HL Deb 15 July 1947 vol 150 cc636-57

2.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, you have heard quite a lot from me in connexion with this Bill, and I shall not impose myself upon you at any length at this stage. I will formally move the Third Reading, and make some observations later on the Amendments printed on the Paper in my name. These are either drafting or correction Amendments, or Amendments in fulfilment of undertakings given during the Report stage. I will reserve what I have to say until the Amendments are reached. I, therefore, beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Viscount Addison.)


My Lords, I think it would perhaps be convenient if I said a few words at this stage. I do not propose to deal with the Bill as a whole, because my noble friend Viscount Swinton will do that on the Motion that the Bill do now pass; he has a few words that he wishes to say at that stage. My purpose in rising is merely to mention one point which arose during the Report stage on an issue which caused difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government and which eventually led to a Division. That question is, of course, the question of the publication of the reports of public inquiries which are instituted under the Act. It has seemed to me—and I feel bound to say it to the House—on re-reading the debate in Hansard, that this difference arose materially and even mainly from the fact that those who spoke on this side of the House had rather a different conception from those who spoke on the Government side of the House as to the nature of these reports. We were not, as it were moving on parallel lines.

We on this side of the House had in mind a digest of the evidence which was given at these inquiries, and a statement of the broad conclusions for the benefit of the Minister, and even more the public and Parliament. That is what we wanted published. It seemed to me clear at the time of the Report stage—and I think this is equally true of my noble friend Lord Swinton and others who spoke—that reports of that kind ought very properly to be published, and that they would be of great value not only to Parliament but to the general public at large, because the issues to be discussed at the inquiry would not be limited issues but very wide issues. That -was the reason, of course, why we also pressed for an independent chairman. That gave art idea of the inquiry and report which we had in mind. The Government, on the other hand—and I want to be absolutely fair to them—as I understand it, had something entirely different in their minds. They had the idea of a confidential report by an officer of the Ministry to his own Minister. It is quite clear, of course, that a report of that kind could not possibly be published, and I do not think anyone in any part of the House would suggest such a thing.

It is necessary to say this, because I think this difference of conception in- fluenced very much the course of the debate and the Division which took place. I still feel—and I am sure your Lordships will understand this—that a public report of a character we had in mind would be a valuable contribution to the machinery of the Bill. But in any case, what I rise to do now is merely to clear up what I regard as a regrettable misunderstanding before the Bill goes to another place.

On Question, Bill read 3ª with the Amendments.

Clause I [The Commission]:


My Lords, this is only to correct wording which inadvertently found its way into the subsection relating to allowances. They are to be paid allowances, and therefore the word "grant" is not appropriate. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page a, line 43, leave out ("or grant").—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [The Executives]:


My Lords, this Amendment is in pursuance of an undertaking which I gave to make it quite clear that in the event of one of the Executives being wound up, there should be some body of persons appointed against whom an action could be brought if necessary. It was an omission in the Bill, or at all events a possible omission which was pointed out, I think, by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and this is the result of the undertaking I gave to make it good. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 12, line 35, leave out from ("Commission") to the end of the section and insert ("the scheme shall include, or, where there is no such scheme, the Minister shall by order make, such transitional provisions as to the parties by and against whom legal proceedings are to be instituted or continued, and such other transitional provisions, if any, as appear to the Commission and the Minister to be expedient").—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18 [Suspension of dividend payments, etc.]:


My Lords, these two Amendments are the result of an undertaking given to cover the point whereby through inadvertence notice was not given with respect to the payment of interim dividends before the end of July, in the event of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent before that date. I beg to move.

Amendments moved— Page 26, line 36, leave out ("or") line 38, at end insert ("or

  1. (c) of any dividend in respect of a period falling wholly or mainly before the date of the passing of this Act declared after the said date with the previous consent in writing of the Minister ").—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 39 [Certain road transport undertakings to be acquired by Commission]:


My Lords, this Amendment and the next (to Clause 52) are to carry out an undertaking given to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, to omit the words mentioned there which did restrict the scope of operations of the vehicles concerned. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 54, line 19, leave out ("from the site of felling").—(Viscount Addison.)


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for this concession. It does not give us quite what we asked for, but I do recognize that the noble Viscount has made a substantial concession and I am extremely grateful.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Additional restrictions on carriage of goods for hire and reward]:


My Lords, this is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 72, line 26, leave out ("from the site of felling").—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 94 [Sums which are to be chargeable to revenue]:


My Lords, this is merely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 114, line 30, leave out ("expressed") and insert ("to be deemed").—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Eighth Schedule [Orders giving effect to schemes]:


My Lords, this is purely a drafting Amendment, arising out of the decision we came to, and I believe it is going to be accepted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 157, line 19, leave out from the first ("Minister") to the end of line 22.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)


My Lords, this is to make English of the Amendment to which we took exception last time to which the noble Marquess has referred and about which I will have a word to say later on.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do pass. I have nothing much to add except to say that we have reached, I am happy to feel, the concluding stages of a very complicated and difficult Bill which has given rise to very prolonged and, I am sure, not only animated, but sincere discussions. I think that although there have been marked differences of opinion, on both sides of the House on certain issues, it would be right to say that, apart from those which I naturally regard as blemishes mistakenly inserted in the Bill, it is a considerably improved measure. Many improvements have been effected and I should like, if I may, to pay tribute to all those who have spent so much time and trouble trying to master an exceedingly difficult and complicated Bill. The Bill represents a gigantic adventure which will require and call for far-sighted and competent administration. As one who is enthusiastically in favour of it I feel confident that in due time—not rapidly, because it is a gigantic undertaking which will necessarily involve years of effort—as a result of this measure, this country will be supplied with the best transport service of any country in the world. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do pass.—(Viscount Addison.)

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, the Leader of the House has said that this is an appropriate time to review how the Bill has fared, what changes have been made, and the form in which it emerges. We have spent a long time on the Bill—nine days in Committee and two days on Report—but I do not think our consideration of it could have been concluded in a shorter time, both because of the importance of the measure and because so much of the Bill reached us without there having been any Parliamentary discussion at all. As the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, has said, a very large number of Amendments have been made in this place; and the great majority as the result of frank discussion, have been carried by agreement and without a Division. If I may say so, I should like—and I am sure the whole House would join with me in doing so—to pay a tribute to the Leader of the House for his courtesy throughout and for the care he has taken in going into every single point that was raised. It is a better Bill; we all took some share in making it so; but a great deal of its improvement is due to the noble Viscount himself and to the way in which he led the House in its long debates.

I shall refer only to the more important of the Amendments which have been passed, but a very great many more, running into many scores, of Amendments have been passed which have modified or clarified the Bill in matters of detail, some proposed by the Opposition, some by the Government, and passed as the result of discussion and agreement. There is hardly a clause or schedule in the Bill which does not bear the marks of the constructive criticism made in this House; and there alone, I think, if there were not greater instances, is a great tribute to this House as a revising Chamber.

May I review very briefly the more important? Here again, the great majority have been passed by agreement. First there was the question of the Commission. There we have agreed that the numbers as presented to us were too small for this great adventure, and now we have agreed in place of a chairman and four that there shall be a chairman and eight. That is a great improvement; it enables some to be whole-time and two or three to be part-time members. We have also agreed that the salaries of the officers of the Commission shall be published.

We dealt at great length with the powers of the Commission, and perhaps the most difficult point in that regard was the question of the power to manufacture. There I think a very satisfactory solution has been reached. We have made a very satisfactory arrangement limiting the Commission's power to manufacture chassis, bodies, composite vehicles, and major components. Another wise Amendment, introduced I think by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made it clear that the Commission would not deal in a lot of things which they ought not to be meddling with, such as garages, dealing in cars and secondhand vehicles, retailing petrol and so on. Then there was the question of the duties of the Commission in the matter of operating road transport services: that the Commission must give notice where they intend to discontinue a regular goods transport service.

Then there was a point, raised by the great legal authorities, of great interest: What ought to be the liability of directors and officers for offences committed under the Bill? There the legal wisdom of the House has produced, I think, the right solution, which makes people liable if they ought to be liable, and on the other hand, relieves them of liability if they have taken all the proper steps to ensure that the Act is properly carried out. Then there was one of those points which I suppose the noble Viscount would call a blemish, though we came very near together on that. It concerned Clauses 39 and 52—undertakings which are to be acquired and the right of independent people to operate. We did come to a certain measure of agreement on that. On the question of exempted traffics, we have agreed that felled timber ought to be added; we have agreed to add special vehicles which are ancillary to the exempted traffics. Then there was what the noble Viscount, I think felicitously, called the "escape" clause, by which the Commission has a power to exclude any undertaking if they are of opinion that, by reason of its special character or of the goods carried or the locality served, that undertaking should be excluded.

On passenger road transport, very considerable Amendments were introduced to deal fairly by them as regards the inclusion of passenger road operators in a scheme and for their representation on the body of management, and also for satisfactory and fair compensation for existing operators who are injuriously affected in other parts of their business which are not taken over Then there were the harbour schemes, where it looked at first as if we could not reach an agreement. But pursuing the matter, it appeared that there was a great deal more common ground between us than had appeared in the first instance. The Leader of the House played a great part in these discussions, both in your Lordships' House and outside. I think we arrived at a very satisfactory compromise. This raised the question of the Port Trusts and the local administration. There is no chance now that the great trusts will be interfered with. I do not think any of us believe that the Commission would want to do that. We are in agreement on that point. In preparing a scheme a proper latitude is allowed to the Commission. Indication is given that they must consider the desirability of including the users, and—this is equally important—that local management is to be carried out on the spot or close to the harbour or group of harbours. Those are the essentials of the well-established trust scheme.

Next were the charges schemes and Transport Tribunal. There again I think we had complete agreement. We were convinced that the Minister must have the power to make the interim increases in charges. It would not be possible to have for those the very long inquiries which a final scheme has to go through. At the same time it did seem unreasonable that the Transport Tribunal should not be brought in, and the Government have agreed—it is in the Bill—that, before he makes an interim increase, the Minister will consult with the Tribunal. Then, when the Tribunal comes to its big work of reviewing the final scheme presented to it by the Commission, I must say that I think the House has done very good work. Clauses 78, 79 and 80 deal with representation and the right of audience and appeal. We have established the right of all interested persons, whether users of transport or providers of transport, to have the right of objection and audience when a charges scheme is considered by the Transport Tribunal. I am not sure on which side of the House this particular Amendment was proposed but, very rightly, the consultative committees are to be entitled to consider charges.

When we came to the question of accounts, which was barely discussed in another place, we again reached complete agreement. It is agreed that the accounts shall be in the best possible form, but also—and this is most important I think—shall distinguish the financial and operating results of all the different activities of the Commission, and, in addition to that, that the Commission shall publish, or present their accounts for publication, with regular operating statistics. It seems to me to be altogether admirable to have accounts in the right form and operating statistics in the right form.

Then we considered the very difficult questions about compensation to displaced officers and servants and pensions. There again it looked as if it was going to be difficult to reach an agreement, but we all really wanted very much the same thing. We came to the conclusion, I am sure rightly, that we could not put masses of meticulous provisions into the Act of Parliament. On the other hand, Parliament wished to be quite sure that the right people were included, and that they were included in the right way; and we have adopted what was the practical solution, that this matter shall be dealt with by regulations, but that those regulations shall be laid in draft so that they can be considered in detail. I believe that may be a very valuable and useful provision.

On the further matter as to how disputes about pensions should be dealt with, once more we reached agreement, and we reached the agreement that that should be in the nature of an arbitration. That means two things. That means that there will be a complete hearing where a claim is made and where there is a dispute; that both sides will disclose their hands completely, and also that there will be an appeal on a point of law. Then the House, always anxious to see that fair is fair, if I may so put it, and to see that there is no discrimination, has inserted a clause drafted by the Leader of the House that there shall be equal treatment for travel agencies; that is to say, that there shall be no preference given by the Commission to a travel agency which they own as against an independent travel agency outside.

Then there was the question of the compensation for passenger road transport. As your Lordships will remember, when the Bill came to us there was a very detailed provision in the Schedules in regard to how the road hauliers were to be compensated, but there was nothing about how the passenger transport people, who would be brought in under a scheme would be compensated, beyond this: that they were to be treated as nearly as possible in the same way as the road hauliers. We have now inserted—and the Government draftsmen are responsible for producing them, and producing them in a very convenient form—detailed provisions for the compensation to be payable for the passenger road undertakings which are taken over so that they figure in the same way as the road hauliers.

I have run through these matters very quickly, and I have only taken some of the more important on which we have agreed. I believe that it is a very remarkable range of agreement. May I now say a word or two about those matters on which we did not agree? The noble Lord thinks they are blemishes; we think they are virtues. I hope we shall all come to a common mind on them. We can say, I think with absolute sincerity, and I am sure the Leader of the House will agree, that we have only divided where we considered that the interests of the public—that is the travelling public or the users of road transport—would be seriously affected or endangered, or where we considered that an important principle of justice or sound administration was involved, and very often the two things went together. There was the power of the Minister to give directions. I am not sure that we really differed very much about that. An Amendment has been put in, that the Minister shall not give directions which would render the Commission insolvent and unable to pay their way, taking one year with another, unless he had to do so in the interests of national security. I do not really think there was very much between us on the merits of that. I do not think the Leader of the House dissented from that as a proposition. The only question was whether it should or should not go into the Bill, and really that was the measure of the difference.

There were matters on which the difference went deeper, and to those I think I must refer. There was the question of the Executives. Your Lordships have decided that the appointment of the Executives should be by the Commission, and not by the Minister. I am bound to say that that was very reasonable. These Executives are the agents and the managers for the Commission; they are, in effect, departments of the Commission, which is responsible for policy and which has to treat the whole of this great adventure as a whole. All canons of business and sound administration support that decision. It is, indeed, the principle the Government themselves adopted in the Coal Act; and, honestly, I do not think any argument, or any effective argument, was advanced against that. Indeed, there is the power, as is common ground, to change these Executives about, to amalgamate them or to mix them all up. That really must be, I think, in the Commission, and the Government made it clear that it was unnecessary to amend the Bill in this respect, because we were informed that there was no doubt about it, under the Bill as drawn, that there is power in the Commission to appoint regional executives.

There was a Division about Scotland, which we felt ought to have its own Executive. I have little doubt myself that any Commission would, not only for its peace of mind but for sound administration give a separate Executive to Scotland. How reasonable we were. My noble friends the Earl of Selkirk and the Earl of Airlie were extremely reasonable in their requests. The widest discretion was left to the Commission as to what powers should devolve on the Scottish Executive. We only asked that there should be effective delegation.

I come back to the exempted traffics, on which we could not agree, and the question of what should be the test. The avowed object of the Bill is to take over long-distance road haulage, and to leave non-long-distance road haulage with the existing operators. The question arose as to what test should be applied. Can anyone, looking at this impartially, that the fifty-mile radius is not a fairer test than the twenty-five-mile radius? If you apply the twenty-five-mile test, on such a radius you could not carry traffic across Greater London; you could not carry traffic between Liverpool and Manchester, or between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It really is hardly reasonable. Surely these are short distances and not long distances. We added two more to the exempted traffics. We added what is called the Contract A licence, which is really equivalent to the C licence. Contract A licence is that under which a particular trader employs a man solely to carry his goods. Surely, that is, as nearly as you can come to it, the equivalent of the C licence, under which a man uses his own vehicle. If that is not accepted, I have not the least doubt—and I do not think anyone in any part of the House can doubt—that the only result of excluding contract A licences will be that everyone who used a Contract A licence will become a C licence holder and have his own licence. Then there was milk, regarding which everything is already co-ordinated by the Milk Marketing Board. In both these cases, the Contract A licences and milk, we were considering much more—and I am sure this is true of all of us—the interests of the user than the interests of the road haulier himself.

On the question of the onus of proof, it seemed to us that it was an elementary principle of justice that the plaintiff should prove his case, and that it would be a very odd new principle to introduce that a man must show cause why he should not be dispossessed, put out of business and have his livelihood taken away. On the same plane of fair and equal justice, we put the maintenance of the jurisdiction of the licensing authorities in passenger and goods road transport. These licensing authorities, regional authorities, have long experience and wide local knowledge, and have served the public well. We inserted a provision that they should, in exercising their jurisdiction, always act in accordance with any charges scheme approved by the Transport Tribunal, or any passenger road transport scheme approved by Parliament. Subject to that, your Lordships said that there should be the same law for the Government monopoly and for the permitted operator. Why should the Government monopoly be outside and above the law? On the question of the public inquiry I will say nothing, for it has already been dealt with by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition.

Those were matters on which we differed. They were important, very important, but they were far fewer than the matters on which we agreed. Opinion is greatly divided on this Bill. The majority of your Lordships, and it may well be also the majority of the people of the country, consider it the wrong way to secure coordination, that the experiment—I agree that it is a great experiment—is fraught with danger, and that the time is ill-chosen. But our task in the eleven days which we have spent on this Bill was to try to make it a better Bill, and, divided as people are in their opinions as to its merits, and on the question of the expediency of such a measure at all, I think few will challenge—indeed the noble Viscount the Leader of the House himself has endorsed this—that it leaves this House a better and a fairer Bill than it was when we received it.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, on the Second Reading of this Bill I ventured to say that we, as Liberals, could receive it with only small enthusiasm, although it did contain some principles for which we had stood for years—in particular that of the unification of the railways. But I am bound to admit that, as the noble Viscount who has just preceded me has said, it is a very much better measure now than the one which reached us from another place. Again, perhaps, I may follow the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in congratulating your Lordships on having done an extremely good piece of work. I should like, if I may, also, to associate myself with all he said in thanking both the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for the courtesy and the desire to meet us which they have shown throughout the consideration of this Bill. Indeed, I am not at all sure that I have not seen considerable traces in both of them of their old upbringing in the good old Liberal tradition, and I suspect that they would have gone to greater lengths to help us to turn this into a really good measure, if it had not been for the crippling restraint of some of their colleagues in another place, and of the trades unions behind them.

I feel that this House can also take credit for having improved and not destroyed this measure, to which, frankly, the majority of the members were completely opposed. Possibly I may be allowed, as one of the survivors of the struggle of forty years ago, to congratulate your Lordships on the success with which you have realized and justified the ideals which we set up forty years ago, that this House should become a revising and not a wrecking Chamber. Incidentally I might remark on the disappointment that seems to have been caused to some of the more extreme supporters of noble Lords opposite, who were looking to this Bill to give them a battle cry, of which they stand in such dire need at the present time.

Nevertheless, I cannot say that this is a good Bill. We support the nationalization and unification of the railways as, on the whole, desirable, though we do not view it with any great enthusiasm, because we realize that these enormous amalgamations carry with them very considerable dangers. I regret that the Government have not laid before us any plan to break down this great organization into smaller and more manageable units. Indeed the matter is urgent, as we can realize in view of the experience which we have had of the Coal Board. I am told that centralization, under that Board, is forcing managers to spend more and more time in making returns, and less and less time down the pits in touch with the men working under them, and that it is partly to the loss of this intimate contact, which used to exist, that the fall in output is due. And, indeed, the danger if it is great in the coalfields, is much greater in the far larger organization which is being set up under this Bill to cover the whole field of transport.

On one point, again, following Lord Swinton, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, for the concession he has made in leaving possible the local control in our great ports. That I do regard as a very great concession. On the other hand, I do not see much sign of leaving scope throughout the scheme for individual enterprise and initiative to assert itself against what is a little unfairly called the dead hand of Whitehall. And indeed we had an instance of this at the end of the Committee stage which shows the Government's affection for monopoly. When they agreed to give a similar opportunity to private tourist agencies so that they should not be squeezed out by those owned by the Government, they carefully limited that concession to tourist agencies already in operation, and so made it quite impossible for any enterprising ex-Service man to set up in that business.

On a wider survey this constant absorption of an ever larger proportion of workers seems to me to be disquieting, and if an industry is to be more and more in the hands of the Government and the trade unions, to get the closed shop, I think that is bound to result in an ever-rising spiral of costs at the expense, first of all of the community, and then of our industries, because the ever-rising costs would cripple them in their capacity to compete in the world markets on which we depend for our very existence.

To return to the Bill, while we agree to the unification of railways, we have always intended that the monopoly thus set up should be kept in check by road competition. The Government have rendered this almost impossible by sweeping all the road hauliers into their net. The C licence people, it is true, are outside, but if they are not allowed to carry return loads the cost of running will be so high as to almost put them out. I suppose that is inevitable now, but I would ask the Government to take a reasonable view and temper the wind to the shorn lamb by accepting the Amendment we put in here to raise the mileage limits to eighty and fifty miles, respectively. That is not a fair compromise but it is at any rate a compromise we could accept.

I have one further point, a large and important one, on which compromise has failed completely. In this regard the Government have shown themselves to be not only hard and unyielding but I venture to think grossly unfair. I refer to the price that is being paid to all for being taken over. I am not prepared to argue about the total sum, but thousands of smallholders and trustees have invested in senior railway stocks and, although the junior stocks may very likely have been speculative, as I frankly admit, the debenture and senior stocks were regarded as a safe source of income for trustees and charities, and the gravest hardship of a sudden and undeserved loss is going to fall with special severity on some of the most helpless and perhaps most deserving members of the community. I am afraid it is too late to alter this, but I regret that the Government refused our suggestion of arbitration, and that they should put up a global sure, as in the case of the coal mines, and leave it to the Commission to decide between the different classes of stocks as to a fair share of remuneration, for that would indeed have, helped the trustees. As it is, there are many thousands of holders directly or indirectly through trusts who will be cruelly hard hit through no fault of their own. By this little bit of meanness, the Government are laying up for themselves a quite unnecessary resentment and destroying the atmosphere of Good will which would have gone far towards making a success of this experiment. We do not regard this Bill as wholly meeting our views, but when it becomes law it will be the duty of all of us to try and make it a success.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Viscount Swinton mentioned the long and complex nature of the Amendments to this Bill. That was absolutely true and when I first saw the formidable list I had to spend five or six hours at home with a towel round my head trying to understand them, much less argue them across the floor of the House. What has been the result as regards these Amendments in the course of the passage of this Bill through the House? I am glad to say a large proportion have been settled by agreement and I should like to add a personal word of thanks to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, for the courtesy with which he has tried to meet me and other noble Lords dealing with Amendments on behalf of the passenger road transport industry. I feel sure I shall be voicing the feelings of the whole of the passenger road transport industry in expressing their thanks in this House. I should only like to say one thing more: as a very small travel agent, I thank the Government for the insertion of Clause 116 and their efforts to protect the small independent travel agent.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, before we say goodbye to this Bill—or perhaps, who knows, the right phrase may be "au revoir"—I feel impelled to say a word not on any of the technical aspects, but on a point referred to on Second Reading of which I think there is a danger of losing sight. On Second Reading, if I may be forgiven from quoting two sentences from my own speech, I said: Then there is the whole question of Civil Service administration. I do not desire to develop that, but your Lordships know that the saturation point of good administration has already been reached and passed. I went on to suggest at the end of my speech the course I would like the Government to take, which was to withdraw the Bill and think again. I am afraid that after the eleven days we have spent on it and all the hard work we have put in, that is perhaps at this stage a counsel of perfection, but nevertheless I think the question of the burden on the Civil Service is one which we have to have in mind, perhaps more with reference to the future course of events than to the actual fate of this Bill.

Before going further I would like to pay a humble tribute to the great British Civil Service. I suppose no one knows better than a Minister—and I have never had the privilege of being a Minister—how much he is dependent on the Civil Service and particularly on the head of his Department. The responsibility on the head of one of the great Departments is a colossal one. He is the channel through which all recommendations about policy have to go up to the Minister; to some extent the responsibility which is carried by our senior civil servants is heavier than that carried by some individual Ministers, because Ministerial decisions have to go to the Cabinet and are the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, but in the Department the senior civil servant is responsible. If I had to name the three qualities which have made our Civil Service the admiration of the world, I would say, first, loyalty to the Minister; secondly, thoroughness; and thirdly, the wisdom brought to the consideration of all problems. I say with the utmost regret that under present day conditions only one of those qualities can in the nature of things remain unimpaired: that is, his loyalty to his Minister. I am quite certain that no matter what Government may be elected by the people of this country, the Civil Service will remain as loyal as they are and always have been. But in to-day's circumstance it is not possible for this great Civil Service to bring the thoroughness to which we have been accustomed to bear on their task, and for that very reason it is not possible for them fully to apply the wisdom which in days past they have been able to use.

There has been a great expansion of Government Departments, and for the head of a Government Department we need a first-class man. The supply of first-class men even in the Civil Service is not inexhaustible. And, in passing, we must remember that we are suffering greatly from the aftermath of the 1914–1918 war, when a great destruction of the best people who would now be in these responsible posts took place and whose loss never can be made up. What is happening? The heads of Departments to-day do not have time to think. Matters are rushed, but in spite of that decisions are delayed. It is common knowledge that it takes a long time to get a decision on high principle. Correspondence is delayed; people writing to Government Departments have to wait a long time for an answer. But what is worst of all is—and it is quite undoubted—the health of the senior civil servants is suffering, and the sick list is a heavy one. We all know of cases where often several of the higher ranks are absent at the same time.

I am picking my words when I say that I believe that at this very moment the Civil Service is breaking down. It would not be right to use a general phrase of that sort without saying what I mean; I want to tell you exactly what I mean by those words. As you know, there is before Parliament a mass of legislation. The preparation of that legislation alone has imposed a tremendous burden on Departments, but this legislation is of such a character that, even when it is passed, it is not finished with. At once there is a trail of further work to be done; there is a trail to be followed of interpretation, because modern legislation is so complicated that even when it is through it takes a legal pundit to interpret it, and I think the Departments themselves spend a great deal of time settling what the legislation means after Parliament has passed it.

Then there is the question of regulations. Over and over again we have to put into Bills that the draft regulations have to be laid before Parliament. There can be no greater evidence of the complication and complexity of these matters, and that again lays a tremendous burden upon these senior civil servants. That is what I mean when I say that the Civil Service is breaking down. To put it more exactly, a load is being imposed on civil servants which is greater than their capacity to bear.

The application of what I am saying is to the future. The noble and learned Viscount, the Leader of the House, described this measure as "a gigantic adventure." No description could be truer. I think a gigantic adventure of this sort is one which should have been reserved, and should in future be reserved, for more normal times. Everybody knew when the war was ending that we were going to run into difficult times economically. Nobody foresaw the acute difficulties which now confront us. It is a commonplace to say that there is an economic blizzard approaching this country. We have to face that blizzard, and not the wisest of us can foresee when it is going to hit us or how it is going to arrive. Much hope is laid upon what is called the Marshall Plan. I think it is gradually being realized now that the Marshall Plan, whatever it may be, at best will be merely a palliative. We shall be struggling very shortly with the maintenance of our standard of living. We have a short-term and a long-term problem, and surely this gigantic adventure really concerns the long-term problem rather than the short-term problem. It is a thing which we should do well to postpone. I am not suggesting that we should postpone this Bill but, if there are other Government projects of nationalization on the stocks, I would beg the Government to give consideration to this point of view before they once again impose a still heavier burden which it will be beyond the powers of the Civil Service to carry.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to detain your Lordships for only a very few minutes before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House. This Bill has been debated clause by clause and line by line and, with the assistance and agreement of His Majesty's Government which we on this side of the House fully appreciate, the Bill has undoubtedly been considerably improved and clarified. In fact, the debates have led to the addition of a new form of Parliamentary language which is no doubt very expressive and all embracing but may not yet be found in the Oxford Dictionary. I think it is true to say that no Amendment has been carried in your Lordships' House against the Government which could in any way be considered a wrecking Amendment or which has sought to alter the declared policy of the Government.

I want to refer to one or two of the principal Amendments. I think it is important that they should be emphasized because we may eventually get some agreement. One of the principal Amendments which have been inserted in the Bill was directed towards an increase in the radius of action of the short distance road haulier. This was done in order to give him a little more elbow room and a fair chance to earn a living while in competition with the Transport Commission. In another place, the Minister of Transport declared that the original distance as drafted in the Bill was chosen "for no special arbitrary reason." I do hope that when the Bill reaches another place he will modify his views and give the matter his sympathetic consideration, because this very reasonable Amendment will go a long way to satisfy the legitimate claims of the road haulage industry for a fair deal. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will fully realize the importance of maintaining a contented industry. It will do neither the country nor the Transport Commission any good if a discontented, impoverished private transport system is to work alongside the organization of the Commission. It is for this reason and for justice to the short distance haulier that I hope the increase in radius of action will be retained in the Bill.

I would also remind your Lordships that the declared policy of the Government has been to nationalize long distance haulage. It would be of little use to increase the radius of action of the short distance haulier if the majority of the undertakings had been absorbed by the Commission, and therefore by another Amendment we extended the distance which determined by the formula in the Bill whether or not an undertaking would be taken over by the Commission. I hope that His Majesty's Government in another place will also give this Amendment their fullest and sympathetic consideration. It has been argued that by this Amendment the Commission would be unable to absorb sufficient undertakings to run their organization in an efficient manner. I do not believe this to be true, and I feel strongly that some agreement should be arrived at on these figures.

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has touched on another matter, which is the harbour clauses. I want to speak very briefly about this. He referred to the agreed Amendments which had been inserted in the Bill. We are grateful to His Majesty's Government for going a long way to meet us on the local administration and control of the ports and services. It must not be forgotten that under the Bill as it leaves this House it will still be possible for the Commission to prepare harbour schemes under centralized control, but in view of the "desirability of local administration," as now set out in the words of the Bill, I hope that no centralized control will in fact ever be instituted and that wise counsel will always prevail.

We on this side of the House feel that the basic principles of this Bill are wrong, unnecessary and forced upon the country at a time when all our attention should be directed to the reconstruction of our trade and industries rather than to the disturbance of our efficient transport system, but, when the Bill becomes law, we shall do all we can to ensure that the reorganization is a success, and we have endeavoured to ensure this success by carefully studied and well thought out Amendments to the Bill. I have little doubt that the Minister of Transport will take the greatest care in the selection of the members of the Commission. I wish them all success in a great enterprise which may well have a profound bearing on the future of this country for good or ill, and which will certainly tax the minds and ingenuity of these supermen, as they will certainly have to be if success is to be achieved. I close as Euclid might have said: "Quod erit demonstrandum."


My Lords, with the leave of the House I hope I may be allowed to say how much I am sure we have all appreciated the speeches that have been made on the Motion before us. I would like, if I may, to pay tribute to the remarkable summary of the Amendments for which we are indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I must say that I do not remember ever listening to a more compact, fairly stated and comprehensive summary of a very intricate series of subjects. Those who want to remind themselves of what we have been doing during these eleven days might quite profitably, if I may say so, read the noble Viscount's speech in Hansard of what has been done on this Bill. We are indebted to the noble Viscount for that review.

There is one further observation I might make. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, for his exceedingly thoughtful speech. Whatever his views and our views may be as to the future of the public service, I am sure we are indebted to him, and the public service is indebted to him, for the tribute which he paid to the Civil Service, so often misrepresented to the damage of the public interest. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said, and I thank the House for this opportunity of saying so.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.