§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD DUKESTON
My Lords, we have listened to a very interesting and informative Second Reading debate, and one thing that has surprised me has been the area of agreement. Most noble Lords who spoke from the other side appear to have taken the view that things as they are cannot he allowed to go on; that there must be some form of co-ordination, and that the competitive element between rail and road transport should be brought under control, otherwise the railways are bound to diminish in their influence so far as long road hauls are concerned. That, I think, concedes to the purpose of the Bill its main basic principle. We who believe that the form of co-ordination suggested cannot be effective short of nationalization support the Bill in the belief that, unless we get a completely integrated transport system, we shall at best delay economic recovery for a considerable time. And it may well be that we shall spend many unnecessary years because of the limitations imposed on our economic revival by a transport system which is generally recognized as wasteful in its competition and likely to prove economically ruinous so far as the railway systems of the country are concerned.
1018 Much stress has been laid upon wartime experience, and I think an impression has been created that but for the war the railways might have rehabilitated themselves, brought their rolling stock and permanent ways up to a relatively high degree of efficiency, and in that way have warded off what to some noble Lords appears to be the quite unnecessary evil of nationalization. I have taken some little trouble to get out one or two figures regarding the position in the immediate pre-war years. These by no means bear out the contention that things were going relatively well up the outbreak of war, after which time the rolling stock, permanent way and everything else suffered under great strain for a period during which, owing to that calamity, the necessary repair and maintenance could not be provided.
I am informed that the passenger train receipts in 1924 amounted to £95,000,000, and that that figure had fallen by 1937 to £75,000,000. In the case of goods train receipts, in 1924 the figure was £106,000,000, and that had fallen by 1937 to £95,000,000. I think, therefore, that the trend in the immediate pre-war years was obvious in the matter of competition for long distance haulage between the railways and the mad hauliers, and it was clear that in that competition the railways were fighting a losing battle. If one looks back one can recall a time when canals got into a similar position. I can remember railway companies becoming interested financially in the inland waterways of the country, and whilst I do not say that it was consequent upon that interest that, over very large areas of the country, those waterways fell into disuse, the facts are there to be seen by anyone who travels about the country. Many of the waterways that might have served a very useful purpose, particularly during the war years, are so silted up, and the towing paths have fallen into such a state of disrepair, that it has become quite impossible to use them at all.
Now it is a remarkable coincidence that the railway companies pursued the same policy with the developing road transport, and to-day, I understand, they have interests in—if they do not control—anything up to 5o per cent. of road transport. I am limiting that statement, of course, to long-distance haulage, which is the real 1019 competitive factor, and whilst my percentage may be one or two points out, generally speaking I think it is correct. I do not know whether that coincidence means that without the Government intervening and attempting to bring order out of chaos we might have seen the railways degenerating, I do not say to the extent that canals have degenerated but at least to something proportionate. Another figure given to me by people whom I regard as fairly competent puts the transport cost in relation to the over-all expenditure of the country as high as one-fifteenth. I think that figure reveals how basically important this internal transport system of our country is to every phase of our economic life. Unless we are going to put transport right, unless we are going to prevent the continuation of this wasteful competition, then I believe that, at best, we are bound to delay that rehabilitation which each and every one of us wants to see effected in as short a space of time as possible.
Much has been said about ownership and control. We have debated the theory as to whether or not this over-all integration of the transport system can be effected better while it is left under private ownership or when it is put under State ownership, and we seem to have discussed that very largely from the investors' point of view. Not too much has been said about the interest of the people who invest their lives in our transport system. It is just as well, I think, that we should look at that interest. Figures that have been supplied to me are as follows. If we take the railways, including hotels, I understand that the pre-war total of employees was somewhere in the region of 600,000. For docks, harbours, and rivers, the total number of employees was 125,000. The corresponding figure for public services was 245,000, and for private haulage the over-all figure was 240,000. I shall not include the figures relating to "C" licences because I think that is outside our discussion. I believe the over-all figure, the inclusive figure, for the transport industry of the country approximates to 2,000,000 employees. It can be said with a large measure of truth that so far as the opinion of those people is concerned it is overwhelmingly in favour of the nationalization of the industry. I think, too, that some regard should be paid to security of tenure and to the standard of 1020 life of the people who are employed in those great industries. At least as much regard should be paid to that side of these industries, I hold, as is accorded to what appears to me to be almost an obsession in the minds of some noble Lords—they seem to think that the only interest to be considered is the ownership interest, which I do not hesitate to call solely and simply a vested interest.
I was very much interested by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He rather deplored the development of large undertakings, the loss of personal contact between employer and employee. It is a remarkable fact that in industry in the last quarter of a century the tendency has been all in the direction of the development of absentee ownership and of the relegation of managerial obligation to specialists who are not necessarily owners and who are, in fact, very largely employees, receiving their direction from someone far distant and removed from any direct responsibility. In fact, personal contact has grown to be the exception rather than the rule. I fail to see why those personal contacts should not be developed and improved under public ownership just as they can be built up and maintained under any form of private ownership. But it is the fact that that element has been neglected, and the actual control of policy-making in industry has grown more and more remote from those who invest their lives.
I think it is no use bewailing that divorce. We should apply our minds to seeing whether in future years these personal contacts can be developed and made quite as effective as they used to be under the old owner-manager relationship, in which the man at the top knew each and every one of his employees and regarded him almost as part of the family. I had the pleasure some months ago of addressing what I believe was the first national conference of the Personnel Managers Association, and I was agreeably surprised. It does seem that in these immediate post-war years we are waking to the fact that the most essential element in any industry, transport or other, is the human factor. I could draw some rather brutal pictures of personal experiences in industry in which the human factor did not seem to matter at all. 1021 The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, will be interested to know that there was a time when I worked for a railway company, but I did. not stay with them very long. I worked for 19s. a week. We were paid on a Monday night, and such were the conditions that I well remember that the gang if worked with, when the whistle blew at 12 o'clock on Saturday, adjourned to the bankside or into some railway waggon, pooled their money and played cards, so that the two who were fortunate enough to win had a good Saturday night and the rest went home to bed. I believe we are developing away from that kind of thing and I hope that in all these nationalized, or shall I say nationally controlled, industries some provision will be made for the care of the human element. We have gone a long way in the provision of welfare. We have done a great deal to provide reasonable amenities, and so far as experience has gone up to now that has proved to be a very profitable investment. But it must be understood that we are only in the beginnings of that experiment.
There have been sufficient inquiries and reports into this problem of an internal transport system to permit of no further delay. That there is a conflict of opinion is beyond dispute. We may regard it as being a conflict of ideologies, but, however it is put, the fact remains that all those who have sat down and given any serious thought to this matter have concluded that we must limit the competitive element if we are to develop an efficient internal transport system. So much is common ground, and it does appear to me that whilst there may be disagreements here and there, when we reach Committee stage there might be a pooling of ideas to see how far this Bill can be amended. I welcome the agreement from both sides of the Opposition—if I may put it in that way—to approve a Second Reading, to give an opportunity of looking at the Bill in more minute detail and to settle down to making it a first-class working job.
I would like to reply to a rather jocular remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, yesterday. He put a question as to whether a final arbiter as to the degree of co-ordination would be the T.U.C. I can assure him that he can sleep in his bed to-night. The T.U.C. knows the limits of its obligations. It has no desire to intrude itself on our democratic parliamentary system. It is a very fine body. 1022 It has a great deal of experience of the work of co-ordination, and I doubt if there exists in any other country a body which can bring together at a focal point the opinion of 7,000,000 organized workers. I should have thought it was known by everybody that the T.C.C. has not hesitated to give the bet refit of its advice to Governments of any kind, whoever they may be. It is one of its claims that, regardless of the colour of the Government, the T.U.C. will always be available to give whatever advice it can, arising out of the breadth of its industrial experience.
I thought I had better assure the noble Viscount the Acting Leader of the Opposition that lie need n be afraid that the T.U.C. would usurp the functions of members of your Lordships' House or the responsibilities of members of another place. I am not sure which of your Lordships said that in the passing of this Bill we should witness parliamentary and political pressure being put on the controlling authority to concede wage increases, and so on. I give to him the same assurance as to the noble Viscount. The trade unions will never sacrifice their executive autonomy to politicians—I am pleased to be able to say that. I think it would be lamentable if we brought into parliamentary debate the detailed regulations of that very intricate problem which so many people think they can blue print and plan for us.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I welcome the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, of his belief in the relations between man and man in industry. Possibly no element in this Bill causes us greater anxiety. Under the Bill it will be man against rule. It is these rules which will constitute one of the greatest difficulties in operating the whole of this Bill. The noble Lord raised one of the reasons frequently given for bringing this Bill into operation. He said it was due to competition with the railways. Let us remember what that means. It has been called "creaming the traffic." The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, talked about "piratical hauliers." Let us see who is getting the benefit from these "pirates" and the cream of the traffic which they are drawing. It is the members of general public who to-day are getting the cheapest fares they can expect to get. 1023 What I am concerned about is that here we are building up a pure monopoly. Where does the member of the general public stand when he is faced with a complete and absolute monopoly? We have slipped into the word "monopoly" without any real justification of what it means, or why it is necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, I regret to say, slipped into this word straight away from "integration." There is a very big step between integration and monopoly which could be filled logically, and which the noble Lord is quite able to do. I am sorry he did not give us the logical reason which made the step necessary. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, when he said that monopoly, either private or public, should not form any part of the State, though I believe, with noble Lords opposite, that if there is to be a monopoly it should be a public monopoly.
What safeguards are the consuming public to have against this monopoly? I want to give an illustration to emphasize why a safeguard is necessary, and I will take the bus fare from my home to Glasgow and compare it with the railway fare. The bus fare is 2s. and the railway fare is 5s. 3d. That is the measure, of the interest which the general public have in the passing of this Bill. It is commonly stated that the intention is, to pool receipts. The benefit of the alternative fares—which work out in my case at 15s. a week against 35s. a week—is considerable. What assurance, if any, is offered in this Bill that the public will continue to receive the advantages they have had in the past? After all, up to now, if anyone did not want to go by one means of transport he could always choose an alternative. In future there will be no alternative unless the Commission decides to provide it.
What is the proposal that is made? The proposal is that there should be a tribunal to decide rates. What can that tribunal do? It can take the rates the Commission offers or it can refuse them, but what yardstick, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, said, can they take in the future? They can take none, and under Clause 76, they may leave it to the Commission to set the rates. I am afraid I found extremely little satisfaction in the Rates Tribunal for pro- 1024 viding or insuring that the minimum rates which stand at the present time will continue. We find there is a second method to protect the consumers, and that is the consultative committee. That point was adequately dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, but I find it is even weaker than he suggested.
In the first place, the Minister may abolish the consultative committee at any time. In the second place, the consultative committee have no power to ask for information; and it is no use tackling a subject unless you can compile the necessary information upon which judgment can be formed. It is suggested that the consultative committee should meet twice a year and that the recommendations should then go up to the Central Tribunal. If one wants to complain about the timing or the cost of a bus service in Inverness it has to go to Edinburgh where an appeal is delivered to the consultative committee; it then goes to London, and is laid before the Minister and the Traffic Commission. It then has to go back to Edinburgh, and up to Inverness. This is a ridiculous and impossible proposition.
Finally, I come to the third resort which the public have—the great court of Parliament. Parliament is essentially unsuitable for dealing with the question of railway rates. It is a case of de minimis non curat lex. It is far too small a matter for Parliament to deal with. What it may do is to remove the Minister of Transport but that, in itself, will not make a good transport system. A cardinal difference has taken place with the passing of this Act. No longer is the Minister of Transport in a judicial position between the consumer and the operator. He will be solely on the side of the operator, and if there is a complaint between one and the other he will invariably come down on the side of the operator. If I were to criticize civil aviation, as I shall do in a minute, you would find that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, would be on the defensive. If one were to criticize coal one would find the Minister in charge of fuel and power would be the same.
I would suggest that the first essential is to provide some fourth power in the State which will safeguard the consumer in the administrative function of the executive. We have frequently before now had to curb the executive in this 1025 country. If one goes back, the Great Charter was nothing more or less than a curb on the executive, and it established a judiciary system in this country by which no man could be convicted without due course of law. We want a fourth estate in this country to secure that the executive conduct the administrative affairs efficiently. No man is a good judge in his own case, and the Minister must necessarily be judging his own affair. If I may quote our national poet:Where self the wavering balance shakes,'Tis rarely right adjusted.I feel we have a great duty to ensure in this Act, if it is necessary for the executive to have these great powers, that there is some adequate and proper check to enable the consumer to see that his interests are properly looked after. We have had that up to now through the Traffic Commissioners. They may not have been strong enough, though they have been fairly strong, but they could have been made stronger. But the consumer to-day is entirely at the mercy of the monopoly which has been set up. It is the duty of His Majesty's Government to see that the public is adequately protected.
We have been told that the small operator should have a fair field for operation. I think it is quite clear that the terms of the Bill make it very difficult to know exactly what is his field. The terms of the forty miles and the twenty-five miles are not in themselves clear to understand. Nearly all these matters are more difficult to interpret afterwards than before. It is of the utmost importance that the field in which the small operator can work should be as clear as possible. During discussions on the Civil Aviation Act we were told frequently from the Government Bench that charter was free for all. We know that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but the price of free charter is 5 per cent. to British European Airways. The Act cannot be satisfactorily interpreted, so anybody who wants to be free to operate a charter service pays 5 per cent. to avoid argument. That is the situation which exists at the present time, and the same thing will happen to the small operator if the law is laid down without absolute clarity on this subject.
I would like to say one word about the local authorities, because it is in that field, it seems to me, that the real mask of the Government has fallen off. It is not a 1026 Bill for public control; it is a Bill to bring in central caucus control, It is nothing more than that, because public control already exists and is not to be allowed to continue. At the present dime £17,000,000 in assets are being taken over from the corporations in Scot land for £2,250,000. I have not totalled up the reserves, but it will mean that about £21,000,000 of assets are being taken over for £2,250,000. Whilst that is public money, it reduces the independence of local authorities. Whit is the use of being economical in the expenditure of money if every time you save up reserves they are taken away? The spendthrift local authority would be at a much greater advantage, for their liabilities would be removed.
What is even more important is that the autonomy of the local authority is removed. You are placing a system of transport under a control that is far removed and the local autonomy to develop as it wants is lost for ever. Can the noble Lord really suggest that the halfpenny a mile charge in the Glasgow trams can ever be improved? The only way in which this charge can move is upwards. There is no chance of a better and cheaper service being provided by this centralized caucus. Yet the intention of the Bill is to take away the control which exists at the present time. It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that it is necessary for the road transport executive to run the Glasgow trams as it would be ludicrous to suggest that the London Passenger Transport Board should be run from Edinburgh. Yet that more or less is now what is being suggested. There is no excuse for it. There is no profit-motive behind the running of the Glasgow trams. They are run by a public body.
If I may, I will now say a word or two about Scotland, because in that sphere there are one or two questions which I want to ask. We have had a number of promises from the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, with regard to consultative committees. I am bound to say that I should be very happy if they were abolished. I can see no useful purpose of any sort being served by a consultative committee. What I should have liked is what I have urged on previous occasions—a resident, executive, responsible management. You must have men on the spot who can carry out the task. If you do not, you will strangle development and prevent the best use being made of the facilities which exist. 1027 Has any consideration at all been given to the special requirements of Scotland? The noble Earl, Lord Airlie, mentioned some of them. Has this plan been developed in a Whitehall office, and particularly in regard to the 25-mile radius for road hauliers? Has anything been considered? Has it been considered that Dunoon is five miles from Greenock but a road journey of 150 miles? Has it been considered that some of the lochs are more than twenty-five miles long while only two or three miles wide? Have those points been considered? Can the noble Viscount the Leader of the House tell us that those points have been examined, weighed, and considered with understanding?
This matter has been considered in Scotland, as the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, said, by the Scottish Council of Industry and Development. I should like to tell your Lordships what that Council consists of. It represents all branches of effective political opinion, and includes representation from the Convention of Royal Burghs, from all local authorities in Scotland, from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, will be interested in that), from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, trades associations, co-operative associations, and trades councils. The members of the Council represent all shades of opinion and are entirely indifferent to questions of nationalization or non-nationalization. What they are interested in, and what they understand, are the requirements of the country.
How can anyone living in London say he understands the requirements of the country such a long distance away? Those men whom I have mentioned are the men who do understand such requirements. They have no political opinion that they express. They are perfectly clear—and have taken advice on it—that a transport board can be formed for Scotland, convened of persons with proper knowledge and experience. This board would be responsible to the Commission in London and could be integrated with it and with the executive committees. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said this was a business proposition. If he went to Scotland and consulted anyone, he would not regard it as a business proposition to be run by an executive centred in London, responsible for road, 1028 rail, and hotels. If he does not believe that, I ask him to consult anyone of business experience in Glasgow or Edinburgh and to find out his reactions. I think they would be as clear as crystal.
If I may, I will try to give one or two examples from the sphere of civil aviation. The noble Lord, the Minister of Civil Aviation, is present. There are many parallels between civil aviation and this proposal. I think it is fair—if it be not irrelevant—to try to give a picture of what has happened. I will take as my first example the question of foreign air services. Your Lordships may remember that under the Bermuda agreement the intention was that the services should be run, roughly, on a fifty-fifty basis: that is to say, fifty by the domestic companies and fifty by foreign companies. We find that in Ireland and Holland—two countries extensively used by foreign operators—the international services are between 65 and 70 per cent. domestic—that is to say, Dutch or Irish—and 30 per cent. foreign, whereas, after all the promises we have had, in Scotland 95 per cent. of the international services are operated by foreign companies and 5 per cent. by British. If that is not starving the natural ability of the country, I do not know what is.
It means that the corporations in London have no interest in developing the national trade and resources of the country. I will give your Lordships another example, with regard to the supply of aircraft. We have had recently a service in which aircraft ten years old in design are being replaced by aircraft twenty years old in design. The Dakota is being removed and its place being taken by the old J.U. 52, that famous parachute-dropping aeroplane which we all read about during the war, and which I personally flew twenty years ago. That is what is happening under this central caucus. Would they have that aeroplane appearing in London? No. They would be ashamed to have it come down to London. But it is good enough for Scotland. I could give many other examples. I have mentioned those two points. We are being forced into a caucus which is not proved. It is an economic experiment which has no precedent in industrial history. There are no safeguards for the individual. Sociologically, evolution has shown us consistently that great organizations are too complicated, too difficult to 1029 continue and cannot adapt themselves to new circumstances. They die and become extinct. It remains to be seen whether what I might call one of the outstanding failures will die or not.
Finally, I would say that this is morally unjustified, because it reduces personal responsibility; and personal responsibility is vital. We in this House have a great responsibility to ensure that the rights of the consumer are adequately preserved, so that the individual may go about his lawful affairs with the services which are provided by this monopoly.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, I make no apology for rising at this rather late hour to intervene in what has, I suppose, been a momentous debate upon what is to the country a most vital matter—that of nationalization of transport. In opening the debate this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said he had asked himself if the project was fair. It is my duty, on behalf of the many thousands of ex-Service men in the road transport industry, to endeavour to warn your Lordships of the unfairness of the Bill as it stands at present. In order to do this, may I for a few brief moments give your Lordships the background of this great industry of road transport with which—I must admit at once to your Lordships—I have had the privilege of being personally connected for sixteen years?
The men responsible for this industry were non-commissioned officers—corporals and privates—who had saved up their money in the First World War, and who as pioneers bought vehicles—many of them with solid tyres. They took a chance. The spirit of adventure was still allowed, and not controlled as it is today. Did the men give service to the country? I venture to suggest to your Lordships that they have given to the country not only a service, but a very remarkable and efficient service; and that without that service it might well be that we should not be sitting here now. Because of the shortage of railway trucks, and so on, during the war, road transport was able to step into the breach and save our munitions at a critical moment. Without them we might not be here.
These men put their all into a business. They built it up. It is perfectly true to say that in 1938 the railways found that the competition of road transport was 1030 militating against them. But I am equally glad to be able to tell your Lordships that it was my proud privilege to take the lead in instigating the joint conference of road and rail. I took the chair at the first meeting that took place, with Lord Stamp and Sir Ralph Wedgwood, and from that meeting was started the Road and Rail Conference.
I want to refer now to this question of unfairness. Let us take the case of an operator who has built up in twenty-seven years a business which brings him in an income of £1,700 a year, who helped to fight for his country in the First World War, and whose sons were killed in the last World War. Under this Bill his business will he taken over (he has only seven vehicles and it therefore falls within the scope of the Bill) and he will receive 21 per cent. on the capital in all that will be paid for goodwill and vehicles—namely, £240 a year, as against£1,7,700 a year. Where is the fairness in that? This is not an exceptional case, as the Minister said in another place the other day. I have in my file over 300 of such cases, and I have taken great trouble to investigate them all. I am giving just this one instance, although I could give many others. Can that possibly he fair to an ex-Serviceman who fought in the First World War, and whose sons were killed in the Second World War? I cannot believe that His Majesty's Government— who, after all, have been telling us and the whole country how they are on the side of the working people, and want justice for them—will not, from this moment, before the Bill goes into Committee, see that justice is done to these men, and that they get their proper due if and when their businesses are taken over.
Turning from that, I want to make one other point. This Bill is really a most curious Bill of contradictions. I notice that the noble Lord who introduced it this afternoon found it difficult to explain. There is one contradiction which I do not really understand. Take the case of furniture. The Government will come into possession, through the railways, of the largest furniture removal company in the country—namely, Pickford's. In view of the fact that they will be Government owned, they will be able to carry furniture from "A" to "B," and will not have to bother about bringing furniture back. 1031 Under the Government scheme they may bring back any goods they like. Accordingly there is no difficulty in finding goods, nor is there difficulty in getting rates. But the ordinary furniture remover will be able to carry only furniture from "A" to "B," and must bring furniture back from "B" to "A." He will therefore be handicapped at once by this octopus.
I beg His Majesty's Government, in fairness, to think these questions over, because they are at the bottom of our make-up as Englishmen. They are not just small incidents in life, but are part of our life. I do trust, therefore, that when we come to the Committee stage that point will be taken into consideration, out of sheer justice. Lastly, I would like to correct, at any rate, from my own point of view, one point which has been made. I have travelled the country, north, south, east and west, and I have spoken at many Chambers of Commerce and of Trade. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who says that our system of transport is inefficient, I have yet to find a single trader—
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
If the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting, I never said anything of the kind. I know he would not wish to misquote me. I said that I was not going to enter into argument as to whether it was inefficient.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
I am glad the noble Lord did not say our transport is inefficient, because it would be a curious statement. I can state that the Chambers of Trade and the Chambers of Commerce are unanimously against this Bill, which would seem to show very clearly that a most efficient form of transport has been established throughout this country, despite our difficulties. Time is getting on. I had a good deal more that I would have liked to place before your Lordships this evening, but I will just say that, in my opinion, the Bill is still completely illogical—there are all these anomalies in it; nothing is clear—and from my experience of transport over fifty years, if this measure goes through in its present form the chaos will be so appalling that we shall be put back not just two years but a quarter of a century.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, we are now reaching the closing stage of this 1032 long and important debate, and before the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, makes the final reply for His Majesty's Government I hope I may be permitted, with due regard to the lateness of the hour, to attempt to gather together some of the main considerations which have been urged, and to put to the noble Viscount, if I may, one or two questions which are not intended in any way to be traps but which indicate areas of the Bill about which we would be glad to have his explanation. We can begin, I am quite sure, from a common point of view, very well expressed, if I may presume to say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, at the beginning of his speech. Nobody can doubt that the proper arrangements for inland transport in this country are matters of the greatest possible importance to the whole community. We need not take any Party sides about that. I suppose it will be agreed that in testing whether a plan is good or bad, opportune or ill-timed, one may put the question: Does the plan, so far as goods are concerned, provide the trader with a cheap and efficient service? We all know that an inefficient service, or a service that is unnecessarily expensive, strikes at the very root of the project that we are all trying to improve at this time.
The first point I want to make about the Bill, on behalf of those of my friends who agree with me, is this—and I put the question directly to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison: Is the timing of this Bill wise? Let us consider. We are admittedly at this moment in the most serious of economic difficulties. We are adjured to increase production, and are told, no doubt quite truly, that every day counts. We are begged to do everything we can to increase exports and increase them now. We are warned that we are under the shadow of possibly even greater economic and financial difficulties. I put the point that was implicit in that most moving speech and fine argument, as I thought, of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Is it really wise in that situation to bring forward and push through this immensely important measure? It is not as though the carrying of this measure into law were going to change the situation in a twinkling of an eye. If at some early date we have again some members of your Lordships' House sitting in 1033 their full robes as a Royal Commission, conveying the Royal Assent to this measure, it will not transform that situation. The Bill itself is to begin to operate on a fixed date—January 1 next year—but the benefit, if there be benefit in the Bill, and the improvements, if there be improvements, which you think it will produce, are, I should think, admittedly matters of very slow growth. I would ask the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, as the principal spokesman of the Government here, what indeed the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, asked him: In how many years, or in about how many years, is it really expected that the new system— which you believe will be so beneficial— will be in approximately complete working order? It is a perfectly reasonable question, and it is one which I feel sure the noble Viscount will not mind being asked.
Just see what it is we have to-day. We have a Bill which, if I may say so, has obviously been put together in haste. I am told that there were 280 Amendments to this Bill put down by His Majesty's Government in another place since it was introduced, and a large number of them were carried under a closure which even prevented their being explained or justified. No inquiry, such as serious-minded people suggested—although I agree that there have been inquiries on some of the aspects of this matter before—has been held which went to the issue as to whether this was the time when this could be safely done. We have here a practically blank clause providing far the ascertaining and ultimate setting up of a new system of scale of rates. Yet, as I read it, there was a ministerial declaration in another place about that. "Why, bless me," said the spokesman, "I have hardly begun to think yet how that subject should be handled." I may point out that in the Bill of 1921, which my noble friend will remember, there were a whole set of clauses which carefully provided for the principles upon which the new scale and system of rates was to be built. As I will point out in a few minutes, the present topic is a far more difficult one than that, because to get a scale of rates which is going to do what is necessary, both for the man who uses the railway and for the man who uses the road, will be a very serious question indeed, and one upon which I think parliamentary opinion on 1034 the principles would naturally have been required.
That is the nature the Bill. But it is a Bill which, by Clause 12, comes into force on January 1 next, and I would ask the House at this final stage just to consider the extreme recklessness, as it seems to me, with which we are invited to enact that the first day of January, 1918, without qualification or mode of escape, is to be the day on which there is to vest this whole mass of undertakings in the bodies of persons specified, which includes the Commission of these five wise men. Anybody who heard or read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, made late in the debate yesterday will be immensely impressed by the list of things that have to be done. I do not know whether it was possible for the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to be present at that moment—and I do not blame him if he was not—but I wish he had the time to read the paragraph in yesterday's Hansard at Column 951. There the noble Lord points out the host of things that have to be done, and in good order, by that fixed date.
Any noble Lord who has had any parliamentary experience has known many Bills in which the vesting date is not fixed by the calendar date mentioned in the Bill but is a date which is to be prescribed by Order in Council, which means that the Government has control over the date, or it is a date which may be indicated in the first instance, but with the provision that the Minister may postpone it if he finds it necessary. But here I find a feature which is very novel and, as it seems to me, having regard to the vast operation to be performed, amazingly reckless—namely, that this thing shall happen on January 1 of next year, whatever be the circumstances at that time and whether you are ready for it to happen or not. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, pointed out, on that day the directors, according to the Bill, walk out. He gave an account, which I think was very instructive for many of us, as to what indeed is the part they play in railway managements. Here you have a Bill which provides that this Commission is to be appointed, and that these five or six executives are, be it observed, to be chosen by the Minister. They are to be ready to carry out the day-to-day management of this vast variety of undertakings, 1035 and we are invited to commit ourselves to the proposition: "Let us have a fixed date, and January 1 next year will be the time we may safely choose."
I should have thought that by this time His Majesty's Government would have learned some of the dangers of fixing dates when they do not know what is going to happen in the interval. I should have thought that their Indian policy in that respect would have given them a warning that there is a certain wisdom in securing a little latitude. But that is not so here, and therefore we are to go in for what many people must feel is the biggest gamble at the most anxious time—at a moment only seven months hence—however far you may find yourselves then from being ready to take over and manage this immense combination of undertakings. That is the first point, and I wish to put this to the noble Viscount: Can you really justify a date so early for this immense transformation? What are you going to do if things are not ready? Have you thought that out? Would it not be wiser to provide against that danger? Surely this new Commission cannot be willing to take over responsibility until it is satisfied and prepared to certify that the new machinery over which it will preside is sufficiently arranged to give a prospect of working smoothly. You cannot move officials and men of different grades from one service to another service as though they were so many cattle. Every single contract that you have has to be remade, and in some cases negotiated.
I do not want to spend further time on this point, but I do most earnestly beg that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will, on looking at it, be good enough to give us his views on the matter. I invite him to justify, if he can—though I am endeavouring to speak with moderation, and not to pronounce final judgment without hearing him—that feature in this very important Bill.
There is a second point I wish to make, and I want to raise one or two questions about the scope of the transfer. Primarily, of course, the acquisition is of railway and canal undertakings and of certain undertakings for the transport of goods by road haulage. There is much more that lies behind, but those are the primary things. As regards the railways, there are many people who say, as I 1036 heard the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, say yesterday, "Well, the railways, after all, are a national monopoly, and that is sufficient reason for putting them in public hands." I have great respect for that argument; it is one which, in its proper place, I frequently urged with complete conviction, and I do not try to change my argument according to the circumstances. But I would ask this question, which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge also put. Is road transport also a national monopoly? Of course it is not.
It is ridiculous to treat road transport as though in the nature of things it were something which was monopolized by a single proprietor or undertaker. And the reason why in this Bill—not content with taking over the railways—you want to take over, to the extent proposed and for the exclusive use of the Government, transport by road, is that you dare not take over the railways without controlling both. According to you that proves that you should nationalize both. It is a possible view that it might be a reason for nationalizing neither. The truth is that a nationalized system such as the nationalized railway system is a very delicate plant. It brooks no rival near the throne. It is quite true that in view of the development of road transport to-day, the great development of the internal combustion engine, the great improvement in road tyres, and so on, there is here a terrible rival to the railways. But when you have acquired both, what is it you are really going to do with road transport? Are you going to encourage it or to discourage it? No wonder you do not say any more in this Bill than you have done about your scale of charges. I would like to ask the noble Viscount if he thinks this is a matter which he can properly answer.
When this Bill hands over to the Government the property in the railway undertakings and in this great mass of road undertakings, will it not be necessary to have scales of charges which will endeavour to restrict road transport? There was a time in my life, if I may make reference to it, when I knew a little about railway rates and charges. I had a good deal to do with them in my old days at the Bar, and I might have passed an examination in the more elementary principles—provided that the noble Lord, 1037 Lord Walkden, was merciful in examining me. This idea of charges for road transport seems to involve a perfectly different conception. Is it not the case that what you will need to do is not What you do with the railways, to fix maximum charges above which you must not go, but that you will have to fix for the roads minimum charges and provide that nobody shall charge less? That is a good look-out for the British trader. That must be a great encouragement to the man who wants to get cheap transport. And if you do not do that, how are you going to make what you hope to make out of the railway portion of your system?
I notice that there is a provision in the Bill that the customer is still to have the right to choose by which route he would prefer to go, road or rail. Yes; but there is a slight qualification. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that he has only to have that choice if the Commission provides both rail and road method. It will not be much comfort to a man to say, "You have your choice, but unfortunately there is only one way to go." Undoubtedly, the scientific management, such as only a Minister of Transport and his colleagues can secure, will make, an effort to provide what it can. But will that not have the result of shutting up a number of railways and, for all I know, prohibiting a certain amount of road transport into the bargain?
If that had been explained early, instead of being left to be devised by the Commission and submitted to the Transport Tribunal—and then in some cases put back on to the Commission, a very curious feature—and if it had been known and appreciated by the traders whom in this Bill we are endeavouring to please, it would have made a rather surprising disclosure. I agree with a phrase which I think fell from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, that if you take over the railways the taking over or control of road transport would be an inescapable consequence. Otherwise, the railways in many cases would be run out before they had begun to score. But the consequences are serious, because it really means that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Long, said, you are in fact curtailing and confining road transport in a way that a great many people would not approve.
1038 I will not repeat the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, used with such effect to show that the proposals of this Bill in respect of road transport would impose a new set of restrictions on the freedom of the use of the roads. It seems to me that that is so. I therefore ask the question: Is not the real truth about what you are doing in this aspect of the Bill that it is an endeavour to restrict road transport in the interests of Government railways and to impose on road transport not a schedule of maximum charges but a series of provisions which will secure that the road transport people shall not carry for less than the amount which you lay down? And that would he Very curious.
Whether or not we shall achieve that ambition of my always cheery and optimistic friend, Lord Walkden, so that every trader in the country, if he wants to know what he has to pay to the Government transport services, will merely fish out of his waistcoat pocket a little book and look it up, I do not know. If that is going to be made possible, I hope that the Government transport services will also take in hand Bradshaw. Why should Bradshaw consist of anything more than a pamphlet of more. than four pages? I feel convinced that those who are so attached to the principles of nationalization will say: "It is quite simple and it can all be put down on two sides of a half sheet of notepaper." Well, we shall see. That is not the effect which the postal guide makes upon me at present, but perhaps that is owing to some defect in the postal service.
Let me call attention to one other thing in connexion with the road transport business which greatly surprises me. It has been decided by the Government, according to this Bill, that they are not to take over all road transport. As one sees from reading Clause 39, on page 48, there is to be excluded those road transport undertakings which can show that they are not what are called "ordinary long distance carriage" undertakings. If any of your Lordships still retain a slight glimmering of interest in the sort of problems which, as schoolboys, you were invited to study in the Second Book of Euclid, or the simpler curves in conic sections, let me invite you to look at subsection (2) of Clause 39 on page 48. Here it cannot be said there is no pro- 1039 vision as to detail. The subsection reads:In this Part of this Act, the expression 'ordinary long distance carriage' means, in relation to an undertaking, the carriage of goods by the person carrying on the undertaking for a distance of forty miles or upwards in one goods vehicle or a succession of goods vehicles, in such circumstances that the vehicle, or, as the case may be, one or more of the vehicles is, at some time during the carriage, more than twenty-five miles from its operating centre.Then there are a series of exceptions about furniture removals and other things. I still retain an interest in such mathematics as I was ever able to command, and I have tried to school myself to understand this. It seems to me that you first find the operating centre—Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London, or wherever it may be. You then, as Euclid would say, "describe" round that centre, with a pair of compasses, a circle with a radius of 25 miles. I think we can all do that. You will escape being described as an "ordinary long distance carriage" concern (and will, therefore, avoid being expropriated by the Government) if your predominant occupation consists in carrying goods—I suppose that means the same parcel of goods—a distance of not more than 40 miles inside that privileged circle.
As the circle has a radius of 25 miles, its diameter, of course, is 5o miles; so you cannot go from one side of it to the other, because that is more than forty miles. Very odd results appear to me to follow. Take for instance the relation of Manchester and Liverpool. I think the best road between them is 38 miles long. If you have your operating centre in Liverpool, beware of going to Manchester, because that is more than 25 miles; and, in the same way, if you have your operating centre in Manchester, beware of going to Liverpool! The best thing is to have your operating centre at a place like St. Helens or Warrington, because if you describe a circle of 25 miles radius from there, it goes through both Liverpool and Manchester. It is true that you must be very careful. If you have a job to do from Liverpool you must run in empty. Do not take any risk of carrying goods for too great a distance—that is a crime. You may go as far as you like within the circle so long as you do not carry goods.
1040 This, we are to understand, has got rid of what some of your Lordships have described as "useless competition." You may drive to your heart's content and burn up petrol for nothing, but when it comes to carrying anything, then for heaven's sake do not carry it for more than 40 miles. I have been led to speculate on how this will work out. A noble Earl who spoke a short while ago gave an illustration from Scotland. I will take another case. Let us suppose that the operating centre of my particular concern is Dover. If I take my pair of compasses, stick one end into Dover and describe a circle of 25 miles radius, it will include Calais. Therefore, I have the permission of the Government, without any risk of being expropriated, to drive my vehicle with a load upon it (that is to say if I know how to do it; I suppose for the purpose it would be as well to acquire a "Dukw", or at any rate some sort of vehicle capable of crossing the Channel) as far as Calais. On the other hand, I am not allowed to go the other way for more than 25 miles. I must say that I think it would be a considerable improvement in this doubtless ingenious formula if you were to provide that if the operating centre was within so many miles of the sea then at any rate you might have a larger circle to describe. That, I agree, is a detail but it is one that shows that when we come to the Bill in detail there will be a good deal to consider.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Will the noble Viscount forgive me for interrupting, and allow me to suggest that the puzzle, as it seems to me, is even harder and more amusing than he thinks? I venture to say that even he has the answer wrong! This subsection which relates to 25 miles and 40 miles says that it is "ordinary long distance" if you travel more than 40 miles and are, at some point, more than 25 miles from your operating centre. I think that means that if you put I the operating centre at St. Helens you can travel more than 40 miles, provided you are never more than 25 miles from St. Helens. I believe that that is so.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
It gets "curiouser and curiouser"! I do not want to spend time on it now, though I agree that this is a very appropriate excursus to the proposition of Euclid which I was expounding. Another thing, let us consider the 1041 Government's proposal to exclude holders of "C" licences, as they have done in the course of the debate elsewhere, though it is very easy to attach too much importance to that. If the Government are going to acquire the long distance undertakings, the long distance undertaking is able to go not only long distance but short distance too, and therefore it is, by this fact, set up as a rival to the "C" licence, and that will be the end of it. What charges they will make in order so far as possible to get goods in their own Government waggons remains to be seen. The truth is that all this part of the Bill seems to be—and I have studied it with great care—in a most vague condition. It would have been very much better if there had been more consideration given to it and maybe an inquiry held to find out what would be the best thing to do. The railway and road haulage companies have between them produced a plan; that is what the Rail-Road Agreement means. Whether it is good or not, I am not expert enough to know. At least it goes to show that we must consider whether we require nationalization to get over these difficulties. I am by no means convinced we do.
I hope the noble Lord who is to reply will be good enough to give us a short explanation of a point that is rather a worry to some of us and upon which Lord Nathan was good enough to touch earlier in the day. It is whether, under this Bill, the Government monopoly, when it is set up, is a monopoly which will extend the right to manufacturers of making chassis, not merely for a particular Government undertaking, but generally. That is a matter of very great importance. If we give consideration to that part of the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred, we see that from beginning to end there is nothing in the subsection which authorizes the general manufacture of chassis. But it does riot arise in that way; it arises because in exercising the rights of acquisition under this Bill the Government will acquire enterprises which themselves own, or own all the shares in, a chassis company which sells to anybody and sells for export. The question is: Is the Government going to go in for that business or not? The only further contribution I can make at the moment is that in Hansard on December 16, 190, Column 1662, the 1042 Minister of Transport, Mr. Barnes, said: "The Commission will not be able to manufacture chassis for road vehicles." I want to know whether or not that statement may be taken as a correct assurance.
I would like to turn to another point which hardly received the attention it deserved. It has to do with ports. A most serious question arises here. Broadly speaking, and taking the main ones, there are two main classes of ports. There are ports like Liverpool, Glasgow, or the Port of London, which are public trusts. They are not conducted for profit. They operate on the spot. The people who manage and constitute the trust are chosen under Statute for the purpose of representing interests who really have to be considered, and I do not think anybody will deny that those ports are most admirably managed. Is the Government monopoly going to lay its hand on these public trusts? There is provision in the Bill for drawing up a scheme which may have that result. I submit to your Lordships that it would he a grave mistake for this Bill to contain a clause to do that at the present time. There is no reason for it. There is the greatest advantage in having local administration in each of these great ports; in the event of trouble, the people who are managing go and see for themselves what is the matter. Conditions at one port differ immensely from another. In London there is a lighterage system. In other ports there is some other feature which is quite special to them. I suppose in Liverpool that feature is in handling cargoes—not carrying out the whole of the cargo. There are hundreds of technical, local, special differences which are solved in an excellent way by these port trusts. The Bill ought not to contain any provision which would allow them to pass to the general Government monopole.
The other class of ports is the railway ports, like Hull, a port of the L.N.E.R., or the Welsh ports belonging to the G.W.R., or Southampton. They will under this Bill, I suppose, automatically pass to the Commission because they are at present, as it were, at the far end of the railways; but I submit it would be very doubtful whether that situation ought to continue. It seems to me it should be considered whether these ports should not themselves be provided with a proper local trust and managed in a similar 1043 fashion. I cannot imagine anything less desirable than that you should seek to create a monopoly in the service of the ports of this country. It is a matter of great importance to shippers and others concerned that there should be real rivalry. When, the other day, the "Queen Elizabeth" happened to run on a sand bank on her way to Southampton, I am sure the hearts of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were not very grievously wrung. This rivalry between port and port is a good thing, and I suggest that that ought not to be allowed to be interfered with in the Bill.
One other problem which the noble Viscount who is to reply may solve for me is illustrative of a great many more. It is the case of Thomas Cook and Son. As it happens, the shares—all the shares, I think—are owned by the railway companies. They were asked to take them over when Thomas Cook and Son were in a bad way because of foreign travel having been stopped during the war. The result is that, under this Bill as it stands, the Government are acquiring the enterprise of Thomas Cook and Son. Are they going to keep it? Thomas Cook and Son and similar institutions are admirable organizations to which the British citizens may go and find out which is the best hotel in a foreign town—or which is the cheapest, which is not the same thing. You will get everything arranged for you with the greatest courtesy and personal consideration. Another thing they will get for you is that invaluable £75 sterling, and keep you out of the clutches of Mr. Intrator. Are the Government going to do all this in future, either themselves or through an agent? I cannot conceive it. What on earth have they to do with inland transport? It is next door to accident that the Government acquire Thomas Cook and Son, and I should have thought the proper position was this: that when the Government monopoly acquires something because a considerable part of the enterprise is within the scope of inland transport, they should within a limited time sell, by offer to the public, those other parts which have nothing to do with inland transport.
An instance which is an immediate analogy and well known to many people is that when a railway company obtains power from Parliament to secure additional land (in some cases without getting 1044 special powers because the company already has them) the railway company is bound to sell the land it does not use for the purpose of its undertakings That has been part of the law for one hundred years, and it is so to-day. The land has to be offered first of all to the adjoining owner, and after that it may be offered to others. I do not want to make fun about this, or to waste time, but is it a case that the Government intend, in the case of Thomas Cook and Son, to retain the travel agency business? Is there to be an office in the Avenue de l'Opera still carrying the name of Thomas Cook and Son, but only because that is a disguise for the agent of the Minister of Transport? It seems to me to be quite a ridiculous idea.
I submit that when it is carefully examined this Bill is not one which is really worthy of the immense problems with which it professes to deal. Once we get rid of our prejudices (which I know is a difficult thing for anybody to do), what reason is there for thinking that we should produce a more efficient transport system for industry by abolishing every vestige of competition, by expropriating the present proprietors at a price which is not fixed by an impartial tribunal, by imposing what is really a bureaucratic State monopoly (which must tend to put an end to enterprise) and by giving an almost unlimited power to the Minister of Transport, as Lord Balfour of Burleigh showed very clearly this afternoon, for a superhuman task? Where is the justification for doing this at a time when all of us, without distinction of opinion or party, want to throw all our energies into improving our production and increasing our exports?
If this Bill, on getting the Royal Assent in a couple of months' time, would do that, there would be a great deal to be said for it. Nothing of the kind will happen. I will undertake to say that it will be the best part of a generation before this Bill is really in effective working order, just as it took seven years for the Act of 1891—a similar Act—to come into force. I suggest that the moment chosen for starting this upheaval is a moment when a false step may land a leading industry into a most deplorable bog, and that this immense interference with some of the most complicated arrangements which can be made will produce, or threatens to produce, an unparalleled complication. I will end, if I may, by 1045 following the elegant phrase of the noble Viscount on the Woolsack (which has already been quoted in this debate at a time when he was not here) and submit that this Bill is "ill-conceived, ill-considered, and half-baked."
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, we have had a discussion on this Bill which has varied from the entirely critical, through the helpful Committee points discussion, to the thoroughly entertaining—a description which can be applied to some parts of the speech which the noble Viscount has just made to us. It had not occurred to me to ask whether the railway companies would dispense with Messrs. Thomas Cook & Son and Dean & Dawson's, but that suggests to me another question. Why did the railway companies acquire them? I take it that the railway companies went out of their way to obtain those businesses because they found it was advantageous to do so.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am trying to answer the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. It is a perfectly legitimate speculation for an ordinary person to make—that the companies acquired those businesses because they felt it was worth their while.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
That only makes my case all the stronger. The railway companies acquired these undertakings, and I have no doubt it was advantageous for them to own them. So far as the Government is concerned, I should imagine that when the Transport Commision deal with this matter they will take the view that if it is worth their while to retain these companies they will do so. I should think that would be a very sensible thing for them to do.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Would the noble Lord let me continue my speech? I did not interrupt the noble Lord once, and I 1046 must crave the same indulgence from him. I was going to say, in answer to a particular aside of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that I have no doubt at all that if the Commission think it worth while, or if the Railway Executive think it worth while, to retain this concern, they will retain it, and there is every reason why they should. In the Bill there are powers for them to do so. If it was not worth their while to keep it they can get rid of it. I think that is a sufficient answer for the moment to that point. I hope that this Commission will take a more enlightened view than has been taken in the past of the desirability of providing accommodation for visitors to this country. We have been very backward in times past in organized provision of accommodation and in encouraging tourists and visitors. Here and there enterprising people have made provision, but it is a serious reflection upon our railway companies, and upon the administration of past years that they have been exceedingly backward and have not set out to attract and cater for tourists. I sincerely hope that this Commission, when it starts work, will do better than the railway companies have done in that respect.
I think we can all agree that in the main the discussion of the past two days has not really challenged the main purpose of the Bill. The noble Viscount, with his accustomed skill, made out a very strong case that the time was not appropriate, but, or the whole, I think it is fair to say that die main case for the Bill has not been challenged, and it is just as well it has not been because the case for this kind of action is unanswerable. This process has been developing for the last two generations. As one of my noble friends said, when Sir Eric Geddes in 1921 brought about his amalgamation there were then about 200 separate railway concerns. By his Bill, 120 of them were amalgamated into four. I have no doubt it was quite inevitable that the process of consolidation should go forward. It was necessary that it should.
I did not find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh in his reflection as to the past achievements of British railway companies. I have never been privileged to possess, that useful little object—a railway pass—which railway directors sometimes carry 1047 about in their pockets. But on many occasions I have travelled with immense discomfort on a number of our railways. There is great room for improvement. If anybody doubts it, I would advise him to take a few journeys from Liverpool Street. I am not quite sure if that station is not run by the concern presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. As a matter of fact, I have here a quotation from Sir Eric Geddes (I will not trouble your Lordships by giving it) which is extremely appropriate to the point I am now making—that increasing consolidation is necessary.
So long ago as 1919 (I was a member of the Government at the time) it was decided that there should be nationalization of the railways. I well remember that Mr. Churchill in a speech said so. We decided on it, and I can well remember it being so decided. I would have said that the development of events since then has now made that necessity more urgent than ever. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh (and to some extent the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon) raised the question of why it was necessary to bring in the long-distance road haulage. I think that was the general case of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I think it was well answered yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and it has been well answered by other noble Lords. It was absolutely essential for long-distance road haulage to be brought into the same scheme of transport. That is why the railway companies themselves—at great expense, no doubt, but quite rightly—have acquired haulage firms. I believe that Carter Paterson and Pick-ford's have been acquired by the railway companies. Why did the railway companies acquire them? They acquired them because it was the sensible thing to do—to harmonize road haulage with rail haulage.
This present proposal means only that that process will be carried out more completely and more logically than it has been by the haphazard methods which have hitherto been adopted. After all, do not let us exaggerate this. I have the figures here. Apparently, under this scheme there will be about 20,000 "A" and "B" licensed vehicles brought into the scheme. I will come to the ingenious piece of Euclid with which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, was enter- 1048 taining us a few minutes agc. There will be, within that circle he described, in one form or another, 100,000 "A" and "B" licence vehicles which will not be taken in; so that only something like one-sixth (so far as the number of vehicles are concerned) of the long-distance road haulage people will be incorporated in the scheme.
The noble and learned Viscount greatly entertained us by a calculation which he made arising out of the figures in the clause to which he referred. His calculation was accurate and ingenious. But it would have applied in an equal way, whatever mileage had been taken. If 50, 60 or 70 miles had been taken, one could have arrived at the same conclusion. Therefore, whatever the figure, it can be exposed to the same kind of criticism and, by taking the kind of case which the noble and learned Viscount took with his accustomed skill, it can be made to look equally absurd. But you must have a figure somewhere. If you are going to have a limit, you must set the limit. This is the limit we propose. When you get to that limit you can argue about it. We shall discuss that when we come to the Committee stage.
I should like to say one thing about the noble Viscount's reference to the Second Book of Euclid. There may be some points in his criticism about a man with his base on the sea. That man is quite clearly restricted. That is perhaps a point which we can argue later.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
One illustration will do. We can discuss the merits of the proposal when we come to the Committee stage. I have other notes about the apologia provita sua which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, addressed to us; and quite frankly, if I may say so, I think that was out of time. It is clearly necessary that this thing should be done, and it must be done fairly and properly. That brings me to the point which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, raised—the question of the time of the Bill. He and I have been in politics for a long time, and if he is frank with himself I am sure he will agree that he has never heard of a measure of this kind, or of any similar kind, with regard to which 1049 it was not said that the time was not appropriate. We have heard that many times.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes, certainly it may be. Nevertheless, it is a familiar objection. Let us look at it for a moment. I think that the noble Viscount's case—which is a very strong case—has to be considered. During the war, to take a simple illustration, everybody knows the prodigious economies which arose from the pooling of waggons. My noble friend Lord Walkden yesterday, in this and other respects, dealt with that with great force. I well remember during the last war—when, I think, Sir Eric Geddes and Sir Ernest Moore were in charge of this matter—the immense economies which were immediately made from the pooling of waggons. And I recall the grim and terrible illustrations which we had of the wasteful management which the railway companies had tolerated up to that time, through waggons standing empty. Great economies were made.
The noble Viscount puts the position quite clearly. He asks: Will the advantages that we anticipate from this proposal come rapidly? That is a proper question. I do not think they will. It will take considerable time to get going this huge enterprise and to reap all the advantages that will accrue from it if the whole thing is properly harmonized. What do I infer from that? That is no reason for postponing it; it is a reason for going on with it. That is how I look at it. And if we can do anything, in this time of economic crisis, to help the traders of the country, or to bring into existence a better system of transport, the sooner we set about it the better. I think, taking the long view, that this is the right thing to do.
The noble Lord made some very cogent comments on the question of the vesting date, but there are others, of a contrary kind and of a very serious character, of which he did not take account. There is nothing worse than uncertainty, I should have thought, in a matter of this kind. We have in this House—there are listening to rue now—some of the most eminent and highly respected men in this country, and I am sure they would know that well enough if matters requiring decision or negotiation were put to their boards. For 1050 example, suppose industrial questions came up, which required the conclusion of agreements or long-standing arrangements. What will be the position with them after this Bill is passed, before the vesting day, whenever it is? It must be one of almost paralyzing uncertainty. They want to know. They will say: "I cannot enter into this arrangement. I may not be here," or "I shall not be here," as the case may be. The one thing that I am quite sure is essential is certainty.
With regard to many things that will have to be done, it is clear that, so far as the formal vesting day is concerned, the earlier we can make that the better. But, for all that, when we refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, said in his speech as to the number of things that will have to be done before the vesting day, I am sorry to say the noble Lord had it all wrong. He said the scheme for the delegation of authority for road haulage, passenger transport, and all the rest of it, has to be completed before the vesting day. All these thinks do not have to be done before the vesting day. They will be the business of the Commission and the various organizations that are used.
If I may interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment, I hope he will realize that in giving the list of schemes to which he is now referring I had no intention of suggesting that they had to be completed by January 1, but rather that the railways and canals had to be taken over by January 1, and as well as running those in the early days the Commission would have to continue with the preparation of all these schemes.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The point I am discussing is the actual vesting date, and, as all those of us who were behind the scenes in the First World War, and certainly in the late war, know, these dislocations did not occur when we passed from the peace-time system to the system of war control. Nobody knows it better than the noble Viscount Lord Simon. I do not apprehend that there will be any of these catastrophic dislocations which the noble Lord seemed to have in mind. I shall refer to some of the points mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, as I go on, but as it is in front of me I will take his point in regard to the docks. As he knows, we refer to "Trade Harbours" in the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Let us look at the position here. The railway companies already control something like 100 docks. They control these docks, and have developed their control of these docks because it is useful for the purposes of the railway organization—for drawing transport, and so on. The railway concerns are, in fact, the largest dock owners in the country. The noble and learned Viscount said something about Southampton which I did not quite understand. Somehow or other he ingeniously linked it with the delay of the "Queen Elizabeth" the other day outside Southampton. But I do not think Liverpool is owned by the railway companies.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I know, and I am going to make another joke. The joke I am going to make is that the other day the "Mauretania" was delayed three days outside Liverpool. But, quite frankly, I do not think that either of these incidents has much to do with this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The noble and learned Viscount made a strong point, and quite rightly, about the dock trusts, and so on. I do not anticipate that what the noble Viscount suggests will happen, or is likely to happen. If your Lordships look at Clause 65, at the top of page 8o, it says there:The Commission may, with a view to securing the efficient and economical development, maintenance or management … prepare, in consultation with the persons theretofore carrying on harbour undertakings in or in connection with the harbour or group of harbours … "—and so on. First, it is to be in consultation with the people who are now carrying on the harbour; and if it is an efficient trust I cannot imagine that anybody in his senses would wish to disturb it. I am quite sure that in that event there will be no such disturbance. That is the first thing. But if noble Lords refer to subsection 7 of the same clause, on Page 82, they will there see that if there are objections to any scheme that is worked out in connexion 1052 with these ports, those objections have to come before Parliament. I think that point is well safeguarded. Frankly, I think it is a misapprehension to suppose that anything but the fullest use will be made of any responsible, competent trust. I am quite sure that everyone experienced in railway management knows very well that there are great gains to be derived from the better organization and coordination of the docks. That is what is meant by the proposal, and it seems to me to be a very necessary provision. I agree that it should not be misused.
Some criticism was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. There was a very charming part of his speech in which he resurrected our history of the South Sea Bubble, and he said it was described there as "a scheme hereafter to be revealed." He used those words, and I agree they are entirely appropriate. You do not put schemes in an Act of Parliament; that is not what an Act of Parliament is for. What you do is to instruct people to prepare a scheme—if it is required—for certain purposes. That is what is done here. It would be entirely unreasonable—in fact, It would be impossible—to put schemes into an Act of Parliament. To be quite frank, I do not think the noble Viscount's complaint of indefiniteness which the noble Viscount complained is justified.
Many of the schemes may possibly be drawn up hereafter. I do not think that any serious person would contend that there is not room for immense improvement in many of our road passenger services. I live in a little place thirty miles from London, and the bus habitually leaves the station five minutes before the train. It does not seem to me a very sensible arrangement, but of course the bus is run by a separate organization. I cannot imagine any rational person who had control of the time table of that area not ensuring that the bus waited until the train came in. That is not very farfetched; that kind of absurdity happens in hundreds of places, and there is no doubt at all that there is great room for improvement. Your Lordships will notice it says that the Commission in this respect may prepare a schemebeing a scheme devised for the purpose of promoting or facilitating the promotion of the co-ordination of the passenger transport services serving the area, whether by road or rail ….Now I cannot imagine a more sensible instruction to a body of persons than that, 1053 and it is completely definite. There is no indefiniteness about it, and I am sure that many people living in our towns and country areas will welcome the appointment of such a body of persons who will look into their grievances and see that they get a better service. I do not really think that the complaint of the noble Viscount is very justifiable. After all, this is an Act of Parliament, and it is not a detailed scheme—that is not what is put into Bills. This is policy. You appoint a body of persons to do certain things, and you instruct them what they are to do. You do not put details of their achievements in the Bill. Quite fairly, I do not think there is ground for complaint there.
Another point which one noble Lord made and which we can discuss in detail in Committee was in regard to the mode of appointment of the executives. The noble Lord made a very important point there, and he also mentioned the character of the Minister's directions. Those are really Committee points, although they are admittedly important. One complaint the noble Lord made was that there was the possibility of the Minister interfering with the management. Now I have looked at the Bill, and spent a long time on it, to see if I could find out what the noble Lord was complaining about. At the bottom of page 7 it is stated that the executive shall exercise such functions as are delegated to them by the Commission. Then on page 8, subsection (9) (a) says, with regard to such delegated functions:Any rights, powers and liabilities of the Commission shall be treated as rights, powers and liabilities of the Executive, and the Executive only;(b) the Executive shall, to the exclusion of the Commission, be treated as the employer of any officers or servants of the Commission …It seems to me that that puts the executives in an extremely strong and independent position. They will be given their job of work to do under the scheme, and they are thereby insured against interference. If the noble Viscount can suggest anything which will make their position stronger or clearer, I am quite sure we would be glad to consider it.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount. I will certainly accept that invitation and put down the necessary Amendments on Committee to make sure that the Minister 1054 does not interfere at all with any form of management.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am sorry to be so long, but there is one other point I must deal with, and that is the point raised by the noble Viscount with regard to rates. Here again—and I speak with bated breath in the presence of so experienced a lawyer in these matters—
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
What is the procedure? The procedure under Clause 77 is that the Commission will in due course submit a draft of the charges scheme to the Transport Tribunal. We have not imitated the example of the Act of 1921, and I think we were very right in not doing so. The Act of 1921 gave rise to a hopeless medley of different species of charges, and I am quite sure it was not the right way to approach this business. The procedure here—and I agree it is not in detail and, with great respect to the noble Viscount, you could not put the detail in the Bill—is that the Commission submit their scheme and it goes to the Tribunal. Now what does the Tribunal do? The Tribunal, of course, has to advertise the scheme and it hears people who have any objections or criticisms, and so on. Then in subsection (3) at the bottom of page 90 it says:As soon as may be after the time for lodging objections and representations has elapsed the tribunal shall hold a public inquiry.Then at the end it says:… and may then either refuse to confirm the scheme or may confirm it with such alterations, if any, as they think fit.In other words, the absolute independence of the Tribunal is completely assured, and it is not to be interfered with by the Minister at all. Quite frankly, knowing what little I do of the tremendous confusion, overlapping, difficulty and absence of principle as between road and rail that has arisen in the different rates during the past twenty years, I a in quite sure that this method of approach will in the end give rise to a much more satisfactory system and be much more coherent.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I do not want to be misunderstood about this, as I evidently have been. I myself take the view that apart perhaps from indicating some principles, it is perfectly right to leave this matter as it is in the Bill. As has just been explained, I think it would be quite impossible to put all the details in an Act of 1055 Parliament. The actual question I asked was whether the Government did not contemplate that there would have to be the imposition of minimum rates below which nobody would be allowed to carry. Perhaps it is not proper to ask that question now, and if so, please forgive me.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I thank the noble Viscount very much for his general acquiescence with the statement of principle. As to his second point, I am afraid I would require notice of the question. I will ask my noble friend what he has to say about it, and later on I will certainly give an answer, but at the moment I confess I cannot go beyond what is in the Bill. There is one final point to which I must reply, and that is with regard to manufacture. Subsection (2) on page 3 dealing with the powers of the Commission says:… the powers conferred by subsection (1) of this section shall include power—(a) to construct, manufactureand so on. The noble Viscount quite properly pointed out that sub-paragraph (iii) at the bottom of page 4 says:nothing in this subsection shall be construed as authorising the construction or manufacture by the Commission of anything otherwise than for use for the purposes of their undertaking.That relates only to that subsection, as the noble Viscount quite properly pointed out. It is true that in subsection (3), at the top of page 5, it says:Where, whether by agreement or otherwise, the Commission acquire the whole or any part of any undertaking of any other person, they may, subject to the provisions of this Act, carry on any activities …It is quite true that the Commission might acquire an undertaking which, as part of its activities, was making goods of some kind. And my right honourable friend assured another place several times as to the general purpose of the proposal. It is not the intention of the Minister to do other than manufacture for the purposes of the undertaking, even under that provision. He told me that I could assure the noble Viscount that it is not his intention to manufacture for sale.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not object to that. My right honourable friend has authorized me to say that he would be willing to accept the proposition that he would not be manufacturing to sell. He is entirely wishful to act bona fide within the intentions mentioned, and not to manufacture except for the purpose of the undertaking. I have no doubt that we can arrive at an accommodation when we come to the Committee stage. I think I have answered, as well as I could at any rate, the points raised in the discussion, and I hope your Lordships' House will be willing to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.