§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to make it quite clear to the House from the outset that it is not an attempt to overturn the basis of the Transport Act of 1947, which has, of course, been approved by Parliament, but it is intended to remedy certain defects which have become apparent during the working of the main Act, and to provide that competition between the nationalised industry and the privately-owned haulage companies shall be on a fair basis. I think it is clear that the intention of the Transport Act of 1947 was to transfer long-distance road haulage to the Trans-Commission and to leave short-distance haulage to the independent road hauliers, but I would suggest that as the Transport Act is now being applied a very large amount of short-distance haulage has passed into the hands of the Transport Commission—I would say, far more than was anticipated when the Act was passed.
There is one striking difference between the operation of the Transport Commission and the operation of the independent haulier. What is this striking difference? It is that the Commission are free to operate as short and long distance hauliers without any licence whatever from the licensing authority—in fact without any form of control of their activities. It is, therefore, quite possible for the Transport 397 Commission to squeeze out any short-distance private haulier by placing an unlimited number of vehicles on the road in any area at any one time. The independent haulier has, of course, to obtain through the licensing authority a licence for any vehicle on the road, and this authority for his part is required, when considering applications, to have regard primarily to the interests of the public generally and the number of vehicles already on the road. But the Transport Commission need obtain no such licence. Surely His Majesty's Government will not maintain that this is fair competition. This Bill will ensure that the licensing authority will be in a position to determine whether it will be beneficial in the public interest for more vehicles, owned either by the Transport Commission or by an independent road haulier, to be placed upon the roads; and that in dealing with applications for licences neither the licensing authority nor the Transport Tribunal will give any undue preference or advantage to the Transport Commission.
I think it is quite clear that under the present Transport Act, the competition can hardly be called fair, when in fact the Commission can add to their fleet of vehicles indefinitely whereas the independent haulier cannot do so. During the passage of the 1947 Act, many assurances as to fair competition were given by Ministers concerned. During the Committee stage in another place on February 11, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, used these words:It would be quite contrary to the whole intention of the Bill for the Commission to go in on a substantial scale for competition with the short-distance road haulier. That would be a work which the Commission would be wholly incapable of doing with all the other functions placed upon them.The Minister went on to say on July 23 of that year:It is our object in the Bill to leave the small haulier outside the scope of the Com-mission's activities.I would say that from those statements it is perfectly clear that His Majesty's Government had no intention that the Transport Commission should compete in short-distance haulage. But this competition is certainly taking place to-day and, I would say, on an increasing scale.
It has also been found from experience that a large number of "A" and "B" 398 licence holders are being driven out of business because of the small mileage area allowed to them under the 1947 Act, of a radius of some twenty-five miles, which prevents their meeting the demands of their clients in a proper and efficient manner. In fact, these unfortunate people have to go to the Road Haulage Executive, their competitors, for permits to go outside the twenty-five mile radius limit, and in many cases their requests are refused and the Road Haulage Executive do the job themselves—at a much higher cost. Do His Majesty's Government really think that such action by the Road Haulage Executive is in the public interest? Of course it is not, and I would go as far as to say that it is an abuse of the present nationalised system. Your Lord-ships are no doubt aware that a large number of permits under "A" and "B" licences are now to be revoked or made subject to modification. During the recent debate in your Lordships' House on the Address, I ventured to suggest the reason for this revocation. That reason, I repeat, is nothing less than an effort to eliminate efficient competition by the independent hauliers. It is a complete travesty of justice, and is in spite of the fact that the Lord President of the Council has frequently stated that he welcomed the competition of private enterprise with nationalised industries.
It is true that His Majesty's Government during the passage of the Transport Act, 1947, indicated that these permits were to be authorised until the Transport Commission had got themselves properly on their feet, and that they would then perhaps be reconsidered. But are the Transport Commission properly organised? Are they in an efficient state and able to provide a first-class, efficient and comparable service for the public? I would say, on the contrary, that the State organisation is very far from it, and I consider that the best authority to judge what is required in the public interest is the licensing authority. This Bill will have the effect of transferring to that authority from the Transport Commission the power to issue permits. I would say that only by permitting some impartial authority such as the licensing authority to judge the necessity or otherwise for additional vehicles on the roads, operated either by the Commission or by the independent haulier, will it be possible to 399 prevent a monopoly and provide an economic transport system.
It was only the other day in another place that the Minister of Transport himself was complaining at the increase in the number of "C" licence holders. I have no doubt that this number would not have been so great as it is now if a really effective road transport system had been available to the country and to industry. Apart from the "C" licence holders, the Transport Commission are undoubtedly endeavouring to obtain a complete monopoly, not only in long-distance haulage but also in the short-distance field. I maintain that this Bill will prevent a monopoly being established by the Transport Commission, whereas under the main Act this is rapidly taking place, in spite of the assurances given by his Majesty's Government. In fact, there is no doubt that since the passing of the Transport Act, the Commission, by opposing applications for licences, have exercised their powers so as to prevent hauliers from running not only outside the twenty-five mile radius, but also within that radius.
I now propose to deal briefly with the clauses in the Bill which is now before your Lordships. Clause 1 is intended to provide that the radius of operations laid down by Section 52 of the principal Act shall be extended from twenty-five miles to sixty miles. During the passage of the Transport Bill, 1947, an Amendment was inserted by your Lord-ships' House to extend the radius to fifty miles, and this Amendment was disagreed to by another place in spite of the arguments put forward during the debates in both Houses making it clear that the radius of twenty-five miles was quite unsuitable for rural areas, such as the sparsely populated districts of Scot-land, Devonshire and Cornwall. In addition, it was pointed out that excessive competition was likely to arise when the Commission acquired certain large undertakings like Pickfords, who carried out about 95 per cent. of short-distance haulage.
Since the main Act has come into force the fears which I have expressed have been fully borne out. For instance, carriers on coastal sites can operate only on the landward side; therefore, their operations are limited by one half. Surely 400 this was not the real intention of His Majesty's Government. The distance of twenty-five miles as laid down in the principal Act is entirely arbitrary, and it has no relation whatever to experience in the industry before nationalisation. During the debate in another place on this very point during the passing of the Act, the Minister of Transport was unable to give any real justification for the limit of twenty-five miles. What did he say? He said it was a sensible middle position. I suggest that experience has now proved otherwise. In fact, under the road haul-age organisation set up by the Ministry of Transport during the war, short-distance work was taken to be a distance of sixty miles from the base of the haulage firm, and this was found to work admirably. There was no reason at all why this figure should not have been included in the original Bill.
That distance of sixty miles is inserted in this Bill, and it will permit the private haulier to compete much more fairly with the Transport Commission, and will enable him to maintain his business. Twenty-five miles does not give him sufficient scope to carry on an efficient organisation. If His Majesty's Government did not want fair competition and really intended that the private haulier should be elbowed out of business, it would have been far better and more honest had they said so when they introduced the principal Act. I would remind your Lordships that during the war it was found that the flexibility of the industry, with all these small units scattered throughout the country, was a great national advantage, and I maintain that it would be a national misfortune if these short-haulage businesses were not available in another crisis because they had been squeezed out of business. I would also remind your Lordships that one of the causes of the breakdown in German administration during the war was the failure of their nationalised road transport, which was a complete monopoly.
I now turn to Clause 2 of the Bill. The intention of this clause is to transfer to the licensing authority certain powers of the Commission with respect to permits, such as the granting, refusing, revoking, suspending or varying of them, and it also has the effect that every original or substituted permit in force on November 2, 1950, the date of introduction of this Bill, shall be deemed to have been granted 401 by the licensing authority and shall remain in force until revoked, suspended or varied by such authority. Subsection (3) of this clause provides that the Transport Commission shall have no power to take over haulage undertakings by notice of acquisition after January 21, 1951. I would point out that this date is three months after the dispatch by the Road Haulage Executive of the first notifications of their intention to revoke certain original permits. And during this three months, holders have the right to seek acquisition.
Clause 3 provides that licences shall be required for goods vehicles owned by the Transport Commission, and that applications for such licences shall be heard by the licensing authority. Vehicles belonging to the Transport Commission and already on the roads will, however, be deemed to have been granted a licence, and only additional Commission vehicles will come under the licensing authority. During the Committee stage of the principal Act in your Lordships' House, a somewhat similar Amendment was inserted and was disagreed to in another place. During the debate here, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, protesting that such an Amendment would interfere with the duty entrusted to the Commission under the Act, used these words:Surely there is no reason why the Commission should butt in and try to run these people off the road.I would say that this is exactly what has happened, and the object of Clause 3 is to prevent such unfair competition proceeding any longer.
Clause 4 provides for the keeping by the Commission of a register of vehicles for inspection by the licensing authority. Without such register the authority would have difficulty in deciding whether additional vehicles were required in certain areas or not. And such a register would, of course, facilitate the consideration of applications for licences made not only by the Transport Commission but by the independent road haulier. Clause 5 is merely an interpretation clause, and I do not think it is necessary for me to say much about it. Clause 6 relates to the short title and extent of the Bill. The Schedule is divided into two parts. Part I contains a number of drafting Amendments designed to give effect to the main alterations made in the principal Act by 402 the clauses of this Bill. In order to make their effect more easily understood, Part II of the Schedule has been added, indicating the Amendments made by Part I and underlined.
I hope that I have now given your Lordships sufficient details to explain the scope of this Bill. I again repeat that it is not intended in any way to destroy or undermine the basis of the principal Act; nor, indeed, would it do so in any way. But it is intended to provide that competition between the nationalised industry and the independent road haulier shall be on a fair basis, and, furthermore, that no monopoly in short-distance haulage shall be established by the Transport Commission. It may well be, when there has been sufficient time to gain the necessary experience, that similar amending Bills to this one may become necessary for other nationalised industries. I am sure that few of your Lordships will consider that the operations of any of the nationalised industries are by any means perfect. The Bill which is now before your Lordships, is an honest attempt to provide a basis on which the nationalised industry and the independent hauliers will be able to co-operate and provide a really efficient service for the public I hope that no suggestion will be put forward to-day by His Majesty's Government that we on this side of the House are endeavouring in any way to interfere with the will of the people. On the contrary, I suggest that we are endeavouring to maintain the will of the people, by putting forward this Bill, which will have the effect of ensuring that the provisions of the 1947 Transport Act will be carried out as intended and on a fair basis. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Teynham.)
§ 3.15 p.m.
My Lords, in the absence of my leader, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who very much regrets that he is unable to be present in your Lordships' House this afternoon, I ask your indulgence if I say a few words from these Benches about the amending Bill, introduced so very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. We who sit on these Benches support this Bill. Our first reason for doing so is that we feel that it is a Bill which, on the face of it, merits 403 considerable attention and careful examination—an examination more meticulous, indeed, than can be given on Second Reading, and which can best be given during the Committee stage. I hope that it will not be considered improper of me if I suggest that this Bill is unlikely to reach any Committee stage except in your Lordships' House.
The second reason for which we support this Bill is that it seeks to carry into effect, almost to the letter, the modifications in the principal Act which were sought by the noble Lord. Lord Beveridge, speaking from these Benches on the Second Reading of that measure in May. 1947. We failed at that time to obtain acceptance by the Government of several Amendments calculated to relieve certain sections of the road transport industry from what we considered to be an unfair burden and an unjust restriction in their operations. We supported the Transport Act of 1947 as a whole, and we do not withdraw from that position. But in supporting it we had severe criticism to make of those sections in Part III of the Act which are the subject of proposed amendment in the Bill which is now before your Lordships. Accordingly, we welcome this amending Bill, and hope that His Majesty's Government will see fit to accept it on Second Reading, not as a wholesale condemnation or a torpedoing of the principle of nationalising transport —which indeed it is not—but as a genuine attempt to mitigate hardship inflicted by the working of Part III of the principal Act.
Noble Lords opposite may hold that the Transport Commission cannot hope to counterbalance the losses shown in the operation of railway transport without taking the cream of road haulage to balance their budget. That may be so, but we on this side of the House are totally opposed to the bolstering up of any crippled industry, nationalised or otherwise, by placing the whole burden upon one single section of the community because its prospects are good, or because its prosperity lies in the future. This, to our minds, savours too much of confiscation. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, told your Lordships in 1947 that the British Railways had been asleep for a hundred years. I submit that it is not in the national interest that young 404 Prince Road Haulage should awaken this seductive centenarian not only with a kiss but with a blood transfusion at the same time. It seems to me that that would be most uneconomic. This Bill, however, is merely an amending Bill, and does not seek to divorce entirely this rather curiously matched couple. But it does seek to establish conjugal rights, and I hope that the noble Lord who is to follow me and who, I am sure, will forgive me for the phrase: "Poacher turned gamekeeper." will be able to indicate to your Lordships' House that the Government can accept at least a Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRE-TARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH)
My Lords, I ask your Lordships to refuse this Bill a Second Reading, and thereby to reject it completely and utterly. In spite of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said, in his usual courteous manner, that this Bill does not seek to overturn the Transport Act of 1947, and although the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that of course this Bill is not intended to torpedo the Act of 1947, I ask your Lordships to reject the Bill. I ask you to reject it on three main grounds: first, because it completely wrecks the Transport Act of 1947 —perhaps the noble Lords who have just murmured "Nonsense" will offer me a sincere apology when I have finished and proved my case up to the hilt; secondly, because this Bill is impossible of operation while the Transport Act is on the Statute Book; and, thirdly, because it jettisons the interests of the taxpayer in favour of a sectional interest.
To enable me to place the facts objectively before your Lordships, and to enable you to assess the contradictions and impracticabilities of this Bill and the damage it could do to the national interest, it is necessary for me to ask your Lordships' indulgence while I remind you of some of the principles upon which the Transport Act of 1947 was based. The outstanding principle of this Act was to eliminate the waste of national resources and to increase the efficiency of the nation's transport by integrating the appropriate sections of the transport industry. This could never have been achieved while the ownership of the many forms of transport was in separate hands. 405 That was the cardinal principle. While the railways and long-distance transport for hire and reward were in different hands, competing for the various traffics, integration was impossible, and wastage of national resources was inevitable.
This had been recognised for years by all sensible students of the country's trans-port problems. In 1921 (I quote from Hansard of May 26, 1921, column 350) Sir Eric Geddes said:If you go back the last SO or 60 years and look at the proceedings, findings, recommendations and proposals of the innumerable Committees and Royal Commissions which have sat upon this matter, you will find that systematically they have advised increased co-operation, increased amalgamation, greater unification, larger units to operate for economy's sake, and to a decreased extent they have placed importance upon what they now describe as the illusory advantages of competition.Sir Eric Geddes was then referring to the railways alone, showing that this problem existed even before the transport of this country felt the impact of the growth of road haulage. As Sir Eric indicated, the problem of integration is a hundred years old.
I come to a later authority. Lord Reith said (I quote now from Hansard of June 17, 1942, column 418):I submit that there should be a national transport corporation covering railways, road transport, canals, coast-wise shipping and internal air services; that the railways should be brought under unified management and become part of the corporation.On the same date the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said (column 430, Hansard):…I should like to see a corporation running the railways, and corporations running road transport and canals and coast-wise shipping, but all joined at the top in a pool, so that they could all run efficiently.Next I come to Lord Leathers, who said (Hansard of October 27, 1943, column 384):Even if it should be proper in the postwar circumstances to proceed with the 'Square Deal' proposals, I am firmly convinced that some more radical solution has still to be found, although I am not yet able to bring forward any precise suggestions.Lord Leathers was a member of the Conservative Party. In a debate in your Lordships' House on the second reading of the Transport Act, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said (Hansard of May 20, 1947, column 917): 406… the railways do form a most important and valuable part of our national life. But if they are to be preserved in this country, to preserve them is to coordinate them with road haulage. … anyone who takes over the railways without, at the same time, taking a very close hand in road haulage, is just taking over a bankrupt affair, and that is, in logic, an absurdity and nothing else.I have quoted to your Lordships these eminent transport authorities, all of whom have been Ministers of Transport and all of whom, with one exception were Conservatives. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, was a Liberal.
When the 1947 Act was brought into being the overriding principle was co-ordination. I have never heard the necessity for co-ordination seriously challenged in your Lordships' House, and neither of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon has challenged that principle. Indeed, the most modest and mild of men, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who leads the Opposition, said on June 9, 1947 (Hansard, column 284):No doubt some modus vivendi must be found to co-ordinate the activities of road and rail transport.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord does not mean by that that I support his contention on this Bill. It seems to me that his whole argument is quite irrelevant to the purpose for which the Bill is intended.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I hope the noble Marquess, with his usual courtesy, will allow me to develop my argument as I allowed the noble Lord who brought forward the Bill to develop his. I am sure that I shall convince even him that these remarks are absolutely relevant. Whether or not the noble Marquess meant what he said when he said it, that is what he said.
The Bill which is before your Lord-ships this afternoon wrecks completely that principle. It is an entire negation of the principle, as I shall seek to prove, and prove conclusively. The Act of 1947 gave the British Transport Commission a monopoly of long-distance road haulage for hire or reward, with the exception of certain excluded traffics, such as liquids in bulk, ordinary furniture removal, meat or livestock, felled timber and abnormal indivisible loads. The way this mono-poly was to be set up and carried out is made perfectly clear by the provision that 407 after a day to be appointed by the Minister no one shall, without the permission of the Commission, carry any goods for hire or reward outside a radius of twentyfive miles, except the excluded traffics I have just mentioned.
But the Act said something else. It said that the British Transport Commission must purchase their monopoly. In other words they had to buy out competition. The Act placed a statutory obligation upon the Commission, without option on their part—and we are now dealing with a fundamental principle of the Trans-port Act—to purchase, upon bases laid down in the Act, the assets and goodwill of all those concerns which were pre-dominantly engaged in long-distance road haulage for hire or reward. Where long-distance haulage was a minor content of the whole concern, the Commission again had to pay for their monopoly. Unless for some reason the Commission prefer to allow a haulier to continue long-distance work which he has been doing continuously since before the Transport Bill was introduced, he can require the Commission to purchase any portion of his business if he can prove that the action of the Commission has substantially interfered with it, and the Commission have to pay compensation. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the Act did not, and was not intended to, confer any right on any haulier for a permit, either original or ordinary. The whole system of permits is purely a piece of machinery to enable the Commission to take over, smoothly and with a minimum of interference to the trade and industry of the country, long-distance traffic previously carried by hauliers. There are two kinds of permit—namely, original and ordinary, but I do not propose to weary your Lordships with the technical details. The acquisition of concerns, the acquisition of assets, the acquisition of goodwill and the issue of permits had to be carried out by the Commission in the light of the statutory obligation placed upon them to secure a properly integrated transport system.
We are now getting to the heart of the matter. Altogether, under the Act of 1947, 2,700 road haulage concerns have passed into the ownership of the Commission, with a fleet of just over 40,000 vehicles, and the price paid, or which will 408 be paid when valuation has been settled for the assets and goodwill on the outstanding cases, will be of the order of over £70,000,000. And so, my Lords, so far as the purchase of the monopoly of long-distance road haulage for hire or reward has proceeded up to date, the Commission will in due course have paid £70,000,000 and over, by cash or by the issue of stock guaranteed both as regards principal and interest by the taxpayer. So in this matter it is the taxpayers' money that is at stake. In the course of the establishment of this monopoly, which the Commission were statutorily bound by the 1947 Act to set up, the Commission gave notice towards the end of October last that of the 12,000 original permits they had granted—granted to firms in the business before the Bill was introduced— 5,300 will be revoked, 2,700 are to be modified, and the balance will be continued for a further three years.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Would the noble Lord say whether these reductions and cancellations are being made as against firms who have been bought out with this £70,000,000, or against firms who are getting no compensation at all?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
If the noble Viscount will bear with me I shall not miss any point before I have finished. These would be extra to the £70,000,000 that has already been paid. As the noble Viscount knows, the Commission can give notice of revocation or modification only after the permit has been in force for one year, and then after every three years. Whenever an original permit is revoked or modified, the holder has the right to require the Commission to acquire the whole or relevant part of his business and pay compensation for it, if he can prove that his long-distance haulage business, as it existed in 1946, has been substantially interfered with. It is difficult at the present time to see how much this will cost the Commission, because the options on these cancellations and modifications have not yet been exercised, but it will run into several million pounds in excess of the £70,000,000 which under the Statute the Commission have to pay to acquire the monopoly of long-distance road haulage for hire or reward.
Clause 1 of this Bill says, in effect, that the monopoly for which this money has been paid, guaranteed by the tax- 409 payer, shall be destroyed—completely and utterly destroyed—and with it any hope of carrying out the integration which was a cardinal principle of the Transport Act. All "A" licensees and some "B" licensees at present operating within the permitted radius of twenty-five miles will be able to engage without let or hindrance in long-distance haulage up to a radius of sixty miles, which is a diameter of 120 miles and covers an area of over 11,000 square miles. I know the noble Lord did not wish wilfully to mislead your Lordships, but he said that the sixty miles had been arrived at because it married up to the sixty miles that was operated under the war-time regulations. The noble Lord was in error. The sixty miles in the war-time regulations was a straight sixty miles from point of collection to point of delivery.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I would point out that I particularly mentioned that the distance of sixty miles was from the base of the haulage unit.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It bears no relation whatever to the sixty miles in this Bill. If the noble Lord wished to convey that to your Lordships, he conveyed something which is entirely untrue. This is a radius of sixty miles, and a diameter of 120 miles—double the figure in the war-time regulation to which the noble Lord wants to pin this proposal.
Let me get back to the numbers. There are at present 19,000 "A" licensees with 57,000 vehicles, and the "B" licensees number nearly 32,000 with 62,000 vehicles. So, under this Bill, 51,000 operators with 119,000 vehicles would be able to compete, each in a radius of up to sixty miles, with the British Transport Commission's fleet of 40,000 vehicles, in a monopoly for which the British taxpayer has paid over £70,000,000. Then the noble Lord talks about the British Transport Commission's unfair competition! To these competitors can be added, under the noble Lord's Bill, anyone who can get a licence, not from the monopoly holder, oh no! but from an outside body, the licensing authority, and the whole number can "muscle in" without a penny of payment to the Commission, who purchased this monopoly on behalf of the taxpayer and under an Act of Parliament. 410 It should not be forgotten that under the Bill an "A" contract licence holder already bought out and paid compensation for assets and goodwill has only to go to the licensing authority with a bundle of contracts in his hand and he will immediately receive a licence, without the payment of one penny. Now I wonder whether the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, would be interested to hear what he said about this matter. I quote from Hansard of June 19, 1947, Column 1063. The noble Viscount said:… it would be absurd to take over the businesses of people who were operating, and then allow new people to come in in their places.The only comment that I have to make is that "absurd" is a masterly under-state-ment. Such is the regard of the promoters of this Bill for the taxpayers' money. Such is their regard for equity. When the tax-payer acquires from private ownership, compensation has to be paid. But when private ownership acquires from the tax-payer, no such silly thing as compensation is even mentioned. I have listened to the noble Viscount. Lord Swinton. all through the debates upon the nationalised industries, and, if I may say so with great sincerity, he was a doughty warrior. I have never heard any noble Lord in your Lordships' House argue a case as he argued it, and he rose to his greatest heights when he was dealing with compensation. Does the noble Viscount believe in it now? Does he really believe that there is any equity in throwing £70,000,000-which the British Transport Commission were forced by Statute to pay in compensation—down the drain?
I would suggest that in the noble Lord's Bill no suggestion is made that the businesses which were acquired should be handed back to their former owners, because if he had suggested that, the very awkward question of paying back the money would have arisen. In-stead, what is the proposal?—that those who did not do this sort of work before, those who had no stake whatever in long-distance road haulage for hire or re-ward, can march in and grab it free, gratis, and for nothing Is that the noble Lord's sense of equity and fairness to the British taxpayer? If noble Lords opposite had the responsibilities of government on their shoulders instead of the irresponsibilities of opposition, I wonder whether they would put a proposal like 411 this forward? I should like to ask any noble Lord opposite who has borne the burden and responsibilities of being the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or who has ambitions in that direction and whispers in his pillow at night the speech he will make when he introduces his first Budget, whether he would subscribe to this Rake's Progress of throwing away £70,000,000 which had been paid for rights which had to be acquired under Statute. The noble Lord mentioned fifty or sixty miles. I get a little confused when the Party opposite start this game of playing numbers, but I believe the figure was fifty miles when we were on the Committee stage of the Transport Act, and it has now reached sixty miles. If either fifty or sixty miles had been in the Transport Act when it became an Act, the British Transport Commission would not have paid a penny for any monopoly, because there would have been no monopoly at all or, at best, a useless and worthless one. Also, there would have been no integration.
Now let me say a word about the assets which were taken over. I remind your Lordships that the prime and overriding reason for nationalisation was to bring about an integrated form of trans-port. That was the prime and cardinal reason for the Act of 1947. All of us who had been anywhere near this transport industry had known for years that this country's transport problem was in having an excess of transport and not a shortage. The British Transport Commission, in pursuance of their statutory obligation, acquired a large number of vehicles in excess of their requirements or the requirements of the country. They had to acquire them. They had to purchase the redundancy, both in vehicles and in competition, and, at some time— possibly not in the distant future—a very large sum of money will have to be written off in the British Transport Commission's accounts for these surplus assets, because their value to the Commission bears little relation to the price which they had to pay. But, no. The Commission having now acquired the field and purchased the assets and the monopoly, the Bill and the noble Lord in the case he has made out now say: "Let's throw all that £70,000,000 away and we will start all over again and build up a similar position to that which existed in 1939, because 412 in the meantime the going will be awfully good for the private haulier." It matters not if some future Government has to clean up the mess all over again. Private enterprise will have made a lot of money at the taxpayer's expense.
Now let me come to Clause 2. The Bill proposes that the licensing authority, the body set up by Parliament in 1933 to grant "A," "B" and "C" carriers' licences, shall be the authority to say who shall participate in this monopoly—not the monopoly holders, but an outside body.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I will prove that it is shocking in a minute. The licensing authorities are given no guidance at all as to the matters they should take into consideration in deciding whether to grant a permit or not. It is an impracticable suggestion right the way through. Are they going to hold public inquiries? They will have to hear the objections. What about the delay? The Bill says that the licensing authority can revoke any of the 12,000 original permits if an application for such revocation is made by the Commission. But before a permit shall be revoked, the licensing authority must, according to the Bill, be satisfied—and I quote from the Bill:that the services operated by the holder under the permit can be more efficiently, adequately and economically provided by the Commission to meet the requirements of the public,and the burden of proof is upon the Commission. It is an impossible charge. It is an impossible decision to make, and it places the licensing authority in an impossible position
The introduction of the licensing authority is based upon a complete misconception of the Transport Act and makes nonsense of it. The primary purpose of the Act is to integrate transport. The Act brings all long-distance traffic for hire or reward under the Commission. The Commission were never set up as a permit-issuing body, but as a traffic-carrying undertaking. If they cannot carry the traffic themselves, then they can issue a permit for others to do it until they are in a position to handle the business. The issuing of permits was clearly intended by the Act to assist the Commission in the take-over, and not to vest any permanent right in the holder of 413 the permit. The whole plan of integration is a countrywide conception; one that takes into consideration long-distance haulage by rail as well as by road.
This brings me to Clause 3, the last clause to which I need refer. If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, this clause is even more farcical than the rest. The Transport Act places upon the Commission a statutory obligation— I quote from Section 3(1) of the Act:so to exercise their powers under this Act as to provide, or secure, or promote the pro-vision of, an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public in-land transport.This Bill says that before the Commission can do what Parliament has said they must do, the permission of the licensing authorities must be obtained. If that is not nonsense, I do not know what is. We all know and always have known that there are miles of railway line in this country to-day which under no yardstick measurement of economics or profit-earning can be justified, and they will eventually have to come up. But we know equally well that an alternative system of transport will have to be provided, and the British Transport Commission are under a statutory obligation to provide it. This Bill will not alter that, but as regards long-distance haulage for hire or reward it will rob the Commission of any chance to balance their revenue and expenditure —and they have a statutory obligation to do that too.
Right the way through this Bill there is not one word about any statutory obligation being placed upon the independent haulier. I suppose it is the intention of the Opposition that the British Transport Commission shall carry the liability of providing unremunerative services, which, of course, private enterprise cannot be expected to do, and allow the private haulier to cream the remunerative traffic. I will quote to your Lordships what the noble Lord. Lord Brabazon, said upon this matter on May 20, 1947, Column 917 of the OFFICIAL REPORT:It has been said, in this House and else-where, that it is wrong to touch the road hauliers Frankly I cannot take that view. For many years now, not, of course, because of any fault of the railway companies, but because of the advance of the internal combustion engine, transport by road has eaten into the guts of the railway companies, and it 414 will go on. And the question arises—a question which we have to decide—are you pre-pared to let the railways go bankrupt and let everything go by road … .If the licensing authorities are going to decide the needs of the country, as the noble Lord wishes them to do, and take into consideration all the relevant conditions, they must consult the British Trans-port Commission as regards the policy of railway rationalisation and its integration with road. I suppose that if the licensing authorities are satisfied with those plans, then they will grant the British Transport Commission a licence to run road vehicles. Is it intended, and seriously put forward as a practical proposition, that the licensing authorities, by their issue of licences and of permits for long-listance haulage, shall control the integration between road and rail? Because, as the Bill is drafted, the licensing authority has the responsibility of deciding whether or not the British Transport Commission shall be licensed to run both inside and out-side the sixty-mile radius.
I come to my last point in my opposition to this Bill. I remember listening to noble Lords opposite. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, argued all the way through the stages of the Transport Bill that a rates structure or a charges scheme was essential. He even went so far as to want the principles of a rates structure put into the Act. What chance is there of ever getting an integrated charges scheme for long-distance haulage by road and rail if a Bill like this is put into force, taking the vast bulk of road haulage for hire or reward out of the control of the Transport Commission and out of the scope of any charges scheme? The noble Viscount said this—again I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of May .20, 1947, Column 890:The rates structure must be a cardinal factor in co-ordination; indeed, I should have thought it was the essence of co-ordination.This does away with all co-ordination and all integration.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I think not. I am speaking from memory. If the noble Lord refers back to that point—I think my memory is right—I said that you ought to have the licensing authority as the authority which decided whether new vehicles were to go on the road, and that the Commission should not be the judge in its own case I think the noble Lord will find that I said that the 415 licensing authority should, of course, be bound by any rates structure which has been approved. Is not that right?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I cannot say, but if that is what the noble Viscount said, it does not add up to sense, if I may say so with respect, because how can you make the vast bulk of independent hauliers subject to a rates structure approved by the Transport Tribunal as the British Transport Com-mission have to have their charges schemes approved? You cannot do it. What would this Bill do? It would put the Road Haulage Executive in exactly the same position as the railway companies were in before the war. It would start the dog fight all over again—the dog fight that nearly ruined the transport industry of this country—but with one difference: this Bill seeks to put a muzzle on one of the dogs, and that dog is the British Transport Commission.
What case has the noble Lord made out for this Bill? None at all. He has not made out a case for this Bill. If he has convinced the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that this does not upset the principles of the Transport Act, he has not convinced me. I should not think he convinced any noble Lord who is an unbiased judge. What did he say? He said: "Of course, all we want to rectify is the British Transport Commission's growing monopoly in the short-distance field." There was not one fact or one figure to prove it. The only entry of the British Transport Commission into the short-distance field has taken place when they have been forced by the Act to acquire the whole of a business that has a short-distance as well as a long-distance content. They operate the short-distance content to earn some money in compensation for that which they have had to pay—taxpayers' money.
What is the section that is prompting the noble Lord to bring this Bill for-ward? It is not the long-distance haulier, because he has been bought out. It is not the short-distance haulier, because he has never been in. It is not the haulier of excluded traffics, because he is still there. Who is it? It is some small section. If the noble Viscount or the noble Marquess intends to divide your Lordships on this Bill, I say to every noble Lord who goes into the Division Lobby in support of the Bill that he does so with a label tied on him for the electorate of this country to 416 see: that he does not mind throwing £70,000,000 of the taxpayers' money away. He does not mind wrecking the Act. He supports this Bill so that a small section of interest can make a great deal of money.
§ 4.0 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has tried to sweep away the foundations of this Bill with a considerable amount of oratory and a good many facts. But, as my noble leader, Lord Salisbury, has indicated, surely not only were many of the facts which Lord Lucas adduced at the beginning of his speech facts with which we shall all agree, but they are also, very largely, irrelevant to much of this Bill. I listened with great care to everything the noble Lord said, and it was clear that he was making as his chief point the fact that £70,000,000 of the taxpayers' money was here being thrown away for some sectional interest. But I do not think he made a single mention of the service that the Transport Commission is giving to the main users, the industrial users, about whom I will say a word a little later. If those users are not getting the service that they must have to-day, then much more of the taxpayers' money than this £70,000,000 will be lost.
It seems to me axiomatic to-day that, whatever his function in the chain of production and supply, the trader must give an efficient service, not only in his own interests but in the interests of the country and, in particular, of the taxpayer. There is no single item that can more easily wreck the most carefully thought out and executed production plan than faulty or uncertain transport facilities. The trader must be able to rely on a prompt and flexible service at a reasonable cost. That, indeed, is no more than he has over a great number of years become accustomed to expect with the independent haulier. It is true to say that the very pattern of our industrial development over the last thirty years has grown up on that assumption; and not merely in this country but also in every other country in the world where there are traders with whom we are having to compete.
I can illustrate that point very briefly. In the North-West, which is an area that I know from practical experience, industry has been developed on a horizontal 417 as opposed to a vertical basis, with the result that there is a considerable amount of short-distance traffic—what may be called domestic or door-to-door traffic— which, if it is to work smoothly, calls for the most careful and individual attention. Now with the enforcing of the twenty-five miles limit the industrial users in this area are having to depend more and more upon the nationalised British Road Services, not only outside the twenty-five miles limit but also to an increasing extent within it, and the service that many of them are getting is not good.
The noble Lord who has just sat down will perhaps remember that during a previous debate on this subject I mentioned certain individual cases. Let me say here and now that he was most helpful in taking up those cases and dealing with them, and his action resulted in satisfaction to the individuals concerned. I have no doubt that if I were to mention cases of bad service now—and I could mention a considerable number—with his usual courtesy the noble Lord would take them up. But, if I might draw an analogy from the motor industry, I think the noble Lord would agree with me that the test of a good car is not the efficient service one gels from the makers when one has to appeal to the managing director when the car breaks down, but from the number of years and miles of faultless running when no complaint is called for. I hope, therefore, that he will not think me in any way discourteous if I do not follow up what I said before and produce a whole list of instances of bad service. I would say only that it is taking things too far when instances occur of important exports from producers in this country failing to reach the ship in which they are destined to go overseas simply because of bad service. I have one or two cases in mind. I had a letter only this afternoon that I will show the noble Lord afterwards if he likes; it will illustrate my point.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Lord is usually so courteous that I hesitate to interrupt him, but I hope I did not give an erroneous impression. I do not claim that the British Transport Commission in general, or the Road Haulage Executive in particular, have reached the acme of perfection. What I do say to the noble Lord is, and my case in answer to the noble Lord, Lord 418 Teynham, was, that this is not the way to put it right.
I appreciate the noble Lord's own paint of view, but we maintain that this Bill is one step towards putting it right. I have just mentioned one particular case, and we maintain that without the provisions of this Bill, and even allowing for such protection as the "C" licences can offer (and after all the "C" licence is not applicable in every instance), traders are being forced more and more to use a service in which, because, you may say, of its impersonal or uncertain nature, they are daily losing confidence. As I have pointed out, it is not only that they have to use this service outside the twenty-five miles limit; very often they have to use the service inside that limit because, that being a very short distance, and an arbitrary distance, it is almost impossible for a trader to say: "That traffic will go to this contractor, and this traffic will go to that contractor." He has to bulk it altogether, and give it largely to one contractor.
On the other hand, with a wider radius such as is mentioned in this Bill, it becomes more practicable to separate what is really local traffic from what is long-distance haulage. Indeed, I think one may say, that in these days of distance elimination, up to sixty miles is little more than local cartage, and that haulage, in the most modern sense, starts only after sixty miles. Therefore, I do urge that the noble Lord should consider the matter from the user's point of view. I would also ask him to bear in mind that the user has no political axe whatever to grind; all he is interested in is securing the best service for his business. From his point of view the sixty miles radius will serve best. Before I leave that point, the "C" licence has been mentioned, and I would suggest that if an increased radius is allowed, it will provide a greater check upon "C" licences than anything else could be. As my noble friend Lord Teynham has pointed out, it is because of the twenty-five miles limit that the growth of the "C" licence has been as great as it is.
As I expected, the chief argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, against the Bill was that it took the cream of the traffic from the British Road Services. But, my Lords, what does that really mean? I have never agreed that the more 419 progressive and modern form of trans-port, road haulage, should be handicapped in order to subsidise the railways. I very much doubt whether even the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would agree with that principle; yet that is what is implicit in Section 3, subsection (4), of the principal Act, which says that the whole of the Commission's business should be taken together when considering whether revenue is sufficient for meeting expenditure. Surely, that is an entirely wrong concept. It is an admission of defeat, and is calculated to impose an artificial barrier to progress, which must one day give way and bring its retribution. I would entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the fundamental problem of our trans-port services as a whole will never be satisfactorily solved until there is some real co-ordination and integration in road and rail services as reflected in a proper charges scheme. I agree with him so far, but when that has been achieved—and I know that at the moment a great deal of hard work and hard thought are and have been directed to that end—do not let us try to integrate services that have long since ceased to be capable of integration.
Setting aside the transport of coal, coke and similar material, how can the rail-ways ever, over short distances of, say, under sixty miles, hope to compete again on comparable terms with the roads, where the road service should always be able to offer an individual door-to-door service, with guaranteed delivery within a mere matter of hours? On the other hand, with regard to the longer distances, I can see that in certain circumstances it should be possible to co-ordinate the charges as between road and rail, so that the road charge is not too heavily artificially weighted to bring it up to the level of the rail charge—although I admit that that may mean some form of subsidy, with all its inherent disadvantages. I know that some people like to call that a defence or strategic contribution. I think that is probably a misnomer, but that may be necessary if we are to have the different forms of service in their right perspective.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
SO that I can follow the noble Lord's argument, is he arguing that we should allow road transport—if I may use the picturesque expression used by the noble 420 Lord, Lord Brabazon—to "eat into the guts of the railways," and then the rail-ways come along and have a subsidy from the taxpayer to make good the loss?
I am suggesting that over the short distances, where close individual service is required, the roads should charge an economic price for road haulage. On the long distances, the road costs must be raised to those of the railway, and possibly the railway costs must be brought down to the road charges by means of a subsidy. In other words, no attempt should be made to bring short-distance road haulage costs up to the figures of the long-distance railway costs.
It seems to me that certain conditions are essential if we are to have an efficient transport service. First, we must secure that, within some given radius, there is ample business for which the private hauliers and British Road Services (assuming that their overheads are not too high) can compete, and from which the private man, if he runs his business soundly, can be sure at any rate of enough to get a living on his turnover. The second condition I suggest is that there must be enabled to continue in operation sufficient independent hauliers, with their opportunities and aptitude for providing a flexible and individual service which the Road Executive, at any rate at present, seem unable to produce, to meet the users' requirements. It again follows that the radius must be such that the main industrial concentrations—Manchester and Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the North-East coast and so on—are within the area taken for the radius. That, I think, is essential from the users' point of view when planning the services that he is going to employ. Fourthly, it seems to me that it must be accepted that, apart from certain traffic, such as coal, which I have already mentioned, the railways can no longer hope to compete with road transport for short-distance transport. As I have said before, we should make no attempt to integrate road and rail in that sphere, but for the long distances, out-side that radius, there should be integration and a charges scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will no doubt tell me "that is easy to say." I agree that it is easy to say and difficult to carry out, but it is the problem of the moment and a problem that sooner or 421 later has to be faced. I suggest that the sooner we face it the better. For that reason I am supporting my noble friend in the matter of this increased radius, provision for which he has incorporated 'into this Bill. I believe that it will give a better service to the users, and fairer competition for all concerned.
§ 4.16 p.m.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, one of the main reasons for the introduction of this Bill is to redress certain conditions that have arisen out of the nationalisation of transport and which were not contemplated or intended at the time of the Nationalisation Act. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brushed rather easily past that fact, and instead, in his very interesting speech, made out that the Bill was a wrecking Bill which was going to wreck the Nationalisation Act. However hard I listened to him, I still could not quite see how that could come about.
We have already heard this afternoon a strong and clear argument from the noble Lords, Lord Teynham and Lord Rochdale, in favour of the Bill, and I will endeavour not to weary your Lord-ships by using arguments which have already been given. It seems to me that there is one powerful underlying factor in this Bill which cannot be overstressed, and that is the factor of experience gained by the Transport Commission. It is now getting on for three years since road transport was nationalised, and I believe that now there are something like two thousand different road haulage undertakings which have been taken over by the Commission. It would seem that that gives sufficient time and work for experience to have been gained as to how the set-up is working and as to what adjustments may now be necessary. His Majesty's Government must have realised, when they put the Nationalisation Act through, that there would necessarily be adjustments in a scheme so big as that, and particularly something so complex and also theoretical. They must have envisaged that a time would come when certain things would obviously have to be modified in the light of experience. My Lords, I believe that that time has come now, and that this Bill is a public-spirited measure to make the changes. I do not believe it has come a moment too soon.
422 It was stated in several places, when the Nationalisation Act went through, that taking over the short-distance haulier was never contemplated. It was all right to take over the long-distance haulier under the Act, because long-distance haulage was something that a State transport commission could handle possibly with some efficiency—although we would naturally believe not with the same efficiency as private enterprise. But that is apart from this present argument. Short-distance transport, however, is quite a different thing, and it was never contemplated that anything so complex and cumbrous as the Transport Commission could handle anything so individual and, again, complex, in a different way, as the short-distance local transport; it would be beyond their capacity. I think that was realised and made abundantly clear by all His Majesty's Government's spokesmen at the time of the original Act. That, presumably, was the reason why the short-distance haulier was left out and given a radius of operation of twenty-five miles, and I suppose it was hoped that short-distance transport would take on its own shoulders the burden of short-distance traffic and remove it from those of the Commission. However, if this was the intention it has not been realised. What is happening now is that the short-distance haulier is being pushed out of business and being forced to be taken over by the Commission.
Lord Pakenham, in his Second Reading speech, if I remember rightly, said that it was contemplated that upwards of 20,000 road vehicles would be taken over by the Commission. I believe that at the end of last year the Commission had token over nearly 35,000 vehicles. That is quite a bit over 20,000. I should imagine that this year the figure must be very much higher. The only thing I can deduce from that is that the Commission are taking over a very large number indeed of the short distance hauliers. It is all very well to say to a short-distance haulier: "You are allowed to work within a radius of twenty-five miles" and to expect him to get on with it. He cannot do so, unless, on that basis, he can make his business pay. If he cannot make his business pay, however much he may be allowed to work in a twenty-five miles radius he will have to go out of business. And that is what is 423 happening. Fewer and fewer short-distance hauliers are finding it possible to keep their businesses going in the conditions that exist now.
Probably, there are two main reasons for that. One is that the twenty-five miles radius is proving by experience to be too short a distance to provide sufficient traffic to enable the very short haulage undertakings to remain in business. Probably even before nationalisation, the amount of traffic that they carried for less than twenty-five miles was too small by itself to support their under-takings. The undertakings were supported by the other traffic which they were able to carry as well. The second reason is that as these short-haulage undertakings are not allowed to carry long-distance traffic they are losing customers. Many of their old customers are finding it necessary to go to hauliers who can carry all kinds of traffic whenever it may arise. And this occurs in spite of the effect of issuing original permits. That is one attitude towards this business at the present time.
There is another attitude which I think ought to be taken into account, and that is the injustice and hardship which are being caused to many of the short-distance hauliers. Not only are they seeing their undertakings crumbling away before their eyes—undertakings which it may have taken them years to build up, and which, in many cases, are family concerns—but in addition, as they lose business and are eventually forced to give up to the Commission, they are entitled to very much less compensation than they would have been entitled to when they had their full amount of trans-port. The total amount of compensation which they will receive will be assessed at very much less than the original traffic was worth to them. What is happening, it seems to me, is that these men are being penalised for trying to make the nationalisation of transport Act work. That, in my view, is a very peculiar situation.
If it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to take over the businesses of the short-haulage people by this somewhat painful method, they are certainly achieving success. But if, on the other hand, it is their intention to leave short haulage in private hands, they will have to modify their Act and create conditions 424 under which short-distance hauliers can find it possible to carry on. This Bill, I believe, does that, or at least goes a long way towards doing it. It does it by increasing the radius in which short hauliers may work to an economic radius, and by giving them a fair basis for competition with the great Transport Commission. Quite sincerely, I really cannot understand what are the objections which His Majesty's Government have to this Bill. Surely they do not fear competition by these small private hauliers with the great State Transport Commission, which I should imagine must be one of the biggest State bodies in the world. I should think that originally they were somewhat timid about possible competition from short hauliers, and that that was why they made the radius as small as twenty-five miles. Surely by now they must have gained confidence in the thing which they have set up. We certainly do not put forward this Bill in any mood of "crowing," or of wishing to score cheap Party points. Nor are we saying, in effect: "I told you so." This is a genuine attempt to improve an Act which is affecting the life of everyone in this country. I believe that if His Majesty's Government were to accept it in the spirit in which it is offered they would earn general respect all round.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I think we have all listened with very careful attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I feel that he frightened us when he said that elimination of waste and integration was never possible so long as concerns were held in separate hands. That surely must mean that no two bodies could co-ordinate —such concerns have got to be put under control of one body. If you carry out the noble Lord's doctrine to its logical conclusion, you will have one corporation, and one only, running the whole of the industry of this country. The noble Lord also drew an elaborate picture of what he said he wished to see. He spoke at great length—for a full forty minutes in fact. Obviously, he was dealing with a subject of which he is a master. But never once in the whole time that he was speaking did he mention the consumer. Never once did he express a care for, or the slightest concern for, the one man who in our opinion should be the only consideration in the transport business.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I was about to say that my responsibility was to reply to the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. There is nothing in this Bill about the consumer.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, there is a very great deal about the consumer, but I will deal with that in a moment. I am glad that the noble Lord felt the shaft—he has told us that it went home. The noble Lord had a great deal to say about taxation. I must say that I sympathise with the Government, because I am sure the taxpayer lies heavily on their conscience. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke of the late Sir Eric Geddes. I wonder whether I might ask him to refer to the operations of the "Geddes Axe" and to look into the effect which such operations might have on our present Government Departments. It might well be worth while to turn up the records of the activities of that Committee.
There are two problems which come right at the heart of every nationalised industry. One is the question of control —admittedly it is not dealt with in the Bill, but we have examined it from time to time. The other is the question of the consumer. We find every time, with measures of nationalisation, that the consumer has found prices moving markedly against him. I suggest first that no man should be judge in his own cause. I regard it as utterly ridiculous, for instance, that the National Coal Board should set the price of coal "in the public interest." None the less, the Transport Commission are the sole judges in deciding whether or not they should run services, and they can charge what they like. It is the purpose of this Bill to secure that they shall not be the sole judges, and that the interest of the consumer is expressed through the licensing authority, as I believe it has been since 1933.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
May I be forgiven for interrupting the noble Earl? He has just said that the British Transport Commission can charge what 426 they like. Has he not heard of the Trans-port Tribunal, which has to fix the rates, on the application of the Transport Commission?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, at the present moment you have the British Transport Commission. With regard to railway charges they have to go to the Transport Tribunal. On the matter of passenger road services their controlled companies have to go to the licensing authority. And there is a statutory obligation in the Act that there must in due course be integrated charges. The Commission have to go to the Transport Tribunal; nothing in the Transport Act gives them a free hand as regards charges.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
None the less they have had a free hand in road haulage for the past three years.
It will be interesting if, when he winds up the debate, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will tell us of any cases where prices have come down. It is not uninteresting to note that not one noble Lord from the other side has spoken in opposition to this Bill. I think that the first principle which should have its place in every nationalised industry is that the consumer should have some form of redress. The form of redress which is suggested to us is the consumers' council. Whenever we have examined this set-up we have found on all sides reports of the ineffectiveness of these bodies. We never expected much more from these councils. But the proposal in this Bill is an effective way in which the consumers' interests can be given fair play. The noble Lord made a great deal of play with the contention that this Bill could not be operated because of the provisions of Section 3 of the Transport Act of 1947. That section does not say that the Transport Commission "shall provide an efficient, adequate, economic and properly integrated service." If it did say that, there might possibly be a criminal sanction for not doing so. But what it does say isprovide, or secure or promote …To my mind there is no reason why the licensing authority should not decide whether the provision made by the Transport Commission is adequate to 427 meet the requirements of the consumers' locality. I think the two measures could work perfectly well together.
There is another important point. Road hauliers should know who decides upon their application. Is it decided in Manchester, or in Glasgow, or in London? Is it decided by some local man; or does it go to the Road Haulage Executive? I think it is proper that we should know just where the responsibility lies. That is a matter which is fairly and squarely laid down in this amending Bill. It is an astonishing thing that in the last hundred years, as transport has improved, the concentration of population has in-creased greatly. I feel that no one will disagree with me when I say that that is an unfortunate thing. One of the problems of any integration of transport, or co-ordination, call it what you like (we should all like to be "co-ordinated" though not necessarily in the same way), is how to strengthen the outlying areas. There is nothing whatsoever in the Transport Act which strengthens any outlying area. If a man wants to start a road hauliers' business, he probably chooses a place at least twenty-five miles from the coast with the largest number of people inside it—possibly London, because there he is more likely to run a large and successful business. In these circumstances, who is going to run a business in an outlying area, with the longest hauls under twenty-five miles, with perhaps only one road running for that distance, and with the nearest town not within twenty-five miles radius?
These are conditions which hit particularly hard road hauliers in outlying districts. When the Transport Act was being passed we endeavoured to make special provision for these outlying areas, but the noble Lords opposite said, "No, we must have dull uniformity running over the country, from one end to another." This amending Bill would be a real boon to outlying areas. I believe that it would enormously strengthen the life of such areas in the North of Scotland, and in Devon and Wales. We are in the midst of one of those great struggles between the internal combustion engine and the steam engine, and while not accusing the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, of him-self being a steam engine, there are a number of others to whom I would refer in that general category.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, this Bill refers mainly to matters already discussed in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Transport Act. I listened carefully to the arguments then and supported the Amendments which were passed by this House at that time and are now embodied in this Bill. Our Amendments to the Transport Act were not agreed to by another place, and I venture to say that because of that some of the most serious difficulties in the operation of the Act have occurred. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is not in his place, because I must say how astonished I was that he said not one word about the user of transport. Attention has already been drawn to this matter, but it is so important that I think it should be mentioned again. Surely, the whole reason for a transport system is to enable the manufacturers of this country to compete with manufacturers overseas by getting raw materials to their factories quickly and efficiently and by getting their finished goods away so that they do not miss the promised delivery or shipping dates. There is ample evidence that the users of transport are not getting a fair deal from the Transport Commission. As my noble friend Lord Fairfax so ably argued, the intention of the Transport Act was to take over long-distance road haul-age. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has had to admit, they have been forced to take over a number of short-distance undertakings because the unfortunate private operators have not been able to make their businesses pay on that part of the undertaking left to them after their long-distance haulage was taken over.
The noble Lord said, rather cavalierly for a member of his Party, that these operators are quite all right; they have been fairly compensated. But is that every-thing? Many of these men have been running businesses which have been in their families for generations. They have been giving good service, but are losing the only livelihood they know how to follow. I feel that short-distance road transport could be put on a reasonable basis, as suggested in Clause 1 of this Bill. The object of the Transport Act could be better fulfilled were a sixty-mile radius allowed. The Road Transport Executive could concentrate on long-distance haulage, leaving the short-distance haulage to the private 429 hauliers. Rather surprisingly, the noble Lord suggested that there might be a number of budding Chancellors of the Exchequer in your Lordships' House; but any noble Lord: who tried to deal with a Money Bill in this House would be likely to get into trouble
Clause 2 of the Bill makes a real attempt to provide an impartial authority that will hear the case for both the Transport Commission and the private road haulier. How can the Commission be both judge and counsel for prosecution? There is no doubt that all is not well at the present time. Last week-end I was staying up in Yorkshire, where I met a large user of transport. I asked him how he got on for long-distance haulage with the new Transport Executive. He said: "I haven't been able to use them because they could not give me any guarantee of the time when my overalls would be delivered to the factories who are my clients. I have to run to a strict timetable. For this reason I have to run long-distance vehicles under 'C' licence." On my journey down south this Sunday I suddenly found that I was making a rather higher average speed than usual with my Jaguar, consistent, of course, with the rules of safety. I began to wonder why it was. I suddenly realised that, perhaps not unnaturally, there were not so many heavy vehicles on the road. I began to look at them more closely, and I noticed that, although there were quite a number of private vehicles on the read, there was no vehicle of the Transport Commission. Suddenly I came to the outskirts of a small town, and saw one of the Transport Commission's depots. Both it and the roadside nearby were filled to overflowing with vehicles, most of them fully laden. Nobody wants to make people work on Sundays more than is necessary, but obviously certain goods have to be carried over the week-end. It struck me as indicative of the rigidity of nationalisation that there did not appear to be one Transport Commission vehicle on the road, in spite of the fact that there must be urgent orders, whereas there were many private vehicles on the road.
Road transport has always been an individual occupation. I would conclude by telling your Lordships of a fine old road transport driver who had been in the business for years. When his group was taken over he went into the Trans- 430 port Commission's car park on a Monday and reported his arrival to headquarters by telephone. He was told to wait there for orders. He had always been accustomed to using his initiative. He had his dinner, and still no orders came. So he rang up a friend in a factory in Liver-pool and said: "This is Charley of O'Neill's speaking. Have you got a load for Birmingham? Because I am doing nothing," The man at the other end said: "Yes, Charley, come on out." So he collected the load and took it to Birmingham. He then rang up a factory in Birmingham and said: "This is Charley of O'Neill's speaking. Have you a load for Liverpool?" They said: "Yes, come on out." So he collected that load and delivered it in Liverpool. He then went back into the transport car park, rank up the depot once again, and was told: "Yes, Charley, we know you have been waiting for four days. Don't get impatient, We shall be calling on you soon." After that Charley gave up—and so do I.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, at this hour and after the speeches that have been made on this subject this afternoon I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made great play of the fact that £70,000,000-a terriffic figure—had been paid for long-distance transport. I do hope that this time the cheques have been dated and signed, for more than one of my friends received them undated and unsigned from the Road Haulage Executive, and could not cash them. That experience is Worthy of note.
Great play has also been made about permits. In June, 1947 (I am sorry that the Lord Chancellor is not here), I ventured to say that the scheme of the Act of 1947 would prove abortive. I then asked the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether it was the Government's intention to take over short-distance hauliers, willy-nilly. I received no reply. But that is what has happened. I do not want to deal at any great length with that particular point. The short-distance hauliers are far more in number than the long-distance hauliers. The fact remains that the Government knew perfectly well when they framed this Act that they owed their traffic to a large 431 degree to the long-distance hauliers. What I should like to ask now is: What is the scheme with regard to the issuing of these permits? Nothing is more chaotic than the present situation, as anybody connected with road haulage will know.
I should like to give your Lordships one instance. A man in a town asked for a licence to go outside his twenty-five miles radius. He desired to carry timber, agriculture, and half a dozen things he had been carrying for twenty years. What happened? The licence came back granting him a permit for only one exit from the town.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am interested in this. Would the noble Viscount say for what type of permit the man applied?
§ VISCOUNT LONG
This is an ordinary short-distance haulier asking for a permit to go beyond the twenty-five radius. There are scores of these cases.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I thought the noble Viscount said that the man had been doing it for twenty years.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
He had been a haulier for twenty years. Are we talking about hauliers, or are we talking about something else? Hauliers, I understand, do work on the road and carry goods. This man asked for a permit to go beyond the twenty-five miles radius, but instead of being given a permit to go out of his town, he was given only a permit to go out of the eastern area or the northern area of the town. With that permit he was allowed to carry only, say, agricultural goods, instead of, as previously, carrying the half a dozen other things. What is the system? The noble Lord throughout the whole of his speech made play with these figures, but never once did he say what system has been adopted to deal with these cases.
When the Act was going through I ventured to say that, by fair means or foul, the Government would get what they wanted. That is just what they have done. Why, when a man has made out his case and has not been taken over by the Road Haulage Executive, should they take away his permit and not allow him to go outside the twenty-five miles radius? That is what is happening at the moment. In supporting this present Bill I should 432 like to say that if the Government had accepted our view, as expressed on the Committee stage of the 1947 Bill, they would not be up against the troubles which they are facing at the moment. There is not a member of the Ministry of Transport or of the Government who does not realise the appalling state of frustration now existing in the road transport industry of the country. When I asked the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor a Question in June, he said that I could rest assured that the goods would arrive on time and efficiently. Not only do they not arrive on time, but they do not arrive efficiently. He further said that they would arrive in plain vans. Far from the wagons and lorries going about this country being plain, they are of the most flamboyant colours. But one thing does come out of this colour of red—that the lorries now doing this work for the Road Haulage Executive are travelling light two-thirds of the time. Therefore, I do ask your Lord-ships to pass this Bill, giving an extension to the man who saved us in the last war, the short haulier, who does his job properly and who has been in the business for thirty years of his life.
§ 4.50 p.m.
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. Much of the ground that I had hoped to cover has already been covered, and I am one of those who dislike reiteration of the same point over and over again, even if it is put in a different form. What seems to me to emerge from this debate is that the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has not really been met by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The attitude he adopted was one which, so far as I could gather, amounted to this: that the Act may have some defects, and it may be that something is necessary to modify it, but not now; and that the Bill which has been put forward by my noble friend Lord Teynham is quite out of court, quite impossible, and sabotages or torpedoes—whatever you wish to call it —the principal Act.
I have listened with great attention, as I always do, to what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, representing His Majesty's Government, has said. I am bound to say that it does not seem to me that he has dealt with many of the points brought up by noble Lords on this side of the 433 House, with their real, intimate and practical experience of the difficulties existing at the present time. Take, for instance, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale. I venture to say that that was a speech of great constructive merit, with suggestions and so on. Perhaps we shall hear some appreciation and expression of the realisation of the truth which under-laid that speech. We have also heard my noble friend Lord Long (whose knowledge of this subject is a fairly intimate one) explain the chaotic state of the transport business at the present time in certain respects.
Having listened to the debate, I am bound to say that it seems to me that the case for the Bill has been made out in an almost overwhelming way. A point which greatly appealed to me was that it is not good for a man to be a judge in his own case. That state of affairs obtains under the Act as it works at the present time. That is one thing which appealed to me. Also, I think it is fairly clear that a large number of small men are being treated in a very unfair manner. Their case is not adequately listened to or taken into account in the decisions which are arrived at. There again, I think the Bill would go far to improve the position and would put the private road haulier—to whom this country owes so much—in a more reasonable and equitable position than he is at the present time. In my opinion, the licensing authorities, with their knowledge of the requirements of the different areas of the country, are far better fitted for adjudicating on these matters. It is for these reasons and others, which I shall certainly not elaborate at this moment, that I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.55 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to support this Bill I frankly admit that I do so simply in the hope that a very small crumb may possibly save a few small men. We shall have to wait until later for the loaves of bread which may possibly replenish the almost empty larder. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that the Bill was against the national interest. If it comes to waste of national interest, I wonder if anything in recent years has exceeded the efforts of the Road Transport Commission. Is it really suggested that when these road transport concerns were taken over they 434 were all being run at a loss? Were they not all being run at a profit, and were they not all paying taxes? Now they are running at a terrific loss. That is one form of waste of national assets or national interest.
The Transport Commission are wasting national interest in another and almost worse way. They are unreliable. You can order a vehicle and it is promised for a certain time, and it may turn up two days later. That, to my mind, is another form of waste. It is a waste which will go on unless some form of competition can be provided. I do not know whether competition between the different areas can be established, but something is needed to stir up the area managers so that they take an interest in their own business. Until that time, as I see it, it may be necessary to have a strong fleet of vehicles owned by private hauliers who have licences and who can step into the breach. At the present moment unreliability is one of the main causes for the increase in "C" licences. I had an in-stance of that only last night. I was talking to a big manufacturer connected with the motor trade, and he said: "I think it is the absolute devil! In all my time in the trade I have never run my own transport because I do not consider it is economical to run transport unless you can run a big fleet. Since nationalisation, much though I hate it. I have had to run my own transport. I started by employing a man with an 'A' licence. Then he got a permit. He came to me one day and said: 'I do not think we shall get our permit renewed.' I told him that I would not risk the unreliability I had experienced, and I have now bought my own lorries and I am running them on 'C' licences." When one hears that sort of thing, it does show that something is wrong somewhere.
I believe that this Bill may do a great deal to get matters put right, by creating a little competition which nothing else can produce. I am equally convinced that we shall never get that done unless the right of granting licences is transferred from the Commission to a licensing authority. To my mind it is absolutely iniquitous that a Government or any other organisation should be in the position of being what I can only describe as Poo Bah, Lord High everything else, judge, jury and prosecutor in its own case. Unless that system is abolished. I do not see what 435 hope there is of getting justice for the small man. The small men who built up their little businesses with the idea of having something for their sons to follow, will be driven out. All the interest is being taken out of every young man of to-day to try and do something for himself and his country. Initiative can be killed, and killed very easily. We lack it badly in this country at the present day. This Bill will do something, I believe, to re-store transport and to encourage initiative.
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to speak for two minutes only. In the course of this debate I have been rather surprised to observe how little notice has been taken of the importance of the railways. To hear most of the speeches delivered this afternoon, one would imagine that the railways were a back number. In point of fact, although I have not the actual statistics before me, I should be very much surprised to find that, on a ton-mile basis or on a passenger-mile basis, the railway traffic was not at least three times as great as the road traffic of the whole country. The rail-ways have certain advantages with which no other form of traffic can possibly compete. To keep a railway vehicle going at a slow speed along a line—a railway vehicle with steel tyres, running on steel rails—the pull required is about five pounds per ton, a figure which cannot possibly be achieved by any other form of transport.
Then there is the important point of the automatic guiding. Two men on the engine and one man in the guard's van can drive a train of 1,000 tons. No other form of transport can approach that. The whole of the coal traffic and the road metal traffic is bound up absolutely with the railways. To listen to what has been said to-day, one would imagine that the railways were likely to be superseded. There is no question of that at all. Another thing it is rather surprising to find has attracted no attention is the fact that the railways are bound to carry their heavy, bulky traffic at rates which do not allow them to earn a profit. That came about a long time ago when it was decided to make the high-class traffic subsidise the low-class, bulky traffic. Nothing has been done, so far as I know, to relieve the railways of that burden. They are not in a position to compete. It surprises me 436 that points of this sort have not been referred to in any of the speeches we have heard to-ady.
§ 5.2 p.m.
My Lords, I intervene for a moment only to say a word in connection with Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred to the special difficulties in that country, due to the sparsely populated areas. Another point is this. Our main centres of population in Scotland are some distance apart from each other. It is true that around Glasgow there is a fringe of towns where the population is high, and therefore the road traffic is great. But our two principal cities, comprising half our population, the capital City of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the commercial capital, are forty-five miles apart. At present, they are outside the range referred to. If this Amendment is accepted, I believe that it will be very helpful to the users of transport in both those towns.
When the Leader of the House comes to reply to the debate to-night, I hope that he will address himself to the needs of the consumer, and will not attempt to justify resistance to this Bill simply on whether competition must be wholly eliminated to safeguard the taxpayer—an astonishing doctrine. We have just passed an Act nationalising the iron and steel industry, and the justification urged for that was that this great product was of such essential importance to the country that it must be under national control. The justification was not that money must be made for the taxpayer—we hope that nationalisation will not result in money being lost to the taxpayer—but the importance of the product, which was constantly urged as the reason for the step. The product here is the services offered by the transport undertakings to the users. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, never mentioned in his speech the people who use transport. I hope that the noble Viscount. Lord Addison, will address himself to that aspect of the problem. To my mind it is essential that we should have an amendment of this character, though not necessarily of sixty miles, if the principal Act is to be made to work in Scotland.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Teynham has done a public service in intro- 437 during this Bill. I say "a public service" advisedly, because I think what we should be concentrating upon in this Bill and in this debate is the provision of efficient road transport services to serve the public interest and the public need. I listened with attention, though with less profit, to the long and interesting speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He had a great deal to tell us about the interests of the Traffic Commission. He had rather an involved argument, to which I will return in a moment, about the interests of the tax-payer. I can give him, much more shortly and, I think, more truly, what the taxpayer in this country regards as his interest. The taxpayer of this country wishes to Heaven he had never been saddled with these nationalised industries. But throughout the forty-five minutes for which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, engaged our attention—and that was not too long for so important a speech—I did not hear one word about the consumer, the user, the person who depends upon transport for his business.
To-day, we are urged, and rightly urged, to concentrate on economical and increased production and, above all, on export, which, in the last resort, depends upon our production being economical and substantial. Efficient transport is an important factor both in production and in export. The manufacturer depends upon regular and rapid transport. It is not merely a question of the cost of transport, though that, indeed, has gone up seriously. At some time in the Greek Calends there is to be a review, and when the Government, after years of contemplation, finally produce a rates structure, that, I suppose, will be integrated, or co-ordinated—or whatever is the blessed word —with the road charges, by which time the charges of the nationalised industry will have been raised so high that I do not think anybody will benefit much by integration or co-ordination.
But the problem is not merely, or even chiefly, a matter of the cost. Even more there is the need to have goods collected promptly and delivered quickly. As everybody in this House knows, continuous production in a factory—and that is essential to cheap and efficient production —depends on having material and subcontracted parts delivered on time. This is all the more important to-day when no firm is able to carry either large stocks 438 of raw material or large stocks of parts. Regular and prompt deliveries were provided by the ordinary road hauliers before nationalisation. They studied their customers' requirements, they served their customers' interests and if they did not they lost the business to somebody who could do it better.
My Lords, one or two examples have been given to-day about delays in transport. I should like to reinforce them by one or two others which have come to my knowledge lately. I cite them because I do not want it to be said that we are merely generalising. I read as late as November 8 in the Northern Despatch an account of a meeting of the Darlington Chamber of Trade. Darlington is a place where the Government them-selves have been greatly encouraging the development of new enterprises. I am glad to say that private enterprise has taken advantage of this, and a number of men who had been out of work in Durham are now employed. The examples given were of road transport from Manchester to Darlington. That is not very far, and deliveries used to take forty-eight hours, which I do not think is remarkably quick. To-day, however, they constantly take fourteen days. This complaint comes time after time, not only from Darlington but from all over the country. What is more, in this magnificently planned enterprise goods are loaded and unloaded and are tossed about so much in the course of that loading and unloading that very often they arrive seriously damaged. I have had given me instances of consignments of paint which have arrived, not only dented but with tins broken open by this constant loading and unloading. As a result, practically the whole consignment, or a great part of it, has become worthless.
I will give another example—I am delighted to give the noble Lord these examples. I have the full authority of a Darlington firm carrying on a large business in springs to quote them. Consignments from Darlington to Hull, which used to go through within the day, have taken from five to thirteen days. Only recently a consignment marked "Urgent," and sent to a regular customer, for whom this firm manufacture parts, only eighty-two miles away in Beverley, took five days to get there, and the production in the recipient factory was held up because of that delay. Why does that happen? 439 In the past the haulier used to collect at their works and take the goods direct. Now, under integrated, co-ordinated, planned national transport, they have to send the goods from Darlington North to Newcastle. There the consignment is unloaded. If the firm are lucky it catches another vehicle which is going to the South. If they are unlucky, it probably catches one going to the North. Sometimes it stays in the depôt—I have instances of that. One would think then that, having got on the road from Newcastle to Beverley, the consignment would go to Beverley. Not at all! It goes to Hull and, believe it or believe it not, it is true to say that to get to Hull from Newcastle you have to go through Beverley. So down it goes to Hull, and there it is unloaded and dumped down, reloaded and in the fullness of time (as I say, five days instead of twenty-four hours), and with luck, it reaches its destination in Beverley. Well, there was a Chesterton line about how you got to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head. Really the Transport Commission seems to be emulating or beating that! Another example was given me by the same firm. From Consett to Darlington is not far, and yet this thirty miles journey takes forty-eight hours. That is a speed of motor progress which would satisfy even my noble friend Lord Cecil. If the object is to force goods on to the railways, I would say that delays on the railways are even greater.
Then I have received a whole chain of complaints from greengrocers, who I sup-pose do not matter much; we buy only our vegetables from them. Your Lord-ships have had this sort of case brought to your attention. They say that instead of getting the goods delivered, as they used to be delivered in the "bad old days," at six o'clock in the morning, when they begin to set out their business, sup-plies now come through in the afternoon. Of course, the result is that by that time people have done their marketing the vegetables are no longer fresh, and time and again there is a dead loss. I suppose that is all right, but these wretched green-grocers are taxpayers as well. Incidentally, if they do make a loss instead of a profit, unless the noble Lord's colleague at the Treasury introduces some new form of assessment, the Treasury will not get very much profit in income tax.
440 If I do not bore your Lordships, I venture to give another example—and here I will take a most unprejudiced paper, the Manchester Guardian. The example is so interesting that I venture to quote it. This example was given by a firm in a letter to the Manchester Guardian, published on October 19 last. It was as follows:We had in our shops a large consignment which had to be sent from the Manchester area to London docks to catch a boat"—export, you see—sailing on Tuesday, October 10. We informed the local road transport services and asked for a lorry to call for this consignment on Thursday, October 5. As the lorry did not arrive on October 5, we telephoned to the depot which promised to send a lorry on the following day, October 6. Once more we were disappointed. We telephoned again on Saturday, October 7, and we were astonished to be in-formed that the consignment had been collected the previous day and was then on its way to London. We replied that the goods were still in fact in our shop"—and clearly they knew the situation—and the official in response said that if that were the case then there was something wrong with his organisation.…My Lords, Lord Lucas observed something which one of my noble friends said was a triumph of understatement. Well, for an example of meiosis I commend him to his department in Manchester. The letter goes on:… the official in response said that if that were the case then there was something wrong with his organisation, and would we allow him to look into the matter. He telephoned us later to say that something had gone wrong and that if our men would hold on until twelve o'clock on that day, Saturday, he would send the lorry round at once. Our men waited until one o'clock but the lorry did not put in an appearance"—I suppose that was a bit of overtime for them—and they accordingly went home. Last Mon-day, October 9, we telephoned the transport depot again, and the several cases were at long last collected on Monday morning, October 9. We were assured that they would catch the boat in spite of the delay.I need hardly say that they did not catch the boat, and that important consignment for export missed the boat on which its passage was booked.
I am sure that your Lordships could match these examples. Is it really surprising that firms who were well served by road hauliers in the past have felt obliged to provide their own lorries? Public interest compels a review and a 441 reform of this situation, and this Bill will meet the public need and at the same time do justice to the road hauliers. The twenty-five mile limit which was inserted in the principal Act was a purely arbitrary limit and, I would have said, experimental. War-time experience certainly did not justify it. I will not argue what was the exact length of the sixty miles which was adopted in war time; the calculations of radius under the Act, and the range and the various other calculations that are made, make it very difficult to understand when a mile is a mile. At any rate, our war-time experience would thoroughly justify a much larger range than one of twenty-five miles radius. The Government rejected a larger radius without any reason, and now they are proved to have been wrong.
This debate, I think, has shown what has long been common knowledge: that, as events have turned out, road hauliers have had a raw deal; and not only have they had a raw deal but all industry and commerce using transport have suffered. Hauliers have had a raw deal, as I see it, and the public have certainly suffered in three ways—first, because permits to go outside the twenty-five mile limit have been very grudgingly granted. I think some examples have been given in this debate. I came upon one in regard to a firm in Cardiff. Their business was transporting ships' stores. Since 1946, almost the whole of their work had been transporting ships' stores to Newcastle where they had a regular connection with ships in Newcastle. Were they allowed to continue to send these stores to New-castle? Of course not, because that was where they had their regular customers; that would have been contrary to all integration and planning, and no doubt the Transport Executive thought this was a nice bit of business they would like to have for themselves. The firm were given a permit to transport ships' stores to the Western area, and to the Midlands —where there are, of course, a great many ports requiring ships' stores! There has been an almost universal refusal to grant hauliers a permit for a return load, which is the obvious economy that anybody in this business knows he ought to have, and which would enable him to quote a lower price. Everybody knows that if you can keep your vehicles full you can quote a lower price, whereas 442 if you have them empty you may make a loss. I do not suppose this interests the Commission much; it is a good thing, because it eliminates the profit motive and, of course, encourages bankruptcy.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, developed the most odd argument in this connection. He said: "Of course you must not give these people permits, and of course you must not extend the twenty-five mile limit, however valuable this might be to the general public, because you will be interfering with the monopoly; and you will not only be interfering with the monopoly but you will be interfering with the monopoly which the Transport Commission has bought as a monopoly." Then he added something which I have no doubt he has arranged as a headline; we shall see it in the Press to-morrow. He said: "Seventy millions down the drain." I hope the noble Lord will be careful at his Press conference to make it quite clear that "Seventy millions down the drain" does not mean what anybody acquainted with nationalised industries would suppose: that the Transport Com-mission have lost another £70,000,000. He must be sure that the Press use his headline with the right interpretation. He said: "You will be throwing down the drain what the Transport Commission have paid £70,000,000 for." If I may venture, as a not very good advocate, to give him a word of advice, it is that it is never very wise to overstate your case, and it is wise to get it reasonably accurate before you state it.
What did the Commission, in fact, buy with the £70,000,000, or whatever the figure was? They did not buy a monopoly at all; they bought the businesses of a number of so-called long-distance hauliers, though quite a number of them happened to be short-distance hauliers, and the Commission got them in on the side. They bought the businesses of those hauliers, which were not a monopoly at all, but businesses those hauliers had built up in face of the keenest competition. They never bought a monopoly. They paid for the business not the price for a monopoly but anything from two to five years' purchase of the profits which those hauliers, in keen competition, had made in the past. That being what they paid for, what rubbish it is to say they bought a monopoly!
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I never said it. If the noble Viscount must quote me, he should quote me correctly. I said they were compelled by Statute to set up a monopoly because they had to buy out those firms who were predominantly engaged in long-distance haulage for hire or reward. For the monopoly which they created themselves, they paid over £70,000,000.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am much obliged. I do not think I have in the least misrepresented the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If I have, then his argument was completely meaningless. If he says that the 1947 Act created a monopoly, nobody will deny that; but that did not cost the taxpayer anything, except in the results of running a nationalised, as against an unnationalised, industry. If his argument meant anything at all, it meant that in buying out everybody who is in business and running it yourself you have bought a monopoly. Of course you have not bought a monopoly when you have bought a number of competing firms, and in place of them created a State monopoly. You have not bought or paid for the monopoly. The taxpayer pays for the monopoly after it has been created. What the Commission paid for was the current value of those competing industries as competing industries. I agree that the taxpayer, the consumer, the Government and everybody else, would have been much better off to-day if they had never engaged in this transaction at all.
The second injustice is that while the Commission have refused to allow the hauliers to compete on the longer routes, they are more and more cutting into the short routes; there is no doubt about it at all in the result. I recall many of these debates, and in particular that in which the Lord Chancellor answered me when I proposed that the licensing authorities should have a jurisdiction. The Lord Chancellor rejected that and said—and his speech has been quoted already to-day:Surely there is no reason why the Com-mission should butt in and try to run these people off the road.I could see no reason, and I am sure that the Lord Chancellor was absolutely sincere when he said that. But in the result 444 what is happening to-day is that the Com-mission are in fact running these people off the road, and doing so because they know quite well that unless private operators get a reasonable opportunity of carrying outside the twenty-five mile limit they cannot carry on inside the twenty-five mile limit. So far from the taxpayer paying for something, by a side wind, in spite of the Lord Chancellor's undertaking that these people would not be driven off the road by the Commission, you are, without any compensation at all, putting a lot of these people out of business.
Moreover, the Commission, by their own will, can put as many of their own vehicles on the road as they please. That is what is happening. And that leads to this. It is really outrageous, as we said at the time, that the Commission should be judge in its own cause. We protested repeatedly that the granting of permits ought to be the function of the independent licensing authorities. These authorities have great traffic experience and have been charged to serve the public need. The noble Lord asked to-day: "How can the licensing authority do this? How can it produce co-ordination?" I say that if the Commission can decide in their own interests what vehicles are to go on the road, then certainly a judicial licensing authority can decide in the public interest what vehicles from the Commission should go on the road and what vehicles should go on the road from private enterprise. It is really not sensible—if I may say so with respect—or complimentary to these licensing authorities, who have discharged their functions admirably in the past, to say that they cannot do a simple job of saying in the future what is in the public interest, of deciding in the public interest whether there are more vehicles required, who can give the best service, and who should put vehicles on the road —the Commission or one of the existing hauliers. As I say, all these injustices would be remedied and the public interest would be served by the passage of this Bill.
I think we should have two further advantages. The nationalised Commission would have what indeed it least de-sires but most needs: the stimulus of reasonable and fair competition. Another advantage which we should get is this. In our debates here on nationalisation— 445 very valuable debates, some of them have been; the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has taken part in most of them—I remember particularly well one which was begun by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker. One of his themes—and it was developed by other noble Lords also—was the great difficulty in a nationalised industry of get-ting any yardstick as a standard of comparison and a measure of efficiency. If we have reasonable competition, co-ordinated competition, between nationalised and free enterprise, then I think we shall gat exactly the yardstick we need. Both on grounds of simple justice and in the national interest—of which from the Government side we have heard far too little—I commend this Bill with confidence to the House.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount has thoroughly enjoyed himself. I, too, have enjoyed his contribution to the debate. It reminded me of old times; indeed, the noble Viscount's speech was a good deal like some of the speeches that I remember we had when the Transport Bill was before the House. It was under consideration, I believe, for several weeks, and then in the end the House consented to what became an Act of Parliament. I shall have a word to say about that in a minute or two. I shall not keep your Lordships very long. But before I come to that matter, let me remind your Lord-ships of the very picturesque and interesting series of complaints with which the noble Viscount entertained us. I did not quite catch whether a particular consignment he mentioned, was to go from New-castle or Darlington to Hull via some-where else, or exactly what was the route —but that does not really matter; it had nothing whatever to do with this Bill. I have no doubt that mistakes have been made, and I have no doubt that others will be made. Traders have a great many grievances, no doubt, and it is our busi-ness—indeed, it is everyone's business— so far as a complaint is genuine, to try to remedy the grievance. This picturesque catalogue of complaints should be dealt with in the proper way by calling the attention of the Commission to them and by endeavouring to get them remedied, as I dare say traders do, so far as griev- 446 ances exist. At all events, the point I am making is that, interesting as these matters are, this Bill would not deal with them. That is all.
The Transport Act—the principal Act —is not yet fully in operation. The Transport Commission, we are informed, has not yet acquired the various under-takings which it is required by the Act of Parliament to acquire. It is intended —in fact, it was specifically provided in the Act—that the Transport Commission, so far as its purposes go, is to be a monopoly. That was the purpose of the Act. It is an Act which this House has acceded to, though it is not yet fully in operation It is no good coming here and proposing to torpedo it by a Private Member's Bill a few months afterwards. That is really not the way in which to remedy grievances or to deal with these matters.
The Commission were required to acquire various road transport undertakings, and for the purposes of the Act a provision was made uniting the radius of operation in certain cases to twenty-five miles front a given place. Now it is proposed that the radius should be sixty miles; that is to say, that the diameter of the circle in which operations can be carried on should be 120 miles. What has happened, as I understand, is that since February of this year or thereabouts, when various valuations had been carried out, a number of concerns have been, or are being, acquired, and the cost is to be about £70,000,000. But there are others still to be acquired according to the purposes of the Act. What have we in front of us to-day? The noble Lord, Lord Rea, in a frank moment, said that what this Bill relates to is the cream of the business. I think that is true: the Bill probably does relate to the cream of the business. We all know that with he advantages of modern developments some of this road transport was exceedingly profitable. That was revealed by a quotation which my noble friend has given us. Ministers of Transport have agreed, one after the other, that it is necessary that road and rail transport should be, as they put it, "integrated," and the business brought into the common pool. That was one of the main purposes of the Act. The purchase of the various concerns is not yet complete, but the taxpayer, as I under-stand it is committed at the present time to an expenditure of round about 447 £70,000,000 or more for buying out the concerns which were undertaking these long-distance road transport services.
What does this Bill propose? It pro-poses to put them back if they like. It will not be for the Commission whose business it is to make an organised system to say "Yea" or "Nay." Not at all. It will be for someone else to say "Yea" or "Nay." Is there any proposal in this Bill whereby the unfortunate taxpayer is going to get any of this £70,000,000 back— because this is a profitable part of the business we are told, as indeed I think it is? No, my Lords. These road hauliers are going to get it, not by the consent or acquiescence or consideration of the Commission—not at all—but by putting up their case to somebody else over whom there is no control. And, moreover, over their charges there will be no limit. In other words, the Bill knocks the bottom out of the Transport Act. That is what it does. It proposes that the most profitable part of transport should be taken out of the hands of the Transport Commission—and the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in a most sweetly reasonable speech wished to assure us that the Bill was not intended to torpedo the Transport Act. All I have to do is to ask noble Lords to look at the Bill. It is a very interesting exercise in non-destructive effort! When we get as far as page 4 of the Bill we begin on the alterations to be made to the Transport Act, and they go on through pages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and a portion of 11. These pages show what happens to the debris of the Transport Act when this Bill has been agreed to. Yet we are calmly assured that it does not torpedo the Act. What it does, of course, is to take out the most profitable part of transport, to be run by somebody else, and make the business of the Transport Commission as a self-supporting concern a practical impossibility.
That is not the way we deal with problems of this sort. I am not sure whether it is worthy of your Lordships' House, if I may say so with respect. The other day I listened to the debate on news-print. I do not pretend to be a particulary particular person, but I sat and listened to speech after speech, with one exception—that of the noble Lord who moved the Motion—from people whose business interests are in newsprint. It did 448 not make a good impression. And now I do not think it would be fair, when it sacrifices the taxpayer to a prodigious extent, that we should lend ourselves this afternoon to fostering the interests of those who would like to possess themselves of the cream of the business.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not rise for more than a very few moments. For various reasons, I have not had the opportunity of hearing the whole of this debate, though fortunately enough I was able to hear the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. We have listened to their speeches with every desire to understand their point of view, but I am afraid that it has not altered our attitude. Your Lordships must remember that the purpose of the Transport Act, as we understood it, was to create a State monopoly with regard to certain sections of road haulage, but it was not intended to snuff out altogether the independent haulier. As we see it, the modus operandi—the way it works out—
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but may I ask a question? Before he talks about "snuffing out" I would ask him to bear in mind that there are 699,000 "C" licence holders.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, what I am saying I will continue to say. It seems to us that under the operation of the Act there is a gradual pruning down of certain short-distance hauliers who, we understood, and the country understood, were to be kept in existence under the Act. The only purpose of this amending Bill is to safeguard the interests of those people, very hardworking, energetic members of the community, who are having an extremely hard time at the present moment. It does not aim to do more than that. It is an amending Bill, and noble Lords opposite must not think that because an Act is a nationalisation Act it is incapable of amendment. Nor can we accept finally or permanently the argument that we have only to wait another twenty or thirty years and we shall see how nationalisation really works. We have had an opportunity of seeing how it works. We see how it works now; and if we wait 449 any longer a large number of these unhappy people will be driven out of business altogether. We regard it as one of the duties of Parliament to protect the interests of people of that kind, perfectly respectable, honest, hard-working members of the community. For that reason
§ Resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.450
§ we are introducing this Bill, and for that reason we feel obliged to take it to a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill be now read a second time?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 32.449
|Wellington, D.||Templewood, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Trenchard, V.||Lloyd, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Luke, L.|
|Reading, M.||Aberconway, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Ailwyn, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Altrincham, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Brooke and Warwick, E.||Amherst of Hackney, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Baden-Powell, L.||Monson, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Broughshane, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Carrington, L. [Teller.]||O'Hagan, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Clanwilliam, L.(E. Clanwilliam.)||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Lindsay, E.||Clydesmuir, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Colgrain, L.||Rea, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Courthope, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Selborne, E.||De L'lsle and Dudley, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Derwent, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Allenby, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Gifford, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Grantley, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Long, V.||Hampton, L.||Schuster, L.|
|Portman, V.||Harris, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Swinton, V.||Hindlip, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Jowitt, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Archibald, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E.Lucan.)[Teller.]||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Addison, V. (L. Privy Seal.)||Burden, L.||Morrison, L.|
|Calverley, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Douglas of Kirtleside, L.||Pakenham, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Faringdon, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Haden-Guest, L.||Piercy, L|
|Hall, V.||Henderson, L.||Quibell, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Inman, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Kershaw, L. [Teller.]||Shepherd, L.|
|Ammon, L.||Lawson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
§ House adjourned at two minutes before six o'clock.