main line railways and four persons experienced in the transport of goods by road, under the Chairmanship of Sir Arthur Salter, whose distinguished reputation as an economist is well known to your Lordships.
This Conference submitted in July, 1932, unanimous recommendations designed to assist both sides of the goods haulage industry to carry out their functions under equitable conditions, which were calculated adequately to safeguard the interests of trade and industry. In its application to public hauliers the Conference scheme aimed at dealing with what the Road Haulage Association has called "the evils of overcrowding and unbridled competition in the transport industry." They proposed accordingly that, while the ancillary user should be granted freely such licences as he might The Marquess of Londonderry.
4 seek for the carriage of his own goods, subject to statutory conditions, the licensing authority would not be required to grant those sought by public hauliers, if the grant would be against the public interest, it being considered that existing transport facilities suitable to meet the public requirements to be served by the applicant were already sufficient.
Your Lordships will find that the Bill which is before your Lordships now gives effect to this principle. I think I should add for your Lordships' information that the recommendations of the Conference do not conflict with the recommendations of the Royal Commission in so far as they relate to the subject of the present Bill. But on the question of the licensing of goods vehicles the Conference went further than the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission proposed to deal only with vehicles used for the carriage of goods for hire or reward, while the Salter Conference were unanimous in recommending that the system of licensing should embrace all vehicles used for the carriage of goods, including those used by persons who own vehicles as ancillary to their commercial undertakings When I say that it is estimated that 75 to 80 per cent. of the total number of vehicles are so used, the inclusion of these vehicles is obviously necessary if adequate control of the situation is to be taken. This measure is thus based at many points upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but in a number of important respects follows the more comprehensive recommendations of the Conference.
What, my Lords, quite briefly are the grounds for introducing a licensing scheme I Before the introduction of the licensing system for public passenger vehicles, the position was, by general admission, largely one of complete chaos. In many areas there was no licensing control of public passenger vehicles, with the result that many vehicles quite unfitted to carry passengers were running on our roads. Competition between road operators led to racing and other undesirable practices. It was carried to such lengths that the financial position of many of the operators became unsound. Parliament then realised that in the matter of passenger transport the public does not gain, but rather loses by competitive services, when that competition 5 results in the inadequate maintenance of vehicles, in the cutting of rates, and in the lowering of the conditions of employment of the drivers. In passing, it may be added that congestion of the roads involves unnecessary expenditure which falls heavily upon the ratepayer.
Under the scheme of licensing set up by the Act of 1930, the passenger services have been brought to a high state of efficiency and regularity. Road operators now enjoy a stabilised position, and recognise increasingly that they form one of our great public utility services. Much has been done by this means to relieve the congestion of the towns through which the coaches pass, and a beginning, at any rate, has been made towards coordination between the road operators and the railway companies, who have themselves become interested to a substantial extent in some of the most important road companies.
There are equally strong reasons for introducing a general scheme for the licensing of goods vehicles. In their recommendation to this effect the Royal Commission explained that they were influenced by two main considerations. First, they believed that it would be greatly to the advantage of the road haulage industry itself if it were placed on an organised basis Secondly, they were of the opinion that the organisation of the industry is an essential precedent to any attempt at general co-ordination with other forms of transport. The Government agree with these views, which received the support of the Salter Conference.
It is, I regret to say, notorious that in many respects the existing law is not observed whether, fess example, it be in the matter of speed or in the hours of driving. It is difficult for the Police Force to exercise the necessary supervision in these matters, unless they are given the additional assistance of some special machinery for dealing with what is not an ordinary police problem. Even when cases are taken to the Courts, the fines inflicted are either negligible or such that the offender finds that it will pay him better to meet them and continue to ignore the restrictions. He thus gains a quite unfair and illegitimate advantage over his competitors, whether they be the railway companies or other law-abiding 6 road operators. The Government have come to the conclusion that compliance with the provisions of the existing law relating to the maintenance of vehicles in a fit condition and to the restrictions upon excessive speeds and excessive hours of driving, can only be effectively secured if offenders are made liable to lose their right to go upon the roads at all.
As I shall explain in a moment, we propose to establish a body of special examiners of goods vehicles and to adopt the recommendation, which the Salter Conference regarded as essential, to require operators to carry records which will show the weight of the load carried, the time spent on the various journeys and the hours during which the driver is kept on duty. We attach very great importance to the provisions of the Bill which are designed to take this new, much-needed, and, as we hope it will be, effective control over goods transport by road.
It will, I think, be convenient to your Lordships if I now pass to the clauses of the Bill itself and explain its provisions without going into too great detail. At the same time, I shall endeavour to make clear its essential proposals and to point out any matters in which the provisions differ materially from the recommendations of the two bodies to whom the Government are greatly indebted for having so ably and carefully examined the problems remitted to them. The objects of this Bill then arc, first, to establish a system for the licensing and regulation of motor goods vehicles. This is dealt with in Part I of the Bill. Secondly, the railway companies, under Part II of the Bill, are authorised to charge "flat" or "composite" rates, subject to the approval of the Railway Rates Tribunal. The existing law in regard to the regulation of railways is also amended in certain minor respects. Finally, in Part III, following the unanimous recommendations of both the Royal Commission and the Conference, it is proposed to establish a Transport Advisory Council.
Part I of the Bill divides carriers into three main classes; the private carrier, who carries only for the purpose of his own trade or business; the public carrier, who carries goods for hire or reward; and a further class, the limited carrier, who carries for the purpose of 7 his own trade or business and also for hire or reward. For the private carrier we propose a licence with a three years currency, for the public carrier one with two years, and for the limited carrier, whose position presents problems of a special character, we propose an annual licence. The Royal Commission, as I have already reminded your Lordships, contemplated the licensing only of hauliers, while the Salter Conference proposed also the licensing of ancillary users, a category which was to include not only those who carried merely for the purpose of their own trade or business, but also those who carried for hire within a ten mile radius.
Clause 1 provides that it shall not be lawful for any person to use a motor goods vehicle on a road for the purpose of carrying goods for hire or reward or for the purpose of trade or business unless the use of the vehicle is either authorised by a licence or is exempted from the licensing system. I will not trouble your Lordships with all the details of the proposed exemptions from licensing. They include those agricultural vehicles whose restricted use qualifies them for the reduced rates of taxation under the Finance Acts, public service passenger vehicles carrying parcels, and vehicles used for certain local authority or police services. The basis of those exemptions is that these employments form no part of the problem which the scheme is designed to meet. Besides the exemptions from licensing, there are certain exceptions which enable a private carrier to undertake work which might be deemed to be "carrying goods for hire or reward."
Your Lordships will wish to know something of the proposed licensing procedure. It is proposed that the licensing authorities shall be the Chairmen of the Traffic Commissioners who are charged with the duties of licensing public service passenger vehicles under the Road Traffic Act. An application for an A or B licence is to be made to the licensing authority of the particular area in which is the permanent base or centre from which the vehicles will normally be used. In the case of a C licence, the area is that in which the applicant has his head office or principal place of business. I take first the simple case of the private carrier or C licence for the man who will use the authorised vehicles for the 8 carriage of goods in connection with any trade or business carried on by him, but for no other purpose. The applicant has merely to supply the licensing authority with the number and description of the vehicles for which a licence is sought. The application is automatically granted, because the licensing authority has no discretion in the matter unless the applicant is the holder of a licence which has been suspended or revoked, nor is he required to publish notice of the application, and no opportunity is provided for objections. The C licence is for a period of three years.
I now come to the A (public carrier) and B (limited carrier) licences. The public carrier or A licence relates to the man who proposes to use the vehicles for the carriage of goods for hire or reward and in connection with his business as a carrier but, in general, for no other purpose, while the limited carrier or B licence will be required by the man who wishes to use vehicles for the carriage of goods, either in connection with any trade or business carried on by him, or for hire or reward. The applicant for an A or B licence has to inform the licensing authority of the number and description of the vehicles proposed to be used and also the facilities which he proposes to provide. If he applies within a stated period and can satisfy the licensing authority that during the twelve months ended March 31 of this year, he owned and used goods vehicles, he will be entitled to receive from the licensing authority a licence authorising an equivalent tonnage to that used by him at any one time during those twelve months. This means that the applicant will be able to continue to provide the same facilities, for two years if he is a holder of an A licence and for one year if he holds a B licence.
In the case of other applications for A or B licences, the licensing authority must publish a notice of the applications made and must consider, at a public inquiry if he thinks fit, any objections that he may receive from persons who oppose the grant of an application. Objections may he made on two grounds. First, that adequate and suitable facilities already exist; secondly, that the applicant has failed to observe some condition attached to a licence held by him. Only holders of an A licence are entitled to oppose an application for an 9 A licence, although both holders of A or B licences may object to an application for a B licence. Having considered the application and any objections the licensing authority has complete discretion whether to grant or refuse the application.
When a licence is granted, certain conditions must be attached to it. Your Lordships will find these set out in Clause 8, and will observe that they require that authorised vehicles shall be maintained in a serviceable condition; that the law regarding speed and loading shall be complied with; that the holder of the licence shall observe the provisions of the Road Traffic Act relating to the time for which drivers may remain continuously on duty; that certain records shall be kept, and further, in the case of every A or B licence, that the fair wages and conditions of service provisions of the 1930 Act shall apply. So far as A or C licences are concerned, the licensing authority will have no power to attach any other condition. As regards B licences, however, it will be within the discretion of the authority to attach conditions regarding the use which may be made of the vehicle; for example, he may attach a condition that the vehicle shall be used only in a specified district, or for the carriage of certain classes or descriptions of goods, or for certain specified persons only.
Your Lordships will see that the holder of an A licence has an advantage over the holder of a B licence both as to the period of the licence (two years as opposed to one) and as to the special conditions which may he imposed. This is the deliberate intention of the Bill and is designed to recognise the different position of the provider of regular transport facilities by road, as opposed to the person who offers more or less haphazard facilities and uses his vehicles for his own trade or business. After carefully considering the matter, in the light of the representations made to them, the Government have come to the conclusion that it would not be expedient to apply in the case of the C licence granted to the private carrier, a provision relating to fair wages and conditions of service. We recognise, of course, the necessity of safeguarding, so far as possible, the interests of public safety and of guarding against the risks.
10 inherent in the driving of a vehicle by a tired man; but, from this point of view, as your Lordships will remember, Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, already lays down maximum working hours for drivers employed by the holders of A, B and C licences alike.
It may appear logical to treat C licences in the same way as A and B licences in respect of the fair wages provision, on the ground that the occupation of the worker is the same, but the two cases are in reality governed by widely different conditions. In the road haulage industry proper, transport workers constitute the principal grade of workpeople employed, whilst in other industries transport is an occupation ancillary to the main business of the industry which is carried on by the great majority of the workpeople. The traditional method of fixing wages and conditions in the different industries in this country is a voluntary system of collective bargaining, which has been developed in the course of many years and which, on the whole, works satisfactorily. The fair wages provision, on the other hand, introduces a different principle, and it is apprehended that the element of compulsion which it embodies could not be introduced into the existing voluntary system without risk of disturbing the network of industrial agreements which now covers a great part of the industrial field.
That is the view of the Government, and indeed it is obvious that wages and conditions in an industry require to be fixed in relation to the general circumstances of the industry, and that complications may arise if the wages and conditions of one grade of the workpeople in an industry are not kept in proper relationship with the wages and conditions of the other grades. An arrangement under which the wages and conditions of the transport workers in an industry were subject to compulsory arbitration whilst those of the rest of the workpeople continued to be regulated by the existing voluntary system might raise these difficulties in an acute form. Apart from this consideration, serious practical difficulties would arise in connection with small employers, and also some large employers, whose workpeople are often employed for part of the time as transport workers and for the rest of 11 the time in other occupations. It is admitted even by those in favour of attaching the fair wages provision to C licences that an exception would have to be made to meet the case of employers who owned not inure than, say, three vehicles. Such an exception would, however, produce anomalies which could hardly be removed unless the fair wages provision were so hedged about with exceptions and qualifications that it would become almost impossible to enforce and practically worthless as a protection to the great body of workpeople or the haulage industry itself.
Strong representations have been made to my honourable friend on behalf of a large number of important industries which employ transport workers as an ancillary grade, and after giving full weight to the counter-representations of the trade unions, he has reached the conclusion that, in all the circumstances, the fair wages provision ought to be imposed only on the holders of A and B licences, leaving the wages and conditions of transport workers employed by C licence holders to be regulated for the present in the same way as the wages and conditions of the rest of the workpeople.
I propose now to return for a few moments to the conditions which must be attached to all licences. If your Lordships will go back to Clause 8 of the Bill these conditions will be found in subsection (1). They are designed to secure the safety of all users of the highway, and may properly be described as "safety" conditions. First comes the requirement that vehicles shall be kept in a fit and serviceable condition. It is not the intention of the scheme that every vehicle shall be examined periodically, as is the case with public service vehicles, but there will be a body of examiners who, on production of their authority, will have power to examine any vehicle in order to test whether the requirement is being observed. The examiner may examine the vehicle in the garage or on the road, but he is given no power to stop a vehicle in motion. If he considers it to be in a dangerous condition he will be empowered either to prohibit the use of the vehicle or to give the owner a limited time up to ten days in which to remedy defects if he considers that they are not such as involve immediate risk to public safety. If an owner is aggrieved by the 12 refusal of an examiner to remove a prohibition, he may have the vehicle inspected by a certifying officer appointed under the Road Traffic Act and if, in turn, the certifying officer declines to remove the prohibition, the owner is given the right to appeal to the Minister.
The second safety condition relates to speed and loading—both matters which your Lordships have discussed on a number of occasions. The condition does not involve any new regulations; its object is to provide a means of enforcing existing law by utilising the services of the examiners and to prevent as far as possible the driving of overloaded vehicles at excessive speeds. Similarly, the third condition, relating to the time during which a driver may drive continuously, is to secure that existing law is respected and observed. Lastly, there is the condition that certain records shall be kept regarding the hours worked by drivers and the journeys taken and the loads carried.
A considerable volume of criticism has been directed to this condition. It has been said the keeping of records will impose an intolerable burden upon the holders of licences and that the records themselves will be useless. Nothing is further removed from fact, as I hope to be able to show in a few words. First, the records will not contain any information different from that which is required for the purpose of any reasonably organised business. Even the smallest operator wants to know the hours for which he has to pay his driver, the journeys which the driver has made and the goods which he has carried. On the form which the record is to take the Minister is required to consult the Transport Advisory Council, upon which road users are well represented. Nevertheless if, in fact, there are practical difficulties in particular cases, the licensing authority is given the discretion to dispense with the requirements, or any of them, of the regulations which will be made in this matter. But there is even greater justification for requiring these records to be kept, since they will themselves supply the evidence upon which it can be decided whether the law is observed or flouted. The examiners and the police will have power to demand the production of any of the records that are carried on the vehicle or kept elsewhere. All records must be preserved for at least 13 six months and for a further period not exceeding six months if the licensing authority or the police so require.
Failure to comply with these conditions is made an offence, for which the penalty is a fine. In the case of the driving of a vehicle, the use of which has been prohibited because of some dangerous defect, the penalty is either a fine or imprisonment or both; this is the only offence for which the Bill provides imprisonment, but I do not think that your Lordships will consider that in the circumstances that penalty is too great. In addition to the penalties prescribed in the Bill, however, there is still another, and it is one which possibly your Lordships, will be inclined to regard as having an even greater deterrent effect than fines. It is proposed to give the licensing authority power to revoke or suspend a licence on the ground that any of the conditions attached to it have not been complied with. Before the authority can take this action, however, he must he satIfied—after holding a public inquiry, if the holder of the licence requests him so to do—that the penalty is merited by the frequency or wilfulness of the breach of conditions or by the danger to the public involved. It is possible that there are operators who would be prepared to take the risk of a conviction and the payment of a fine, but I venture to think that there are few who would not hesitate long before deliberately risking the licence upon which their livelihood is so largely dependent.
There is, perhaps, one other point to which I should refer before passing from this Part of the Bill—namely, the provisions relating to appeals by holders of licences from decisions of the licensing authorities. In the case of passenger road services, there had for many years before the passing of the Road Traffic Act been a right of appeal to the Minister against the decision of a local council acting as a licensing authority: and when the licensing duties were transferred by the Road Traffic Act to the newly created Traffic Commissioners, Parliament, while widening the Tight of appeal, retained the appellate position of the Minister. In the licensing of goods vehicles we are entering an entirely new field and Bill proposes a separate tribunal to hear appeals against the decisions of the licensing authority. The Tribunal will consist of three members, of whom one— 14 the Chairman—will be a lawyer appointed after consultation with the Lord Chancellor, and the other two will be appointed after consultation with the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Tribunal will make their own rules; their decisions will be final; and they will have power to award costs. I might add, for the information of those of your Lordships who may be interested, that appeals from decisions of licensing authorities in Scotland will be heard in Scotland.
I come now to the railway side of the problem, as to which our proposals are contained in Part II of the Bill. It has been urged in some quarters that equalisation of the condition of the competition between road and rail might be brought about not by ally increased regulation of road traffic but by some relaxation of the regulation of the railways. Many of your Lordships have no doubt read and heard the oft-repeated assertion that the difficulties of our railway companies are due in large measure to the mass of statutory restrictions under which the railway managements labour. The Salter Conference, while it recognised that the system grew up in a period when the railway companies were enjoying a large monopoly, took the view that a considerable measure of uniformity, and consequently of regulation, was an inevitable concomitant to the organisation of an industry in large units and that this handicap could not be substantially reduced by any change in law or administration. All this notwithstanding, the Government considered that any comprehensive measure for dealing with transport problems should afford relief from any existing restrictions upon the railway companies which could be shown to be burdensome or unnecessary in the circumstances of to-day. Accordingly, the Minister of Transport invited the railway companies themselves and the leading trade organisations of the country to say which, if any, of the existing statutory provisions regarding railway rates and charges or railway facilities constituted in their view an unnecessary and undesirable restriction upon the operations of the railway companies and could, without detriment to the public interest be removed or modified. The 15 response in the way of specific suggestion was disappointing.
Meanwhile, a situation arose which called for action. As your Lordships are aware, the charges made by railway companies for the conveyance of traffic on their railways are governed by the Railways Act, 1921. Each description of merchandise traffic is included in a classification in which there are twenty-one classes, and a standard scale of charge per ton per mile is fixed in respect of each class. This is the "standard rate," which the railway companies must charge except in so far as they quote exceptional rates, lower than the standard rates; but exceptional rates, if less than 5 per cent. or more than 40 per cent below the corresponding standard rates, have to be submitted to the Railway Rates Tribunal for approval.
Towards the end of last year the Railway Rates Tribunal gave an important decision in what has become known as the Robinson case. A railway company had sought approval to the granting, as an exceptional rate, of a flat rate to be applied to all traffic of a particular firm within a defined area, irrespective of distance. The Tribunal held that such an arrangement was not admissible under the Railways Act as it involved a complete departure from the basis of charging per ton per mile. They accordingly had no alternative but to reject the application for approval. This decision, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, obviously hampers the railways in competing for traffic with other forms of transport, which are at liberty to charge on whatever basis they think fit, and the railway companies accordingly asked the Government to amend the law so that they might be enabled to quote on a flat or composite basis.
The Government came to the conclusion that under proper safeguards—and there are ample safeguards in the clause—such a system would be to the advantage both of the railway companies and of traders, and that the companies and their customers should be allowed to arrange the basis of charge according to mutual convenience so long as each arrangement was subject to the approval of the Railway Rates Tribunal. This decision has been embodied in Clause 31 of the Bill. In the course of examination of the clause in another place the safeguards for the traders have been strengthened, and 16 I think I may say that the clause in its present form is generally regarded as fair and reasonable, while at the same time it will accord to the railway companies freedom to adjust their methods of charging to present conditions and the requirements of their customers.
Before I leave this matter, in view of certain criticisms which have appeared lately, I should like particularly to emphasise to your Lordships the very important protection which the clause gives to the private trader who considers that his business has been or will be detrimentally affected by an agreed charge. Not only may he lodge an objection to any proposed flat rate which he considers injurious to him, but he may also apply to the Tribunal to fix a charge for the carriage of his own merchandise, if it is the same merchandise as, or similar merchandise to, the merchandise to which the agreed charge relates. He can also at a subsequent date ask the Tribunal to review any agreed charge which he can show is operating to his detriment.
The position of harbour authorities and coastwise shipping has also been specially taken into account. Clause 33, which deals with the position of coastwise shipping, has been accepted by the Chamber of Shipping, and the railway companies, while disclaiming any intention of using their powers unfairly or oppressively, have acquiesced in its terms. I am happy to add that the canal authorities and the railway companies, as the result of mutual discussion, have also reached an agreement for consultation and co-operation among themselves. I will now pass on to Part III of the Bill without making a specific mention of certain minor amendments of the existing law, which will, we hope, afford the railway companies a certain measure of relief from some of the less important requirements of existing statutes.
Part I deals with the carriage of goods by motor vehicles and Part II with certain railway questions. These are in a sense separate problems, but they are all inter-connected in the great question of transport. That great question of transport involves many other classes of the community beside the road haulier and the railway company. I have already referred, incidentally, to docks, canals and coastwise shipping; but we 17 must not for one moment lose sight of other important classes of road traffic, the pedestrian, the cyclist and the horse-drawn traffic. The local authorities responsible for the maintenance of the roads have a large interest in all questions relating to the use of the roads; and organised labour is necessarily concerned in all those matters which involve the rights or duties of the transport worker. Behind all these stand the vast trading interests of the country (including those of the important industry of agriculture), for the movement of whose goods and products transport exists.
For these reasons, following the recommendations of the Royal Commission, endorsed by the Salter Conference, we propose, in Part III, a Transport Advisory Council, representative of all the interests which I have named, to assist the Minister in his continuing duty of watching and facilitating the improvement and development, along sound lines, of the transport system of this country. We do not claim that the proposals which we are now submitting to you represent a final solution of all these difficult problems; but in the confident opinion that they represent a substantial contribution to the advancement of the public safety and convenience and of a better and more economical organisation of our inland transport, we ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Road and Rail Traffic Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, this Bill, which is most certainly needed, has had a very quiet passage through the House of Commons, where it was steered with great skill and tact by the Minister of Transport. I think we are fortunate here this afternoon in having the very complex provisions of this Bill so clearly explained by the noble Marquess who has just sat down. The noble Marquess had two great handicaps. In the first place, he was speaking for a Department for which he himself is not responsible, and, in the second place, he was commending this measure to your Lordships' House, your Lordships having abolished the Ministry of Transport, I think only a few months ago From what I gather, some of your Lordships seem to nave forgotten that fact, but a Motion was 18 most decidedly passed in this House abolishing the Ministry of Transport.
We on this side of the House welcome this measure up to a point, but we regret that it has not gone further. We regret that the great opportunity for a national co-ordination of the transport services has not been carried out in full measure. This transport problem is occupying our attention very closely just now. We could quite easily be distracted from the main purpose of this Bill by discussions on safety, which really come under the Bill, but as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has a special Motion down for next week we shall have an opportunity then of discussing more closely the question of safety. But safety does arise under this Bill; in fact one of the most important objects of the Bill is to render the roads safe; and we in looking at this Bill are concerned also about the men who are employed with the machines. We are concerned more especially about the human factor, and we want to see the provisions fairly carried out so that the people who have the great responsibilities of driving these heavy vehicles on the public roads may be properly safeguarded in their work.
I wish now to touch only on a few points of the Bill where we desire amendment or where we are inclined to suggest criticism. I was very sorry to hear the noble Marquess express the decision of the Minister of Transport not to allow the fair wages clause to be applied under the Bill to drivers of vehicles who receive C licences. I think that he was inclined to describe the holders of C licences as if they were an entirely different category, as if their work was on entirely different lines to those of the holders of A and B licences. To begin with I would remind the noble Marquess that in the Salter Report, to which he has referred, it is stated:We consider that both hauliers and ancillary users should be subject to regulation, enforced through the grant of licences, as regards fair wages and conditions of service and the maintenance of their vehicles in a state of fitness.That is to say, that Conference did recommend that the fair wages clause should be extended to the drivers having C licences. There is really not any difference in the work of the drivers employed by general hauliers and a great proportion of those employed by ancillary 19 users, and we are dealing here not with a small or negligible proportion, but with 75 per cent. of the men that come under this Bill.
I would call your Lordships' attention to the fact that general hauliers contract to supply vehicles in large fleets, or singly, to firms who are ancillary users. The employees of the general hauliers will, therefore, be working alongside the employees of the ancillary users and doing precisely the same work. General hauliers sometimes contract to supply all the vehicles required by a certain undertaking, while another undertaking in the same industry will decide for reasons of its own to run its own vehicles. Again, in both instances, the employment will be the same, but the conditions of the licences under which the vehicles run will not be the same. I think that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is not a matter of a small tradesman here and there with a motor vehicle which he is sending out from his shop. The vehicles which come under the other category are used for iron and steel, for ballast, for building, for constructional engineering, for cement, sand and gravel, and for quarrying. These are the larger vehicles. They are precisely the same in character as the A licensed vehicles, but under the Bill as at present drafted the drivers will not have the same opportunity of getting fair wages. A question of public safety certainly is involved in seeing that a man has a decent wage. It is also very necessary that the men should not be worked in such a way as to have their work on the vehicle supplemented by long hours at a different sort of employment. As a matter of fact, a great many or them will be simply used for purposes of hauling and really ought to be treated in a similar way to those that come under the A and B licences.
There is this further point which I should hope the Ministry of Transport would take into account. I refer to the absence of any statutory or voluntary machine for the regulation of wages and conditions in the whole of the goods transport industry. That would appear to be wanted. There ought to be some national organisation for the general regulation of wages and conditions. I rather understand that the Minister of Transport has the matter under consideration, and that if it is not accorded 20 in this Bill it is likely to be accorded at a later date; but it would seem to be necessary to do it at the present time in order that by means of a national, central authority you can get control of some of the anomalies and some of the very undesirable elements which exist in the present system. There are payments which very likely require to be abolished, such as trip money, tonnage money, mileage bonus and inducements to drivers to break, if they can, surreptitiously, the law and the regulations. All these matters should be gone into and the Minister of Transport should have the power through some central authority to regulate matters such as those.
I now come to a provision which I consider to be of very great importance but which is not contained in the Bill, and on this point I hope to enlist the sympathy of those noble Lords who, on various occasions, have shown themselves most desirous to enforce regulations which will ensure safety on the roads. The provision which I desire to see is one for the issue of special licences for the drivers of goods vehicles. The driving of goods vehicles is a most difficult job when one considers the size of some of these vehicles. It is a highly-skilled job and it really requires more skill than is needed by the driver of a locomotive on the railway which has set lines and signals. Only last week I saw one of those gigantic eight-wheeled vehicles being driven across the High Street of Winchester which is a good deal narrower than this Chamber. If the driver had not been extremely skilful he would certainly have done a lot of damage to people on the pavement and in the street. This is a highly-skilled matter and unless we get people who are up to the work from the point of view of driving we shall continue to have a number of accidents. A special licence ought to be issued in addition to the ordinary driving licence. That is the case with passenger service vehicles and we consider that it ought to be the case with the drivers of goods vehicles. There is no difference whatever. It is true that the passenger vehicle contains passengers, but the man who is driving a heavy goods vehicle can be such a danger on the road as to be a menace to the lives, not only of pedestrians, but of people in passenger vehicles and private motor cars.
21 I believe that the Government are making inquiry into the whole question of tests for drivers. In your Lordships' House I have spoken against tests for drivers of motors cars, but I think this is a different matter. After all, the driver of a private car can stop in bad weather. He can stop and he can go to the nearest inn or hotel or lodgings. He can do what he likes. He is a free man. But the driver of a heavy goods vehicle is obliged to go on. He has his schedule, he has his orders, he has his destination to reach, and he is not allowed to do what he likes. Therefore: he really comes in a different category and he should be given a special licence. That would be welcomed by the Transport Workers' Union and labour in general, because it would mean that these specially licensed men would set up a high standard on the road which would be likely to be followed by others. I believe some difficulties are suggested with regard to the manner in which you should test these men and give them licences, but under the Road Traffic Act, and with the money which comes from the issue of licences, there should be no difficulty in setting up a, training school. Neither would there be any practical difficulties in establishing this special-licence system as a prospective practice, allowing those who are established drivers at present to have these special licences, with a provision that anybody coming in as a driver of such vehicles in future should be tested before he could obtain a licence.
I did not hear the noble Marquess refer to a very important point which was raised in another place—a point not only raised by the Opposition hut given a very great deal of support from all quarters of the House. That was the question of a driver taking his rest actually away from his vehicle. I do not think I need enlarge on the point. My noble friend who is going to take part in the debate later has many instances to show how necessary it is that "rest" should mean rest away from the vehicle. All I need do is to remind your Lordships of what the Minister of Transport said in the debate on the Report stage in another place, after he had listened to the debate on Report as well as in Committee and had been, as he admitted, greatly impressed. I do not think I need read any lengthy quotation from his remarks. It is sufficient to say that, although he 22 made no actual promise, I think his words might be interpreted to mean that he was going to consider the question with a view to finding a suitable provision. The Minister said:… I am alarmed at a possible expansion of the double-bunk system, and I will certainly consider whether an Amendment can be inserted in another place on the lines suggested to meet the point.I may have missed a passage in the speech of the noble Marquess in which he dealt with that point but I think he did not refer to the matter. I hope that the Minister who replies for the Government will satisfy us on this side of the House that that point has been met by an Amendment which will be introduced by the Government next week.
There is another question to which I want to draw the attention of the Government and that has reference to variation of the Orders made by the Ministry of Transport. At present variations are allowed under Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act and they have not been found to work satisfactorily. Members of a joint conference of employers and workers have, I think, conveyed to the Ministry of Transport their view that in regard to Orders made by the Ministry to secure variations adapted to meet the differing circumstances of passenger transport throughout the country it was impossible that Orders could be issued by the Ministry to cover all cases. A suggestion was made that some alternative machinery should be instituted for dealing with this problem and that the Minister should take steps to secure power to implement agreements which had been made between the representatives of organised labour and the representatives of undertakings engaged in road passenger transport—subject, of course, to such review as he might deem necessary to ensure that the public interest is served and public safety protected. It is necessary that there should be variations. What is known as the spread-over has, in some cases, not been arranged in such a manner as to be fair to the workers. It has been found that there have been reductions in the number of straight duties—that is to say, consecutive duties—and a substantial increase in broken periods of duty with long and objectionable spread-overs. Allowing these agreements between the employers and the workers to lay down 23 what variations may be necessary in certain districts, and in certain circumstances to get these variations confirmed by the Ministry of Transport, seems to be the sensible way of dealing with it, and I hope the Government will consider that point.
There is one other matter. We regard the Bill all the way through from the point of view of safeguarding the interests of the people working in this industry and we feel they must be amply safeguarded in this new, untried, arduous and in some ways dangerous work. Attention has been called to the fact that a large group of omnibus operators, the Tilling-B.A.T. group adopt the attitude that their employees should not be members of a trade union and, where they are, the companies in this group refuse to recognise or to negotiate with the unions acting for the men. Whatever prejudice there may be against trade unions in your Lordships' House I am sure your Lordships will unite in thinking that that is an unfair attitude. Considering the complexities of the law, the difficulty of realising what makes a man liable, in what circumstances a man may be convicted, how it is possible in circumstances not under his control or within his knowledge that a man may have his licence taken away and his employment lost for life—that a man in such circumstances, working all day long and unable to go into the intricacies of Acts of Parliament and regulations should not have the opportunity of being represented by those who make it their business to study the matter and safeguard the men, seems to me most unfair. I hope the Government will take this point into account.
We shall use the Committee stage for pressing the Amendment with regard to rests away from the vehicle. I am sure we shall get a great deal of support in the House on that point, and I hope the Government will yield on it. We shall press again for the fair wages clause to be applied to the C licences and there may be one or two other points on which we shall put down Amendments. But in general we regard this Bill as greatly wanted and, indeed, overdue. We only regret that the Government have been so timid and frightened of their supporters as not to go the whole way and get a really rational central authority which would deal with the whole question. 24 Nationalisation is a sort of bogey word which frightens people and yet at the same time the tendency is to go more and more in that direction nowadays and it is only in that direction, with a great and growing industry of this sort, that it is possible to get satisfactory control.
In another place Mr. Winston Churchill was quoted as a supporter of the nationalisation of railways. I do not think that would carry much weight with the Government. Mr. Thomas, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, has also supported nationalisation of railways, and I have a quotation here which puts the Socialist point of view in this connection extremely well:The Socialist view of the enfranchised and responsible workman is the only view which supplies a true answer to the dominant question of the time: how can we supply a motive for work which will enlist the whole man and not only part of the man? The feature of these schemes is that bureaucracy is eliminated and that the administration of industry, whilst not brought outside the ultimate responsibility of the civic State, is to be a task conducted by a specialised organisation built up not from officials appointed from outside, but from officials and functionaries drawn from the working organisation itself and belonging to it. There is organisation, a better organisation than that of Capitalism, there is centralised knowledge radiating downwards, but the whole scheme is the very antithesis of bureaucracy because it depends for its success upon the co-operation of every person and group of persons employed, and is conscious and responsible right from bottom to top. Orders are executed and a mechanism is worked, but the orders come from the system itself and the mechanism belongs to the whole thing as a going co-operative concern.That passage, which is very well put, is from the Prime Minister, and I think the Government have made a mistake in not adopting the Prime Minister's former views on this occasion and in taking his later views. They have missed an opportunity and have nibbled at this question instead of attacking it with some sort of courage. What there is in the Bill may do good and I hope it will. We look forward to its passage and we hope it may yet be tightened up in certain respects. Its timidity has been the fault, but perhaps there is yet time for some of the fault to be corrected.
THE MARQUESS OF BEADING
My Lords, I hope it will not be expected in this debate that we shall follow the noble Lord in the last part of his speech, with 25 its reference to the Prime Minister, which is introducing a subject not strictly relevant, although I agree there was an opening for the criticism that came from the noble Lord. I rise merely to say that those associated with me gladly welcome this Bill. It is a step helping in the co-ordination, improvement and development of road and railway traffic and, without entering into detail now, we propose to support the Second Reading. All I need say for those associated with me is that we are very interested in what was aptly termed the human aspect and we shall be desirous of doing everything that can be done to safeguard that aspect.
With regard to the C licence, I understand that the fair wage part of the Bill is net to apply. That is what I gathered from my noble friend who explained the Bill, to whom we are grateful for his exposition of this difficult and complicated measure. Those who might not have read the Bill or the debates would have understood just where we were with regard to the main provisions and I presume that is what a Second Reading speech in opening a Bill should be. I will not go further save to say that, although the special provisions of the so-called fair wage clause which is to be introduced under this measure will not apply to C licences, and only applies to licences A and B, nevertheless it follows that all the ordinary provisions of the common or statute law will apply to men employed under licence C. There is nothing in the Bill, as I understand it, which in the slightest degree interferes with the application of the general law to those men. All that it does is to draw a distinction between licences A and B and licence C, in this respect, that it says that in licence C we do not introduce special provisions as regards fair wages, but leave the men employed to the ordinary law. As I understand, the vital difference between those three licences is that licence C, which has been termed a private licence, is a licence granted to the owners of goods who wish to deliver and collect them in the ordinary course of trade or business, and the other two licences both relate, one in whole and the other in part, to the business of haulage. I imagine that the one thing to be borne in mind is that licence C is to be granted to a man who is going 26 to deal entirely with his own goods and not attempt to apply for hire. For that reason it seems to me, subject to anything which may be said in the course of debate, that there is good reason for making this distinction as regards licence C.
I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time by discussing the details of the measure, for the reason that we on these Benches are heartily in support of the Bill, and will wait to deal with points of detail if they come up during the Committee stage. There is, however, one point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government in regard to this Bill, and I shall be glad if the noble Marquess will give me his attention for one moment. I only raise the point now because it will have to be raised at some time in Committee, and I wish to give notice of it. It is a matter which has engaged attention, and I press the Government to deal with it. Licence C, as I have said, is called the private licence, and is defined—I am not saying that "defined" is the strict term to be applied, but the language which is used in the Bill makes it quite clear that it is to apply to a person who has sold goods in the ordinary course of trade or business. It extends a little further than that, but I will not trouble your Lordships with it because it is not necessary for the purpose I have in mind. What is "a person"? That is the real difficulty which must be confronted.
Take for example a limited company carrying on business. It is legally "a person." It is a legal entity. Now that company is the owner of goods and no difficulty will arise in the first instance; but assume that that company has a number of subsidiary companies. The shares in those subsidiary companies are owned entirely by the company I first mentioned. That head company is the owner of goods, strictly speaking, not only belonging to the head company but also of goods belonging to the subsidiary companies, but the legal entity with regard to a subsidiary company is the subsidiary company, and the owner is not the head company but the subsidiary company. It surely cannot be intended that difficulties are to be placed in the way of business by making different licences necessary for each of these companies. Let me take company A, a head 27 company, owning 100 per cent. of the capital of companies B, C, D, E and F. In ordinary parlance, and strict truth, company A is the owner of all the goods of the subsidiary companies, hut according to the Bill it would not be, and that point requires attention, because it would make a great difference to those carrying on business under the Joint Stock Acts.
Although no conclusion was reached on the matter in the other House, I have reason to think that a different view may be taken by the Government in this House. All I will say is that short of technical language it is as simple as possible. It means that you must give effect to your Bill, which says that the person who is owner of the goods shall be entitled to a C licence, and say that he will not be plying for hire or reward if carrying the goods of a subsidiary company, or is a subsidiary company carrying the goods of the head company. That is a matter which will require attention, and I have only indicated it now in order to show that it is a matter which must be dealt with, otherwise you will be placing very great difficulty in the way of the great companies that carry on business in this country. I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to meet the point when it is brought before them. I will not press it any further now, especially as I understand that it has been under consideration, and that something may be said about it later. All I wish to add now is that we think that the Bill, as introduced here, although it does not go quite as far as one would wish if there were more time, is yet a definite step in advance and will help to cure some of the evils from which we are suffering in the matter of road traffic, and I hone it will meet some of the difficulties of the railway companies.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, as has been pointed out by all those who have spoken this afternoon, this Bill is one of absolutely vital importance for the road transport industry. But what is perhaps not realised by all of your Lordships is that the Bill refers not only to heavy motor lorries, motor omnibuses, and so on, but to all motor traffic, to cyclists and horse-drawn traffic, and, in fact, to everything that moves upon the road. There is one particular clause in this Bill under which the Minister seeks power to restrict the use of the roads by any form 28 of traffic whatever. Clause 25 is absolutely unlimited in its scope. It gives the Minister power to prohibit the use of roads, if necessary, to cyclists, to horse-drawn vehicles, to light motor cars, in fact, as I say, absolutely to anything that moves on the roads to-day. I mention this at once because at a later stage those with whom I am associated and on whose behalf I am able to speak will certainly move Amendments designed to confine the scope of this clause within proper limits, that is to say, to limit its operation to heavy vehicles and so on.
The transport industry of the country realises—I think everybody realises and everybody is agreed—that some measure of regulation has been absolutely inevitable for the motor transport industry. But it is a great industry. It is an industry which has grown up and which has made vast strides in the last few years. It is an industry upon which many other industries depend. Many of the distributing trades depend very largely upon the motor transport industry for the transport not only of goods but of food-stuffs also. I think everything depends upon the administration of this Bill. The motor transport interests, I believe, on the whole welcome the Bill, but naturally they are somewhat nervous with regard to many of the provisions which it contains. There are provisions in this Bill which, if they were used in, shall we say, an unscrupulous way, are capable of very seriously hampering this great industry. There are large numbers of men who depend entirely upon this industry for their livelihood—how large not many people realise. I do not know that I realised it until the other day. This is, I am sure, a point that will appeal to the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Opposition.
Many of us on this side of the House were disappointed that a certain by-election in London recently did not turn out as successfully from the point of view of the Conservative Party as some may have hoped, and many inquiries were made with regard to this. I happen to know that at least one large transport company has its headquarters in the Fulham area, and I also happen to know that they employ well over a thousand men, and those men, nearly all f them voters in the constituency, for the most part did not vote at all, because they felt that under this Bill the Govern- 29 ment were seeking powers which might possibly have the effect, if they were so used, of taking away their livelihood. I only mention that as a point to show that it is not necessarily only the owners of the vehicles, or the people connected with the management of great concerns, who are affected, but it is also the workers who depend upon them for their daily bread, and who will be very largely affected if the provisions of this Bill result in harm to the motor transport industry.
Under this Bill it is difficult to see how road transport can make any further development. Some people may think that is a desirable thing, but that is not the opinion of those who know how much this industry has been able to serve the public, notwithstanding competition from other sources. They know that if any harm were done to this industry it might lead to very serious results indeed. At the same time, this Bill is likely to stabilise the road transport industry on a 1932 and 1933 basis. I would remind your Lordships of what has happened under the laws and regulations affecting motor omnibuses and motor coaches. I believe I am correct in saying that no new routes whatever have been brought into operation since those regulations were made, and no more omnibuses and motor coaches are now employed. hope—and I know that the road transport interests hope—that the administration of this Bill will be such as not; absolutely to throttle the road transport industry or to make it quite impossible for it to expand further. After all, it is not only the road transport interests which depend upon this industry; there are other interests which are concerned with the manufucture of the vehicles and the sale of them. The home market for these interests is very important if we are to have any prospect of development overseas, as we hope we may.
There are certain provisions in the Bill with regard to which, when we come to the Committee stage, the interests on whose behalf I am able to speak will certainly do what is possible to secure Amendments. For instance, one Amendment that we shall certainly ask for is compensation for those at present operating road transport, who, under this Bill, will not be able to obtain a licence, and whose livelihood will have been taken away. We shall also desire Amendments 30 in connection with the keeping of records. We do not consider, for instance, that it is any part of the province of the driver to be responsible for the records; we consider that that should be the responsibility of the owner. I have already alluded to the matter of restricted roads. No explanation has so far been given by the Minister or by anybody speaking on his behalf as to why the Minister should seek powers to restrict all vehicles on all roads throughout the country. We think it is reasonable perhaps for him to have power to restrict heavy traffic on unclassified roads, but we do not think that his powers should extend to light motor traffic, to horse-drawn traffic, and to cyclists. Then again, we shall move an Amendment to deal with level crossings which also come within the scope of this Bill, and probably another Amendment to deal with inquiries under the Bill. We are very anxious indeed that there should be no secret inquiries. Secret inquiries under this Bill would be likely to give rise to grave suspicion, and we hope that when appeals are being heard they will be hoard, as far as possible, in public.
There is one matter which has not been dealt with by any speaker this afternoon. I do not propose to deal with it at any length, only just to mention it. The Minister has given notice to the Road Transport Federation of his intention to move a new clause dealing with weak bridges, on the Committee stage of the Bill. I would ask the Minister to be extraordinarily careful about this new clause. As the clause stands it could easily have the effect of bringing all the motor transport of the country to a standstill; and not only the motor transport, but all the omnibus traffic in London. No fewer than 105 bridges in the London area are affected by the clause as it now stands. But I shall not dwell on that point, as your Lordships perhaps have not had an opportunity of seeing the clause.
The total volume of traffic affected by this Bill is very large. It is anticipated that no fewer than 370,000 vehicles will have to be licensed. A great deal of discussion this afternoon has centred round the C-class vehicle. C-class licences are expected to number a quarter of a million, and the subject is of the greatest possible importance. I am quite certain 31 that there is a great measure of agreement on all sides of the House with what has been done in order to secure fair wages and fair operating conditions on behalf of the men. I shall not take up the time of your Lordships' House longer. I shall only say that the interests for whom I speak do not wish to oppose this Bill. On the contrary, they wish to facilitate its passage; but they do hope that when they are doing that the Minister will try to give the most favourable consideration he can to the Amendments which we shall have to move at a later stage.
My Lords, we must all congratulate ourselves that the noble Earl who has just sat down is amongst us again. I think it would be a great satisfaction to this House if he would refrain from attaching himself to that dangerous employment that seems to amuse him and in future travel by the railways, which would convey him, if not with greater speed, at any rate with greater safety than he seems to enjoy at present. We owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Marquess who moved this Bill. Eminently he is the right nobleman to do it because, being Secretary of State for Air, he, of course, views from above the two interests which up to now have shown a certain opposition to each other. I trust that the Bill which he has introduced will be the end of the quarrels, or, anyhow, that it will lessen the disastrous quarrels, as we may call them, which have existed between road and rail transport. I do not propose to take up much of your Lordships' time, but I happen to be a railway director of some fifty-three years' standing and therefore, although wrongly, a certain bias will be ascribed to me. Anyhow, I ought to be able to bring to you the feeling that the railways have in connection with this Bill. I hope that in addressing your Lordships I shall not overstress the railway point of view or in any way belittle the railways' appreciation of the advantage to be hoped for in these competing industries lying down in peace together.
The Bill, we believe, tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. I regard the railway interests as the shorn lamb, and I am sure some of your Lordships have good reason to appreciate that. Your Lordships will know that much of the 32 wool borne by the railway lamb has been taken from it and is now being worn to keep other bodies happy and flourishing —a perfectly legitimate transference if the conditions enjoyed by the shearer were equally to be enjoyed by the sheared. This Bill, we feel, makes the shearing somewhat fairer, and the public has the satisfaction of knowing that if the shorn lamb gets in the way of national interests or stands too much in the way of competing interests, occupying a place it ought not to do on the highways provided largely at the expense of the State and the rates, or if it occupies such a place on the high seas or on the ways provided free by the Almighty, the public has a way of putting the lamb in its right place by appealing either to the Railway Rates Tribunal, the Transport Advisory Council, or the Appeal Tribunal, all safeguards set up by this Bill. The attitude of the railways is to accept this Bill, not by any means because they accept every point of it or because it gives them all they want, but in the hope that it will lead to that co-ordination so much to be desired between all the competing interests. Admittedly it gives the railways less than the Salter Conference recommended. That Report, your Lordships will remember, was unanimous, and it was unanimous largely because the railway members, although they were trying for other matters, agreed for the sake of unanimity to acquiesce in certain clauses of which they did not altogether approve.
During the debates the Minister of Transport indicated that the Bill was an essential preliminary to co-ordination of the kind suggested in the Salter Report. The railways accept it as such, and the House will recognise therefore that this Bill is an important and far-reaching attempt to solve the difficulties and differences which up to now have been so prominent among the competing interests. The Bill before your Lordships is an agreed measure. That is largely due to the conciliatory discussions which took place before the Bill came before the other House, and also to the able manner in which the Minister of Transport conducted the Bill through that House. It may be, indeed, it inevitably must happen, that none of us have got all that we wanted, but I suppose the next best thing to getting all you want is to get as much as you can, and that seems to express the position of us all. But I cannot too strongly emphasise the absolute neces- 33 sity, the long-felt necessity, of such a Bill, partly to relieve the railways from intolerably unfair competition and also to alter the conditions under which they were working—conditions which, when imposed, were perfectly fair, because the railways then had a monopoly of the transport system.
One word more. Under Part III it is proposed to set up a Transport Advisory Council. The railways welcome such a council, and note that the Minister of Transport has already agreed to transmit to that Council two matters of major importance, one being the proper division of functions between road and rail, and the other being the control and regulation of charges for transport of goods by road. It is most earnestly hoped that the Transport Advisory Council will lose no time in considering these matters, and, by the advice that it is able to give to the Ministry, bring about an equitable condition for all forms of transport and eventually co-ordinate them for the good of the State.
§ LORD ILIFFE
My Lords, it was far from my intention to intervene in a debate on the first occasion it has been possible for me to exercise the privilege of attending a sitting of this House as a member. There are, however, one or two points in connection with the Road and Rail Traffic Bill which I feel require amendment, and I should be doing very much less than my duty if I did not call attention to them. I will, however, as becomes a new member of your Lordships' House, be as brief as possible. The main principles of the Bill I do not question, and I hope it will speedily become the law of the land. There are, however, one or two points I would like to raise on the Second Reading in the hope that the Government may see their way to fall in with the views I am about to express.
First of all, it seems to me that the Bill, as it stands, creates a hardship in that it permits the Minister to refuse to renew an existing A or B licence although the applicant has an absolutely clean record and has done nothing whatever to warrant his licence being taken away. Presumably the ground upon which such a licence would be refused in such a case is that the licence is redundant; in other words, that there are other licences granted which are sufficient to take care 34 of the carrying in a particular district. When this clause was debated in another place it was suggested that the licensee should be compensated if a renewal of his licence was refused, but so far as I am aware no suggestion was made as to the fund out of which that compensation should be paid. In my view, and in the view of certain of my noble friends who are associated with me in this matter, the Minister should be required to renew all existing licences, provided the licence holder has not infringed the regulations, unless the renewal is opposed by other licence holders on the grounds of redundancy. In the case of refusal those who oppose the granting of the licence should be made responsible for providing the compensation. This compensation could easily be fixed by the arbitration tribunal which is provided for in the terms of the Bill. Unless this is done I fear that every application for the renewal of a licence will be automatically opposed.
Furthermore, a person whose business it is to convey goods by horse-drawn vehicles should have definite rights to be granted a licence should be desire to re-place those horse-drawn vehicles by motor vehicles. Alternatively, he should be granted compensation if that licence is refused. Unless such a provision is inserted in the Bill great hardship will result to those who have organised a carrying business and are arbitrarily obliged to curtail their activities for the common good of their competitors. Such a provision in the Bill would reduce the number of objectors to the renewing of a licence, and it would reduce the opposition to the grant of a new licence in the ease of those who wish to supersede their horse-drawn vehicles by mechanically-propelled vehicles. The objectors to a licence before they laid objection would take care to arrange that all who benefit by the reduction in the number of licences should provide their quota of compensation.
There is just one other provision in the Bill to which I should like to direct your Lordships' attention, and that is in regard to the unnecessary filling up of returns. Those noble Lords who are engaged in commercial avocations will, I think, agree with me that one of the major operations to-day in connection with our businesses is the filling up of forms. It requires a special department 35 in many large businesses to deal with the many returns which are required by Government Departments, and this House will be doing a real service to the commercial community if it insists that no returns are required unless some really useful purpose is being served. The Traffic Commissioners under the Bill cannot refuse to grant C licences; that is, as we have been told by the noble Marquess, to licence the persons or firms who provide transport for their own goods, and I suggest it is quite unnecessary to licence these carriers of their own goods at all. Alternatively, if they are licensed, they should not be required to keep elaborate records as to journeys and weights and other things which the Bill now requires them to do.
Then Clause 14, subsection (2), imposes the duty on the drivers of licensed vehicles to keep records and make entries in a prescribed form. I submit that the average driver of a lorry is not the sort of person upon whom a statutory duty of this kind could safely be imposed. The responsibility for keeping records should be imposed in every case upon the holder of the licence and not upon the man whose job it is to drive a particular vehicle. This should apply to all A and B licences but not to C licences, because in my opinion the C licence holders should not be required to keep these statistics at all. These, my Lords, are some of the major objections to the Bill as it stands. The noble Earl who pre-ceded me advanced other objections and with these I sympathise. I feel if these criticisms can be met it ought not to be necessary to occupy too much of your Lordships' time when this Bill reaches its Committee stage.
THE EARL OF KTNNOULL
My Lords, I put down a Resolution some few months ago with regard to lorry drivers and the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, was good enough on behalf of the Government to agree with me that the hours worked by some drivers was nothing short of a scandal and that the law was being flouted also—he qualified that by saying "by the less scrupulous type of employer." He was also good enough to accent my Resolution. He further assured me that the Government would introduce legislation to remedy the matter. The Bill now before your Lordships for Second Reading would appear to be the legislation then foreshadowed. But this 36 Bill does little or nothing to better the position which I am about to put before your Lordships.
The first point with which I wish to deal has reference to C-class licences. As the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, has explained to your Lordships, C-class licences extend to vehicles owned by, and to men employed by, firms whose primary business is not that of firms of contractors. Under the terms of this Bill the safeguards as to fair wages and proper hours do not apply to C-class licences in the same way as they apply to public-service vehicles. The number of vehicles owned by firms whose primary business is not that of firms of contractors is certainly 60 per cent., very likely 70 per cent. and more probably 75 per cent. of the total number, of lorries on the road to-day, and so at least 60 per cent., probably 70 per cent. and more likely 75 per cent. of the drivers of these vehicles are concerned. It was about the conditions of work of those drivers that I complained some few months ago. They are left entirely untouched by the provisions of this Bill.
In the first place, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has said, the drivers of lorries which come under the C-class licence do not have to pass any test such as that imposed on the drivers of public service vehicles in whose case a stringent test of reversing, getting a vehicle into proper place and generally having proper control of the vehicle is required. Thus any youth who is old enough to obtain a driving licence can be put in charge of a heavy lorry without having the slightest experience of driving such a vehicle. Driving a heavy lorry is a very different-proposition from that of driving an ordinary light motor car. Some of your Lordships may have had the experience of driving a lorry. I have myself. Everything is very much heavier. Changing gear is a wearisome business. It is not like the latest type of car with synchromesh and fluid fly-wheel. Most of the lorries on the road to-day are ancient. They are six or seven years old and still have the old type of gear change.
Then, too, it is a heavy business to steer them. I have no doubt that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will agree with me when I say that the steering is frequently worm driven, and is very heavy and tiring to handle for any length of 37 time. Then there is the length of the vehicle to be considered. Anybody who has tried to drive an omnibus will know what it is like to get round a corner. You have to take into consideration the length of the vehicle and, if you are not careful, you will go over the kerb with the back of it. Driving these heavy vehicles is a job that certainly needs a considerable amount of skill. And yet anybody who is old enough, as I said a moment ago, to hold a driver's licence is allowed to drive one of these lorries. It does seem to me most extraordinary that the Minister of Transport should allow such a dangerous weapon of potential homicide as a big lorry to be in the hands of a person who probably has no experience of driving this type of vehicle, and who has never undergone any test whatever as to his fitness to drive it. It would make more for public safety if an extra licence had to be granted by the Commissioner of Police to the drivers of these C-class vehicles in the same way as to drivers of public-service vehicles.
As I have said before, when I put down my Resolution a few months ago the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, was good enough to say that the Government would tighten up existing legislation. Since then in reading the newspapers I have seen week by week cases of people being prosecuted for breaking the law. It is not that there is an occasional case: on the average there are two or three per week. I have here some instances taken within the last two months and I will quote to your Lordships one which was reported in the Manchester Guardian on August 15, 1933. The report says:At an inquest to-day at Leicester on Reginald Daniel Jesse Rushton, a lorry driver, of Boston, employed by Alec Joseph haulage contractor, of Boston, the employer was severely censured by the jury.Rushton was fatally injured by his lorry's colliding with a tram standard at Leicester early on Friday morning. His widow said he only had an hour and a-half's sleep in the four days from Monday night till Friday morning. He went with loads of potatoes from Boston to Rochdale on Monday night"—and then she gave details of his journey. The report continues:Hare, the employer, said to the deputy coroner that he thought Rushton would get some rest between his journeys.The Deputy Coroner: Where was the time?Hare: After he delivered his loads.38The Foreman of the Jury: I hope you do not treat your other men like this.The Deputy Coroner: I should call it slave driving.The Foreman: The jury return a verdict of accidental death, but think the blame practically rests upon the employer for his inhumanity.The Deputy Coroner: I agree he is morally responsible.I take another case reported in the Manchester Guardian. I am careful not to quote the Daily Herald because your Lordships possibly do not like that paper. This case was reported in the Manchester Guardian on August 24, 1933. The report begins:The suggestion that a fatal road accident was caused through the driver of a heavy motor-lorry falling asleep on to the steering wheel while returning from a two-day journey was made at a Bolton inquest to-day.The report goes on to state that a witness said:Waugh [that is the driver] had been driving continuously, except for a few minutes when they stopped to fill up with petrol, since nine o'clock the previous night.The witness who said that, Waugh's mate on the lorry, gave the actual schedule. He said they left Glasgowhat 1 p.m., reached Lanark at 1.30, stayed there until 4.15 p.m., and then drove on to Carlisle. He also gave the rest of the schedule.
There is another case which I want to quote and I am sorry that this is taken from the Daily Worker of September 28. The report says:'Being asleep is no excuse,' said Mr. Griffith Jones to W. W. West, lorry driver, of Wingham Well, who was summoned at Tower Bridge Court yesterday for driving without due care and without a licence.Defendant said he had been working ail the previous day and at 5 p.m. left Sandwich to drive to Covent Garden. On the way hack he fell asleep and woke up to find another lorry coming towards him. He swerved to avoid it and struck the milk barrow. As he had no foot brake he was unable to pull up sooner.Many Kentish lorry drivers worked all day and drove all night at this time of the year. They picked and loaded in the day, drove all night to Covent Garden, where they unloaded, and then were expected to drive back again.Defendant was fined forty shillings.That is what is happening to-day. Drivers on the road to-day are going about in a state of semi-consciousness. They are a danger to themselves and a 39 menace to other road users, injuring and frequently killing themselves, as I have just illustrated by the cases I have quoted, and strewing death in their path as they pass over the roads too sleepy to keep properly awake, collapsing even at the side of the road from exhaustion.
There was a case the other day where a man driving a lorry, in order to comply with the law, went into a field to have half-an-hour's sleep. He lay down in a turnip field. It was raining and he went to sleep. A policeman happened to see the lorry, woke the man up and actually arrested him, saying that he was drunk. The man was proved not to be drunk. He was drunk from want of sleep; that is what it comes to. The newspapers are full of statistics of the butchery and murder occurring on our roads to-clay, but I ask your Lordships, is it the men themselves who are the murderers? No, it is not. These poor fellows are trying to do the humanly impossible in order to keep a house over the heads of their wives and children, to put bread and butter into the mouths of their families and save them from the indignities of the Poor Law. Is it the employers who are the murderers? In part, perhaps, because it is through their avarice for a larger margin of profit that they are working these poor men as even slaves did not have to work in the galleys. Or is it the Government themselves who are the murderers? The Ministry of Transport, by its failure to enforce the existing provisions under Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act of 1930, is largely contributing to the carnage on the roads. Mr. Oliver Stanley himself has admitted that the law governing lorry drivers' hours is practically a dead letter, the police and the magistrates having never made any legal attempt to enforce it. I challenge the noble Marquess and the Government to tell us what machinery has been set up to deal with this question of hours. No machinery has been set up and now in this Bill nothing is done upon this vital question.
There is one more case, the most recent I have noticed except for case which I saw in the paper to-day, and I will quote it from the Daily Herald of October 28:A lorry driver, giving evidence at Dewsbury (Yorks) Police Court yesterday, stated that he began work on September 3 at 4 a.m., and continued without sleep or rest until 2.30 a.m. on September 5, a total of 40½ hours. Messrs. Garlick, Burrell & Edwards, Ltd., haulage contractors, of 40 Chappell street, Liverpool, were fined £5 and costs for having employed Joseph Lancaster for more than eleven hours in twenty-four. It was stated that there were forty-two previous convictions for various motor offences against the company since 1922. Lancaster described an accident which occurred on September 5 and said the fatigue of working so long was a contributory cause. When he reported the accident to the company he was discharged. For the company it was stated that Lancaster was not dismissed, but walked out saying: I have shopped you"'.I naturally wondered who this firm was with 42 convictions for motoring offences since 1922; and what do I find?* I find that Mr. Edwards, who is a partner in this firm, is Chairman of the Federation of Transport Employers and, further, that he was a member of the Salter Conference. It is surprising that this Mr. Edwards, who is a member of a firm which works its employees 46 hours without any rest and has had 42 convictions since 1922, is the best that the Ministry can find to serve on the Salter Conference. If he is the best what must be the record of the worst?
I pass to a reference to the question of the fair wages clause, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, dealt with fairly exhaustively. The fair wages clause applies at present only to the public-service vehicle. I understand it is now to apply to A and B licences. But what about C? About 70 to 75 per cent. of the vehicles on the road conic under C licences and I understood the noble Earl to say that 250,000 to 300,000 men are employed. It seems ridiculous that there is no proposal in this Bill covering the C licences. In conclusion I would appeal to those who have the safety of the public at heart, noble Lords like Lord Buck-master and Lord Danesfort, who I am sorry to see are not in their places, to help in the Committee stage of this Bill to secure Amendments which will give the public some safeguards against the menace of the over-fatigued driver of these death-dealing instruments, and put an end to the terrible condition endured by these men who, through the fault of a rapacious system which takes no heed of anything but profit, are a danger to themselves and to the lives of the community.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a few minutes. We must all accept this Bill 41 as a necessity. I do not consider that all the provisions in it are as desirable as might have been expected, but we must take what we are given and, I suppose, make the best of it. I think we must all agree with the noble Earl who made a. plea for liberality, of administration. I cannot conceive that it is the policy of the Ministry of Transport to bring this industry of transport and haulage on the roads to a standstill because, if that is their aim, they are about to cripple a most important industry which has yet barely come to life. If administration is to be upon what I scarcely like to call the inhuman methods, but the rather unfeeling methods so prevalent among civil servants and others, a good deal of hard ship may be caused to the small transport men in this country. I think that they, probably unrepresented to a large extent and unable to make their weight felt, are going to be more penalised than anybody realises under this Bill. I would like to ask for a little information as to the position of the small haulier with, say, four or five lorries running regularly. Supposing, during working, one of the lorries meets by misfortune with an accident or a breakdown, I see no provision by which he can go to the maker of lorries or another firm and hire for any specified time a lorry to take its place. It may be said that if he is prudent he will have another lorry in reserve. But there is nothing in this Bill which gives him power to take out any form of licence to cover a margin and I think it will be a serious thing for these people if there is not to be some method by which they can transfer a licence from one lorry to another they may have to hire under, and only under, necessity. In the circumstances I think there will be a tendency, through no fault of the individual, to pass businesses over to big firms which can have the margin they wish.
There is another point on which I would like information. I see that when a man applies for a licence he has to state the rate he is going to charge. The statement of these rates, as far as I can see, under this Bill, will have no definite bearing on the issuing of licences, because whether the rates are too high or too low does not necessarily debar the applicant from having the licence for which he has applied. I think it is an unnecessary and rather an unusual thing 42 to ask an applicant to lay before the Commissioner a statement as to what are his charges and what are his methods of doing business, and I should like to be given some real reason why an applicant should be compelled to put forward his rates. I do sincerely hope that this Bill will work. I think it is a necessary Bill. Although perhaps it is not quite in the form in which I should have liked it, I think there is some necessity for it, and I can only hope that it will work and work to the benefit of the country. There is only one gleam of hope that I can see for the users of the road which has emerged from this debate, and that is the large step forward which Lord Ponsonby has taken towards joining the ranks of those who have demanded tests for drivers. I think that the talk of death-dealing vehicles running on our roads is equally applicable to any form of combustion engine in use upon our roads to-day, and, having seen him take one step boldly, we are encouraged to hope that he will soon take another, which will complete his conversion to our cause.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, I will only delay your Lordships for a few minutes. We cannot think of road traffic without bearing in mind that motor accidents are now counted by the hundred thousand and the killed and injured by over 200,000 per annum in Great Britain alone; but the results would be much more serious were it not for the hospitals, large and small, that exist in the towns and villages all along the motor roads. These hospitals were not put there by the motoring public as casualty stations, but were built mostly by local voluntary effort for the benefit of the local sick poor, They are run by kindly people, who always take in the most urgent cases, and these happen to be nowadays largely the result of motor accidents. So much so that local patients have to wait their turn after these casualty cases of strangers to the district.
These hospitals are not asking motorists to pay something towards the buildings and equipment that have so fortunately been placed in sites adjacent to the motor accidents, but they have been asking that the out-of-pocket expenses of these motor accident cases should be met, not by the local inhabitants, but by the motorists. Your Lord- 43 ships realised this point of view in 1929–30, and amended the Motor Traffic Bill which was then before this House, but legal and other difficulties have stood in the way of the hospitals reaping anything like a full refund. The annual cost to the hospitals is estimated at £230,000, and they recover only about one-eighth of this. It is estimated that in 1931 £34,000 was recovered, and claims for £58,000, arising out of 6,000 further cases, were still unsettled when the statistics were compiled. As hospitals dislike pressing their claim by legal action, they probably now obtain under a quarter of the expenditure incurred. The whole £230,000 is not a large matter if it were divided over all the motor insurance policies, probably under 2s. 6d. each, hut it becomes a very heavy tax when it has to be met in a large measure by the hospitals that happen to be near the highways upon which motor accidents are most numerous. If motorists really understood the true position I think they would not be content to have these comparatively poor hospitals continually acting as the Good Samaritan to motorists, and in my humble opinion no Road Traffic Bill is complete unless it amends the law, and enables these hospitals to get pretty full repayment of their out-of-pocket expenditure in connection with motor accident cases.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (TIM EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, I think I can safely claim that although this Bill has been criticised in certain respects its general principles have been accorded a very favourable reception in your Lordships' House. Many of the criticisms were in regard to matters of detail, which I think perhaps can be more properly dealt with on the Committee stage, but I should like, as far as I am able, to give a reply to a number of the questions which were addressed to me during the course of the speeches which have been made. Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, the Leader of the Opposition, made a criticism which is very often heard in connection with a Bill of this kind—namely, that, although he supported it, he did not think it went far enough. I doubt very much whether the solution of the problem before us which he has in mind is one which would appeal to the majority of your Lordships, but I do think we must keep this in mind, 44 that it is far better to go cautiously in a matter of this kind. Very many good causes have been spoilt by going too fast. We ought to go forward gradually in the light of experience gained, and I think we can claim that this Bill has gone a considerable way towards a solution of the problem with which we are faced in regard to transport and particularly road transport.
The noble Lord devoted the greater part of his speech to the fair wages clause and its application in this Bill. He complained of the fact that the fair wages clause was only to apply to the holders of A and B licences and not to the holders of C licences. There are arguments, I know, which can be brought forward on both sides with regard to this matter. I know that my honourable friend the Minister of Transport was anxious—I think I can go so far as to say that—to apply the fair wages clause to C licence holders, if it were found possible to do so, but after very careful consideration, as the noble Marquess has already told your Lordships, he came to the conclusion that the practical difficulties were such that it really was not possible, at any rate at that stage. The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill has, I think, explained to you very clearly, and at some length, the reasons which actuated the Minister of Transport in coming to that decision, but I am authorised to make a further short statement on the matter, which I hope may go some way towards satisfying the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition.
The provision of this fair wages clause, as applied to A and B licence holders, represents in itself a greatly increased field of compulsion, and it is reasonable to await experience of its operation before embarking on a step such as tile application of the provision to the large number of C licence holders as well. It is fully realised that the position with regard to organisation and agreements in the case of road transport workers is unsatisfactory, and that difficulty may arise in the application of the fair wages provisions even to the holders of A licences and B licences. It is desired to take all possible steps to endeavour to secure that agreed conditions may be brought into existence to which the Industrial Court may refer. With this object my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour proposes to consult 45 with the organisations of employers and workpeople with a view to the establishment of a joint voluntary body or bodies which will have as their object the settlement of proper working conditions. It is to the interest of all concerned that such agreed conditions should be settled and every effort will be made to establish a pasition in which this will be possible. I believe that that statement may go some way at any rate towards satisfying the noble Lord, and I think it is perfectly clear that if a state of affairs such as that can be reached—although actually the drivers for C licence holders may not come under these provisions in the Bill—that decision will react and permeate throughout the industry and have a considerable effect.
The noble Lord dealt further with the conditions of employment of drivers in the industry. He stated that there were at the present moment a great many inducements to break the law, inducements which were brought to bear, as it were, by the employers on the employed drivers. That may be so at the present moment, but there are undoubtedly provisions in this Bill which will make it much more difficult to do so in the future. To begin with, there is a provision by which records will have to be kept, and no doubt details with regard to hours of employment and various labour conditions will have to be referred to in these records. Therefore if there is any breach with regard to them it will be far more easily detected if this Bill becomes law than it is now. The noble Lord has mentioned specifically the point of a driver taking rest away from his vehicle, and said that his Party would press this matter to a conclusion on the Committee stage. I am glad to say that I am in a position to tell him that the Government are prepared to bring forward an Amendment with regard to this matter which I think will prove satisfactory to all those who are concerned.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, had very little criticism to make of the Bill, and he gave the Government his warm support. With regard to the matter which has been raised by the noble Lord opposite, the fair wages clause and its application to the various classes of licence holders, he 46 saw the difficulties which undoubtedly exist. I think he put the case very fairly. The difficulties are very great. They were clearly explained by the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill, but I was able to make the statement a moment ago which I think will go some way towards meeting the case, and which will probably have the effect of making this provision applicable to all those C licence holders where the conditions do not make it quite impracticable. I think that will probably be the general effect of it. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, raised a point with regard to holding companies and subsidiary companies held entirely by the first company. On that point I am able to tell him that the Minister is prepared to consider any Amendment in practicable terms which would enable the holding company and its 100 per cent. subsidiaries to operate under one C licence. That is a matter for Committee, and no doubt by that stage some suggestion will have been brought forward by the noble Marquess or his friends.
I should like to say a word or two in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Howe. He began by saying that this Bill would probably have the effect of closing down all development in the road transport industry. With due respect to one who has a far greater knowledge of this matter than I have, I venture to differ from him on that point. I really do not believe that will be so. To support his argument he quoted the effect of the Road Traffic Act on the road passenger transport industry and said there were fewer vehicles on the road now than there were when it was passed. I maintain that the number of vehicles on the road cannot possibly be taken as the criterion of prosperity or otherwise of an industry. What that Act did do was to produce order out of chaos, and unless some Act of that kind had been passed into law the road passenger transport industry would have wrecked itself and I really believe the same argument applies almost in its entirety to the road transport industry.
The noble Earl raised a number of questions of detail which he said he was going to refer to in Committee. I do not think it is necessary therefore for me to attempt to deal with them now. He did, however, complain of the possibility of there being secret inquiries 47 under this Bill. I really think that he is under a misapprehension. All appeals to the Tribunal will, of course, be in public, and I think I am also right in saying that on the revocation of a licence it is possible for the applicant to ask that the inquiry shall be held in public. I am not quite clear on that point, but I think that is so. At any rate, there is absolutely no intention that these inquiries should be held in secret. There is no ulterior motive, and the only object of not making them all public straight away is to try to avoid expense as much as possible. I think that consideration will probably appeal to your Lordships.
The noble Earl also referred to Clause 25, which gives the Minister certain powers with regard to the closing of certain roads to different kinds of vehicles. Of course, there is no intention of keeping bicycles and things of that kind off particular roads. The whole object really is to close roads to these heavy vehicles, and I think the noble Earl himself believes that that is a perfectly legitimate object to have in view. But I would also point out to your Lordships that before the Minister can make any Order of this kind he has to lay before both Houses of Parliament such an Order, and it will not be of any effect unless it receives an affirmative Resolution of both Houses. That is a very different thing from the way in which Orders are very usually dealt with in your Lordships' House.
I want just to refer to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford. He welcomed this Bill, too. He said once again that perhaps it did not go far enough, as far as he was concerned, from the point of view of the railways, but he did welcome it for the reason that it put the railways in a more advantageous position vis-à-vis the road transport industry than it had occupied in the past. I think he referred particularly to the clause in this Bill which enables the railways to introduce what is called the flat or composite rate, that is, an agreed charge which can be made to certain traders. I feel I ought to emphasise the arguments in justification of that clause. At the present moment, as your Lordships know, the railways have to quote charges of so much per ton per mile. Furthermore, they are under obligation to give no undue preference to any particular trader. This method of charging 48 is very inconvenient and very clumsy, but the real point was referred to by the noble Viscount—namely, that these conditions were laid down at a time when the railways had a virtual monopoly of inland transport. The position is a very different one now. That is a point which does not require to be emphasised; it is perfectly obvious. Since then the road transport industry has grown up. It has become very powerful, and it is in a very advantageous position compared with the railways. It is perfectly free to make any charges it likes; it is perfectly free to make any contracts with any particular trader it likes; and, furthermore, it is under no kind of obligation with regard to undue preference. It can quote one rate to one trader and another rate to another trader. In short, it can do anything it likes.
There is every reason why the railways should be put on a basis of equality with the roads so far as this particular matter is concerned. There are absolutely adequate safeguards so far as the trader is concerned. As has been pointed out by the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill, the trader has ample powers of objecting, either himself or through his representatives, and, furthermore, he can ask that if an agreed charge is approved by the Railway Rates Tribunal he himself should be accorded a fixed charge, if he thinks that his business is in any way deleteriously affected. I think it is perfectly clear that both the Tribunal and the railways will be forced to have regard to the position of other traders, and this fact should be a very great deterrent to any unfair advantage being taken of this clause.
I pass on. I should like to say a word or two about the remarks of my noble friend Lord Iliffe. Here may I say in parentheses, though most sincerely, we very greatly welcome his first speech in this House, and we hope he will find many opportunities in the future of joining in our debates. He viewed with a certain amount of alarm the possibility of the licensing authority refusing to renew the A or B licences. I should like to point out to him that the Minister has inserted in the Bill a provision creating a bias in the decisions of the licensing authority in favour of existing licence holders. That will be found in Clause 6 (2) (a). I think it is clearly impossible to create a vested interest in this 49 respect in favour of all the existing operators or of future licence holders. These were the arguments which actuated the Minister in coming to this conclusion, and they are arguments which have very great force. With regard to C licence holders, Lord Iliffe suggested that it really was hardly necessary for them to keep records. I venture to disagree with him on that point. I think it is most essential that they should have to keep records in order to check any flagrant abuses of the law. It is the small man very often who in the future may be a C licence holder. He is very often among the worst offenders in this respect. The nature of the records will be decided by the Minister after consultation with the Advisory Council, and will vary according to the nature of the industry.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to a number of very flagrant instances of breaches of the law in respect of the hours of employment. It is a subject which had already been dealt with by Lord Ponsonby. All I would say is that there seem to be provisions in this Bill which will make it very difficult for breaches of the law to be carried out without detection in the future, especially when those who may be inclined to effect those breaches in the law will know that their licences will in all probability be suspended. The suspension of the licences is a deterrent which probably will have more effect than any of the other penalties included in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, referred to the case of the small haulier who might have some three or four vehicles, one of which might break down, and he might be in the position of not being able to obtain another vehicle at short notice. I understand this difficulty is covered in the Bill. The applicant is entitled to a hiring margin; I think it comes in Clause 2 (6) (b), and I understand that the difficulty has been foreseen by the Minister and is considered to be adequately covered by that provision.
I have dealt fairly fully with the various criticisms which have been made about this Bill. As I said earlier they were mostly criticisms of detail which would no doubt be brought up again on the Committee stage and fully thrashed out then. But before I sit down let me refer to the remarks of Lord Luke. I 50 am sorry I did not refer earlier to what he had to say with regard to hospitals. That is, of course, a matter we have discussed on several occasions here, and I know that the representations that he has made are always in the mind of the Minister, and what he says will naturally receive consideration. In conclusion, I merely want to say that, as the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill has stated, the Government put forward no claim that by this Bill they have settled all the problems created by the modern development of mechanical transport, but we do feel that this measure represents a very definite step in the right direction. For guidance in planning in the future on sound lines the Government look with confidence to the members of the Transport Advisory Council, who represent many and varied interests, and who, I am certain, will give of their best in the service of the nation. In this connection I think the recent settlement of old difficulties between the railways and the canal companies is a very happy augury for the future. We have heard a great deal of late about this unhappy controversy of road versus rail. The Government's desire is to substitute for that competition, co-operation between road and rail, and we feel that the first step towards that end must be the stabilisation of the road industry itself, which up to now has been in an almost chaotic state, and it must be a stabilisation which shall rest on the sure foundation of security, of decent conditions of employment for the driver, of the road worthiness of his vehicle, and of due respect for the life and limb of other users of the road. I hope your Lordships will now give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.