§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for Second Reading, moved yesterday by Lord Leathers.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate with a background of more than thirty-four years of railway service and with the blood of two former generations of railway workers in my veins. I look upon this Bill as a wanton attack upon a steadily developing transport system in this country, and I greatly deplore the disturbance which it must make in all forms of transport. I have seen, in the course of my experience, how seriously two world wars injured the railways of Britain, and I assert that the railways had not fully recovered from the effects of the First World War when the Second Great War came upon us.
Efforts to reorganise the railways in 1920 had a disturbing effect upon railway staffs, but that was offset by the improvement in service conditions which then came into operation. The old individual company loyalties were destroyed, but the consolidation of war bonus into wages and salaries, and the new negotiating machinery then established, had an excellent effect. When nationalisation came along, again there were changes to face, but the vast majority of the staffs saw great possibilities in the new set-up and were given a new and enlarged outlook with regard to the scope of their service. This Bill brings fresh disturbance, with no compensating advantages, and many of my former railway colleagues feel that they are mere pawns in a political game, the object of which is to take out of transport, and make it injuriously competitive with the railways, a vital part of the service which, it is calculated by certain interests, may still be exploited for private profit.
I am very apprehensive about the effect of the proposed changes upon the railways. What is the declared motive of this Bill? It is, we are told, to free road transport so that it may be run more efficiently in the public interest. That is the declaration, but I take leave to doubt its genuineness, and I am certain that the public interest will not be better served when this Bill has become an Act and has been put into operation. The premises 673 upon which it is based cause me to think of an impatient child pulling up a tree which has not had time to bear fruit, and tinkering with the roots in order to produce a quicker result. There is no doubt in my mind that, at the very lowest estimate, this Bill is premature, and I am fortified in my opinion by the vast majority of transport experts. We are chiefly concerned with road transport which is being denationalised. Those who were placed in charge as a result of the passing of the 1947 Act inherited chaos. They have created order, which is now to be disturbed because of an ill-conceived and misguided Election pledge. Election pledges have been broken by the Party opposite on previous occasions; they could follow their precedents, in that regard, and do a service to the country, by breaking this particular pledge as well. I regard this Bill to disorganise British transport as a tragedy. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill yesterday never really attempted, in my judgment, to justify the breaking up of transport. I was unfortunately unable to be present but, so far as I read his speech, even the reasons he gave did not appear to follow logically from the Bill.
It is, however, to its effect on Scottish transport that I should like to direct my main remarks, for Scotland is affected in a degree which does not, in my opinion, apply South of the Border. Nearly half of Scotland is occupied by the Highlands; a very large percentage of all our land is hill and upland, and with the exception of the industrial belt, most of Scotland is thinly populated. One of our special problems arises because of the depopulation of the Highlands and rural areas, which has gone on for generations. There would be one factor above all others which would be held responsible—transport. Scotland as a whole is equally troubled in this respect. Industry tends to migrate towards the big centres of population, and any enterprise establishing itself in Scotland feels to some extent the handicap of freight rates, both for its raw materials coming North and for its products going South. It is therefore vital for the prosperity of Scotland that it should have efficient and cheap transport. This is not a matter of politics but of business efficiency. Everyone who has studied, and worked in, transport has come to the conclusion that transport can 674 be efficient, and economical only so far as overlapping and waste are eliminated and a reliable and cheap service is provided.
Scotland has a unanimous opinion as to what is necessary to fulfil these conditions. Its transport must be integrated and co-ordinated so that, taken altogether, it provides the maximum service at the lowest cost. I was astonished to read that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, argued that the reduction in the number of haulage vehicles was an indication of failure. In Scotland at least that was an economy. What it required 4,000 lorries to do before nationalisation is now being done better and more cheaply by 3,600. These lorries are better maintained; they run according to the law—and that could not be said prior to the coming of nationalisation. And when the Government put a stop to development British Road Services were just reaching the point when they could claim to be providing a national network of transport throughout the whole of Scotland. If the Government had introduced a Bill to make improvements and to correct any defects that had been discovered, we should be meeting in a different atmosphere. As it is, we are faced, not with a constructive measure of that kind but with one which will break up the organisation which has been so well built up in such a short time.
It may be said that not much has been done to integrate this road service with the railways and other transport. Obviously, the development of road services had to be completed before that could be started, but in Scotland a considerable degree of such integration was on foot. The noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, who will be addressing your Lordships at a later stage of the proceedings to-day, will be able to speak at first hand of the views of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), which he has led with such distinction over many years. If I may be permitted to take the view of his Council as being the non-political view of those who represent industry, commerce and the local authorities, as well as the T.U.C. in Scotland, we find that their conclusion, after an exhaustive and objective inquiry, was that Scotland should have an integrated transport system and that this would be more readily achieved if road transport, at 675 present publicly owned, was retained as part of the publicly owned transport system. The further, and perhaps the most important, contention of all those interested in transport in Scotland is that within Scotland itself there should be a body with authority and power to secure the best harmony in the working of all kinds of Scottish transport. This has nothing to do with a proposal for cutting off Scotland or its transport from England. No one suggests that there should be Scottish railways and Scottish road transport divorced from South of the Border. Clearly, a complete national network is ideal. But Scotland has its own problems, and within the United Kingdom is better able to solve them on the spot than if they were regarded merely as some problem of one of the various regions of the country. The Government's proposals so far have not satisfied Scottish opinion that they even recognise the problem which Scotland faces, and this creates much disquiet, even among Government supporters. It will be little satisfaction to the business Scot if his transport rates go up and his service is taken away merely for the sake of reversing Labour's nationalisation of transport.
The Bill has other alarming features for Scotland. Whatever may be the final amount of transport left to the Commission, there is no assurance that any portion of it will be left in Scotland. What is to prevent Scottish transport from being sold out to bidders South of the Border and Scottish transport being denuded of its vehicles? This question was put in another place, but no satisfactory answer has been received. What is to happen to the Highlands and the rural areas? How can private enterprise be expected to provide services comparable to existing services when they are not economic? So when the transport units are disposed of, what is to happen to Highland and rural Scotland? We have made a great job of building up a good road transport system in Scotland in the last four years. We have been busy integrating it with rail and air; and we now ask the Government what is to take its place. Surely it is not contended that a Scottish Council can do the job when the whole of road transport, except that of the railways, is to be handed over to groups of individuals outside the control of the Council.
676 I have been expressing my own views with regard to this Bill, but I am widely supported in Scotland by the attitude taken up by the Press. I should like to quote from a leading article in the Scotsman of Tuesday, February 17, only a few days ago. I may say of the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, from which I will also quote, that these two papers are read in Scotland with as much veneration (if I may put it in that way) as The Times is read by an Englishman, and especially by a Londoner. If we see something in the Scotsman or the Glasgow Herald, it is so. I should also mention that these papers normally support the Government, but they certainly do not support this Government with regard to this particular measure. I quote from the leading article in the Scotsman:It is just because the advisory system"—this refers to the advisory system that is in the Bill—has such a record of futility and frustration that the case for transferring executive authority in transport to Scotland was so vigorously pressed. Yet the Minister hopes to fob us off with the old, discredited remedy.Apparently the Scottish Unionist M.P.s acquiesce in the Government's scheme. They have been conspicuously inactive during the very limited discussion of the Bill's effect on Scotland, which, it will be hoped, will be debated more frankly and forcefully in the Lords.Your Lordships will be glad to see that this House is not looked upon with disfavour: I look upon this statement as being a compliment to your Lordships' House. The article goes on:It remains to be seen how Unionist M.P.s can reconcile this departure with the unequivocal undertaking in their statement of policy on Scottish affairs that there would be separate executive authorities for the nationalised industries in Scotland. No conceivable exercise of ingenuity appears to be capable of showing that the Minister of Transport has redeemed this pledge. 'In rail transport' the statement said, 'we propose a separate Scottish Board co-ordinated with the Board in England. …'So said The Scotsman. I am afraid that I am taking too much of your Lordships' time. I will make only one reference to an article by a special correspondent in the Glasgow Herald on the 19th of this month. He wrote:Generally the Bill conveys the impression that the Minister, realising he cannot put Humpty-Dumpty together again, has gone all out to produce instead reconstituted egg. It is also clear that for political reasons he is 677 in a hurry. But it took the Transport Commission, a plenipotentiary full-time body, working at a speed criticised at the time as too fast, over three years to complete the much easier task of acquisition. The Minister proposes that a board of representative character, working through delegated authority, shall complete their much more complex task in 20 months. Whether this can be done remains to be seen.I draw the attention of the Minister who is to reply to this debate to the criticisms which I have made from firsthand experience, all my life, of transport, and to the criticisms which he knows have been made, much more extensively than I have attempted to quote, by leading opinion in Scotland; and I say that even at this late date the Government should withdraw this daft and dangerous Bill. If they will not do that, then I plead with them to leave Scotland out of it.
§ 3.1 p.m.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, whom all of his brother Scots hold in high regard and with whom I was associated for a number of years in an undertaking known as the London and North Eastern Railway. It so happened that in the year 1921, in another place, when the Railways Bill of Sir Eric Geddes was under discussion, I, as a director at that time of the North British Railway Company and subsequently of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, was entrusted by my Scottish colleagues in another place to submit the case for the Scottish railways and for the Scottish public generally. I should like to quote the words with which I opened my speech in another place on May 30, 1921. I said:I desire to deal with some of the proposals of this Bill as they affect Scotland, and in doing so I shall endeavour to argue the case as concisely as possible, without any wealth of detail. I approach this subject from the standpoint of Scottish traders, Scottish agriculturists, Scottish railway employees and the Scottish travelling public. In whatever order you place these interests they are equally concerned in the continued prosperity and financial stability of the Scottish railways. Viewed from the standpoint of the great bulk of the classes of people I have enumerated in Scotland, there are provisions in this Bill which give rise to feelings of profound misgivings and dismay.I think that those words, in the main, are very apposite to the case which I propose to submit to your Lordships' House this 678 afternoon. I desire to say that in the remarks which I propose to make I shall not be speaking from any Party point of view at all. I am speaking solely as one interested in an efficient transport system throughout the United Kingdom, and particularly from the point of view of Scotland.
May I draw this distinction—and it seems to me an interesting one—between what happened in the case of the Geddes Bill of 1921 and what is happening to-day in relation to the Bill before this House? In 1921, Scotland was unitedly against the proposals first introduced into the Geddes Bill for the separation of Scotland from the rest of the railway system of Great Britain. We took the line then that Scotland, a poor country with long hauls, was unable to bear the wages system which had been imposed in 1917, and that if we were separated from England in any way, then our Scottish railway system would eventually end in bankruptcy. It was for that reason that we thought fit to obtain, and achieved, the longitudinal grouping from north to south which eventually came into being and from which the London Midland and Scottish Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway Company, and other group companies, arose.
What happened then? The four group companies organised themselves and took quite a considerable time in doing so: and in the year 1927 the London and North Eastern Railway Company put forward proposals for a net receipts pool to the London Midland and Scottish Railway. We thought at that time that it was a great pity that the London Midland and Scottish Railway did not accept that pooling arrangement, because if they had we should have gone a long way towards eliminating expenditure of an unnecessary character; and, of course, it had to come in the end when we arrived eventually at a war pool. But it was also at the beginning of that period that there arose the competition from the road hauliers which, after the War, was emphasised by the number of lorries that came on to the market; and eventually untrammelled road competition arose against which the railways were powerless. In 1922 the London and North Western Railway put forward a Bill, which all the companies supported (I remember speaking on it), to give the railways road powers. I think 679 it is a great pity that Parliament at that time did not allow the railways road powers. The companies were prepared to give all the security necessary against unrestricted monopoly. But Parliament, in its wisdom, decided that it would not give these road powers, with the result that through the third decade, the period between 1920 and 1930, road competition grew to such an extent that finally the railway companies found themselves in financial difficulties. The damage had been done by that time.
We then came to the war, in which the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, occupied with great distinction the post of Minister of War Transport. I can say without any hesitation that we, the railway companies, owed the noble Lord a great debt for the manner in which he conducted the great responsibilities of his office at that time. He will know, when it is said that the railway companies were under State control throughout the war, that that, in effect and practically, was not the case and that the railways ran themselves. I am glad to have the noble Lord's assent. It is true that the Railway Executive Committee exercised a co-ordinating influence. Down in its dungeon at the bottom of Down Street Tube Station, where no doubt the noble Lord often went, it conducted some very necessary activities of a co-ordinating kind. But apart from that, the railway boards were in existence. Here I should like to pay tribute to the officers to-day who are running the railway companies under conditions of great difficulty, and to the wages staff for the way they carry on under post-war difficulties which have been imposed upon them—I merely mention that en passant.
We now come to the 1945 Election, which leads straight up to this Bill. I consider it was the greatest misfortune for transport that the Socialist Party were returned at that Election with such a large majority. In my view, if they had secured only a small majority, we should then inevitably have been led into a bi-partisan policy for transport, both rail and road, and the sole object would have been to provide the best possible service to the community at the lowest real cost. After all, what we want to-day is the best possible service to the community at the lowest real cost. That is what we want, 680 and that is what we must strive for. Whatever may be the Bill before the House to-day, it is that objective which we must always have in view. But instead, thanks to this huge majority which the Party of noble Lords on my left enjoyed, we were at once plunged into a maelstrom of Party politics, so far as transport was concerned.
I feel that it was also unfortunate from another point of view. As the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, knows, during the war the railways and the roads had set up a Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Roger Sewill. For what purpose was that Committee set up? It was to decide how to get over these great difficulties which had arisen through the period when road competition was growing up, and to arrive at a common rates structure which would be fair to both sides and yet allow reasonable competition—not mad competition—between the two sides of rail and road. That was our object, and I think it was a very good one, Not only that, but that Committee had the support of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers. But, thanks to the Bill produced by the Party which came into office at that time, that Committee was scrapped. That was a grave misfortune, in my view. I believe that many of the objectives of the Socialist Party, and the objectives of practical rail and road men, might have been achieved if that Committee and its subsidiaries, with all the thought that was given to the problem, had been allowed to continue. But because my noble friends on my left came into office with this huge majority, the whole thing was scrapped and put into the melting pot.
I now come to the question of the effect of this Bill on Scotland, to which my noble friend Lord Mathers has already referred in an admirable and practical speech and to which my noble friend Lord Bilsland, who is to follow me in this debate, will, I understand, confine his remarks. When we come to the application of this Bill to Scotland, we have to confine ourselves to a clause in the Bill to the effect that, within a year, or perhaps earlier or later, the Chief Transport Commissioner will lay before the Minister of Transport a scheme; and that that scheme will then go through certain activities before it finally becomes law. So far as Scotland is concerned, all we have 681 to rely on, to know what is eventually going to be produced and come forth from the Transport Commission, are the speeches made, either in Parliament or outside, by Ministers and others. I shall have something to say shortly about a private Member of another place, but for the moment I will confine myself to Ministers.
Let me refer first to the Minister of Transport—and in doing so, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will not think that I am passing over him and the admirable speech which he made yesterday. I take the Minister of Transport because I happen to have on paper what he said in the other place, and I am afraid that I did not have time this morning to extract from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, some of the admirable points to which he gave expression. The Minister of Transport said this:In rail transport we propose a separate Scottish Board, co-ordinated with the Board in England. The Board would be responsible in Scotland to the Minister of Transport in exactly the same way as the English Board would be in England.I come next to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Henderson Stewart, for whom, incidentally, I have a high regard. I do not want him to feel that I am criticising him unduly, because in another place he introduced a Bill on quite a different subject, in relation to a Bill of mine to mitigate the cruelties caused by the traffic in worn-out horses between this country and the Continent; and his Bill capped my view, and put it into a satisfactory state. Mr. Henderson Stewart goes much further than the Minister of Transport. Speaking at Irvine a few nights ago he referred to the separate Scottish authorities dealing with railways, road haulage, buses, and so on, and said:Some of them would be public companies: all of them might eventually be managed by boards of directors. That in itself would be a major step forward …He goes on:We propose to create a Scottish Transport Council … Our aim is decentralisation, and the Transport Bill now before Parliament will achieve this in large measureThen he wanders into realms of what I can only describe as imagination, as neither the Minister of Transport nor the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made any reference to this. He says: 682The new Transport Council will not be a mere advisory body as some people seem to think.I draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Bilsland to those words, if he has not already seen them. He goes on to say, in reference to the new Transport Council:It will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland in consultation with the Minister of Transport and it will be responsible to them.He had previously said that the new Transport Council would "exercise real influence." How is it going to exercise real influence? How are these proposals of the Minister of Transport, and as put forward by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, going to be redeemed in this Bill? Where in this Bill is to be found the Scottish autonomy which important sections of the Scottish community have demanded, as was evidenced by the extracts from two leading Scottish newspapers which have just been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mathers?
What is it that Scotland is demanding? I think it is quite clear: It is a Scottish transport authority with executive powers, not something which will be able to "exercise real influence," whatever that may be. All that is suggested, so far as I can see, is a Scottish Transport Council, an unwieldy advisory body which is supposed to co-ordinate transport but which will have no powers to do so, and which will inevitably lead to delays and frustration on the part of transport authorities and transport users generally. I suggest that that must be so if we have an unwieldy body to which the active transport operators have to turn in this case, that case and the other. But I go further. The Government say that these proposals are what they want to see put into operation so far as Scotland is concerned. Even if they have what in their view are most desirable objectives, what guarantee has Scotland that those proposals will ever be put into operation? A whole year, more or less, will have to elapse before the Transport Commission has submitted its scheme. How do noble Lords on the Government side know that at the end of that year or nine months, or whatever it may be, they will be sitting on that side of the House? There is no guarantee at all. Scotland is in the air so far as these proposals and suggestions are concerned.
683 I now come to a matter to which I have a greater objection, if anything, than to any other point. I happened to read through a debate which took place on February 16 in another place, and I came to the speech made by Mr. Macpherson who, I think, sits for one of the Divisions of Dumfriesshire. Mr. Macpherson, who was heckled by Mr. Wheatley, finally said this (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 511, Col. 958):Let us make no mistake about it. This is an enabling Bill; it lays upon the Commission the duty of defining their scheme and presenting it to the Minister in the first place, for the decentralisation of the railways. It is up to them. It is not for us here"—Am I not supposed to quote this?
Well, I think it is most extraordinary, if I may say so. At least I am permitted to say this. At Question time to-day, as is within the recollection of noble Lords here, I put a Question on the Order Paper, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in a very courteous reply, referred me to an answer which had been given by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place.
I do not remember what was said, as I did not think it was worth listening to, but the noble Marquess referred me to this answer and suggested that I ought to have known it, and that therefore it was quite unnecessary for me to have put my Question down. In any event, he said he was not going to give me an answer in this House. Now what am I faced with half an hour later? I quote from a speech made by an honourable Member in another place and I am told that I must not do so. Where am I? Quite seriously I must ask—I do not know whom I can ask.
§ EARL JOWITT
I think I can help the noble Viscount. I believe that the practice, developed over several years, is this. One is not allowed to quote verbatim a speech made in the same Session by a private Member in another place, but a concession has been made with regard 684 to Ministerial Statements dealing with public policy. That distinction was certainly drawn all the time I was Lord Chancellor, and I think that is a tradition we observe here. But the noble Viscount can paraphrase, which is just as good for his purpose. He can put it in an indirect way.
§ LORD LAWSON
May I ask my noble friend whether it is not true that many of us suffered from a similar restriction when we were in another place and wanted to quote?
I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl for giving me a useful hint for getting out of the difficulty. On the other hand, I hope that I may have the noble and learned Earl's assistance in the other case I quoted, of being referred to an Answer given in another place and which I have never seen. We cannot be expected to look through every Question and every Answer which is given in another place, and then be referred back to it in this House. I hope the noble and learned Earl, having helped me out of this difficulty, will help me out of the other. I will not, of course, quote further the words used except to say that the honourable Member described it as an enabling Bill. It is an enabling Bill—there is no question about it.
When I was in another place I used to make it one of my duties to pounce upon Bills which contained the words, "The Minister may by order," and try to get them taken out of the Bill. Since those days those ominous words have appeared in Bills by the million. But this is a far longer step forward than that; it is a step giving a Minister powers which go far beyond those covered by the words. "The Minister may by order." Is it fair to Scotland to put her in that position, to keep her completely in the dark as to what form of administrative authority she is to have? I ask the Government, is it wise to establish this precedent? If they pass this Bill as it stands, they may regret the precedent they have created. See the power it may put in the future into the hands of the noble Lords sitting opposite them. They will use it. They will introduce Bills like this by the dozen. I can imagine the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Burden (who made 685 a very practical speech yesterday afternoon) getting together after this Bill is passed, having a champagne supper and patting each other on the back.
I will pay for it; I like to see noble Lords enjoying themselves. I can imagine them doing that as a result of these provisions in this Bill. I suggest, in all seriousness, that a precedent of this nature is a very dangerous one, and I am very sorry indeed to see it in a Bill before Parliament.
I regret to have taken up the time of the House so long, but I want to say one or two things on the practical effects of what it is suggested will he the proposals to be put forward by the Transport Commission to the Minister of Transport. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, in his speech yesterday said that the Railway Executive was to be abolished. He leaves us in the dark as to how the Transport Commission is to exercise the duties of the Railway Executive. He does not give us any enlightenment as to whether the Hotels Executive is to be abolished. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Home, will be good enough to tell us whether the Hotels Executive is to be abolished, because that is a very interesting question. The Scottish authority, whatever it will be, clearly ought to have handed over to it its hotels in its area, which it can run far more cheaply and far more competently than is being done by the Hotels Executive to-day.
I will not pursue the question of function, except to say this: that I presume—at least I hope—that the functional duties exercised by the Railway Executive in Scotland to-day are to disappear. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, knows that one of the worst features of the Act passed by the Labour Government was the functional duties imposed by the Railway Executive upon the regions. I hope that even if he cannot say so to-day, he will exercise his influence with the Transport Commission, through the Minister of Transport or on his own, to abolish the functional duties of the Railway Executive or whatever is going to take its place, because that is one of the most hampering things the regional authorities have had to bear. I hope also he is going to give the railway companies 686 complete freedom and not tie their hands by appeals to tribunals. The roads are to have complete freedom to make their own charges; why should not the railway companies?
There is one more question I should like to put and that is about branch lines. This question is a most important one in Scotland, far more so than in England—in fact, I know nothing about the English side. I have had to deal with branch lines in Scotland, and I have had to close them. I know what the difficulties and the heartburns are. It is a very difficult subject indeed to deal with. One travels about and one knows what is going on to-day. Practically all the buses in Scotland are now owned by the British Transport Commission. Nearly 90 per cent. of them are S.M.T. buses, all owned by British Transport Commission. The policy adopted regarding branch lines is that where the receipts are out of all proportion to expenditure and the reasonable needs of the public can be met by existing bus services, or by organising bus services, then the branch line is closed. Indeed, that was our policy before nationalisation and it has been carried on. But the British Transport Commission to-day guarantee the continuance of the necessary bus services before the branch line is closed. I want to direct the special attention of noble Lords' to that point. I assume that up to a point the co-operation between the British Transport Commission and the railway companies in this matter will go on—assuming that the railway authority is not interfered with by this unwieldy, frustrating body which noble Lords opposite decide to set up; I am referring to the Scottish Transport Council. There was in that case a real security for the people: that the British Transport Commission, before the branch line was shut down, would provide adequate bus services and that they would be maintained.
But what is the position to-day? I cannot say. The future of the buses, so far as I can see, is of quite a nebulous nature. I do not know what it is to be; nobody knows what it is to be. Who can say, if nobody knows what it is to be? The railway companies, as I understand it, are not going to be free in respect of their charging powers in the way that they ought to be free. Furthermore, in 687 cases where the British Transport Commission cannot, under the revised procedure, provide adequate bus services, the railway company will have to continue the branch line services, whatever the cost, and there will be a loss. I have had experience of this particular matter and I therefore know about it. I put that to the noble Lord as a very material point.
May I say this in conclusion? I have not approached this matter—at least, I have endeavoured not to approach it—from any Party point of view at all, but merely from the standpoint of what is best in the interests of the transport system of this country. Now, may I be permitted to quote from a letter, signed "Transporter", which was written to The Times of November 3, 1952? It says:The truth is, Sir, that life is by no means so simple as many would have us believe. It is unlikely that the true solution of our transport dilemma is either wholesale competition, on the one hand, or complete monopoly, on the other. All that can be said in the abstract is that favours given to one section of transport ought not to be denied to another. If one section is free to pick and choose its traffics and its charges, then the other should be free also. If one is free from Parliamentary control, then the other should be similarly free. If one section produces no statistics and publishes no information about its affairs, the other should be in the same position. Or, if one section suffers some degree of regulation and supervision and is required to carry certain real or moral obligations of public service, then some means must be found of placing corresponding disadvantages or restraints on the other. The working out of this balance in terms of national transport policy will require a long and continuous effort in practical and non-political administration, worked within a framework of legislation which must be non-sectional, fair, and of considerable flexibility.I beg to submit those words to the House as being of an eminently sensible character.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ LORD BILSLAND
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, for the kind reference which he made in the course of his speech to the Scottish Council, with which I am associated, but there was one point he made in which, if I understood him correctly, I think he inadvertently conveyed a wrong impression of the views of the Council. The point is that the Scottish Council has never taken any stand either for or against nationalisation as a policy, for it 688 holds as a firm policy to being entirely non-political. The Minister of Transport, in his speech in another place last week, said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol.511, Col. 889):In no field of transport has the claim that the interests of the users must be paramount been more frequently and eloquently stressed than in regard to Scottish transport.We Scotsmen are grateful for the compliment, but there is good reason for our eloquence because, essential as an efficient transport service is to the country as a whole, it is of particular importance to Scotland. Scotland, with 10 per cent. of the population and at least one-third of the area of the United Kingdom, has 18 per cent. of the railway and 14 per cent, of the road mileage. The distance of the Scottish manufacturer from the main centres of population in the Midlands and the south of England is much greater than that of his competitor across the border. There are particular physical difficulties of communication in Scotland, and other problems. Therefore, transport charges in Scotland as an item in industrial costs tend to be relatively higher than elsewhere, and over a large part of the country are reflected to our disadvantage in the personal budget of the ordinary citizen.
For this reason the Scottish Council, with which I am associated and which is representative of all interests in Scottish industrial and public life, has always taken the deepest interest in transport organisation and problems, and has made repeated submissions to successive Governments but we still find ourselves without the organisation for which we have pressed and which we consider necessary. Accordingly, soon after the present Government took office we prepared a submission to the Government setting out what, in our view, would secure the most efficient and economic transport system in Scotland. We are most grateful for the opportunities so readily afforded us for discussion in recent months by the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, by the Secretary of State for Scotland, by the noble Earl, Lord Home, and by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
Broadly, my colleagues and I feel that the essential requirements are, first, effective devolution in the control and operation of the publicly-owned transport services in Scotland. I listened with much satisfaction to what the noble 689 Lord, Lord Leathers, said yesterday on the subject of decentralisation of the railways. He used the words (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 589):The time has surely come when the tide of centralisation should ebb.First, effective devolution: secondly, the co-ordination of these services, so far as is practicable. We have never asked for complete autonomy in Scottish transport, for it is neither practicable nor desirable. We carefully noted what was said by the Minister of Transport in another place during the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill, and I must confess disappointment that he gave so little indication of the form and functions of the new organisation to be set up in Scotland. I appreciate that it is difficult for the Government to define in comprehensive detail the precise form and functions of the new body in advance of the submission by the British Transport Commission of their scheme for the reorganisation of the railways. I venture to submit to your Lordships what, after mature consideration, are, in the judgment of the Scottish Council, the minimum requirements to secure the maximum efficiency and economy in transport services in Scotland, which I am sure is the objective of all of us, and not only as regards Scotland.
No question in recent years has been the subject of more public discussion in Scotland than the transport organisation to be set up under this Bill, and particular emphasis has been placed in that discussion on the form of the co-ordinating machinery required. But, clearly, co-ordinating machinery is valueless without adequate and effective devolution of authority, within the national system, in the services to be co-ordinated. It is impossible to co-ordinate to any purpose where powers do not exist. Therefore, my colleagues and I address ourselves, first, to the question of devolution as the prime necessity. We feel that devolution, in line with the Bill, could be obtained by providing an executive organisation in Scotland, adequately empowered for each branch of publicly-owned, or quasi-publicly-owned transport—that is, the railways, buses, civil aviation and any continuing publicly-owned road haulage, et cetera. This organisation, we feel, should take the form in each ease of a board, with several independent members 690 of high competence and standing, and business or comparable experience, one of whom should be chairman. Subject to overall responsibility at the top, we urge that such boards should be entrusted with the largest measure of competence and responsibility, compatible with overall national requirements; and, in particular, that they should be able effectively, within the broad framework of national policy, to operate, administer and develop the services in Scotland committed to their charge.
My Lords, if such a system were afforded whereby, within and subject to the national transport organisation, the services were directed by boards composed of men with knowledge of Scottish conditions and requirements, we feel that this part of the Scottish need would be met. But it is necessary further to devise an adequate machinery whereby representatives of these services should be brought together, both secure, so far as is practicable and desirable, the co-ordination of the services—as, for example, between air and surface transport, and the replacement, by adequate and convenient road services, of railway services cut off—and also to keep under constant review the Scottish interests in transport matters as a whole, and to make representations upon them to the Minister or other appropriate authority. Therefore, the Scottish Council has welcomed the references made by the Minister of Transport in another place of his intention to set up a Scottish Transport Council composed of representatives of all the bodies responsible to the British Transport Commission for the provision of goods and passenger services, both by road and rail, and of the British European Airways Corporation and Messrs. MacBrayne. The Minister stated that he did not propose to define in any detail the powers of this body, although he indicated broadly its purpose.
Before referring to the functions which we feel should be entrusted to the Transport Council, I should like to say something about its composition. It does not seem to me to be clear what the Minister had in mind in saying that the Transport Council should be composed of representatives of all the bodies responsible to the British Transport Corporation. In our view, in Scotland the representatives should be chosen not from the chief 691 executive officers of these services but from the part-time chairmen, or other part-time members serving on the boards of these services—assuming, as I hope we may assume, that such boards will form part of the new organisation. In this connection, I think it is relevant to refer to the recent report of the Transport Tribunal appointed by the Government of Northern Ireland, which, in its examination of this question, argued strongly against executive officers being members of the Board of the Ulster Transport Authority. Although, in our view, executive officers should not be members of the proposed Transport Council it would be appropriate that they should, when desirable, be called to attend these board meetings.
One can appreciate the Minister's difficulty in defining the powers of such a body, in advance of a decision on the form of organisation to be set up to control the services represented on it, and on the extent of devolution of control afforded to them. We were very glad to note, however, that in the course of the debate in another place the Minister of Transport stated that:It is our intention, of course, to see that there are appointed to that body people who would not for a moment consider serving on it if it did not get effective powers of a co-ordinating character.I mean no reflection on those who have given their services voluntarily on various consultative committees when I say that such committees are suspect and have, in general, been ineffective. It is essential that the Transport Council proposed should have, as the Minister has said, "effective powers of a co-ordinating character." This is a matter to which, over a period, the Scottish Council have given a great deal of thought, and I venture to submit to your Lordships some of the conclusions reached.
The Scottish Council suggest, first, that to secure the closest co-operation between the Scottish Transport Council and the British Transport Commission two members of the Transport Council, one being its Chairman, should sit on the British Transport Commission. They suggest, secondly, that to be effective the Transport Council should be empowered to formulate and submit policy covering essentially Scottish transport matters, should co-ordinate all transport services 692 provided by the nationally-owned agencies, and act, in co-operation with air services, to work out adequate and appropriate complementary surface services. Further, we suggest that the Transport Council should formulate schemes to effect economies, for the development of services and facilities, for transferring services from one agency to another, and for the elimination of services where necessary. We submit that the board should be empowered to express an opinion on capital expenditure, to formulate schemes for the common use of property and equipment where possible, and also to promote the unification of departments, such as general trunk travel publicity, which can serve in common the agencies under national control. It is our view that the Council could perform a useful function in dealing with submissions from corporations and other public bodies, and in providing liaison on transport matters with local authorities, and trading and similar bodies. Finally, we feel that the Council should be enabled to propose rates and fares by road and rail, within the national rates and fares structures, where these exist, and that it should obtain information on trends of movement of population and industry, to ensure corresponding and appropriate transport developments to meet new requirements. It is to be hoped that the Transport Council would, in due course, take every opportunity of meeting representatives of all other transport undertakings in Scotland, whether publicly owned or privately owned, so far as they can be brought together voluntarily, to discuss matters of common interest, and to promote co-operation between them and the nationalised services, so far as circumstances will allow.
I wish next to emphasise the importance of associating competent and experienced part-time members, both with the regional direction of the individual services and with the proposed Scottish Transport Council. In this matter I draw on my experience as a member for some years of the Scottish committee of the board of the L.M.S. Railway Company. It is essential that a much wider knowledge and experience of business than a chief executive officer can have should be brought to bear on transport problems. Such experience can be applied with far greater effect, I suggest, 693 by part-time members on a board, with the knowledge of the transport undertaking which membership of the board gives them, than if it is applied from without, through a consultative committee. Further, the Scottish interest will always be more effectively and authoritatively presented and pressed by such a board than can ever be possible by a chief executive officer who, by the nature of his position, cannot press his case beyond a certain point. Experience before and since nationalisation, I suggest, supports that argument.
There are pressing transport problems to-day in Scotland, and none more urgent than those affecting the Highlands and Islands, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has referred. They will require all the experience that can be brought to bear upon them, and for their solution I am convinced that the type or organisation I have endeavoured to define to your Lordships is necessary. My reason for going into this matter in such detail is the concern felt in Scotland that the proposed Transport Council should be enabled to perform an effective task.
There is one final matter to which I wish to refer. Prior to the Transport Act, 1947, the railways in Scotland owned a substantial amount of road haulage. It is contemplated that the British Transport Commission will, in the aggregate, retain the pre-nationalisation volume of road haulage operated by the railways, with a percentage in addition; but I know of no arrangement to ensure a fair geographical distribution of the road haulage retained. Concern is felt in Scotland that the absence of such a provision may act to our disadvantage, having regard, for example, to the many areas of sparse population. I apologise for having detained your Lordships so long. But I felt that I should be lacking in my duty if I did not endeavour to explain in detail the vital importance of transport in the economy of Scotland, and the measures which, after mature consideration, we feel are necessary to secure an efficient and adequate transport service.
§ 4.1 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (THE EARL OF HOME)
My Lords, my noble friend, Lord Leathers, in his comprehensive introduction to the Bill, has made it clear to 694 your Lordships once again that this is a measure of denationalisation, decentralisation and decontrol. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, to-day was, at any rate, consistent. He and his colleagues have always advocated a highly centralised system of direction for national transport. That was the conception of the 1947 Act. But the present Government and the Conservative Party in the country have found that while that may look all right on paper, a highly centralised system does not work in practice to the public advantage. This Bill, therefore, denationalises road haulage; it takes powers to denationalise road passenger transport services, and it emphasises the status of the regional transport authorities. So the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, will make his speech and make his point—and, as I say, he is consistent—but he will realise that for us to impose upon a national transport system, or upon the Scottish transport system, a new all-embracing executive authority would be inconsistent with our purpose. Merely to take off the 1947 straitjacket in order to put on a 1953 model does not commend itself to us.
The Bill proceeds on the principle that it is impossible and undesirable to separate Great Britain into regions which are financially autonomous and self-supporting. I thought that, for the moment, the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, had allowed his eloquence to outrun his Scottish discretion. He said at one point in his speech: "Leave Scotland out of the Bill." That was his peroration. But no responsible Scotsman—certainly not Lord Bilsland, or the Scottish Council—would ever suggest, for instance, that there should be a railway system in which the Scottish railways had to pay their way out of freights and fares levied solely in Scotland.
§ LORD MATHERS
Will the noble Earl allow me to intervene for one moment? What I wanted to be understood as saying was: "Leave us as we are; we are better off than we were before, and we are better off than we shall be if this Bill passes."
THE EARL OF HOME
That, as I said earlier, is consistent, but it has no other merit that I can see. As I say, no responsible Scotsman would suggest that there should be a system in which 695 Scottish railways had to pay their way out of fares and freights levied solely in Scotland. The object of the noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, was to see that, within the British Transport system and under the general control of the Transport Commission. Scotland has the maximum amount of freedom. That, too, is the Government's aim. The first objective—here I come to the points about executive power emphasised by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank—must be to secure that there is an effective executive authority running each branch of the nationalised transport, with recognisable Scottish identity and sufficient delegated powers. That, I take it, is what Lord Bilsland and Lord Elibank both want to achieve, and surely that is the point at which there should be effective devolution of executive functions; that is the point in administration at which, in fact, devolution will be most effective. My noble friend put it in this way: he said the object of the Bill was to give more power to the man on the spot.
May I now say a few words in order to present your Lordships with a picture of the nationalised transport as it will be in Scotland under this Bill and certain additions which we are proposing to the machinery? So far as the railways are concerned, the Bill provides for a Scottish railway authority. Its constitution and powers will be determined by a scheme to be laid down by the British Transport Commission. That scheme has to run the gauntlet of three stages, in any or all of which the Scottish point of view may be expressed and safeguarded. First, there have to be consultations with bodies representative of persons likely to be specially affected by the scheme. Secondly, the scheme has to be approved, with or without modifications, by the Minister of Transport in consultation with the Secretary of State. Thirdly, but by no means least, the scheme will have to be submitted to Parliament. So, in all those stages, the point of view of Scotland can be expressed and recognised; and that, surely, should secure that Scottish needs are met. The Scottish Council—and the noble Lord mentioned this in his speech just now—have recommended that the Scottish railway authority should have an independent chairman of high standing, and other independent members. As the noble 696 Lord appreciates, I cannot anticipate the scheme which will come forward, but he will have noted the words of the Minister of Transport in another place, when he said that he would be most unlikely to accept as a satisfactory solution a scheme which confined all authority to a single individual.
The road passenger services which remain in public ownership will continue to be run by Scottish Omnibuses Limited, a Scottish firm well aware of Scottish conditions and needs. As far as MacBrayne's steamer and bus services, which serve the Highlands and the Western Islands, are concerned, they have a recognisable Scottish identity, and in this case 50 per cent. of the capital is owned by Coast Lines Limited and the other 50 per cent. by the British Transport Commission. So far as air services are concerned, British European Airways will operate the Scottish internal services for the present. I hope your Lordships will feel that this is the level of administration at which a substantial degree of executive responsibility should be exercised by every branch of Scottish transport, and that is the intention of this Bill.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to interrupt? Is the noble Earl answering the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, as to whether or not the Transport Commission in Scotland will have the authority and power under this Bill to run road passenger services if, in the interest of economy, the railway authority closes down a branch line? Is it not correct that under a clause in this Bill the Minister is given power to take away from the British Transport Commission the controlling interest in any road passenger concern? If he takes away the controlling interest, how can the British Transport Commission have authority to substitute road passenger services for railway services on lines that are to be closed down?
THE EARL OF HOME
I should like a little time to look into that question. For the present the Scottish Transport Council will review the Scottish road passenger transport services. I shall have a look at the point the noble Lord makes before Committee stage, because I think there is an answer to it.
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but the noble Earl has explained to us that the executive authority, quite properly, will rest in the railway, road and air services, each in their separate departments in Scotland. The point I am making is this. Ordinary co-ordination can be established between them, but the exception I take is that, in Scotland, over and above that there is the Scottish Transport Council which Mr. Henderson Stewart said would exercise "real influence," but which, so far as I can see, as one who had an executive position in the railways of Scotland, is going to be merely a body which will always be putting its oar in and interfering and holding things up.
THE EARL OF HOME
It seems that the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, finds himself in some difficulty in these matters of procedure. First of all he said he did not know where he was. Then he offered noble Lords on the Opposition Benches a champagne supper—a most un-Scottish thing to do, if he was in his senses. Thirdly, he asked me how I knew that this Government would be on these Benches in a year's time. I shall consult my bookmaker and ask him to send me the odds on the chances of the different Parties forming a Government next year.
In dealing with the executive authority which will rest with the different branches of nationalised transport, I should like to say something about the Scottish Transport Council. I think there is a fair degree of agreement that executive authority in Scotland should lie as far as possible with the different branches of nationalised transport, but Scotland's distinctive geographical position, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, pointed out, indicates that there should be something more than a Consultative Committee. In nationalised industries consultative committees are necessary to protect the consumers, and the present Consultative Committee will go on with strengthened powers, in that in future it will have direct access to the Minister of Transport. But because of Scotland's distinctive geographical position it can be argued that there should be some machinery over 698 and above a consultative committee to ensure, first, that the public is served by the most appropriate form of transport, and secondly, that Scotland's transport needs are constantly understood and appreciated. For this reason the Government have decided to set up a Scottish Transport Council
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, may I give its composition as we see it? There will be an independent, impartial and experienced Chairman, the Chairmen or other representatives of all the publicly owned transport services, road, rail, sea and air, the Chairman of the Scottish Consultative Committee, in order that the two Committees should not work at opposing purposes; and other independent members with wide and general experience. The Council will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland together with the Minister of Transport, and they attach the greatest importance, as does the noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, to attracting into this Council men of the widest experience and greatest distinction. I think it is too soon to define the duties of the Council in great detail. We do not want to tie the Council to a rigid list of functions, which might be restrictive, but here are some of the functions which we think the Council may have: To review together the work of the different transport authorities set up in Scotland; to consider matters of common interest; to formulate joint schemes for the future; to make proposals for the development of joint services in Scotland and to make proposals for improvements and economies that may be made in these services. It follows from what I have said earlier that this Council will not, and should not, weaken the executive responsibilities of the different transport authorities, nor interfere with the statutory responsibilities of the Scottish Advisory Council on Civil Aviation. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Bilsland, nor the Council have ever asked that or would ask that.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, would the noble Earl explain in what way these functions differ from those of the existing Consultative Committee?
THE EARL OF HOME
The Scottish Consultative Committee do not have power or authority to tie up with the other nationalised services. They could not call British European Airways and 699 the railways into consultation, or make any joint recommendations. I think there is one essential difference. It will be a good thing to get the Scottish Transport Council appointed so that they can co-ordinate and oversee the whole field of Scottish transport and devise joint schemes for Scotland's advantage.
I have tried, in a comparatively short time, to give a complete picture to your Lordships of the position of the Scottish nationalised transport services as they are influenced by this Bill. I hope that my remarks will do something to convince your Lordships, and people in Scotland, that it is the intention of this Government to see that, wherever possible, Scotland shall have the largest share in managing Scottish affairs.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, we are now returning south of the Tweed, but before we do so there is one question that I should like to ask the noble Earl who has just sat down. His description of the proposed Council for co-ordinating all forms of transport in Scotland sounded to me uncommonly like integration. I understood that Her Majesty's Government had dismissed integration as being no answer to the transport problems of this country. It now seems that in Scotland, possibly under another name, integration is regarded as satisfactory.
THE EARL OF HOME
We have no objection to integration. Decentralising, but not disintegrating. We will look up the words in the dictionary and see what is the difference. I must ask the noble Earl to forgive me, because I have an engagement in Oxford which necessitates my leaving the House.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I quite appreciate the noble Earl's difficulty, and I certainly do not desire to enter into a discussion with him on the meaning of words. The first thing I should like to do is to congratulate the Party opposite on what I consider is a remarkable achievement in the field of publicity. Over the last seven or eight years they have built up what I can describe only as a folklore of the failure of nationalisation. I use the word advisedly, because the dictionary which I consulted describes "folklore" as 700traditional beliefs, tales or sayings, especially of a superstitious or legendary nature, preserved unreflectively in a people.This legend that private enterprise is successful and that nationalisation is a failure flies straight in the face of the evidence available for anybody to read: in fact, I can only suppose that the publicity department of the Conservative Party has realised that very few people read the statistics that are published.
What is the evidence? In the case of the railways, we have heard, in different debates, a number of stories of noble Lords who have missed their trains; of others who have spoken to porters on platforms and heard that the present system is unpopular; and of consignments that have missed their ships. But really, memories are short, because if one goes back to the days before the war one could then open a newspaper and find exactly the same complaints about the railways as we hear to-day—complaints about the restaurant cars, unpunctuality, and so on. To suggest that these are something new is, to my mind, completely false. We even had the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in a debate last year, eulogising the old railway companies. He became quite lyrical about the nicknames—I think it was "God's Wonderful Railway" that we had quoted to us. Yesterday we heard from my noble friend Lord Wise some of the other nicknames, less complimentary, and I can add another one to the collection. I can remember, in my youth, being told about a railway called the "London, Smash'em and Turnover." There is nothing new in the public having cause for complaint about their transport system. Look round London, moreover, and see how many of the London termini have been renovated, rebuilt or restored in the last half a century. I can tell your Lordships that there is only one. None of these great railway companies did a thing to modernise or improve their London termini in all those years. To the best of my belief, Waterloo is the only station that has had any improvements carried out upon it in half a century. Finally, in the last year before nationalisation the railway companies lost some £16 million on their working operations. That was the private enterprise situation as it really was, and not as it appears in current propaganda.
One has only to look at the publications of the Transport Commission to see what 701 really has happened. In the few years since nationalisation, we learn from these publications that in 1951 British Railways carried 1,000 million passengers, and carried them, moreover, at fares which had risen only 90 per cent. since before the war, as against a general rise in retail prices of l22 per cent. In the freight sphere, British Railways worked 23,000 million ton miles, and worked them by utilising their rolling stock and engines more efficiently—in fact, at the highest index of efficiency that has ever been known in this country. In one month in the winter before last, British Railways carried traffic at a higher intensity than at any period except the peak of the war. Yet relations have been good in the industry, and the whole of their resources have been used efficiently. Where, then, is the need for this decentralisation? We heard yesterday from the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, of the great improvements and economies effected by gathering the railway companies into British Railways. The results are sufficient to show that there is no complaint against British Railways on the grounds of the service which they have rendered to the public.
I turn now to road transport. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made some remarkable: statements, as I thought, in his speech yesterday. If I may quote one sentence, he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, VOL 180, Col. 585):It is an essential premise of Government policy that road haulage cannot give the service of which it is capable if it is organised as a nation-wide network, subordinated to meet the dictates of a central administration.In passing, I would say that I regret the use of the word "dictates" by the noble Lord. It is what one distinguished writer, who specialises in the use of English calls one of the "witch words"—words that cast a spell and are employed only when the user is saying something unfavourable. Surely, the noble Lord would not say that any department of the Government is "subordinated to the dictates of the central administration": he would say that it was organised as a going concern. However, that is merely a terminological matter. Let me now come back to this premisethat road haulage cannot give the service of which it is capable if it is organised as a nation-wide network.702 With great respect—because the noble Lord is an expert or transport, and I am not—I should like him to explain what appears to the layman to be completely contrary to the facts. Surely, any nation-wide network that can employ pooled resources, organised and designed ad hoc, can provide a better service than a crowd of small units, each competing and each having to maintain its own overheads. And, mark you, my Lords, the owners of these small units are in the business for one purpose, and one purpose only—namely, to make a profit and retire. How is the transport service to be efficiently catered for by those means? That is admittedly a matter of theory, but how does it work out in practice in the road haulage sphere?
Before nationalisation, we had this large number of companies which were acquired under one heading or another, and we hear that before the war they were making £5 million or £10 million a year profit. How were they doing that? There has been evidence published to the effect that, before the war, there was widespread disregard of the laws relating to hours of work and rest, loading of vehicles, and so on. It is on record that there were thousands of convictions every year for offences of this sort. That is one way they made their profits. Numbers of them, no doubt, ran on very small margins—ran on a shoe-string, one might say—and, no doubt, numbers of them failed. But those were taken over, starting in 1948. For the following four years the Road Haulage Executive were taking over and absorbing undertakings at an average rate of about 900 a year. That process went on until 1951, so that the first year when the Executive was free to start its commercial operations, free of the organisation entailed by nationalisation, was 1952. In the middle of 1952 the Government issued their White Paper and threw the largest spanner into the works.
Those four years had been spent in absorbing those thousands of different undertakings all sizes, of all kinds, and of all degrees of skill and efficiency. British Railways tell us that in a number of the undertakings there was a complete lack of stores systems; there were different methods of accounting, and all this had to be absorbed, combined and redesigned for a proper regular service of 703 long-distance road haulage. In addition, there were the other undertakings. There was the parcels service which was instituted from nothing.
On the staff side, so far from a nationalised undertaking being more expensive in overheads and administrative staff, the numbers of so-called black-coated workers employed in road haulage in relation to the workers and loads carried has dropped steadily during the period. It is more economical now than it was when it was taken over.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Would the noble Earl define what he means when he says that it is worth more to-day than when it was taken over?
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I was not aware that I had said that. If I did, I apologise. I should have said that it was more economically run than it was before.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Does the noble Earl mean by "more economically run" that to-day it is being run with fewer overhead staff than before?
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
Yes. The figures are in the published report of the Transport Commission. May I say a word about "C" licences, because that argument is constantly used? The increase in the number of "C" licences has been used often as showing that traders are dissatisfied with the services provided by the nationalised road haulage. The numbers of "C" licences taken out year by year are all available, and they show that in 1946 and 1947, and for the first twelve months after nationalisation, there was an increasing number of "C" licences. After that the number has been diminishing, so I suggest that that is no proof that since road haulage has got into its stride—which was not until 1951, or later—traders have anything to complain of in the services which are offered by the Road Haulage Executive. In fact, it is the opinion, not only of noble Lords on this side but of many eminent experts in the world of transport, that the 1947 Act has given a good service; that the Transport Commission and its various executives have, on the whole, done a good job, and show promise of continuing to do a good job. It is that which causes such despair on this side of the House when we see this Bill.
704 I have not gone into any of the details of the clauses. This is, after all, a Second Reading debate, when we are entitled, I understand, to talk about the general principles. It is these general principles behind the question of denationalisation which seem to me to need a good deal more ventilating than they have had—more ventilating even than what I can only call the thoroughly irresponsible handling of public assets which is involved in the disposal of the road haulage assets, or the rather questionable device of the levy. This Party believed in 1945 that the economic needs of the country called for integration of all forms of transport. We brought in the 1947 Act. Like all human achievements it was not a perfect Act. Some people might say that it did not go far enough—that it did not bring in all the transport agencies. But anyhow, we brought it in, and the effective date was January, 1948. But, for reasons I have explained, the road haulage side of the Transport Commission did not get into its stride until the end of 1951.
The noble Lord is a very great expert, not only on transport but on large-scale enterprises in other fields. Surely he would never dream of judging a newly set-up organisation when it has barely got into its stride. Surely he must realise that he cannot in justice say that integration has failed. The noble Lord said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 586):Nothing significant in the way of integration has been achieved and I do not think any reasonable person could see hope of its coming about.The reports of the Transport Commission show what has been achieved, and surely the noble Lord would agree that it is too early by far to say that the thing can never succeed. Now, when the country is in the state of which we are constantly reminded, when everyone agrees that a really stupendous effort is required to get it back on a sound economic foundation, we are scrapping this organisation which has been set up, which admittedly has shown economy and efficiency. We are going back to what? We are going back to the mass of small competing enterprises, and, after all, nothing is more wasteful, in resources and in money, than competition. The Government are taking us back into the complete jungle of private enterprise and, I submit, without due thought of the matter.
§ 4.42 p.m.
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who just sat down through the devious paths of his beliefs because, quite obviously, his are fundamentally different from mine and it would not be profitable to explore them. I do not believe, for example, that competition is an entire waste of resources and money. A great deal of indignation has been expressed by noble Lords opposite about this Bill—and indignation from noble Lords who I should have expected, on the whole, to support it. I have been rather puzzled about that. Then I have realised the reason. This is really an enabling Bill, and if noble Lords assume that the worst nightmare they can conceive is going to come out of the Bill, naturally they oppose it strongly. On the other hand, I am prepared to believe that neither the Minister, his advisers, nor his co-ordinator will so lose their heads as to produce the type of shambles out of this Bill that noble Lords opposite foretell. In fact, I believe that after this Bill has been through this House we shall have such assurances from Her Majesty's Government that there will be a great deal of comfort scattered around in all quarters of the House.
Many noble Lords are apt to hark back twenty-five years and more to when the new rising motor industry, young, irresponsible and virile, was creaming off the traffic from the staider, older, more conservative rail. Of course they were doing it, and it is being done to-day. What are the "C" Licence holders doing but taking away the best of the railway traffic? What are the buses doing but taking away the best of the railway passengers—all by cutting rates and under quoting them? In fact, under the 1947 Act, the system which was supposed to be a gigantic, co-ordinating octopus, covering the whole transport of this country, has been nothing of the kind, as can be seen from the mere fact that it has left out some of the largest sections of transport as being quite impossible to bring in. To-day the system is very different. Road transport has grown up. Heavy burdens have been laid on it, particularly in the last few years. The fuel tax is a tremendous burden; vehicles are subjected to heavy taxation. The actual cost of the modern economical vehicle is tremendous compared with the 706 vehicle of twenty-five years ago. We have powerful trade unions. In fact, we have all the apparatus of a settled industry. I think we can say that no longer is road transport the irresponsible infant. Road transport has grown up.
Many, or some, noble Lords welcome this Bill as a Bill to denationalise road transport. I prefer to welcome it as a Bill for the emancipation of the railways, because we must have railways; they are by far the most economical method of moving people and goods over long distances at speed. They are unique, though, in that their standing charges are such a high proportion of their working costs. I have seen it put at as high as 80 per cent. That means that any extra traffic that we can get on the railways very substantially reduces their costs.
What sort of organisation is going to be created under Clause 14 of this Bill to achieve that purpose? First, there is the question of the creating body. I am not quite happy myself that the Commission is the right creating body. I should have preferred to see an outside Committee with an independent Chairman, with representatives of the Commission and a representative from each of the present railway regions. Then, what is the body going to suggest? I sincerely hope it does not suggest the type of organisation which the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, would like to see set up. He has clearly been entranced by the idea of centralisation and I think, if I may say so, for a railwayman, somewhat led astray by a well-timed but slightly misleading pamphlet called Some Notable Economies by British Railways. I have also been connected with railways and I am very careful of statistics for that reason.
It is easy to extol the advantages of centralisation; it is so obvious. It is economic, straightforward and so on. But it is much more difficult to put forward the disadvantages, because the disadvantages are so intangible. You cannot lay your fingers on them. The greatest disadvantage of centralisation is the fact that decisions have to travel too far up the line. The decision is removed too far away from the seat where the decision is wanted. The result is that throughout a centralised organisation there tends to be a reluctance to decide, a slowing tempo—in fact, something like 707 a creeping paralysis. Moreover, the trouble is that when we get this in the nationalised industries, we have no body left outside with which we can compare them, and so we get used to this slowing down of tempo, this creeping paralysis, and just do not know it is happening.
I hope the recommendation will be for regional groups or organisations. I hope they will be to a degree self-accounting. I moved an Amendment to the Electricity Bill to that effect and received no support from any quarter of the House. The then Government later nationalised the gas industry, and, if I remember rightly, they had taken the hint by then, and I believe the gas regions are to some extent self-accounting bodies. I think it is very important that these railway regions should be also. For that purpose I should be willing to have a Railway Clearing House of a modified sort, because I think the expense is worth the benefits to be derived from the ability to be self accounting. These regions might not necessarily even own all their equipment. It might be that they could be leasing bodies. They might be either charged interest on an allotted share of the capital or given a lease for the operation of fixed, and even movable, equipment.
I hope that the railways will resume the management of their own hotels and their own dining cars and buffets, particularly those hotels which fit in with their travelling arrangements. I hope that, acting under the earlier clauses of the Bill, the Minister will tell the Commission to sell Pickford's—not necessarily 100 per cent. of the shares, but a substantial proportion of the shares. It is a very valuable body, and it will go a long way towards reducing the levy. I hope that, under Clause 4, he will take the road hauliers, who have become what one might call the "cargo liners" of the road, the people who are running a regular service on main routes, and form them into companies, and that he will sell 50 per cent. of the shares to the people who can best operate these concerns. At the same time, I hope he will sell a number of units of a much smaller character to the people who will become what one might describe as the "tramp ship" people of the road.
I also hope that the Minister will see that the Commission sells all its control 708 in the bus companies. Let it have shares, by all means, but let it get out of the business of operating and control. The railways are bound, of course, to have their pick-up and delivery services, and they will continue to have the power to buy new vehicles, operate them and put them on the road wherever the licensing authorities are prepared to allow them, but otherwise I do not think it is really their business and I would much sooner they did not carry it on. I hope their shareholdings in these other companies will be sufficient to secure their interests on the road. All this would make up a reasonable compromise between coordination and competition. After all, what is that but democracy? We should get a degree of competition and there would be no impoverishment of the competing parties.
When we turn to rates and fares, the railways are embarking on to a new and possibly glorious future. This Bill saps the foundations of the prison house in which they have lived for a hundred years, and the question is, have the railways the vitality left to push down the rest of the walls, or have they become debilitated by their hundred years' incarceration? The railways must get more traffic, and in the field of goods they will, of course, have a common interest with their "A" licence co-sharers to get a great deal of traffic back from the "C" licence-holders who are not very enthusiastic operators of their own vehicles. But when we come to passengers, the railways have a dual field in which they can hope for advancement. First, they can get back the traffic they have lost to the road operators. Secondly, there is a wide new field to secure the transport of the people who cannot afford to travel at the moment. That is a completely new field. We may need to have some rather new and possibly even challenging thoughts on the operation of railways, and I submit that those thoughts are likely to arise better in five or six regions than they are in one central body.
I have never been convinced that so many goods classifications were necessary. It may well be that under this Bill, with the power to quote below without publishing, we can get by with four or five classifications instead of twenty-one, or whatever it is. The emphasis must be on the cost of handling the 709 traffic and the cost of alternative transport rather than so much on the value of the goods carried. The ordinary passenger fares are far too high to attract back to the railways the trade they have lost, and still more to create the traffic from a new travelling public. People cannot afford to travel by rail. If we aim at the standard of 1d. a mile third class and 1½d. a mile first class, as I think we should, shall we find that there is still any need for workmen's tickets? Will it still be necessary to give such a large rebate to the regular traveller, the season ticket holder, and the commercial traveller? If we are going all out for cheap travel, will it be right and necessary to continue to standardise three-a-side seating on our long-distance coaches when the Great Western got along very well with four-a-side for a great many years? Is it to be comfort, or is it to be cheapness, that we are to go for? I believe we ought to go for cheapness. Are we operating too many lines as railways when we ought to be operating them as tramways, with diesel rail cars?
So much for the material things. As to things of the spirit, we must try to create a new spirit. Lord Goschen referred to this in his excellent speech. Nobody can deny that there is abroad in the railways a lower esprit de corps than there was years ago. Among the younger men, particularly, you can find all too many instances of that ghastly un-Christian attitude: "I couldn't care less." That is one of the things we have to fight against. We must create pride in work, and cleanliness is a great step towards creating pride in work. We must pay men better wages they are ill-paid at the moment. We may have to ask them to do more work for the higher pay, but we hope to obtain the traffic that will mean that they will get more work thrown on them automatically. We must try to think of more ways to relate wages with results—a thing which is singularly difficult to do in railways. And in all this, of course, we want the earnest co-operation of the unions, because our aim is their aim, which is a body of better paid and more contented men than there are at present. The time is coming when more material is going to be available. If we are to be able to put that material into the line, we have got to earn more money to pay for it, and that means we 710 must have more traffics. One can judge a country very often by its railways. I think Her Majesty's Government have done well by the nation in giving the railways a chance to pull themselves together.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, we have had a very varied debate. A good many objective views have been stated, and it is, I think, quite clear that we are going to have a very full discussion on the Committee stage. If I may, I will mention one or two points that have been made. One is the question raised, I think, by my noble friend, Lord Teynham, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others, in regard to the company structure, which will have to be discussed in considerable detail. But I do not want to give the impression that the Bill is going to be so altered that transport units, as defined in the Bill at the present time, will not remain the main method of disposal.
Another point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgman, was whether the Commission was the right body to make the scheme for the railways. Well, I must say that noble Lords must advance much more cogent reasons before we can consider any alteration in that sense. The Commission has been charged with the responsibility of managing transport for five years. We all know that they have applied themselves with the greatest determination and assiduity to what I myself consider to be an almost impossible task in certain spheres, and I should hesitate to say that anyone other than themselves could possibly have the experience to deal with that question. The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, gave expression to the pure mead of Socialist theory, but, if I may say so with respect, I think the day is past when many will agree that public ownership alone will resolve the problems which we have to face. The noble Lord quoted my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I only wish that the noble Lord would more frequently read the important speeches which he manes on transport, because he makes extremely good speeches on that subject.
I think your Lordships will agree that we all enjoyed Lord Rea's speech. I am sorry he is not here. His speech was 711 full of prejudice, faith and normality. I would add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, on a speech in which he emphasised the essential part of the human element in the structure of any organisation. We feel strongly that in bigness there is a great danger of losing exactly that human contact. The noble Lord, Lord Burden, took us a long way back into history. He wanted a scientific audit of vital statistics as a test for pecuniary profits. My Lords, that would require a very big bureaucracy, and I doubt whether the information obtained would really resolve some of the problems which we are facing to-day.
May I now say a few words upon the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Lucan. I could not help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for him in his discovery that people are making just the same complaints about the railways to-day as they did before. When one considers how much trouble the Socialist Party has taken about this subject, he must find it very disappointing. I should have thought that at least some of the complaints might have been put on one side. I wondered whether it had much to do with this theory of the natural progress of civilisation which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, emphasised yesterday. I have the highest regard for the noble Lord's courage when he asks, "Where is the need for decentralisation?"; and after the remarkable speech we have heard from Lord Bilsland, I am amazed. I think the noble Lord deserves the greatest credit for his courage in standing up after the discussions which we have had, and I must warmly congratulate him. Frankly, I think it is a pity he should have gone into this question of convictions for road offences. I do not want to make a fuss about it, but since the war there have been convictions. I do not intend to elaborate the point, because it is a difficult one, and I do not consider it is one which should really carry a great deal of weight unless the evidence is conclusive.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a most interesting speech—a fine, bold and figure-skating speech. He gave us notice (for which I am grateful to him) of a number of points which he is going to raise on the Committee stage. I shall 712 deal with only one or two of his points because to deal with them all would take a long time. I hope that I am wrong in thinking that the main object of the line which the noble Lord took is to pursue a course of delaying tactics, because that is precisely the result of many of the proposals which he outlined yesterday.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
That does not do the noble Earl great credit. I thought I made it perfectly clear that we were not going to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. We pay due acknowledgment to the great concessions which the Minister has made, and we shall try to see that the taxpayers' interests are safeguarded. I can assure the noble Earl that we shall not unduly delay this Bill. What we shall do is to try and improve it.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The noble Lord has misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that the noble Lord himself was delaying this Bill. In that sense time in this House is entirely at the noble Lord's disposal. There is no reason why we should not discuss the Bill at any length that we wish. What I was saying was that the effect of the proposals he outlined would be to delay the operation of the Bill.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I can assure the noble Earl that, whatever may be our views, the proposals we shall put forward will make for a more speedy disposal of those assets which Parliament may eventually decide shall be disposed of.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am delighted to hear the noble Lord say that; we are absolutely at one on that point. I think that is a great step forward. But I have to make the point that the noble Lord talked about "auction without reserve." He knows that the word "auction" does not appear in the Bill. Although there is no mention of the word "reserve"—the noble Lord commented on that—the Disposal Board have to be satisfied that the price is reasonable, and if they are not satisfied they are obviously going to refuse to accept the tender. Curiously enough, it appeared to me that the noble Lord wanted that particular clause struck out. The effect of that would be to take away altogether this power of deciding on a reasonable price. I do not know whether 713 the noble Lord thinks that at the head of the Disposal Board there should be a very efficient business man. The effect of his proposal would be to remove the power of putting on any reservation. At one point the noble Lord suggested the removal of the Disposal Board. I think I should make it clear that we do not consider that this matter is one which the Commission should carry out. They are not appointed for that purpose; they are appointed to run transport. The Disposal Board is, in fact, a watchdog set to guard the interests of all parties who are immediately concerned in this matter, and particularly of the public.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Is the noble Earl really telling us the ultimate fate of all the Amendments we shall put down? He has told us, first of all, that, whatever we say, the unit method of disposal will be the majority disposal. Is the noble Earl now telling us that, whatever arguments may be put up in regard to the removal of the Disposal Board, the Government have made up their minds what the result will be?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I thought it might interest the noble Lord if I dealt with his points. The noble Lord said he wanted to remove the Disposal Board. I say that as at present advised we do not see our way to do that. I am not seeking to be controversial about this matter. The noble Lord made a number of other points concerning vehicles and stores. I can assure him that they will be kept very carefully in mind.
Now may I go back to the point which has been raised again to-day—namely, why is this Bill necessary? This Bill is necessary because the main purpose of the 1947 Act was not carried out. The main purpose of that Act was integration through a centralised monopoly. That was the purpose which was put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, moving the Second Reading of that Bill in 1947, said:The Bill does not tell us how integration can be secured.That was quite true; it was a statement of fact. And we find, five years later, that Lord Lucas says:Integration has baffled the best brains.That, I think, is true also, and the fact remains that to this day there is no effective integration between road and rail. 714 It has not proved possible to put into effect road passenger transport schemes in areas. It has not proved possible to put into effect various harbour schemes which have been brought forward. They have all, in one way or another, failed. The noble Lord says: "Give that Commission a longer chance." I can only ask, "How long, O Lord, how long" are we to go on waiting until this is done? There seems to us to be a clear sign that the Act is not developing in the way it should.
I do not wish to go at length into more detailed criticism, for I do not wish to be in any way ungenerous to those who have worked extremely hard to operate what we consider to be an unworkable scheme, but one thing is abundantly clear: On the whole, people have preferred not to use road haulage provided by the Commission. That is shown quite clearly by the development of "C" licences. The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, said that the number of "C" licences had not increased very much in recent years. I have some figures here in relation to that matter. It may be of interest to note that in the case of lorries exceeding ten tons unladen weight the figures have more than doubled in three years. And no one could conceivably call a lorry of ten tons a delivery van. Another figure of some importance which I have is this. Between December, 1948, and December, 1952, "C" licences for vehicles exceeding six tons have increased from 2,500 to 6,500—that is an increase of about 150 per cent. I say with respect that it indicates that there has been a considerable development in that sphere, whatever the state of trade might have been during that period.
May I now turn to the question of the disposal of assets? Lord Lucas told us that Her Majesty's Government have abdicated their position as custodian of the interests of the taxpayer. Let us remember this. When the noble Lords opposite reorganised transport, the first thing they had to do was to get a guarantee from the Treasury of over £1,000 million. That was the first thing they had to do, and they had to do it in order to put their reorganisation into effect. But this step which we are now going to take is not going to cost the Treasury anything. I say that that is an important point at which to start. Moreover, the 715 1947 Act broke up a number of little organisations which were not only paying their way but which constituted an extremely important part in the economic strength of this country. We not only regarded that as wrong in principle, but we regarded it is wicked to take away from a small man the tools of his trade. We always have felt that where a small man has built up his business his tools should not be taken away from him. As everyone knows, even at law there is a special guardianship for tools of trade in bankruptcy proceeding—at least there is in Scotland, and I suppose there is in England also. I would add as a small aside that these firms were making profits and paying taxes; and those taxes have now disappeared entirely. Indeed there were times when even the railways paid taxes in the past.
But quite apart from any question of the relative quality of the services—and people can say what they like about the relative quality—the financial arrangements under the 1947 Act have not been satisfactory. As has been stated, firms taken over were probably making profits, collectively, of between £7 million and £10 million a year—and that is after deducting somewhere about 3 per cent. for interest on the value of the physical assets. To-day what is the position? In the first four years the Road Haulage Executive made each year a little over £1 million operating profits, without any contribution to the Commission for interest charges, and without any payment of overheads which were properly borne by the Commission. There is no doubt that this is a running deficit, and the most recent results indicate no real improvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, yesterday made an analysis of the assets of the Road Haulage Executive. I am afraid that I could not follow him in the figures which he gave. For example, he mentioned vehicles as being worth £40 million. If he looks into the accounts for 1951 he will see the figure given as £26 million, after allowing for depreciation. He mentioned the figure of debtors at £15 million, but he did not make any reference to the figure relating to creditors. There may be good reason for that—I do not know. I should add that on 716 the whole I thought the figure of £80 million which he mentioned in his speech last May was probably rather nearer the figure. Be that as it may there cannot be any hope of regaining the whole of the goodwill standing in the balance sheet of the Commission for the reason that it does not to-day exist. It is not the slightest use pretending; we must face these things as a reality. The loss has grown up over the last five years by the nature of the operations. It has not been created by the Government. It is only revealed by this Bill. The loss was there. It is an example of how losses can, if you like, perhaps be concealed more easily by the accounting system of a nationalised industry. I have little doubt that if a profit of £10 million had been made in each of the last five years, the price which buyers would have been willing to pay would have been substantially higher and a larger proportion of the goodwill could have been recovered.
§ EARL JOWITT
Would the noble Earl explain how—assuming you are an honest accountant—you conceal losses more easily in the case of a nationalised industry than in the case of any other industry?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
That is a perfectly clear point. I think anyone who looks at the amount of the physical assets of the Road Haulage Executive or the balance sheet of the Commission will find it difficult to be quite definite. The value includes various buildings, vehicles, after depreciation, stores and the figure of goodwill. That did not become very clear and precise until this Bill came to be examined.
§ EARL JOWITT
If I may be forgiven for interrupting again, I thought the phrase which the noble Earl used was most unfortunate. If "easier to conceal," means anything at all it means that there has been deliberate concealment. I think that suggestion ought to be definitely withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
If the noble and learned Earl feels that there was the slightest imputation conveyed in my words, of course I withdraw them. I had not intended the slightest suggestion of that kind. All I am indicating, or trying to indicate, is that it is easier not to notice. In this connection, I make this point. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, 717 said this loss was being created by this Government. With great respect, there is no justification for that suggestion.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
If I may, I will now deal for a moment with the question of who is to pay for the loss. Lord Lucas said that it should be paid by the Commission. I say, with respect, that I think that would be an unfair burden to lay on the railways.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Will the noble Earl forgive me? I do not wish to keep on interrupting, but if the noble Earl wishes to quote what I said will he be so good as to quote me correctly? My words are in the official record of the House. I said nothing of what the noble Earl has attributed to me for these last three minutes.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am sorry if that is the case. Does the noble Lord mean the figures I have quoted about road haulage assets? I understood the noble Lord to say that the loss could be absorbed by the railways—that it could easily be absorbed by the railways. I think those were the words he used, but I will certainly verify that. If that is not the case, I will readily withdraw them, but I think the noble Lord will find, if he reads Hansard, that he said that the loss could easily be absorbed by the railways.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
That is what none of us knows. That is clear, and the noble Lord knows that as well as I do. It has been suggested elsewhere that the loss would be absorbed by the taxpayer. I think the taxpayer already bears a heavy burden, and it is important to ask: Should any loss on a nationalised industry be transferred to the taxpayer? I suggest that that is an entirely bad principle, and I should be surprised if it were endorsed by any noble Lord here.
We suggest in the Bill that this loss, such as it is, should be borne by the whole road goods transport industry over a certain unladen weight. There are three reasons why we think this is the way to do it. In the first place, we consider that the whole industry will benefit by the improved transport which will take place on 718 the roads. Secondly, if we do not do this, it will mean that some sections of the transport industry would be competing at a differential advantage in comparison with others. And finally, administratively, this is the most simple and economic method of collecting a levy from all normal excise duty vehicles.
In the course of their remarks, some noble Lords have jumped from a centralised monopoly to what some people call the law of the jungle, as if there were no area between the two. It is quite unnecessary to take that jump. There are an increasing number of people in this country who intensely dislike centralised monopoly. We have tried to put forward in this Bill a system of licensed competition, because without some measure of competition, by which two people can show what they can do, there is no yardstick of efficiency. Noble Lords who remember the earlier discussions that we had on this matter will remember that we came forcibly to that conclusion. One may produce statistics of previous years, but one can produce no objective yardstick of efficiency except by measuring what one person can do against another. The crux of the problem is whether, in this licensed competition, we have reasonably and fairly balanced the interests of the different parties. The most important of the interested parties are the general public, particularly those requiring transport. It is interesting to note that those requiring transport were never mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Lord Burden, or the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, when he spoke this afternoon. I think it is about time that Socialist philosophy began to realise that those who require transport are important. There are two elements which licensed competition offers. The first is that the providers of transport should compete for the custom of those requiring transport and the second is that the spreading of responsibility as widely as possible would benefit the public and bring those requiring transport much more closely in touch with those who are providing the executive control of transport. I think that personal contact is of great importance.
Another party concerned in this matter are the employees. We are most anxious that no one should suffer on account of the reorganisation proposed by the Bill. 719 We hope that this matter will be fully covered by Clauses 26 and 27, dealing respectively with pensions and compensation. The Minister has undertaken to consult the trade union organisations concerned before drawing up these regulations, and he has every expectation of publishing them before any dispersal takes place. I may add that recent history has shown that remuneration in the Road Haulage Executive and in private enterprise is very similar—sometimes that of the Executive has been above the other, and sometimes it has been the other way round. In any case, the Road Haulage Wages Board would be able to ensure that the standard was maintained. What we attach importance to is that it will bring the man on the vehicle closer to his effective "boss," the man who is responsible for carrying on organisation.
I should next like to say a word about the road goods transport system. Here the haulier will be free to compete. In some ways he will be freer than at present, but in some ways the regulations for licensing will be stricter. The licensing authority will consider those requiring transport before those providing it, and will ensure that transport does not move away from areas which it has hitherto served. And any false statement, whether deliberate or not, may involve the revocation of a licence. This is an expanding industry, which is given an opportunity in this Bill, and I think that within these limits it will be able to take the opportunity offered.
I am glad that my noble friend Lord Hawke referred to this as "a railway emancipation Bill." On the railway side, we have made certain definite provisions, and we have also left the Commission free to make proposals. The freedom which is granted to the railway companies goes even further than that asked for in the "square deal" claimed before the war. In the abolition of the old restrictions and regulations on equality of charges and undue preferences, together with new arrangements for charges and publication limited to maximum charges, there is a very great opportunity indeed. The Bill provides a more convenient method of preparing a charges scheme, and also a system whereby a temporary increase in charges can be made. We have not filled in all the details of this 720 scheme, and we have deliberately not done so, because it does not appear to be for the Government to lay down precisely the way in which the railways should be run. What we have done is to put down certain broad principles and ask the Commission to make their proposals. I think it is right that the Government should not have preconceived ideas until the Commission have formulated their proposals.
The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, criticised the varied organisations to be set up under the scheme. I should like to emphasise that the power to set up these organisations is permissive, and we made it permissive for just the reasons given by the noble Earl. The Commission must decide what they want to delegate to the regions, what ad hoc bodies are to be set up, what they wish to keep to themselves, and what will be the extent of the co-ordination between the regions themselves. I submit that for the future this provision provides a great opportunity for the railways. Indeed, it puts the whole transport industry on its mettle. I know at least one distinguished railwayman who thinks that the railways may succeed in running road transport off the roads. We have found it necessary to provide some protection for traders, but this is reserved for cases which can be shown to be unreasonable and unfair and for which the railways are the only means of providing transport.
I should like to say a word about road passenger transport. Points were raised by my noble friends Lord Hawke and Lord Gifford. Here we have taken certain definite steps. The Commission are not to acquire any further bus companies. The Commission are brought into line with private operators and are made subject to the licensing authority for all vehicles outside London. The Minister may take powers to compel the Transport Commission to sell any controlling interest which they have in bus companies. Further steps than those will await the Thesiger Report, as my noble friend Lord Leathers has said. The Minister is aware that an entirely new situation has arisen since 1930. The Act of that year was passed to regulate competition between bus companies themselves and the railways, and a new situation has arisen which was not contemplated at that time.
721 In conclusion, I should like to say this. We are endeavouring to approach this matter on a practical and pragmatic basis. We are endeavouring not to be doctrinaire—
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
Noble Lords accuse us of being doctrinaire. If I may say so, emulation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let us agree that we all dislike rather earlier than we did, and it seems doctrinaire methods, and leave it at that. I would recall to noble Lords what Mr. Herbert Morrison said, I think, in America:Each case on its merits, the test is the public interest.That principle is excellent, if it is carried out. We intend here to maintain the good that exists and to improve on it. Finally, I should like to quote words which were originally used by the noble Lord, Lord Another man is not altogether pleased Teynham, and were quoted with approval by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan:A properly co-ordinated system would be one in which each form of transport was able to render those services which it was economically and technically best suited to do.I believe that this Bill will help in that direction.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, we have had the pleasure this afternoon of listening to several speeches from noble Lords representing some unfairnesses, if not injustices, done to Scotland in this Bill. But none of them has mentioned what I feel is a most singular injustice, which I noticed when travelling up to London this morning. British Railways have clearly gone to great expense in commissioning an artist and producing a poster about St. Andrews. This poster shows nothing of the great glories of St. Andrews—the old course and the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient—nor is any person depicted in the poster carrying a golf club. I think this shows a singular lack of imagination on the part of British Railways. That poster will not attract a single visitor to St. Andrews. On the other hand, a poster showing the eighteenth green, with the clubhouse in the background, and a caption saying: "A man has never really played golf until he has played at St. Andrews," would, I am sure, bring hundreds of visitors to that town.
722 I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, said, about the unfairness and unreality of a great many of the criticisms which are levelled at British Railways. To my mind, many of these criticisms do not stand up to a thorough examination. We are told that the French are running some remarkable trains at the present moment, and certainly the timings are very striking. But the French came out of the war rather earlier than we did, and it seems to me that possibly their railways were not submitted to quite the same racking wear and tear as our railways were in giving that tremendous war service to the nation. There are other things, too. One hears of a man finding his compartment unheated, and the air is filled with his screams of protest. But on the same day thousands and thousands of compartments have been perfectly adequately heated. Another man is not altogether pleased with the meal he has in a restaurant car, and says that the meals are not as good as they used to be. Meals are not as good as they used to be anywhere at the present moment. The standard has gone down in the restaurant cars, just as it has gone down everywhere else. A great many of these complaints really represent the reversal of the aphorism of Bacon, that:Men mark the hits but not the misses.If you reverse that, you have the substance of a great many of these complaints to-day.
I myself do not find this a very attractime Bill, although I am not prepared to describe it asshowing the Tories engaged in partisan legislation which will enable them to sell publicly owned lorries at bargain prices to Tory financial supporters.Such a statement as that seems to me singularly at variance with the speeches that have been made from this side of the House, which have shown a genuine desire to sink Party politics, so far as possible, and to devote attention to the improvement of the Bill. I feel that it is a rather crude and clumsy Bill in its present form, and has glaring defects. But judging by the ability and experience which has been manifested already in the speeches made in this debate, I imagine that this Bill will probably resemble much more a streamlined Diesel train by the time it leaves your Lordships' House. I personally shall be glad when it is out 723 of the way, because I believe that this Bill has taken up far too much of the time of the Minister of Transport. I shall be glad when he is able to devote a fair share of his attention to civil aviation, where, as speeches in this House have recently shown, there is all too much reason to fear that great opportunities are being missed.
One thing I feel I must repeat, although I have said it before. I do not believe that any industry can survive a continuing process of nationalisation, denationalisation and renationalisation, such as we are apparently threatened with, again, in the case of steel. I really should hope that some reasonable compromise could be sought, and found, in these matters, so that no industry should be submitted to such a process. I will not enlarge on that point this afternoon, except to say that I believe if such actions are to be indulged in—if an industry which has been nationalised is to be denationalised and renationalised—then the intention to do so should be put by the Party concerned, clearly and with emphasis, to the country at a General Election; and unless a clear mandate is received to carry out the proposal, it should not be proceeded with.
I intend to intervene for only a few moments this afternoon, and the matter in the Bill to which I should like to call attention is that connected with coastal shipping. Let me say at once that I was very pleased to see the Minister in another place recognise coastal shipping as—and these are his words—"a great British interest." I am glad that that has been placed on record in the journals of the other place. The discussion about coastal shipping seems to me to have largely revolved round the possibility that the coastal shipping industry might find a charge made by the railways would place it at a disadvantage, or that, in the opinion of the industry, the charge was clearly too low, having regard to the cost of providing the service in question. In that case, the shipping industry will be entitled to make its representations, and, of course, the industry also has the protection of the amended Section 39 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. That I recognise. It also seems to me highly satisfactory that in these cases where the coastal shipping 724 industry wishes to protest the procedure has been expedited and the tribunal can now act quickly, being no longer under the necessity, as I understand it, of holding a public inquiry. That seems to me a great improvement in procedure. Also, I think it is very satisfactory that the Transport Commission have given an undertaking to consult with the coastal shipping industry regarding the formulation of charges, and will also give coastal shipping ample time to consider the effect of proposed new charges. Those things seem to me of great importance, because they emphasise that the Commission, like the Minister, clearly recognise the importance to the country of the coastal shipping industry.
I should perhaps make one point clear. As I understand the Bill, coastal shipping will not have to prove that a charge fixed by the Commission, with a view to the elimination of competition, would involve the Commission in a loss. All it will have to prove is that coastal shipping would be disadvantaged by the proposed new charge. What it amounts to is this. The Commission may not be able to charge a low rate that it would like to charge if that rate can be proved to be unfair to the coastal shipping industry. It may be said—and I have no doubt that it has been said—that this may seem to give the coastal shipping industry power to veto a competitive rate which the Commission wish to fix. But I think that what I have just said about the good spirit shown by the Commission, and their willingness to co-operate and consult with the coastal shipping industry, shows that there should be little fear of anything of that kind happening.
Then again we have to remember, it seems to me, the strategic importance of the coastal shipping industry. I think that the war-time requirements which would undoubtedly fall upon that industry justify the protection which is being given to it in this Bill. We must keep the coastal shipping industry not merely alive but flourishing. After all, this is only applying to coastal shipping what already applies to the railways, because certainly some parts of the railway system are uneconomic, and have, I think, always been highly uneconomic; but the strategic argument has once again come into play there, especially regarding certain services to the far north.
725 As regards some categories of traffic, coastal shipping has shown itself able to hold its own against both rail and road. But, broadly speaking, in the future it may find road the more dangerous competitor of the two. Our coastal shipping had some protection against the road in the 1947 Act, but I am not clear what protection it will enjoy under the present Bill. While I know that in winding up the debate to-morrow the noble Viscount who speaks for the Government will have a formidable task in replying to the great number of matters which have been brought forward in a three-days' debate, I venture to express the hope that he may be able to find time to slip in two or three minutes to elucidate one or two of these points in regard to coastal shipping. I may say that I think the Minister of Transport has investigated matters connected with coastal shipping very closely indeed, and one need be really in no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, also has the interests of that industry very much at heart. What we do not want to see is both rail and coastal shipping losing traffic to the road.
Another disadvantage I see is this. The Bill seems to destroy the integration of coastal shipping with the long-distance road and rail services. Rail and coastal shipping have, so to speak, agreed to keep each other in business, and, within reason, to agree on charges. But why leave road transport outside, as seems to be the case? The 1947 Act brought all three interests in together, and under that Act coastal shipping had access to the British Transport Commission, via the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee, if it was in any difficulty about maintaining any of its services. That duty seems to be taken away from the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee, and under this Bill the Commission can bind only their own railways. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that they have no power in this Bill to bind road haulage. Road transport has been taken away from them, although I should have thought it was necessary for road haulage to remain within their purview, in order that shipping could be given full protection. That seems to me to be a retrograde step which opens the door to road haulage undercutting coastal shipping. Of course, the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, yesterday in 726 this respect were these (OFFICIAL, REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 593):This is already taken care of by the present wording of Clause 28, but there are still one or two points here which we are studying.With great respect, I am not at all satisfied about the wording, and I should think that one of the two matters which the noble Lord has to study is that of finding suitable representatives of road haulage.
The road hauliers are rather an independently-minded body of men, with a good deal of "dog eat dog" about them. I imagine that one of the matters which the noble Lord has to study is how to find some representatives of road haulage who would find what they might say in the Commission endorsed by the general body of road hauliers, and what they had agreed to fully and fairly carried through by them. I imagine that is the difficulty, and it is one which I recognise and appreciate. At the same time, I think that the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee requires more powers than it has, and that coastal shipping, road and rail should have tripartite talks about charges and other matters. I should like, in my final word, to ask: Why should that not be the case? If the noble Lord will take these few remarks into consideration, and if he can give us some elucidation as to why road transport has been left out and why we cannot have these tripartite talks between road, rail and coastal shipping, I feel that it will be of great assistance. I conclude by repeating what I have already said. It is quite clear that in framing this Bill the Minister has given great attention to the needs of the coastal shipping industry and that, by and large, a great deal of satisfaction can be felt at what has emerged from his labours.
§ 5.50 p.m.
My Lords, this Bill seems to me to have great interest because of its reference to the 1947 Act, and it makes one consider the points which were plainly discussed when the Bill came before this House. There are many of us who were interested in the matter at that time who were concentrating mainly on three points: first—putting aside the question of ownership of the undertakings—the method and the principle of management; and that leads 727 us to the decentralisation and administration question which comes into this Bill to-day. The second question which was very much debated was the policy or otherwise of integrating road and rail transport; and, while there is nothing directly about it in this Bill, the question is raised by some of its provisions. The third point that struck me was the fact that it emphasises the conflict in the 1947 Act between, on the one hand, the desire to create a monopoly of road transport, to economise resources and to run at any rate the long-distance transport as one unit, and, on the other hand, the desire to satisfy the needs of people who wish to travel or have goods carried by rail. It seems to me that it is that point which has brought the difficulties which we hope will be solved by this Bill.
The railways, before the war and before any question of nationalisation, were very concerned with road competition. There was a great deal of discussion at that time upon what was known as "a square deal," and negotiations were carried on with the Government and, later, during and just towards the end of the war, discussions with the Road Haulage Association. Some measure of agreement was reached but it was never put into operation. Being connected with one of the railways, I remember the sort of things one felt a railway ought to be able to do with road transport; not, of course, to supply only the ordinary services which the railways did and still do, but also other services, mainly through the mechanism of the Railway Executive itself. There is the parcel system which is practically a new one, and there are quite good arguments to be advanced for the operation of a number of fairly large long-distance lorries by the railway system itself, to fit into through traffic systems of road and rail for various classes of goods. Those are the kind of things it would seem a railway ought to have under its control and operation in order to be able to compete successfully with the independent road operator.
To what extent does this Bill achieve it? There is the provision in Clause 4 that allows the Transport Commission to keep a number of vehicles. I do not quite follow why the clause is worded as it is. It says that the Commission may form companies wholly or partly under 728 its control to whom it may transfer a certain number of road vehicles. I should like to know why the clause is not drawn in such a form as to allow the Commission to keep those vehicles in its own name. I think it would be more to the advantage of the railway system to have, not particular units, whether 20 or 25 per cent. larger, corresponding to the units which the railways owned before they were nationalised, but a series of vehicles adapted for the purpose of working with the railways under their regional organisation. I should think it would be simpler, if that object is to be achieved, simply to say that the Transport Commission are to keep as many of these vehicles as the Minister of Transport, after discussion with so-and-so, finds desirable. That would make it possible to plan the system which one hoped would at last achieve the extraordinary state known as integration. It would be possible to make some sort of plan from the bottom upwards: to allow the vehicles to be chosen for their suitability for the different regions and the business for which they were required, and to say that the Minister would allow the Commission to retain those vehicles. The monopoly element would be removed immediately the 25 mile limit was abolished. That is a very important thing. There would be quite a number of vehicles for sale. It would, perhaps, be possible to make the sale a little less restrictive and to form operating units which could be built up. This could be done either by forming companies, as suggested, or even by grouping the vehicles in a collection of useful and usable assets. By adopting that method there would probably be less need for the levy than under the system now proposed.
It does, however, seem to me that what is really needed is to allow the operation of some of these vehicles under the same management as that for the railways. An example, which perhaps one is inclined to forget, of what is at any rate an approach to that form of integration, is the London Passenger Transport system. There you have vehicles of different kinds running under the same organisation, and I think that kind of integration does hold out some hope of strengthening the railway system. It would, of course, be necessary to continue the proposal in this Bill whereby licences for all such vehicles would have to be obtained from the traffic 729 commissioner. Under those conditions there would be an opportunity for the Transport Commission's fleet of road and rail vehicles combined to compete with the outsider. I should like to see the railways strengthened as much as possible so as to allow them every opportunity to satisfy the need of the public for transport, and to earn their keep.
There has been, both here and elsewhere, a good deal of talk about "C" licences. While it is true that for various reasons the numbers grew quite considerably, partly owing to the fear of the effects of nationalisation and partly out of dissatisfaction with the services offered by the Road Haulage Executive, there is one point that must not be forgotten, and that is that quite a number of firms, having for various reasons started on "C" licensed vehicles for their own goods, have found that, once the investment is made, there is not only the economy achieved by the direct operating results but also the vast convenience of having these vehicles at their command and of being able to work them in with their manufacturing processes and so on. The reason is largely due to the fact that so many industrial processes are now becoming on a larger scale more specialised, and more readily adapted to the use of a fleet of lorries of a certain type to take the product away, either from one process to another, or from process to customer. I think we must recognise, whatever is done under the present Bill or later, that there will always be an increasing demand for the industry of this country to have its own "C" licensed vehicles, a demand which it would be very difficult and, indeed, wrong to resist.
There is no doubt that the administration of the railways since nationalisation has achieved a great deal. Statistics have been quoted, and they may be seen in the Reports of the Transport Commission, showing substantial improvement in the operating statistics. I do not wish to decry the success of these operations but I suggest that perhaps, in any argument about the administrative system, undue emphasis should not be placed on that success—for this reason. It has been a period when it has been possible to begin to catch up from the shortages of the war, the shortages of maintenance of track, the shortages of repair of 730 loco-motives and so on. So that it was only to be expected that there would be considerable improvements in the operating results as from the date of nationalisation.
However, there have been these improvements. I do not wish to imply that the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive do not deserve credit for having done the best they could with the system at their disposal. I do believe, however—and this, of course, cannot be proved—that, had the old railway companies been continued, they also, in the circumstances of the time, would have been able to show improvement. Nobody will ever be able to say which, in fact, would have done the better. But it would be interesting, after a few more years, to compare the operating statistics of the Commission with those obtaining on the railways before the war at different times and on different parts of the system. Nevertheless, it seems clear that there is scope for improvement in the administrative system on the railways, and I think the reason is quite a simple one. It is that in any large organisation or any industrial undertaking there is a limit to the number of people who can be guided, controlled or influenced by a general manager, a board, a committee or whoever is running the undertaking. It seems to me of great importance that any industry of this kind, with transport undertakings of such magnitude, should be run in such a way that those responsible have much closer access to those whom they are directing, guiding and controlling. It seems to me that the only way to do that is to sub-divide in some such way as is suggested in this Bill.
I am a little confused by the reason for putting all this in a new Bill. As I understand it, there is power in the 1947 Act to do practically all, in fact all, the things which are referred to in Clause 14—the formation of authorities and co-ordinating authorities and so on. Under the present Act, the Executives can be altered or abolished, and, while it would seem to be a good thing to specify in a Bill the actual changes proposed to be made, I should have thought that the Bill now before us hardly helps us to get any further in understanding how this process is to operate. It seems to me that if the Commission feel, as they probably will, that they must reserve for themselves the overall control of finance, 731 capital investment, manufacture of rolling stock and locomotives, rates policy and wages policy—and I do not see how they can fail to reserve to themselves those things—it may be difficult to evolve a regional or area or local administrative machine which has sufficient responsibility and powers of decision. I think that it is important to attempt to set up such a machine, but I am afraid that it may be difficult. It is easier to build up an administrative system from smaller units, leaving them a certain amount of freedom and autonomy, the freedom of subsidiary companies, than it is to break down a bigger one; but, as I say, I entirely agree that it is wise to try to do it.
As to the proposals for freedom of operation of the railways, it cannot but be an advantage to railway operation, and to the railway system, to have more freedom of competition and ability to compete directly with their competitors, but there will still be by no means equality of control and domination as between the railways and the road hauliers. The railways are still controlled by Act of Parliament in ways that the road is not. There still remains what is known as the common carrier obligation: that the railway has to carry any merchandise offered which it can carry. Indeed, it is one of the old anti-monopoly provisions which it is sought to abolish. It does not seem impossible to place upon road hauliers, as a condition of being given their "A" licences, some sort of an obligation, not to carry any traffic offered but to carry any traffic which they might reasonably be expected to be able to manage, and not to refuse it from one individual as opposed to another. That, indeed, was the sort of basis of agreement which was reached by the railway companies and the Road Haulage Association almost immediately after the war, that the road haulage should undertake some private form of obligation to carry.
That leads me to one more point—that is, that the suggestion which I have just made could be effected by an Amendment of the 1933 Road and Rail Traffic Act. It would seem that the same sort of condition ought to be attached to the grant of the special "A" licences to those who purchase the lorries under this Bill, the condition being that they should not only operate from the place where the lorries 732 are, where they bought them, but should cover the area or the district which was covered by the service when it was owned by the Transport Commission. There is no power at present, I believe, to enforce that. The alterations proposed in Clause 8 of this Bill which will affect the 1933 Act do not cover that point. The points that I have suggested are by no means against the intention of the Bill and most of them, I think, with very small amendments, could be brought in. I think that this Bill has the great virtue of being a serious attempt to put the railways on their feet. We all want to see them there. I have a particular fondness for them, having been connected with them at one time, and I am glad to think that the Government have brought in this Bill, which so clearly has the intention of making the railways come to life again.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, what I find puzzling in this Bill is that it should have found sponsors belonging to a Party which, above all other Parties, claims to have a great deal of business acumen and realism. I say that because this Bill seems to have been thrown together in haste and quite without that amount of thought and research commensurate with the importance of the task. Facts have been ignored, business principles have been set aside; and, what I think is even worse, we have not been told exactly what Her Majesty's Government intend should be done with the transport system of this country. The 1947 Act has been in force for only four years. That has been commented on by speakers on the other side of the House as being sufficient for a test. I would, however, draw your Lordships' attention to what I believe to be a fact. though I cannot prove it: that during the last eighteen months the Transport Commission and the Executives have been working under a cloud, knowing that they would probably be dissolved within a short space of time. I cannot believe that that could have been conducive to courageous working.
During this period of four years costs have risen considerably, and transport has been facing very great difficulties. We have already heard from various speakers how the rolling stock and everything else connected with transport in this country had been becoming worn out during the war years, and even before 733 then. Those ravages have had to be made good just at a time when materials have been difficult to get. I think that period of four years has been quite insufficient to prove that the Transport Act, 1947, has been failure. The task of merging several thousands of small and large road organisations, and of co-ordinating them with the rest of the transport system, is enormous. Moreover, the centralisation of the railways has led to great economies and improvements. I venture to suggest that, far from being a failure, the transport system of this country has been an overall success.
Figures have been quoted on both sides of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has quoted figures which are in contradiction to figures quoted on this side of the House. Surely, if there is a doubt as to what the situation really is, the obvious course would be to set up an inquiry to find out the facts. Her Majesty's Government have not done that; therefore, I do not think they have a right to condemn the 1947 Act as a failure. I freely admit that there are faults and defects, but they should be made good under the existing Act.
Much play has been made on the opposite side of the House with the term "competition." Noble Lords opposite seem to accept competition as axiomatic—as though competition were essential for efficiency. I hold the opposite point of view. In this compact island of ours, where there is little elbow room, I believe that it is essential for all transport to be co-ordinated in order to effect economies. If we have competition such as is envisaged by some noble Lords, inevitably it will mean overlapping. Overlapping is of the essence of competition. That means waste in various directions. It means waste because the weaker competitors may be driven out of business, or will have to resort to measures which will make them really inefficient and may cause them to give up. That is a waste which we cannot afford, particularly at this moment. Competition does not provide a yardstick, which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk said was essential in order to measure efficiency. Surely everybody in this House knows that all the large businesses have a section devoted to research work, which is conducted largely for the purpose of becoming more efficient. That is done entirely without the 734 yardstick of competition. I am beginning to wonder whether the sponsors of this Bill are not overcome by their doctrinaire horror of nationalisation, and whether they are not unduly and blindly worshipping the gods of free enterprise.
§ 6.14 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords on this side of the House in congratulating Her Majesty's Government on having introduced this Bill. This Bill has been looked forward to for many months now by a large number of the population, whether they are travellers, traders or operatives in these various transport undertakings. For many months now throughout the transport industry there has been a feeling of frustration, and when this Bill becomes law it will do a great deal to put the transport undertakings of the country on a proper footing. I was very interested a few moments ago in listening to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, which reminded me of some of the discussions that took place when the Bill of 1947 was introduced by the Socialist Party.
I well remember my disappointment then, when the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who introduced the measure, said that he did so with a sense of "purity of the virginal mind." To face up to a vast problem like this, which has exercised experts not only in this country but throughout Europe and in the United States for the last thirty years, with the "purity of the virginal mind" did not seem to be a very optimistic way of approaching the subject. We know what happened. We listened to the debate most carefully, and we hoped that something new was going to be put forward for the organisation of the transport system of the country. We were all bitterly disappointed, because it became clear as the debate went on that the main factor in the Bill was not transportation; what really mattered was nationalisation. It was an ideological measure, and it really did not matter what it was provided the Party opposite could get a nationalisation scheme going as quickly as possible. That was the fundamental idea in the 1947 Act.
I also remember the speech made on the same occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I am sorry to see he is not here at the moment. He attacked the 735 system of transport at that time very strongly. One of the lines of his attack was that the speed of goods trains was only nine miles per hour, and that it had risen by only half a mile per hour in the last twenty years. According to him, that was an example of mismanagement, and had something to do with the wicked shareholders owning shares in the railway companies at that time. Of course, everybody who studies these things knows that the reason why goods trains rattle along at only nine miles per hour is that no one has yet been able to discover a simple automatic brake suitable for that particular class of service. That, again, was an irresponsible attack made upon the railway systems by people who really did not know the fundamentals of the position. I might just as well attack the existing railways because at the present time they have not got a suitable automatic train control system. I know that there are great technical difficulties in the way of this, and it would be quite unfair to attack them because they have not adopted such a system as quickly as some would have liked.
Therefore I feel that this great problem has to be faced from the technical point of view, in order that we may try to solve some of the difficulties which are facing the transport systems not only of this country but of the world. For, indeed, the whole world is faced with these problems. During the last thirty years we have seen the great monopoly of the railway systems completely undermined by the internal combustion engine. This has had nothing to do with the wicked shareholders, who, indeed, have had a very thin time in most transport undertakings during the last thirty years. It is extraneous technical developments which have brought about this crisis. It is for this reason that we welcome this Bill, because it does seem to face these matters in a factual way. The previous Act seemed to deal with them only from an ideological standpoint.
This Bill falls into three parts. First, it deals with the road transport of merchandise; then it deals with rail transport; and then it deals with road passenger transport. We have heard discussions on the various aspects of this matter, and I do not wish to occupy 736 your Lordships' time by going over many of the points which have been made by other speakers, but I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to deal for a few minutes with Clause 14, which is the clause dealing with the reorganisation of the railways. Looking at this clause, I see that at the end of the first sentence the phrase "operation of the railways" is used. I think that is unfortunate. Of course the word "operation" as applied to railways has a very technical implication. I cannot believe that the Government in introducing this Bill mean to construe that word in a technical way. I am going to interpret that word "operation" as really meaning the management and control of the railways, and not as meaning technical operation. I think it is a great misfortune that the word should have been used in this context, and I suggest that it should be altered at a later stage of the Bill.
Having established that position, I want to ask Her Majesty's Government one or two questions as to how they are going to prepare this scheme under the Bill. I see that the Commission are instructed to prepare a scheme. I submit to your Lordships that the Commission are not suitable people to advise the Minister as to the right type of picture which railway transport should present in the future. We know what the British Transport Commission's views are. The Commission are honourable men and able men, and they have done their best to serve the country. Under the Act of 1947 they were given almost carte blanche to do exactly as they liked. As a result, they selected, amongst various methods of organisation, a purely functional type of organisation, a 100 per cent functional organisation such as you may read of in any American book on business management. I submit that that type of functional organisation has definitely failed.
Now that is a very big claim to make, and I should like to support it by a statement which I propose to read to your Lordships. This statement does not come from a newspaper but from a very responsible journal, that of the Institute of Public Administration. As your Lordships know, this is a body of great repute. It examines many of these problems and reports to its members, as do other institutes of the kind. As a result 737 of an examination made of the position this statement appears in the Journal:These considerations do not, however, invalidate claims that the present organisation is not wholly satisfactory, and on these criticisms a few general comments may be offered. It has been pointed out: (a) that two further layers of control have been added to the previously existing hierarchy, i.e., the Executive and the British Transport Commission; (b) that the functional character of the organisation makes for over-centralisation and inflexibility; (c) as a result, it is said, the chief regional oflicers—who may be regarded as the greatly weakened successors of the former general managers—have been left in an anomalous position since they have been saddled with the responsibility for effecting regional co-ordination without being given appropriate authority.That is an extract from the report of this very important body.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, I do not like to interrupt the noble Viscount but I would ask whether that is the view of the Institute, or is it a statement made by someone addressing the Institute?
It is a paper published in the Journal of the Institute. I will show it to the noble Lord. It is a very useful paper. I do not put forward my own opinion here; I merely quote, the opinion of the very responsible gentlemen who are associated with that Institute. I submit that, in view of the fact that the British Transport Commission are, as we know, functionally minded, and that they have produced an organisation entirely off their own bat—nothing was forced upon them by the Government at the time they produced that organisation—someone else should now have the opportunity of making proposals to Her Majesty's Government as to the best way of organising the railways. I suggest most sincerely to the Minister that he should set up a commission, say, of five people, to advise him as to the best way in which the railways should be run. If this is not done I can see that, although the Railway Executive will be abolished, there is nothing whatever to prevent their being merely telescoped into the British Transport Commission, and we shall get practically the same position as we have to-day, except that the name "British Railway Executive" will have disappeared. That is a thing which we are all anxious to avoid, and I hope that by having an independent commission of the kind I suggest—a commission, say, of five 738 members, all people well qualified: a really businesslike commission—we should get a result which would meet with the approval of all concerned.
Turning to subsection (2) of the same clause, I notice that Her Majesty's Government are going to abolish the Railway Executive. Why do they not abolish the Hotels Executive and the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive at the same time? It seems to me that if ever there was a fifth wheel to a coach it is the Hotels Executive. That should certainly be abolished. As regards the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, when the 1947 Bill was first introduced, there was, as your Lordships will remember, an idea that all the great docks, like the Port of London Authority docks and the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board installations were to come under the Act. Very wisely, they were eventually excluded and practically the only docks now operated under that Act are the old railway docks. It seems to me that a separate organisation for those docks is quite redundant. In the old railway days they were easily managed by the existing staff. Now, it simply means that there is duplication throughout. I hope that when they reconsider this matter the Government will look into the question of continuing the Docks and Harbour Executives as well as the other two Executives whose existence should be terminated.
Continuing on subsection (2), I should like Her Majesty's Government to consider whether the three paragraphs are strong enough. They are really directions for a body which is to advise the Minister about what the railways are to do. I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that one of the most important things in the whole of this organisation is that the railway undertakings should make a yearly statement of their proper receipts and proper expenditure. If we are to divide the country into areas it is essential that all the railway undertakings—there may be four or five of them; I do not know—should present to Parliament a statement of accounts including their proper receipts and proper expenditure.
That is not quite so easy as it stands. In the Gas Act, and the Act for nationalising electricity undertakings, there are clauses making it essential that the Area 739 Boards should present their accounts to Parliament. But what is the position at the present moment in the railway undertakings? A person residing in Manchester books to Newquay for his holidays and the whole of the booking fee is credited to the Midland Region. It is not distributed to the Western Region in proportion to the amount the passenger uses the Western Region. It is booked entirely in the area where the traffic originates. Therefore at the present time it is quite impossible for any region to know its financial position. The same thing applies when an iron casting is sent from Newcastle to Plymouth. The traffic arises on the North Eastern Region which is credited with the whole amount, although that traffic is largely carried on the Midland and Western Regions. This form of book-keeping makes it impossible for any railway undertaking area to know where it stands. We want to be clear that if the railways are divided into areas, they stand on their own feet so far as their accounts are concerned. I hope the Government will look into this question and see whether they can make it mandatory on anybody who is to advise them on how the railways are to be managed in future, that the accounting system should be straightened out.
Subsection (3) of the same clause mentions various mysterious authorities. At the present moment nobody knows what they are and I do not expect the Government do, either. This is really a protective provision enabling the Government to set up certain committees of various authority. This brings me to the question of standardisation. I have listened to this debate and I have heard many noble Lords get up and applaud standardisation. This question depends on the way in which we look at it. If we look at a great technical organisation from the point of view of a storekeeper or an accountant, we shall say, "Hurrah for standardization!" But if we look at it from the point of view of a technician, of an engineer who is trying to improve and develop the railways and bring something new into the world, we shall find that standardisation is absolute anathema. We may gain in certain directions by standardisation, but on the other side there is a heavy bill to pay for having all initiative and development crushed. 740 Suppose our predecessors had had this obscurantist outlook which is accepted by a large part of the House to-day, that everything should be standardised, what would have happened? If there had been standardisation of Puffing Billy, which was built twenty years before the Rocket, we should never have seen the Rocket, because it would not have conformed to the standard of Puffing Billy. You may think that that is an extravagant example, but it is not at all so. It is this obscurantist outlook we are adopting to-day in pressing too far forward in standardisation that I regret so much.
I hope the noble Lord in charge of this measure will regard this as a delicate plant and treat it tenderly. It is going to be extremely difficult in the future to get able young men to enter these nationalised industries. They will not enter an industry where they feel they cannot have an opportunity of expressing their own personalities. You would not expect an artist to express himself if he was going to be compelled to follow some definite rule. Engineers, scientists, and technicians, are artists in their own way, and we must give them opportunities of expressing themselves if we want to get really tip-top men into this nationalised industry. I hope the noble Lord will take great care of this matter.
There is one other point, which is not in the Bill, about which I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government a question. I should like to ask their views about whom these great industries are to be responsible to. It occurred to me that a Bill of this kind might provide an opportunity for inserting a clause to provide that a Committee of both Houses of Parliament should be set up, before which the Commission should appear and be cross-questioned and before which the heads of this great organisation could be given an opportunity, which they have not now, of expressing their views. It seems to me that we are very vocal in Parliament and elsewhere in criticising these organisations, but we do not give them much opportunity of answering back. I do not know whether this is the right occasion on which to raise this point. I think there is a Committee of another place now considering this matter, and, if that be so, that Committee has been a very long time on the way. I hope that when the noble Lord comes 741 to consider his reply, he will give us some indication of the Government's view as to how these great bodies are to be responsible to Parliament, which is not the case at the present time. I apologise for having taken up your Lordships' time too long, because it is very late.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, time is getting on and I do not propose to detain your.Lordships for more than a few minutes. I congratulate the Government and welcome this Bill—first, for a national reason, and, secondly, for a personal reason. For I am one of the few noble Lords who, in 1948, as a director of two railway companies not only was executed but, as I told your Lordships at the time, was my own executioner. Before I handed over my companies, I had to elect the national chairman to my board and he was then pleased to receive my resignation. But time goes on. I said then to your Lordships, and I repeat it to-night, that we should suffer for nationalisation. We have. I noticed that none of the noble Lords opposite have touched on the subject of insurance claims. They have all carefully avoided that subject. Imagine my amazement when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, making this statement in the early part of his speech—I am sorry that the noble Lord is not present at the moment. The noble Lord said (OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 180, Col.598):… it is not uninteresting to note that of the 450 to 500 road vehicle concerns voluntarily acquired"—His idea and mine of what is voluntary must be quite different. We had no choice: it was under duress, with a revolver at our heads. Why, therefore, does the noble Lord want to lead the public astray by saying that the road haulage concerns agreed voluntarily to be nationalised? It was much truer when he said, later on his speech, that we had been compulsorily nationalised.
There was one other statement which the noble Lord made—I cannot make out quite why, but presumably as an example of how magnificently the Transport Commission had done over this appalling crisis. I ventured to intervene yesterday to ask about road haulage from 1939 to1945. In the last three years of the war I had some little part in the organisation. 742 There is no one in your Lordships' House, or in another place, who has not in the past paid tribute to the courage and efficiency of the road haulage industry of those days; it saved the railways time and time again, and the railways thanked them for doing it. The fact that the road haulage industry was ready for the crisis this time, I venture to say, had nothing to do with the nationalisation of the industry, but was due to the efficiency and organisation of the industry in the days before it was nationalised.
I should now like to turn to Clauses 25 and 26 of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, said in his speech that these are most important clauses, and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, also referred to them. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, is to meet the unions. I venture to suggest that as these clauses are at present drawn, they omit a great deal. When some of my friends voluntarily went as paid or salaried servants on the Road Haulage Executive and the Transport Commission, I wished them well, but I thought they were making a great mistake. Because of them, I am here to-night to ask the Government to do all they can with regard to the pension rates of those who went into the Executive. There is no mention in the Bill of what is to happen to them. I had better explain here, that I have no axe to grind, because the late Government gave me no pension or compensation whatever, after fifteen years' hard work—indeed, one of my colleagues was forty years on the board of the same company and he received nothing. With regard to Clause 25, I would call particular attention to those who joined the Road Haulage Executive. I understand that there was some discussion with the trade unions in 1950, but it came to nothing. I also understand—and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, may be able to say something about this when he winds up the debate—that they have had a voluntary system amongst themselves, waiting for a permanent scheme to be produced. I believe that the Commission, and the Government, are morally bound to do something for these men.
I should like to say a few words with regard to compensation. From reading Clause 26, so far as I can see, the Minister can write into the regulations whatever he cares to write. Great hopes were 743 placed upon the corresponding provisions of the 1947 Act by those who lost employment as a result of the operation of nationalisation. As I say, I received nothing. I referred to this matter when the Party of noble Lords opposite were in office, and I was told that these cases had been satisfactorily dealt with. The compensation was the equivalent of one month's salary, less income tax. I forgot to tell your Lordships that for two days in the New Year I did get compensation of 1s. 4½d.—by cheque. That is what it cost the Government at that time. I suggest that one month's salary would hardly meet the case of these men who, when they joined the Road Haulage Executive, were led to believe that they were getting the security of a job, and that if anything went wrong they would receive compensation.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I should like to correct my noble friend on one point. He said that the Minister can write whatever he likes into the regulations. It is true that the Minister, if this Bill goes through in its present form, will have to make regulations. But if the noble Viscount looks at Clause 26 (4) he will see that no regulations can come into forceunless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for that information. Therefore, I can assume that this question of compensation is very much to the forefront at the moment.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If I may say so, I am sure it would be unwise to try to lay down in the Act of Parliament itself exactly what the compensation should be. The only way in which one can do it is to draft regulations in such a way that they give effect to the principles one desires. I fully appreciate—in fact, I joined with the noble Viscount in making the point, if I remember rightly—that Parliament ought not to part with the matter on a sort of broad understanding, but ought still to retain a measure of control. That measure of control is completely retained by the fact that the regulations have to be laid in draft and approved by both Houses of Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
I am grateful to the noble Viscount. That will alleviate the 744 fears of those who are members of the Road Haulage Executive, and I only hope that what I have said will be taken into account when arrangements are made to compensate those people.
§ 6.48 p.m.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, the justification for introducing this present Bill has been seriously challenged by the Opposition in another place and in your Lordships' House on the ground that the 1947 Act has not yet had a full test and has not been in force long enough to be able to work properly in the ways in which it was intended. That challenge was again levelled this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood. It is quite a serious challenge to make about this particular measure, and I do not think it should go unanswered. The Act of 1947 set out with three main objectives: to provide an integrated, efficient and economic transport system. I believe that it should be judged on whether it has failed or succeeded in those three objectives. I should, first of all, like to take the point of integration. It is claimed by members of the Opposition that integration has started to come into operation, but that it is much too early yet for it to have come to full blossoming. I procured the latest copy of the British Transport Commission Report, published in the middle of last year. It has a two-page paragraph on integration and the progress that has so far been made, and I think it is worth while briefly to enumerate to your Lordships the various points upon which integration has been carried out.
First of all, a daily train load of containers for small consignments between London and Manchester and London and Glasgow has been instituted. These containers are collected by the Road Haulage Executive. I submit that that is the only real case of integration that has so far been completed by the British Transport Commission. The second point made in the British Transport's case on integration is that it has made proposals to the trade unions for the interchangeability of labour between rail and road, but that no negotiations have yet started on these proposals. Thirdly, plans have been drawn up for appointing an officer to co-ordinate the collection and delivery services of the railway and the Road Haulage Executive. But that 745 has not yet been put into action. Fourthly, the Road Haulage Executive has started collection and delivery services for the railways. That is in the nature of an ancillary service, and something that could have been carried out without the 1947 Act. Fifthly, the road services are carrying on the traffic of the closed branch lines. That is something which could have been carried out without the 1947 Act, and I believe that under the Traffic Act, 1930, the licensing authority has power to see that where branch lines are closed down the traffics are carried by road haulage. Finally, an experiment has been stared in East Anglia of a common commercial service of road and rail, whereby goods can be carried by one or the other interchangeably. I had a cupboard sent from Essex the other day which presumably came by the common commercial user service, and its condition when it arrived did not say very much for that service. That is only an isolated point.
The fact remains that of these six points, showing what integration has been carried out already, there is only one which might be called real integration, and that there is certainly no concrete and overall plan of the form integration is going to take. Certainly integration can hardly be said to have started at all considering that the 1947 Act was passed six whole years ago. I believe that that Act has failed to achieve integration, and that it certainly does not look as though we shall get any kind of integration, if that Act is allowed to continue in force unchanged, even perhaps for another ten years.
On the second point, that of efficiency, I believe that the efficiency of British Transport Commission services has improved in recent years after some teething troubles, but there is one rather interesting fact which I should like to point out and which I think has considerable importance. It is that the number of "C" licence vehicles has nearly doubled since 1947, and I do not think that that can be said to be due in any way to the productivity of the country or the industrial activity of the country nearly doubling itself. The number of licence holders in 1947 was 253,548. On December 31, 1952, it was 416,683. That is nearly double; and the number of vehicles operating under "C" licences 746 at the end of 1947 was 487,000 and now, at the end of 1952, it is 833,000. I think that that enormous increase in "C" licences casts considerable reflection upon the efficiency of the nationalised transport services offered to the public, because otherwise people would not buy their own lorries and have all the trouble to run them.
Finally, on the question of whether the 1947 Act was able to provide an economical system, I should like to point out that in 1950 the average cost per ton carried by the Road Haulage Executive was £1 7s. 0d., and in 1952 it had risen to £1 17s. 0d. In other words, in the course of two years the average cost to the public for every ton carried by the Road Haulage Executive had risen by 10s., and that is a considerable increase. I do not want to pursue again this question of the losses that have been made by the Road Haulage Executive, because I think they have been fairly well pursued already in this debate. The fact remains, however, that on the same basis upon which the goodwill was computed when the vehicles were taken over after the 1947 Act, irrespective of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said yesterday, there is no goodwill left now in the Road Haulage Executive undertakings. I do not think one can say from both the increase in rates to the public, and the losses that have been made by the nationalised road services, that the industry has been economical as a result of the 1947 Act. It is certainly not the fault of the people who have tried to make the transport industry work. They have made very gallant: attempts to make the 1947 Act work, but I blame the 1947 Act itself, because it was an unworkable plan and could only fail.
Now I should like to turn for a moment to road haulage under the Bill. There is always a great deal said about the tremendous cut-throat competition that used to take place before the war, both within the road haulage industry and in the transport industry generally. I believe that this Bill goes a long way towards meeting complaints, and justifiable complaints, which I am sure existed before, about the tremendous and unorganised competition that probably took place. The railways certainly are in a much better competitive position, or will be as a result of this Bill, and it goes 747 a long way to safeguard shipping against unfair competition from road haulage and other forms of transport.
§ LORD BURDEN
That is really a very important point. May I ask the noble Lord where in this Bill—I may have overlooked it—there is the opportunity for the shipping people to appeal against any rates they consider unfair, so far as road haulage is concerned?
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
If the noble Lord will read the debate on the Report stage in another place, particularly the debate on Clause 21, he will find the answer. From reading that debate myself, I was under the impression, from what the Minister said, that certain proposals were to be introduced to cover that point.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
Even with this Bill there is still likely to be considerable competition within the road haulage industry itself. I believe that the provision in Clause 8 of this Bill, to change the onus of proof for a new would-be entrant to the road haulage industry so as to make it easier for him to come into the industry, will not do anything to help extreme competition which may well arise in the road haulage industry as a result of the Bill. I hope it may be possible at a later stage either to postpone the part of Clause 8 which deals with changes of onus, or to delete it altogether, because I do not think it is at the moment desirable or will make for the best or most peaceful or efficient running of the road haulage industry. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will watch this question of extreme competition between hauliers in the road haulage industry and, if they feel it necessary at a later date, perhaps introduce some new scheme on the basis of differential licence fees for long hauliers and short hauliers, or even go so far as to license road hauliers on something like the same system as passenger vehicles are licensed: that is, by requiring them to specify between which points they intend to operate.
There is another provision in this Bill which I feel is a little unfair to short hauliers who are subject to the twenty-five mile limit under the 1947 Act, 748 because, until 1954, the new entrants into the road haulage industry—that is, those who buy the undertakings which are to be offered by the Commission—willbe able to go in for long haulage, whereas the person who is now subject to the twenty-five mile limit will, of course, have to stick to his twenty-five mile limit until that period is up. However, I see how difficult it would be to do anything else at the moment. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any estimate of the number of hauliers who, at the moment, are restricted to the twenty-five mile limit and who they anticipate may go into long haulage. That number may be very small. In that case, any inequality which might arise from the restriction of the twenty-five miles continuing until 1954 would be greatly obviated.
I also feel that it is somewhat hard—justifiable, but none the less hard—that the levy should apply to "C" licensed vehicles, because many of them do not just carry out delivery work for customers but are an integral part of the organisations of the firms and even of the manufacturing processes of the firms which they serve. I think that the fact that "C" licensed vehicles are subject to the levy should be a good inducement for firms to get rid of some of their enormous fleets of "C" licensed vehicles and make more use of the "A" and "B" licence hauliers. So, from that point of view, it probably is not a bad thing that the levy does apply to "C" licences.
Finally, I think there is a danger of there being too many haulage vehicles on the road as a result of this Bill. At the moment, I believe that the Commission have something like 7,000 vehicles permanently laid up—that is, waiting for permanent disposal—and something like 5,000 vehicles off the roads temporarily and apparently not wanted for the actual day-to-day running. If all the vehicles which are now held by the Commission are to be licensed, there may be considerable congestion on the roads. Moreover, that would have the effect of depressing the selling price of numbers of those vehicles. They have to be got rid of by the Commission, and I hope that it may be possible at a later stage in this Bill to introduce some sort of 749 limitation on the number the Commission's vehicles that are to be licensed, both for them to run and to be disposed of.
The hour is getting late and I shall conclude as quickly as possible. I should like to say a word about the passenger vehicle side of this Bill, which has certain aspects which I find somewhat worrying. In Clause 16 of the Bill there is no definite undertaking to denationalise the bus services that have been taken over by the Commission as a result of the 1947 Act. The power in the Bill for the Minister to denationalise is only permissive and, in view of the fact that in Clause 14 he has power to, or would appear to have power to, let passenger buses take part in area schemes, presumably under the control of the Commission, and also in view of the fact that there already exist in various parts of the country, most notably in Scotland and East Anglia, considerable road-rail monopolies in the carrying of passengers, I am somewhat doubtful and rather worried as to how far the Minister really intends to go in denationalising and putting back to private firms and people the buses that were taken over from Tilling's group and the Scottish. Motor Traction group.
It seems strange to me that here, in a Bill which sets out to denationalise road haulage and to set up competition between all forms of transport in the country, there should be accorded quite different treatment altogether to road passenger vehicles. It seems to me to be contrary to the spirit of the Bill. I would ask Her Majesty's Government: Do they really intend to denationalise buses? I should also like to ask when they are going to do it, but perhaps that is getting rather more on to Committee stage points which might well be dealt with later. I should like to point out that the British Transport Commission now own outright 21 per cent. of all the buses in the country, and they have a partnership share in quite a number more. As I say, they bought out the Scottish Motor Traction and Tilling's group and they now own substantially more buses than the railways held before 1947. If the buses now held by the Commission are still to be held and run by them, it will mean that something like one-fifth of all the buses in the country will be in the hands 750 of the British Transport Commission who also control the railways. I believe that that is a situation which is not a healthy one, quite apart from anything else, because, as I have said, monopolies already exist in certain parts of the country and this situation would seem to me to mean that those monopolies would be continued.
Moreover, under a system where the buses are run and owned by the people who own the railways, it is the case—it has been shown in practice, as I am sure many noble Lords will admit—that the buses, and the interests of the buses, have to defer to the railways. They are in a way the subordinate partner. It is a situation which kills all initiative in bus running and also makes for inefficiency. Where a situation arises in which the buses have to defer to the railways, it has another most unfortunate effect. It is liable to short-circuit the operation of the local authority courts, because the decision between a bus and a railway as to who is to run the service and how, in the case of railway-owned buses are made before the licensing authority courts are ever reached. But it is not only the British Transport Commission buses that are adversely affected by the fact that so many are owned by the British Transport Commission and that local monopolies exist. This situation places the private buses or those jointly owned by private and railway enterprise in an awkward situation.
To illustrate this point let me give your Lordships an instance of a case where a bias on the part of the Commission existed in favour of their own nationalised bus company as against a privately owned bus company. The case was that of the Crosville Bus Company, which was nationalised and which applied to the licensing authority to be free of certain restrictions in respect of traffic carried between London and Liverpool. That application was granted. Later, an unnationalised bus company, the North-Western Bus Company, which operates routes between Manchester and London, made an exactly similar application to the same licensing authority; and that application was turned down. The company appealed to the Minister, who confirmed the findings of the licensing authority. That seems to be rather an extraordinary circumstance; two different decisions being given in exactly similar 751 cases, that to the non-nationalised company being unfavourable. I think that where companies are wholly owned by the Transport Commission a certain amount of bias on those lines must arise, and that is not a healthy situation to continue in existence.
In conclusion, I should just like to query what was said by the Minister in another place in reference to the Thesiger Committee. He said that he did not feel inclined to go ahead with the denationalisation of buses until he had received the Report the Thesiger Committee. Summarised, the terms of reference of the Thesiger Committee are, "To inquire into the Road Traffic Act of 1930 as it relates to the licensing of buses." So far as I can see, those terms of reference have nothing whatever to do with denationalisation, or with the existence of local road-rail monopolies. I do not believe that, by waiting for the Report of the Thesiger Committee, the Minister will be any wiser about whether or not he should denationalise buses. I should, however, like to point out that it is for Parliament to decide on major matters of policy, such as whether or not industries are to be nationalised or denationalised; and Parliament should not wait for an outside Committee to make up its mind. Let Parliament take the major decision, and then the outside Committee can certainly make recommendations as to how that decision is to be carried out. I hope that at a later stage of the Bill we shall have an opportunity to go further into this matter of buses, and to put right what I believe to be a defect in the present Bill.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, we are now coming to the end of the second day of this debate, and we on this side of the House find ourselves with many doubts unresolved and many forebodings justified. The Government's proposals would make an unbiased observer laugh until his ribs ached, if they did not first make him weep. The position of this country, as we know it, is this: it is economically poised on a precipice, with the danger of war always in the background. What help does this Bill give in such a situation? If we are honest with ourselves, we must say "None." In fact, 752 one of the prime needs in peace time or in war time in this little Island, overcrowded as it is, is an integrated transport system. We know the Government's views only too well, but yesterday they were succinctly declared in elegant language by Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, who said:Economic planning has been shown to be a great big bit of boloney and a will o' the wisp.That was the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is responsible for 65,000,000 people whose economic resources are so important to themselves and to the world. That was the Secretary of State, a member of the Cabinet, giving his views, and presumably those of his colleagues, on economic planning—"a big bit of boloney."
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who is, as we know, an expert debater, made a good speech, but one full of inaccuracies. He said that we accused the Government of being governed by doctrinaire methods and views. We do. And not only we. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in this House accused the Government of doctrinaire views, and said that they were losing the support of many people of middle views and middle ways because of the doctrinaire attitude they were taking up on many public questions.
§ LORD OGMORE
Lord Hailsham, a nominal supporter of the Government. I presume, therefore, that we are permitted to call him in aid.
§ LORD OGMORE
I would say that all Tories are immoderate people; he is perhaps less immoderate than most. The Bill should not be called, as Lord Hawke has described it, a Bill for the emancipation of transport.
§ LORD OGMORE
Yes; I will give the noble Lord that—the emancipation of railways. Of course, the noble Lord 753 admits that it does not emancipate transport. This Bill should be called the Transport (Disintegration) Bill, because that is, in fact, what it will do. Furthermore, the Bill that we have before us puts this House in very great difficulties indeed. The Bill has not come from another place ready for us to pass, subject to such Amendments as we, the ordinary members of the House—Lord Llewellin and the rest of us—think fit. Lord Llewellin often suggests Amendments to Government Bills. The Government tell us that this Bill is no good as it stands; that we have to amend it substantially before it will work. That places this House in an extraordinary position. We cannot, in fact, criticise this Bill and put down Amendments; we have to wait until the Government put down Amendments to it, and only then can we put down our Amendments to the Government's Amendments. Surely, on a major matter of this kind, that is an extraordinary position in which to find ourselves.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
We made a thousand Amendments to the Transport Bill introduced by the late Government, exactly on those lines.
§ LORD OGMORE
Well, I should have thought that the noble Viscount would have learned from the experience of that time. As we grow older we are supposed to grow wiser, not less wise. I should have thought that the experience of that time would have induced the Government to send us a Bill which they could say should be passed, subject to minor Amendments. Now to-day confusion has been made worse confounded by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—he is having an interesting talk on foreign affairs at the moment, but I would ask him to listen to me, as I am mentioning him. The noble Earl has told us that the unit structure would not be the main method. This is what I understood, and what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, understood was the content of the noble Earl's remarks. We understood that the unit structure would not be the main method of disposal of the assets, but that it would apply to a minority only, and 754 that the main method would be that as set out in the Bill. That is completely contrary to what we understood to be the declaration made by Minister of Transport in another place and also by the Secretary of State, Lord Leathers, in this House yesterday. If it is not so, no doubt Government spokesmen will explain that to-morrow.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
Perhaps I may intervene on that point now. If I gave that impression it was certainly entirely false. What I did comment on was the company structure: I said that what was laid out in the Bill, which is unit structure, will remain the method of disposal. After all, the company structure is not in the Bill. I said that what was laid out in the Bill would remain the main method of disposal.
§ LORD OGMORE
I should have thought that that was exactly in line with what I have said. However, we will read the noble Earl's words in Hansard and see whether there is any difference between the noble Earl and myself. The noble Earl also said that the Treasury had granted a credit of £1,000 million towards the cost of the transport system, whereas the Government's proposition was going to cost the Treasury nothing at all. I would suggest to him that this is an extraordinary argument. After all, we were buying undertakings; the Government are selling them. I have never yet heard, in any normal case, of a seller being granted money or obtaining credit to pay for things he is selling. But this is the great point. The Treasury may have granted a credit of £1,000 million—it may have cost that and in a sense they had assets for it—but what is this going to cost not only the taxpayer but the consumer? What is it going to cost industry as a whole if the economic system of the country is seriously affected by the dislocation in transport? I would say that what the Government should do is not to disintegrate transport but to tighten it up; tighten up the administration and economics of our transport system. We know that there is need for it: there is bound to be where you have a vast system like this brought under centralised or regional control—and, in fact, it was being done.
Your Lordships will remember the speech yesterday of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, in which he said a number of 755 very interesting things indeed about the transport system and about the effect of the Act of 1947 on the transport system of this country. Lord Radnor said (OFFICIAL REPORT: Vol. 180, Col. 650):… the faults which may lie with British Railways in the way of service are faults which would have affected the privately-owned railway companies just as much. So far as economy in working is concerned, I have been proved entirely wrong.The noble Earl was saying there that he had been proved wrong in his view that nationalisation would not produce economies. He continued:Entirely as a direct result of the unification of the railway companies, economies to the extent of £16 million per annum have been effected. Very few of these economies would have been effected by the separate railway companies at a time of rising prices, rising wages and rising costs generally.That is where he is rather in disagreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who said to-day that he did not know whether there would have been any great difference. Lord Radnor says definitely that these economies would not have been effected under private enterprise.
I was talking not so much about economies in relation to the financial results as about operating statistics.
§ LORD OGMORE
The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, dealt with that point. Column 652 of yesterday's Hansard says:There are two other things I would mention in that connection which are a large part of the economies made by the British Railways service in the five years they have been in existence. One is locomotive and rolling stock distribution. By eliminating boundaries British Railways have been enabled to put rolling stock where it was most required, regardless of regions or companies. When I mention locomotives and rolling stock, I also include railway steamers.Anyone interested in this subject would, I suggest, do well to read that speech of the noble Earl. Lord Radnor, after all, has great experience of railways and he is supported by Sir Ralph Glyn, who is a Member of another place and who also has had great experience of railways; and, to some extent, in the beginning of his speech, by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley himself. The noble Viscount to-day rightly stressed the need for integration so far as railways 756 are concerned. That is how I understood him—the noble Viscount accepts that, I gather.
Another interesting matter dealt with in the noble Viscount's speech (I followed it carefully, because I know of his great interest in railways and of his experience as a director) concerned "C" licences. One of the great points in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—making, as usual, good debating points, but points which have very little in them when they are investigated—was that the fact that so many "C" licences had been granted showed that British transport had failed. The noble Earl said that because so many "C" licences had been granted British Transport had failed. That was his great point. But the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, gave a complete answer to that, and he explained why so many "C" licences had been granted. It had nothing to do with the policy of British Transport at all; it was due to other causes. The noble Viscount instanced some which could not be refuted, and which seemed I to me to be absolutely and completely sound. I suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that if he did not hear the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, he should look up the report of his speech and learn from it why there have been so many "C" licensed vehicles on the roads in recent years.
I think I said that the reasons why a number of people had gone in for "C" licences were connected with nationalisation—either fear of the effects of nationalisation, or the fact, if it was the fact, that transport costs were higher. The point I wanted to make was that the experience of having "C" licences in connection with various businesses had proved such an advantage that the businesses were unlikely to want to revert to public transport of any kind.
§ LORD OGMORE
I understood that. I think it fully answers the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. The second thing which, in my view, the Government should have done was to extend the principle of the integration of transport to those areas which the 1947 Act did not cover. Assuming, as I assume, that one wants integration in our little Island, the Government, in my view, should have integrated coastwise shipping. There was 757 some small mention of this in Lord Leathers' speech, suggestive rather of putting things off till the Ides of March, than of taking immediate action. We would rather have had it in the Bill than in Lord Leathers' speech.
There was no mention whatsoever of aviation—and that in times like these, when aviation is so important; when already, as we heard only last week, the export trade in aviation is about equal to the export trade in the shipbuilding industry and will soon surpass it; when 45 per cent. of the passenger traffic across the Atlantic is now by air; and when there is a prospect that within ten years, if the Government opposite do not defeat the helicopter programme, much of the long-distance travelin this country will be by helicopter, thus doing away with many of the fast passenger trains and long-distance coaches. Noble Lords opposite shake their heads and look scornful. I saw the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, look down his nose. Of course, they can easily prevent it from happening by not giving the necessary resources and not doing the necessary research and experimentation; but if they do that research and experimentation, then I assure noble Lords that the White Paper they have submitted and the proposals in this Bill will be entirely out of date in ten years' time. Helicopter travel from city centre to city centre is obviously the proper long-distance method of travel, and would have been so if we had remained in office, I can assure noble Lords.
§ LORD OGMORE
I do not follow the intention of the remark about rich men. Every new method is only for the few or has to be subsidised, but the whole point about this method is that in time it would become for the many. How long that time will be will depend upon the work of the Government. I would say that this is largely a frivolous Bill.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am most interested to know what the Labour Government would have done or would do. I should like to ask the noble Lord this: for which of all the great things that were done in civil aviation—the great jet aircraft that have been constructed—were 758 the former Government responsible and for which was private enterprise responsible?
§ LORD OGMORE
Now here we are, in a nice civil aviation debate! Both private enterprise and the Government were responsible for the development of jet aircraft. As the noble Viscount knows, civil aviation is the poor relation of military aviation; without the latter civil aviation would not be able to obtain new machines and, what is more important, the new engines. De Havilland would never have been able to put a Comet in the sky if it had not been for orders from B.O.A.C., nor would Vickers have been able to produce their Viscount without orders from B.E.A. and Government backing. But this seems a little off the point and I had better get back on the tracks.
To-day we have largely had a Scottish day, with a number of Scottish Peers and two Scottish Ministers speaking. We have not heard about Wales to-day, in spite of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has been here practically all day. He is an excellent debater and has impressed us all with the work he has done and the interest he has taken in Wales generally. Yet we have not heard from him to-day. I do not object to hearing about Scotland; I am glad we did so and wish that more Scotsmen had spoken. But there was not one word about Wales. I do not know why the Government did not allow the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to speak. I will tell your Lordships what he would have said if he had spoken—that is, if the noble Lord is, as I take him and know him to be, an honest and candid man. If the noble Lord had spoken, he would have said that at the last Election there was an overwhelming vote in Wales for Labour Members and that Wales does not desire this Bill. Wales does not desire transport to be decentralised any more than Scotland does. My noble friend, Lord Mathers, says that Scotland does not want this Bill—take it away. I do not see how one could integrate a bit of the services in Scotland and Wales at the end of the lines. There is not much method in integrating the ends of the lines when the rest are disintegrated. Much as I feel sympathetic towards my noble friend's ideas, I am afraid that we cannot have that so far as Wales is concerned.
759 If he were able to speak and had not been silenced by the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, would have said that Wales does not want this Bill. What Wales needs is a better road system. This scheme is frivolous. Wales needs a good road system. It needs a trunk road from Llanelly to Cardiff, a trunk road from Cardiff to the Midlands, and a good road from Cardiff to Bristol and London across the Severn. Just before the war, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was chairman of a committee which sat to consider a Severn bridge. They advised the rejection of the Severn bridge scheme because it would save a million tons of coal a year, and in the good old days before the war to save anything, especially coal, was regarded as a serious and unfortunate thing. That was due to the fact that not nearly so many industries or people could use the coal then, having neither the money nor the opportunity to use it. What we want in Wales is a change from the packhorse roads we have now into modern highways. Gloucestershire is a shocking county for roads. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, would tell us, if he were candid. This Bill is frivolous: take it away. South Wales will never progress industrially until we have proper road communications. We progressed in the past only because we did not depend upon road communications, but on sea communications. I feel that this country is in no position to-day to stand the sort of experiment that the Government are imposing upon it. Although we can jest about some of these things, I feel that they are taking a terribly serious step, and I, for one, can only wish that the end will not be as unfortunate as it appears to be at present.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Earl Jowitt.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.