§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Report staged resumed.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved to add to subsection (9) of Clause 2:
The report for any period shall set out any direction given by the Minister to the Board during that period.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend. This Amendment fulfils an undertaking which my noble friend gave to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is not here to-day. It is in reference to the reports of the Disposals Board. Your Lordships will observe that subsection (9) of Clause 2, says that "The Board shall from time to time, and at least once in every six months" make a report to the Minister. It is now specifically laid down by this Amendment that those reports shall include any direction given by the Minister to the Board. Those directions would arise, chiefly, either because of disagreements among the Board or because of disagreements between the Commission and the Board. I think that is a fair arrangement. As a matter of fact such directions would almost certainly be included in any case, but this Amendment makes it abundantly clear that they will be. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 18, at end insert the said words.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, on the principle of Dives and Lazarus, I am very grateful that the noble Earl has granted this request made by my noble friend Lord Silkin, who I regret is not here to-day, owing to indisposition. Although the Amendment goes some way to help us, I would beg the noble Lord to give further consideration to the fact that although it covers the case of directions given to the Board by the Minister, it does not cover the case of the Minister giving a direction to the Commissioners. Now, the Board meets or presents its report every six months.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Yes, "at least…every six months," so there will not be any undue delay. The 84 only function of this Board is clearly defined in this Bill, so that if the Minister does give any direction to the Board, in the case of an appeal to the Minister by the Board there will not be any undue delay in Members of both Houses of Parliament hearing of it. But how different it is with the Commission! The Commission report once every twelve months, and the Commission's Report is a voluminous document, since it has to cover every activity of the Commission. As I tried to point out on the Committee stage, owing to the vast amount of information that the Commission have to give, their Report is not available to Members of Parliament until some seven to eight months after the ending of the period covered by the Report. Surely the noble Lord would be the last to deny that Parliament has a right to know of a directive given by the Minister to the Commission under this Bill, on a matter which may involve millions of pounds of the taxpayer's money, before about eighteen months after he has given it, when the whole thing is signed, sealed and settled, and when no action that either House of Parliament could take would be of the slightest use. I am delighted to have the opportunity of saying this in front of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, because he wilt now appreciate some of the difficulties which have confronted Her Majesty's Opposition in this House during the Committee stage of this Bill.
Surely this is logic. There are two bodies, the Board and the Commission, and each can receive directions of vital importance from the Minister to accept tenders of, maybe, millions of pounds. We readily accept the noble Earl's gesture that the Board should report every six months, or even more often. If the Minister on that basis says to the Board, "You must accept tender XYZ" we can have that information within a reasonable time. But surely in common sense, if the Minister gives the Commission a similar direction we are entitled to ask that we should be informed of that with as much despatch. Why do the Government stand out on these niggardly points? After all, if it is right for the Board to report to Parliament on a directive of the Minister within, at the most, six months, why is it not right that the 85 Commission should do the same thing? I appeal to the noble Earl that perhaps between now and the Third Reading he might think about that, because nobody can say that the request I am making now is anything other than a reasonable and logical one.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
May I ask this question? I do not k now what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is referring to. All that we are dealing with here is Clause 2, which concerns the Disposal Board, and possible disagreements with the Commission. The only conceivable point on which a direction could come there would be on a disagreement with the Commission. Obviously, that would be published in the Board's six-monthly report. I do not know what the noble Lord is talking about.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Do not be so short. If you listen you will find out what I am talking about. The Act lays down that the Minister can give directions to the Board and can give directions to the Commission. It is perfectly obvious that under this Bill the Minister might give directions to one without giving directions to the other. If the Board has a statutory obligation to publish any directive received from the Minister within six months or less, why should not the Commission be under the same obligation? That is a simple question and it has a simple answer, in logic and in reason.
My Lords, I should like to raise a point on what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said. I cannot see anything in this clause which lays upon the Board the obligation which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wishes to lay upon the Board—that is, to set out in its report any direction given by the Minister to the Board during that period. I cannot see anything in this clause which imposes that obligation upon the Board, although the noble Earl says that there is such a provision.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
If I may say so, Lord Lucas's speech did wander rather wide, and I am not surprised that the noble Viscount is confused. The point I made was that this is an Amendment to that effect, though you might not have thought so. The words of the Amendment come in at the end of subsection (9) of Clause 2.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following new clause:
§ Transfer of property to companies with view to the sole of their shares
§ ".—(1) For the purpose of disposing of the property held by them for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking, the Commission shall from time to time make over to companies under their control, in the shares of which no other persons than they themselves have any beneficial interest, such of that property, together with such rights and obligations of theirs, is in their opinion can most conveniently be combined for operation as separate road hautage undertakings, with a view to the subsequent sale of tie shares of those companies:
§ Provided that the Commission shall not exercise their powers under this section without the approval of the Board.
§ (2) Where any property is made over to a company under subsection (1) of this section it shall be made over at a price equal to the net value thereof as shown in the books of the Commission (but adjusted so as to take into account depreciation up to the time of the making over thereof so far as not), already taken into account), increased by the value, if any, as so shown, of any rights of the Commission made over therewith, and decreased by the value, if any, as so shown, of any liabilities of the Commission made over therewith.
§ In this subsection "net value" means value after deducting depreciation, and the references to values shown in the books of the Commission are references to the values so shown after making, if the Commission, in keeping their books for any year falling wholly or partly after the pass rig of this Net, depart to any substantial extent from the principles and practice applied by them for the years falling before the pissing of this Act, all adjustments which are necessary to produce the result which would have been produced but for the departure.
§ (3) Where the Commission have made over any property to a company under subsection (1) of this section, they shall proceed to the sale of all the shares thereof as soon as is reasonably practicable, and to that end shall, as soon as is reasonably practicable, by public notice invite tenders for the purchase (in one parcel) of all those shares, on conditions specified in the notice or ascertainable in a manner specified in the notice:
§ Provided that—
- (a) no invitation to tender under this section shall be issued without the approval of the Board; and
- (b)if it appears to the Commission that the sale of the shares by tender would be inappropriate and would be unlikely to secure the best possible price for the shares, they may, with the approval of the Board, sell the shares (in one parcel) otherwise than by tender.
§ (4) No tender or offer for the shares of any such company as aforesaid shall be accepted or refused by the Commission without the approval of the Board, and the Board shall not approve the acceptance of any such tender or offer unless they are satisfied that the price is a reasonable one having regard to the value of the company's undertaking and the rights conferred by the subsequent provisions of this section.
§ (5) If any difference arises between the Commission and the Board under this section, the Commission or the Board may refer the matter to the Minister and the Minister shall give such directions as he thinks fit and any directions so given by him shall be binding on the Commission and the Board.
- (a) the company were and at all times since the passing of this Act (or since its incorporation, whichever is the later) had been a subsidiary company of the Commission and the Commission were and at all times since the passing of this Act had been the holding company thereof;
- (b) the Commission, in every application made for a licence under Part II of the First Schedule to this Act, being an application made before the making over of the property, had signified to the licensing authority their desire that the provisions of the said section twelve should have effect as respects the company;
- (c) the reference in subsection (1) of the said section twelve to Part I of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, included a reference to section fifty-nine of the Transport Act, 1947, subsections(1) to (5) of section seven of this Act and Part II of the First Schedule to this Act:
§ Provided that this subsection shall have effect in relation to a company only as respects the period preceding the date on which its shares are transferred in pursuance of the sale thereof under this section.
§ (7) Where the shares of a company are transferred in pursuance of the sale thereof under this section. Part I of the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect as if the company had, at the time of the transfer of the shares, purchased as or as part of a transport unit all the vehicles owned by it on that date which were then authorised vehicles under an A licence granted to the Commission under Part II of the First Schedule to this Act or were specified in a then pending application for such a licence as vehicles intended to be authorised there under and as if all such things had been done as would have fallen to be done if the vehicles had been so purchased; and, without prejudice to the generality of the preceding provisions of this subsection, references in the said Part I to transport units and to purchasers of transport units shall be construed accordingly.88
§ Provided that—.
- (a)the total number of trailers specified by virtue of paragraph 2 of the said Part I in applications for special A licences shall not exceed the number of trailers made over under subsection (1)of this section by the Commission to the company;
- (b) in paragraph 4 of the said Part I, the reference to the Commission shall be deemed to be a reference to the company and the reference to the publication of the public notice inviting tenders shall be deemed to be a reference to the date of the transfer of the shares.
§ (8) The Commission, in making over vehicles to a company under subsection (1) of this section, may, by notice to the company, designate certain of those vehicles as additional vehicles, and in that event—
- (a) any application by the Commission for an A licence under Part II of the First Schedule to this Act and any licence granted in pursuance of any such application shall lapse so far as it relates to any motor vehicles so designated, but without prejudice to the substitution of any such vehicle for another vehicle in accordance with the provisions of the said Part II;
- (b) the Commission shall give all such notices and make all such applications as are necessary to secure that no such vehicle, being a motor vehicle, is included in an A licence so granted, otherwise than by virtue of such a substitution as aforesaid and that any such vehicle, being a motor vehicle, which has been included in such an A licence otherwise than by virtue of such a substitution is removed there from:
- (c) any such vehicles. being trailers, shall be left out of account for the purposes of paragraph (a) of the proviso to the last preceding subsection.
§ (9) Any property made over to a company under subsection (1) of this section shall be deemed for the purposes of section six of this Act to have been disposed of as or as part of a transport unit, but if, after any property has been so made over to a company but before the shares of the company have been transferred in pursuance of the sale thereof under this section, any property of the company (whether part of such property or not) is transferred to the Commission, the property so transferred to the Commission shall be deemed for all the purposes of this Act to become property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking and shall be dealt with accordingly.
§ (10) A company to which property has been made over tinder subsection (1) of this section—
- (a) may dispose of any of its property in the ordinary course of its business; and
- (b) may, with the approval of the Board, dispose of any of its property to the Commission,
§ Provided that this subsection, shall have effect in relation to a company, only as respects the period preceding the date on which its shares are transferred in pursuance of the sale thereof under this section.
§ (11) Until the shares of any company to which property has been made over under subsection (1) of this section are transferred in pursuance of the sale thereof under this section, any person employed by the company shall be deemed for the purposes of section ninety-five of the Transport Act, 1947 (which relates to terms and conditions of employment of staff), to be employed by the Commission and to be under the direct control of the Commission themselves.
§ (12) Where a company to which property has been made over under subsection (1) of this section has disposed of all its property, this section shall cease to apply to it unless and until further property is transferred to it under the said subsection (1)."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment has taken up a good deal of space on the Marshalled List, and we on this side of your Lordships' House regard it as one of great importance. This Bill says in terms that there shall be three methods of disposing of the assets of the Road Haulage Executive apart from those which the Executive are to keep: first, by the formation of companies for the sale of their shares; secondly, by selling units, which can comprise from one to fifty vehicles, or over that number, with the consent of the Minister, and which may be clothed with any property as specified; and thirdly, the sale of other property or chattels.
Now, my Lords, I again come back to the Amendment to the first clause which we wanted your Lordships to accept. We say, quite frankly, that there is only one way in which the majority of the assets other than vehicles can ever be sold at anything like a satisfactory price; and that is when they are clothed round those vehicles and made into operable transport units. We say that, in the interests of the taxpayer, that should be the major method of disposal. The reason why we have put down this Amendment is that on the Committee stage I asked the noble Earl, in terms, to let us know categorically what the Government were going to do. I will quote exactly what I said. This is what I said to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—I quote from the OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 180, col. 1188:
I want him, if he will be good enough, to give us this information quite frankly, because his answer will guide us as to whether or not on Report stage we return to this point with another Amendment.
At the end of my speech I said this (col. 1189):
I want the noble Earl to assure us that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, by adopting the method of the limited company structure, to form sufficient companies to absorb a major proportion of those assets of the British Transport Commission that can only be sold by the company structure method, if anything like a reasonable price is to be realised. If the noble Earl will give us that assurance we shall be more than satisfied because on this particular point"—
that is the point of limited companies—
we support him, in principle, with one or two slight reservations which may be mentioned later on. If he will give us that assurance, it will guide our conduct in the remaining stages of this Bill.
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, who is leading for die Government on this Bill, was not in the Chamber when I said that. He came back in tile middle of our discussion, not knowing what I said, and, I suspect, not having heard it from the noble Earl, because he would not have had the time. But the noble Viscount said this (col. 1193):
Its only object is to provide an alternative method of selling a transport unit in what we anticipate will be exceptional cases.
The noble Viscount went on, a little later, to say:
Then it was said that we ma find it a useful adjunct to the normal practice of sales of units for cash to have a company structure, so that in appropriate cases a company may be created which owns the vehicles, the garages, and other ancillary assets. In those exceptional cases…"—
and so on. The noble Viscount repeated this a third time when he said, at the top of column 1194:
I think one must take it that this method of disposal is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
That statement is very disturbing to us because, as I pointed out on Second Reading, the approximate value of the assets of the Road Haulage Executive is somewhere in the region of £100,000,000, of which approximately £40,000,000 would be vehicle assets, and the other £60,000,000 other property. We say, quite definitely, that the value of that property will be realised only if it is sold in the form of limited companies. The noble Viscount said the self-same thing when he referred to the disposal of garages and other things.
§ Let us consider some of these assets; debtors, about £16 million or £17 million; properties, £15 million; consumable 91 stores, £10 million. How can you sell those assets at anything like a satisfactory price unless you make them part of a company? How else can you sell a garage and premises, consumable stores, or anything like accounting machinery, furniture and fittings and all those things which we know go to make up the assets of a company? What are you going to do with what is left? There is only one buyer at a decent price—the man who has bought the vehicles to run the company. How can you get rid of them in any other way? For that reason, we have put down this Amendment. It looks formidable, but it seeks only to put first the most important method of disposal. In effect, the Commission are told, "You are so to organise your business that the first consideration in planning for disposal is to see what you can get into companies. Secondly, you see what you can organise into units, and thirdly, what you have got to sell as chattels." I do not put it in the order of priority of selling. Nowhere in this Amendment do I say, "Before you can dispose of units you have got to form the companies." I leave it entirely to the Commission.
§ Since the Committee stage in your Lordships' House, I have read the whole of what the Minister said in another place. From what he said I got an entirely different idea to the idea I formed having heard the noble Viscount opposite. I was impressed by what the Minister said in another place. I am sure he is seized of this fact, that, looking at it from the taxpayer's point of view, the only way we shall ever get a good price for these assets that we are to sell, is to form as many of these companies of varying sizes as we can. There will still be a lot to be sold as units. After the passing of the 1947 Act the Commission acquired all these 400 or 500 companies, owning 12,000 vehicles and organised in 200 groups. It was via that method that they acquired all this other property, and it is via the same method in reverse that they are going to get rid of this property. There will be plenty of opportunity for taking care of the point raised, quite properly and so well, on the Committee stage by Lord Long, because there will be a number of small units. If the method that we suggest is adopted, I 92 think it will be found that after this disposal the road haulage industry of this country will take approximately the same shape as it took before. The sale of small units will bring back into this industry about 3,000 small men who went out after the 1947 Act.
§ I beg your Lordships to look at this matter with great care. If the Government will consider it, they will realise that they cannot hope to dispose of a vast mass of assets as such. I give an example. The Road Haulage Executive have a property which covers about two acres, and is now the most up-to-date parcels-sorting establishment in the country. It cost over £1,250,000. It is no good for anything but the purpose for which it was built. Now that has to be sold, and sold in the form of a company. I have given your Lordships a brief review of the size of some of these assets. How can we say that the way to sell all these assets is as exceptional cases? When the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was speaking on the last occasion, my noble friend Lord Greenhill interrupted to ask him what was an exceptional case. Of course he could not be told. We regard this matter, as I say, as one of great importance. Though it is a formidable-looking Amendment, really this is just a case of a transfer to another place. This Amendment will not cause any delay; it will make for an orderly disposal. I do beg the Government not to turn this down lightly, but to give it that thorough consideration which we think it deserves.
§ I think the rest of the Amendment is self-explanatory. It puts the emphasis upon the company form of disposal, because that is the only possible way to get rid of these other assets. You will get rid of only a very few by the unit method. The man who wants to buy, say, six vehicles will want them to augment an existing business—if he is a man in a small way of business. He is now, we will assume, operating in a small way within the twenty-five mile radius. He does not want to buy £60 million worth of property—or, rather, he and his kind to not wish to buy it; they have already got it. All this man wants to do is to augment his little fleet of vehicles, get an "A" licence, and start business life once again as a haulier working right over the country. How are you going to get rid of the £60 million worth of assets? 93 You can get rid of them only by wrapping them round in decent-sized companies. I should think, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said in an interesting speech on another Amendment, they will have to be big ones. But more will be needed. The emphasis has got to be on that; and it cannot rest as being on exceptional cases. I beg to move.
After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord one question with regard to subsection (3) of his new clause. Is the noble Lord insisting that, where the Commission have made over property, all the shares should be sold?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Yes, and I can tell noble Lords this. It is only the first subsection of this new clause which represents an alteration. The rest of the Amendment is exactly the same as what is in the Bill at the present time.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has been very frank in saying that he wishes fundamentally to alter the emphasis of the Bill, and I want, if I may, to examine just what it is that he is trying to do. I must say, first of all, that there seems to me to be absolutely no gain in what he is doing, even if the emphasis is different; in fact, there is a positive loss. I will explain to the noble Lord what I mean by that. I do not know how many Amendments he is moving, but if I read his meaning correctly, this has to be read with subsequent Amendments under Clause 3.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am just going to explain that the noble Lord has not simply shifted the clause from one place to another, he has completely changed the emphasis. If I may say so, with great respect, what he calls Lord Long's point is something entirely different from what the noble Lord himself proposes. I should like to explain how different. The point which has been called Lord Long's point comes under Clause 3 (3). The whole of our Clause 5 is governed by the words of that subsection (3). 94 Under Lord Lucas's companies clause, subsection (3) comes in only when the company method of sale is impracticable or inexpedient. That means on this question that any dealing with the subsection (3) is entirely subordinate to his companies clause. So, if I may say so with great respect to Lord Long, where there is any sale by company there will be no sale whatsoever to any small man. I want that to be entirely clear. I am surprised at what is proposed by the Amendment. We have emphasised in Clause 5 (1), particularly, the references to Clause 3 (3), and the Commission, and indeed the Board, must have special regard to the purposes laid down there. The purposes laid down are abundantly clear, I suggest. They are, first, that those who want to go into business in a small way should have the opportunity of doing so, and, secondly, that the aggregate should be the best possible price. Both of those are taken right out of this companies clause.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
They are taken out because under subsection (1) of this Amendment there is no reference to the purposes which the Commission have under Clause 3 (3). So both these purposes are automatically removed by the procedure which noble Lord has in mind. For that reason I have to say that this proposed clause is, in fact, defective in that respect. I want to emphasise this point again. One may argue about nationalisation one way or another, but we have always regarded it as rather wicked to gobble up the undertakings of small men who have built up their own businesses. We have not the slightest intention of deviating one iota from our purpose of giving the small man the first opportunity of getting back into business. We also think that ours is a better way of doing it. There will be less delay, and there is more flexibility. Units can be transferred from one business to another. Probably a number of people already in business merely want to expand their businesses. To take over a complete company would probably be rather awkward for such persons, but they can take over a transport unit and add it to their own organisation.
Another point to which the noble Lord did not refer is the omission of subsection (4) of our Clause 5. I do not know 95 whether he wishes to discuss that subsection (4), the noble Lord made no reference to it.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The noble Lord said there was no other alteration, but there is. If the noble Lord prefers to discuss it later on, I am content. I should make it clear, however, that we are going to put forward an argument in favour of retaining that clause. In the meantime, I am going to ask him to withdraw this proposed new clause, because it really is defective as it stands. It alters the whole emphasis which we think is important, and it would give the small man no chance at all. I do not think for one moment that is really what the noble Lord wants. He wishes to emphasise the company structure. Everything which has been said about the company structure is still effective under Clause 5 as it stands. For that reason, I suggest that, whilst we appreciate his point—it is laid down that it is open to the Board and the Commission to use this procedure if they wish to—the noble Lord might withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am very grateful. I have now got what I wanted by putting down this new clause. Do I understand that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that, without doing anything contrary to the interests of the small man—with which I agree—a sufficient number of companies will be formed as will be able to absorb the major part of the other assets which cannot be disposed of in any other way? I do not agree with the noble Lord on many things he has said, though I may agree with him about the drafting. I am not a Parliamentary draftsman, and this is largely my own work, poor though it may be. I do not want by this clause to do anything which would prevent the small man from going back into this business, so long as I can ensure this: that at the end of the day, when all this disposal is over, when the Government in their wisdom bring all this to an end, the Commission are not left with millions of pounds worth of property of which they cannot dispose, except at a bargain-sale price, because the value of these assets has disappeared and because they have not been sold as a going concern.
96 These companies, if noble Lords want to know—and I am not talking about what will be retained by the Commission—have about 40,000 vehicles, and there are about £60 million worth of other assets. I should think that roughly, the vast bulk of this £60 million worth of assets can be absorbed in the companies formed with about half that number of vehicles. In other words, there will be 20,000 vehicles to be sold in small units to the small man. That is roughly how I figure it. I do not want the noble Earl to think that I am trying to upset anything in principle in this Bill. I do not accept his "too few hands." but I do not want to upset in principle that the small man can buy in units of one or two, or anything up to fifty vehicles. What I want to ensure is that companies will be formed to absorb the assets that can be sold only in company structure and are useless and worthless outside it. I do not think there is anything between us, but perhaps if there is the noble Earl will tell me. Otherwise I will withdraw this Amendment.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The noble Lord has emphasised absorbing small parts and spares into units but I made that point perfectly clear when I introduced the companies clause; that it was intended to sell them as going concerns without interruption. It means that a great deal of small stock is to be thrown in. The noble Lord has asked how often this method will be used. The Bill is the thing that counts. It makes it quite clear that the initiative comes from the Commission. They get control of the power, and it is expedient to bear in mind the purposes imposed on the Commission. There is no initiative from Her Majesty's Government at all. It is clear in the Bill. It is not possible for me, except by guessing, to say how much this method will be used. I cannot say more than that.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3:
§ Sales of transport units
§ (6) In determining which tenders for transport units are to be accepted and which refused, the Commission shall have regard to the desirability of avoiding the ownership or control of the property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking being concentrated in too few hands.97
§ (7) In performing their duties under this section the Commission shall consult the Board and act on lines settled front time to time with the approval of the Board, and no invitation to tender for a transport unit shall be issued by the Commission without the approval of the Board and no tender for any transport unit shall be accepted or refused by the Commission without the approval of the Board; and the Board shall not give their approval to the acceptance of any such tender unless they are satisfied that the price is a reasonable one having regard to the value to the purchaser of the property and rights which he will obtain by the purchase, including the rights provided for by Part I of the First Schedule to this Act.
§ LORD GIFFORD moved, after subsection (1) to insert:
§ "(2) In cases where at the date of the passing of this Act there is an agreement between the Road Haulage Executive on behalf of the Commission and a trader in relation to a vehicle or vehicles operated by the Road Haulage Executive under contract, the Commission shall consult the appropriate trader and the said specified conditions may include a condition whereby the purchaser or purchasers succeeding to the said Executive shall take over all the rights and obligations of the said Executive under the said agreement."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment deals with contract vehicles—that is, vehicles operated at present by the Road Haulage Executive for traders. Very often they are vehicles in the trader's own colours. Various examples were given on the Committee stage—for instance, Whitbread's were mentioned. I brought forward a rather similar Amendment on Committee stage. The idea of my Amendment is to protect the trader who has a contract with the Road Haulage Executive but whose vehicles are sold to a private individual. I wish to protect him so that his contract may continue. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, pointed out the difficulties in regard to a unilateral contract, and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, also mentioned some legal difficulties. The other great objection to my earlier Amendment was that the trade might not wish to carry on with the service. He might say, "The purchaser is a man of no account and I do not want to make use of him to run my transport"; and, obviously, if he wishes to say that it would be wrong to force him to do so.
§ This Amendment does not compel the trader to carry on the contract if he does not wish to do so. It merely says that the Commission shall consult the trader 98 before the sale takes place, and if the trader so desires a specific condition may be included in the terms of sale so that the contract may go on and the trader may have an uninterrupted service with the least possible dislocation to his business. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, suggested that I might look into the matter again, and I hope he will think that this Amendment meets the case. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 4, line 46, at end insert—
("(2) In cases where at the date of the passing of this Act there is an agreement between the Road Haulage Executive on behalf of the Commission and a trader in relation to a vehicle or vehicles operated by the Road Haulage Executive under contract, the Commission shall consult the appropriate trader and the said specified conditions may include a condition whereby the purchaser or purchasers succeeding to the said Executive shall take over all the rights and obligations of the said Executive under the said agreement.")—(Lord Gifford.)
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I support this Amendment. It is not an easy one at all. We want to protect the trader who is operating under a contract with the Road Haulage Executive. I feel that when the time comes when the trader is faced with renewing his contract, a new purchaser may say he would prefer to run the vehicles; on another route. The difficulty of the Amendment, as has been pointed out by the noble Viscount the Deputy Leader of the House and by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, is that of continuing a contract where one of the parties to the contract has disappeared. The most important part of my noble friend's Amendment is that the Disposal Board should discuss matters with traders who have contracts concerning vehicles which the Disposal Board have the right to sell.
It may be that it gives the Disposal Board permission to do something which is not sound in law, and I should like advice on that point. But under the Amendment, the Disposal Board can come to a trader and tell him that the vehicles under contract are going to be sold and they cannot sell them with the condition that they have a contract, because that makes a difference in the price. Or they may say that they are 99 going to sell them on the basis that there is a contract and would the trader be prepared to accept a contract with the new purchaser. At least the trader would have warning, which he would not otherwise have, and may choose either to take on a new contract or say that he would rather take a chance and be free to go somewhere else. I support this Amendment wholeheartedly but if the Government cannot accept it, I should like to feel that there will be deliberate consultation with those traders who have long-term or short-term contracts still to run concerning those vehicles which the Disposal Board must dispose of under the Bill.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies, may I ask a question? Suppose there is a contract between Whitbread's and the Road Haulage Executive, under which the Executive are under obligation to supply vehicles to Whitbread's for a year, or whatever term it may be. I hope the Government are not going to take it out of the power of the Road Haulage Executive to carry out that contract by making them sell those vehicles, because if so, that would be bringing about a breach of contract. If a new set-up is going to be negotiated before doing this, if the contracting parties are to be told that the Board contemplate the transfer of vehicles to somebody else and the agreement of Whitbread's and the somebody else is obtained and a new agreement is fixed up, that is all right. But I do not suppose that the Government contemplate forcing the Road Haulage Executive to get rid of a vehicle, thereby putting it out of their power to carry out a contract into which they have entered, which would render them liable for damages for breach of contract. That seems to me to be an entirely unsound principle and I am sure the noble Viscount would not contemplate doing that. I am sure he will see that contracts which the Road Haulage Executive have properly entered into in the course of their ordinary business—I am not dealing with unusual or improper contracts—are carried out. I think this question is fundamental to the Amendment moved. I am fairly certain what the noble Viscount's answer will be to that question, but I think it requires stating because of some apprehension in the minds of noble Lords opposite.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, may I be permitted to add—and I hope the noble and learned Earl will correct me if I am wrong—that when this Amendment in its original form was moved on Committee stage I believe the noble and learned Earl opposed it on the ground that if the Amendment in its original form was accepted, it would put the trader in the position of having to accept somebody to run his vehicles who was not one of the principals to the original contract. The noble Earl has now raised a different point.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Marquess. One cannot impose upon a man a new contractor—that is obvious. What I am saying now is different. Just as one cannot impose a new contractor, so I greatly hope the Government will not deprive the old contractor of the power to carry out his contract.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, if I may, I shall deal first with the point made last by the noble and learned Earl. I speak with a certain amount of trepidation in the presence of the Lord Chancellor and an ex-Lord Chancellor on what is clearly a matter of law—but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will come to my rescue if I need succour and to my correction if I am in error, and I hope he will not hesitate to do either or both if the occasion arises. With humility, I should have thought that if this Bill lays down that certain properties shall be sold, any contract will be frustrated by the law which is passed, and such advice as I have been able to obtain reinforces what was my ancient recollection of that point of law. But the sort of case raised reinforces the desirability of that degree of common-sense consultation to which the noble Marquess has referred and which I am sure will take place.
I understand that the genesis of many of these contracts was not that some trader, like Mr. Whitbread, made for the first time a contract with the Road Haulage Executive. What happened was that long before nationalisation there had been a contract between Mr. Tilling or Mr. Somebody and Mr. Whitbread. Incidentally, I do not remember the Labour Government being unduly anxious about this matter when they brought in the 101 nationalisation Bill and we had the converse of the picture. When the Road Haulage Executive acquired these vehicles, they found that these contracts already existed. I suppose, the first contract having been frustrated, by arrangement with the Road Haulage Executive, Whitbread's, or whoever it may be, arranged that the Road Haulage Executive should act as successors and, because it was mutually convenient, should carry on.
They probably had no choice, because no other transport firm was allowed to go beyond the 25-mile limit.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am obliged to my noble friend; he is quite right. Probably if these vehicles were compulsorily acquired, there was nobody except the Road Haulage Executive to do the job. As these things have been arranged in the past under nationalisation, so, under denationalisation, I am sure they can be arranged quite amicably and satisfactorily in the future. Certainly it would not be a reason for altering the most convenient pattern of the redistribution of this industry in the way that it may work out.
To come now to the Amendment on the Marshalled List, I promised that I would have a look at this matter. I appreciate the way in which my noble friends have tried, but I am sorry that this will not do, any more than the last attempt. As I pointed out last time, and the Committee entirely accepted the view, it would be unfair to impose a unilateral obligation—by that I mean that the buyer of a transport unit should be bound whereas the trader would be free. That would be wholly one-sided. If we were to insert an obligation into the Bill at all, it would have to be an obligation upon both the buyer and the trader. But, as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, pointed out last time, that might be quite unfair on the trader. The trader who was anxious to have an agreement with Company A, or who had previously had an agreement with Company A, and had substituted for that an agreement with the Commission, might be quite unwilling to enter into a similar contract with one or more unknown purchasers. The noble and learned Earl said that it would be monstrous.
102 The trader might well rather have someone else—in fact, it will be one of the advantages of competitive enterprise that, if he likes, he will be able to get somebody else. I do not think there will be difficulty about his getting his goods carried. Any buyer will certainly be anxious to get as much goodwill as he can, and will be keen to carry on a contract, if he is competent to do it. I have no doubt that a trader who has had a contract with the Commission will be equally anxious that there should be no interruption in his arrangements. Therefore in all cases where it is fair and reasonable that the arrangement should continue, I have no doubt that it will continue and, as such arrangements do, will continue by mutual agreement. Without putting in an Amendment, it is always possible in an appropriate case for the Commission to insert in the conditions of sale a provision that the tender shall include an undertaking to carry out the old contract. But, of course, that would have to be subject to the trader being willing to accept the buyer, when he knows who the buyer is.
I am very glad that this matter has been raised and thoroughly debated, because it is something about which people have been anxious. But I am sure that I have not only done what is legally right, but what is fair and practical. There certainly will be discussion: in fact I imagine that, where there is a contract subsisting (you will not ask me to give an express undertaking in every case) the natural thing would be for the Commission to say to the trader: "We are putting these vehicles into one unit. Would you like us to consider inserting in the conditions of sale that the vendor shall, if his tender is accepted, also accept this obligation if you are willing to carry it out?" But I am sure it is better to leave the Bill as it stands, both on the legal and the equitable side.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, may I, with the leave of the House, ask the noble Viscount this question? I agree with the doctrine of the impossibility brought about by a subsequent Act of Parliament, which would be an answer to any suit for breach of contract. But is this not a case where the Road Haulage Executive are not being deprived of all their vehicles, but only of a substantial number? There would, therefore, 103 be no impossibility of performing a particular contract brought about by Act of Parliament. We have been considering Whitbread's. I understand that their vehicles are dressed in the livery of Whitbread's—one may say that they are all "dolled out" (if I may use a vulgarism) as being Whitbread's vehicles. Will those vehicles count against the Road Haulage Executive as being among the vehicles they are allowed to keep? I understand there are a considerable number of such vehicles—those of Whitbread's. Lyons & Co., and other firms.
§ EARL JOWITT
I am obliged to the noble Lord. Do those vehicles all count, as it were, against the number of vehicles the Road Haulage Executive may retain?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Of course they do. Look how ridiculous the position would be otherwise. What is the plan of this Bill? It is to see that the Road Haulage Executive get rid of all their vehicles except an equivalent number to those the railway companies had before nationalisation, plus one-quarter more—and the noble Lord opposite thinks it should be twice as many or something like that. That gives us a total of 4,800, or something near the 5,000 mark. It would be fantastic, and a complete frustration, not only in law but of the purpose of the Bill, if we said that because some of these lorries are dressed up with the name "Lyons" on them the Commission are to have twice as many as Parliament decided, on principle, they should have. When the Commission are agreeing with the Minister which vehicles they should keep, there may be a case for saying it is mutually convenient that these vehicles should be included in those that are to be kept. But the fact that the Commission have run a service which was a common practice before with private enterprise, which can perfectly easily be run by private enterprise again and which for the most part is now only in the hands of the Commission because they have taken over contracts which traders were quite happy previously to have carried out by the businesses which were nationalised, does not mean it would be right to say that the fact that some 104 of the vehicles were run for Lyons and some for Whitbread's should dictate what is the convenient pattern of the general distribution of this industry.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his helpful remarks. I would only say that my new Amendment is different from the other and it is only a permissive Amendment. But the noble Viscount has given, if not an undertaking, a very strong expression that the interests of the traders who had contracts with the Road Haulage Executive will be carefully considered by the Commission and the Disposal Board. In view of what he has said. I have pleasure in withdrawing my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords. I beg to move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Swinton. It refers to additional vehicles, and it makes it clear that the additional vehicles cannot obtain "A" licences under Part I of the First Schedule. It has been suggested they might conceivably obtain a licence under Part II, so we have omitted all reference to "Part" and just said "The First Schedule." I beg to move.
Page 5, line 43, leave out ("Part I of").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
Page 5, line 46, leave out ("the said Part I") and insert ("Part I of the said First Schedule").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ 5.32 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to delete subsection (6). The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come back to the Amendment which I promised the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, he would not forget. It is to omit subsection (6), which says:
In determining which tenders for transport units are to be accepted and which refused, the Commission shall have regard to the desirability of avoiding the ownership or control of the property held by the Commission for
the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking being concentrated in too few hands.
We argued, of course, that it is an impossible clause to which to give effect. I will not reiterate all the arguments that were adduced, but there were one or two things which the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, said to which I should like to refer. He concluded by saying that as we felt so strongly on this matter, between the two stages of this Bill he would see whether it was possible to come to some amicable arrangement. In fact, there have been no consultations; and nothing has been done.
The first point I should like to raise is the provision that
the Commission shall have regard to the desirability.
We asked one or two questions of the Government on this. The first was: What do you mean by this? Do you mean that if a large concern tendered and a small concern tendered at a lower figure than the large concern, then the Commission must accept a lower tender than it would otherwise do? But the Commission cannot accept a tender unless they have the consent of the Board. The first thing which puzzles me is this. If the Board tell the Commission they must accept a certain tender, and the Commission say, "But we have this clause staring us in the face," what will be the position? In other words, why do the Board not have to pay due regard to this subsection—why only the Commission, when the Commission cannot act without the Board? To attempt to make this subsection effective, what the noble Earl should do is to say to the Commission, "When you effect this sale, it must be a condition of sale that the purchaser of this unit must never amalgamate with anybody, or the vehicles will get into too few hands'." We know very well what happens in the market place—my noble and learned friend mentioned it on the Committee stage. The dealers will come in and they will arrange all their tender figures before ever they start tendering. Joe will buy six; Alf will buy six; Jones will buy six; and Robinson will buy six, and it will look all above board and all very fair. How can the noble Earl take the precaution to ensure that they do not amalgamate immediately they have purchased all their units? Secondly, it may be thought in the
market—and I can assure the noble Earl that I have had some considerable experience of this type of market—that a man will get special preference if he turns up without a collar or tie, because he is a small man. It will be a very nice business and very lucrative, I should think, from a commission point of view, for the small buyer to operate oh behalf of a large buyer. What are the Government going to do about that? How are they going to prevent that happening? Why put in something that can be only a pious hope, simply to placate somebody?
On the Committee stage, the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked a question which I wanted to answer at the time, but I missed the opportunity. This is what the noble Earl said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 1116):
Might I ask them—
"them," being noble Lords on this side of the House—
one question? If one large finance house in this country were to buy up the whole of the transport system and thereby establish a monopoly over the whole country, or if a large firm were to buy up the whole transport system of a perhaps rather specialised separate area"—
what should we do? Now what happens? The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in the course of one of the speeches he made on the Committee stage, commended the action of the United Dominions Trust, a hire-purchase company, in that they were going to set themselves out to finance this business. Immediately a hire-purchase company finances the hire purchase of vehicles, they become the owners. Therefore, very likely, in the vast bulk of the hire-purchased businesses, you may find the owner of these vehicles to be the United Dominions Trust, or any other finance house. If, by some ill-chance, the hirer, being the small man, fails to keep up his payments, the United Dominions Trust, or any other concern, then take physical possession of the vehicles. What are they going, to do? The vehicles are certainly in one set of hands then.
§ While I am on this point, as the noble Viscount mentioned the United Dominions Trust, I should like to know whether they are to be in a privileged position. At the present time—I have here a statutory instrument on the subject—there is a legal limit for mechanically-propelled road vehicles. The statutory 107 instrument is No. 121, of 1952, as amended by No. 724 of 1952. The minimum amount of "cash down" required, expressed as a percentage of the cash price is 33⅓ per cent., and the maximum period for the payment of the balance is eighteen months. Would the noble Earl tell me whether that is going to be waived, whether the ordinary purchaser of a motor vehicle—not the purchaser of one of the ex-Transport Commission vehicles—is to be put in a worse position, or whether the Government intend to waive the restriction on hire-purchase credit and length of payments for the special benefit of the purchasers of these units? Perhaps the noble Earl would be kind enough to give us that information.
§ My noble and learned friend who attacked this clause said that it was utterly unworkable in practice and that it is wrongly conceived in principle. That we consider to be true. We consider that it has all the elements of wrong and of mischief. It can be interpreted in so many ways. It can be interpreted against the interests of the taxpayer as meaning that a lower price will be accepted under the guise of preventing these vehicles from getting into too few hands. I should like to know, therefore, what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has to say about the reconsideration which he promised us. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 4, leave out subsection (6).—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised a large number of possible, conceivable, but remote and extremely unlikely difficulties which may arise; but he has not put forward a single good reason, nor a single objection worth anything except the remote possibility that a lower tender might in some circumstances be accepted. Otherwise he has raised no objection whatsoever. What is the scheme of sale? It is that the whole initiative rests primarily with the Commission. The Commission must have any offer made to them either approved or refused by the Board. I have not heard that the Commission, in such matters, do not come to the Minister, or that they would be free to sell to one person the 108 whole of their disposable resources. This is the only limitation against monopoly. I must repeat what my noble friend Lord De La Warr said, that there is a tremendous difference between "too few hands," which is an essentially monopolistic conception, and a large organisation. The two things are quite separate. This is clearly the only reference to what is in some measure a monopolistic conception. I do not think the noble Lord's remarks about the United Dominions Trust are relevant. What happens after sale has nothing to do with this Bill. There is no restriction on future amalgamation: the purchasers can do what they like.
Two points were made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. The first was that this was a political decision and should be left to the Minister; the second was that the words were too loose and the phraseology difficult to interpret. With regard to the first objection, I say, with all respect, that the political decision is in the terms of this Bill. This is a political decision here, in that the Bill imposes on the Commission a duty which they must fulfil. I say that that is no greater than some of the other big tasks which have been imposed upon the Commission at other times. After all, in every question there is an economic element besides a political element. I think that that is abundantly clear from the American Sherman Acts, which are largely economic in their interpretation. The interpretation of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, except in the narrowest circumstances. will invariably be done by the Minister.
It is only when the Commission and the Board both agree (and, if I may say so. the Board will have to agree almost unanimously) that the situation has arisen when a decision can possibly be taken without reference to the Minister. If the Commission disagree with the Board or if the Board disagrees within itself, then the matter would be referred to the Minister.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
If the noble and learned Earl will look at subsection (8) of Clause 2, he will see the provision:Any question arising at any meeting of the Board shall be determined in accordance with the opinion of the majority of the members of the Board present and voting at that meeting:109Provided that if at any meeting of the Board there is a difference of opinion between the members of the Board on any question, and the chairman, or, in the absence of the chairman, the deputy chairman, considers that the matter is of sufficient importance to require to be referred to the Minister, he may refer the matter to the Minister.…In other words, it would be very unusual for the chairman of the Board, when one or two members hold firm on the question whether a certain matter is or is not a question of monopoly, not to refer the matter to the Minister. Therefore, unless it was such an obvious case that both the Board and the Commission said, "This is a case of 'too few hands' "the matter would be referred to the Minister. I do not think there is much advantage in being too precise about this. There are all kinds of complicated definitions in regard to monopoly, but I suggest that when it is seen it will be quite clear. It is a difficult matter to describe. Noble Lords may laugh, but perhaps I may illustrate the matter in this way. When Stanley went to look for Livingstone, so far as I know he had no idea at all what Livingstone looked like. But when he met him he had not the slightest difficulty in recognising him. I suggest for these reasons that this is the only protection in a matter which is left, in the first place, to the Board and to the Commission We have got to have some protection, and this subsection protects the Board and the Commission from having to take the highest bid or from having to take any other action in a matter which might seem to constitute a monopolistic organisation. I hope, therefore, that the House will not accept this Amendment.
§ LORD OGMORE
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said that my noble friend Lord Lucas did not give any reason why this Amendment should be accepted. I would suggest that there are four reasons. The first is that it is a political question, as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, pointed out on the Committee stage. This has now been admitted: the noble Earl has clearly admitted that it is a political question. So he admits that Lord Jowitt was right in what he said. We on this side believe that a political question of this kind should not be left to a Commission: it is a matter which should be decided by the Minister. If Ministers are not to decide on political questions it is difficult 110 to see who is to decide on them. The genesis of this clause, as I understand it, was that it was inserted in another place for political and not for transport reasons. That being so, we feel that it is most incongruous that the Commission should have to decide a matter of this kind.
The second reason is that it is a vague clause. One can just imagine the first meeting of the Commission when this matter has to be decided. There is the Transport Commission sitting there, complete with two Scotsmen—if Lord Swinton's. Amendment is accepted—and one or more Welshmen—if my suggestions to the House also are accepted. They have to decide into how many hands this particular organsation shall get. What constitutes "too few hands"? If we put ourselves into their position, we shall see what a difficult task this Bill imposes upon them. The noble Earl has said, with great can dour, that there is no advantage in being too precise. I should imagine there are few cases in our history when anybody has suggested to a House of Parliament that there is an advantage in not being too precise about the wording of a Bill which the Minister proposes that the House shall accept. Such a suggestion as that is certainly the despair of all those who have to try to interpret a Bill of this kind. Surely the whole object of an Act of Parliament is to try to put into as precise terms as possible what Parliament desires. If it is to be said that there is an advantage the other way, in not being too precise, then we may as well not have Acts of Parliament at all; we may as well have letters from the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. He has told us that he thinks that we should treat art Act of Parliament in the same way as Stanley treated Dr. Livingstone—in other words, that an Act of Parliament is to be regarded on the same basis as darkest Africa. It seems to me a most ridiculous suggestion for a Minister to make to those of us who have to pass this legislation; and still more so, in my view, to those who have to interpret it.
The third reason I would suggest to your Lordships for the adoption of this Amendment is, as my noble friend Lord Lucas has clearly pointed out, that the provisions of subsection (6) can, in fact, be overcome by a ring, or by a principal acting with a number of agents. In other words, if those who wish to get hold of 111 a large portion of a transport undertaking desire to do so, they can easily do so by operating in that way; and undoubtedly they will. It is far better, therefore, it seems to us, for the Transport Commission to ensure that the transport undertaking, whichever unit it may be, gets into the hands of proper and responsible companies who are able to undertake the work entrusted to them, rather than that a number of small men should buy as undisclosed agents for a principal who may or may not be the sort of firm or person that you would wish to carry on the undertaking.
The fourth reason I would suggest in support of this Amendment is that the subsection involves confusion. There is bound to be confusion in the minds of the Transport Commission when they are no longer bound to sell to those who put in the highest tender. I and others have mentioned this matter, and I think it strikes at the very root of the problem. If you place on the Transport Commission the obligation to sell to anyone other than the highest tenderer, without very clear instructions, I do not see how they can be expected to carry out their duties. If I were a member of the Transport Commission, I certainly should not dream of doing what is proposed. They can be "shot at" from all directions. It will be said of them that they should have sold to this one or to that one, and that they should not have sold to this particular person; that they were interested in some company—and a hundred and one other allegations will undoubtedly be made against them. In my view, and in the view of noble Lords on this side of the House, they will be put in an impossible position once you get away from the principle of selling to the highest tenderer unless there are very clear and precise instructions to the contrary. As these instructions are the reverse of clear, and are the most unprecise in language that I can remember in an Act of Parliament, I regard this as a very bad subsection to insert in the Bill.
Finally, there are all sorts of safeguards in this Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has pointed to one under Clause 2 (8). There is a safeguard there. Undoubtedly there will be differences of opinion on these matters, and about the exact number 112 of persons who shall be entitled to purchase the assets and the like. That clause in itself seems to me to safeguard the position, without this provision being introduced at all. I think the Bill without this provision gives equal strength to the principle that the Minister wants to be assured, and there is nothing in this particular subsection which strengthens the position in any way at all. That being so, it would he a great pity to put in this Bill a subsection of that kind, having all these disadvantages, when in fact the power that the Minister wants is, as I say, already very largely in the Bill in other clauses, and in particular in Clause 2 (8). For those reasons, we ask the House very strongly to support the Amendment and to strike out the subsection which the Amendment seeks to remove.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I have heard nothing from the noble Earl to alter my opinion that this provision is really "eyewash." Not for the first time in this Bill the wolf suddenly puts on sheep's clothing. This is a Bill to transfer an industry from public ownership to private ownership, and in this subsection the Government suddenly go all democratic and profess great concern for the small man in order, ostensibly, to protect the small man whilst transferring the industry to private enterprise and it introduces something which violates the very first principle of private enterpise—namely, that, when you are disposing of your assets, you must get the best price for them that you possibly can. The Government do two things by this subsection. First, they seek to throw upon the Commission a political responsibility, which essentially belongs to the Minister, and, secondly, in my opinion, they have introduced here a provision which in practice will be found to be unworkable. I do not believe that the Commission, with the best will in the world, will be able to fulfil the responsibility which this subsection seeks to throw upon them. For those very practical reasons, I support the Amendment and hope that this subsection will be deleted from the Bill.
§ EARL JOWITT
I very much hope that we are going to have a further reply from the Government to that which we have had so far. I am glad to see the noble Viscount looking in good form and 113 fighting trim. I hope that he will tell us something about this clause, or that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr—who dealt with it on the last occasion: I cannot say altogether to our satisfaction, but at any rate he learned the extent of our dislike and our distrust of this clause—will. Do let us look at this thing from a practical business point of view. The Commission are concerned to sell vehicles, and the Bill rightly seeks to protect the small man. So, rightly, the Government say to the Commission, "You shall sell your transport units; you shall not have more than fifty vehicles in any one, and you can go down to as low as one vehicle to give the man a chance to buy." Then there comes this, to my mind, amazing clause, and I want to see how it will work.
It tells the Commission—admirable people on the running of transport, but unused to and unversed in the taking of political decisions—that they have to consider not simply which tender (it may be a tender for one vehicle) is the best, but also the desirability of ensuring that control of the property formerly held by the Commission is not concentrated in "too few hands." Suppose that they open their tenders and find that for one vehicle there is a tender of £100. Then they look at the next tender for that vehicle and Lind that it is a tender of £120. Normally, if they were sensible people they would accept the tender for £120. In disposing of the taxpayers' property, that would be their plain duty. But they have to stop and think again, and say to themselves, "This man who is offering £120 has already bought a large number of these vehicles, and if we let him have this one there will be a danger of the industry getting into too few hands."
Now, who is the Commission to take this decision? How can this Commission take such a decision? I can well understand the Commission reporting to the Minister and keeping the Minister in touch with what is happening, and I can well understand that the Minister may say, "The company who are offering £120 have already had such a large number of tenders accepted that we ought not to let them have any more vehicles." But surely that ought to be the responsibility of the Minister. It is a political decision, and it is not for these people 114 who are charged with selling these goods and trying to get the best price for them to take that decision at all. Let the Minister keep in touch with these matters from day to day to see how things go, but please do not ask the Commission, who, subject to the consent of the Board, have the responsibility of disposing of these things, to consider a question which even the noble Viscount, with all his ingenuity. cannot get near to defining—"too few hands." What are "too few hands"? I can only say that I have not the least idea. Must one consider a particular locality'? Is it really a question of monopoly? If it is the case that there is a danger of monopolies starting up, then I can understand it, but that is not what is said.
In any case, is the clause the least bit effective? If this company that is offering £120 (in the case which I have put) thinks it is getting near to the limit and that the Minister may not view it with any favour, it will not buy in its own name, but will buy in somebody else's name. Therefore, the idea is absolutely defective and nonsensical and is a breach of the all-important principle that a man charged with disposing of Government property should dispose of it to the highest tenderer. That principle is being breached in favour of some vague, meaningless and utterly unworkable principle which is here enunciated, so far as know, for the first time. I very much hope that the Government will think again.
I should be happy and content if this power rested in the Minister, because, difficult though it may be to enforce and difficult though it may be to say when "too few hands" comes into play, yet I should far rather trust the Minister, who has spent a long political life and has to take many political decisions and, so far as I know, has generally taken them wisely. I should far rather entrust this duty to the Minister who, if necessary, can be brought to book in whatever of the two Houses of Parliament he lives, and challenged in that sort of way which is the great feature of our Constitution. I should far rather have that power vested in him than I should have it vested in the Commission. If the Government insist on resisting this eminently reasonable Amendment: I am bold enough to hope that some of your Lord- 115 ships on that side of the House will, on this rare occasion, support me in saying that this duty really ought not to be cast on the Commission.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, everybody has had a try at this "Aunt Sally" of a clause. The noble Earl has asked me to contribute something, but I am bound to say that I am a little surprised at the righteous indignation which, on the highest Liberal principles, actuates the Opposition Front Bench over this business, because all through not only this Bill but many others I have been told from that side of the House what an iniquitous thing is anything in the nature of a monopoly—unless, of course, it is a monopoly in the hands of a nationalised undertaking. And let me point out to the noble Lord that it is not necessary for every single vehicle to be in one hand in order to create a monopoly. There may be a local monopoly. My noble friend, Lord Bilsland, has had something to say in these debates about local monopoly in Scotland and, I think, other areas. I agree that one does not want to have a monopoly, either general or local, when the object of this Bill is to denationalise this industry and get a reasonable measure of competition.
And observe, my Lords, that unless this clause is here, there is nothing to safeguard that position because this is the only provision which deals with the prevention of monopoly, general or local. It would be quite possible for the Commission, if there were no such provision as this, to sell fifty units to one buyer; they would be concerned only to see that the price was right. And no doubt people rather tend to give a slightly higher price if they are trying to make a corner in something. But there would be no ground for either the Commission or the Board or, indeed, the Minister, saying anything to prevent that. The result might be that there would be a transfer from public to private monopoly, or quasi monopoly. I do not think any of us want that. I am not greatly impressed by the argument: Who is to say what are "too few hands"? It was with great joy that I heard my noble friend give the Dr. Livingstone analogy, but as I had to go out for a moment I am not sure whether he used the analogy 116 from Robert Louis Stevenson, who said that it is pretty difficult to define either day or night, but that most sensible people know one from the other when they see it. Somebody else said he could not define an elephant but he knew one when he saw it. I do not think I should have much difficulty, nor do I think would anybody of common sense (though they might take slightly different views about it) in recognising what are "too few hands."
Lord Ogmore, who really let his Welsh exuberance carry him a little further even than usual, like a Rupert of debate said, "Fancy putting a general term into an Act of Parliaments You might as well have no Act of Parliament at all." Well, I have seen dozens of Acts of Parliament and certainly quite a number passed by the Government of which he was an ornament which put in, "having regard to the national interest." Now all sorts of people have quite different ideas about what is the national interest, but that has not prevented the Party opposite or, for that matter, my own Party, putting into legislation the provision that a Minister or a Board or somebody was to have regard to the national interest. These conceptions are abstract. If you like, "public interest" is in a sense a more abstract conception than "too few hands." I do not think there is really very much difficulty about that, and I am quite sure that something of this kind will have to be included.
I have tried to listen to all these debates through the day and night with impartiality. I have given a fair number of things, as the Order Paper shows, where I have been convinced, and I have not hesitated to stand out against things like Amendment No. 1 in the Marshalled List which I thought utterly and wholly wrong. I would not let go something of this safeguard; and the safeguard "too few hands" is about as good as you can get. I am more impressed with the point made by the noble and learned Earl (I think he also made it last time) that to some extent this is a political decision. It is quite true that, leaving the clause as it stands, if the Commission and the Board disagree the matter automatically comes to the Minister. Equally, even if one member of the Board disagrees, the chairman, because this would be an important matter, would then refer it to the Minister.
117 It may well be said, that if the Board and the Commission are agreed on a general duty imposed upon them by Parliament, it is a pretty safe case to leave. Of course, if the Board and the Commission permit a sale, that is all right. We do not want to refer to the Minister every sale with which the Board and the Commission do not want to interfere because they are quite satisfied. Even though a man may have got one unit and has offered a good price, where it is not creating a quasi monopoly I would let it go through. Thus, you do not clutter up the Minister. But where the Board or the Commission decide to turn down what, on the face of it or in fact, is the best tender, because they think it is likely to create a monopoly or a quasi monopoly which would be inimical to the purpose of the Act—and therefore it would be a question of "too few hands"—I think there is a case for referring it to the Minister.
I do not want to put down something on the spur of the moment. Owing to our somewhat insular procedure in this House we can put down Amendments on Third Reading. With a view to meeting this point if I can, and not just taking it away and leaving it, I should like to consider the question whether, where the Board and the Commission think that an offer should be turned down because it is a case of "too few hands," that should have the Minister's approval. It is important not to hold up the steady flow of this business, but I cannot imagine that it would happen very often. I agree that there is a political element in this—in the sense of its being not a Party political element at all, but a sort of political as distinct from a purely commercial decision. I hope that this Amendment may be withdrawn. I will do my best to put down on Third Reading something which will meet the point that if the Commission and the Board want to turn an offer down because they think it creates a monopoly, they shall refer the case to the Minister for his approval or dissent.
My Lords. I think that the noble Viscount's action in promising to look at this matter again will greatly reassure noble Lords who sit behind him, because we rather feel that it is our duty to avoid putting on the Statute Book things which are rather 118 nebulous and should not be there. I have often spoken against the phrase "in the national interests," and I feel that "too few hands" smacks very much of the same thing. I hope it will be possible to produce something on Third Reading.
§ EARL JOWITT
I feel that what the noble Viscount has said is something "in the national interest," and I shall certainly advise my noble friend Lord Lucas not to press this Amendment at this stage. Perhaps the noble Viscount will give Lord Lucas and myself an opportunity to see what he proposes to put down on Third Reading.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I jump with alacrity to accept the suggestion of the noble Viscount. I am encouraged that the perseverance of our argument has impressed not only other noble Lords on that side of the House but also the noble Viscount. I am very glad to hear his observations, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK had given notice of two Amendment to subsection (7), the first being to leave out "to the purchaser." The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Swinton, I beg to move this Amendment and the Amendment following upon it. We had a discussion about this on the Committee stage, and we have endeavoured to redraft these sentences to meet the particular criticism which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and other noble Lords made. I hope we have been successful, because we have given a lot of time to examining this matter to see that at meets the point in question. First of all, we do not like the phrase "current value," for this reason: that the current value of a transport unit may fall, which means that those who are conducting sales can refuse to accept current value because, in their view, the value of the property is higher than that. That is one side of the matter. The other side is that we have held out. I think, the suggestion that the value may vary as between one purchaser and another—that is to say, that to a certain man the value may be high and to another it 119 may be low. I move this Amendment, hoping very much that it will meet with the approval of your Lordships.
Page 6, line 19, leave out ("to the purchaser").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. He has met us completely. As I said at the time, I was not tied to the words when I put forward the phrase "current value." Frankly, I think the noble Earl's Amendment is better than the one I moved. I am very glad that at last the Government are realising that other people than just the potential purchasers have to be considered in the sale of this property.
Page 6, line 19, leave out ("he") and insert ("the purchaser").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ Clause 4:
§ Transfer of transport units to companies under control of Commission
4.—(1) Where either—
(a) an invitation to tender for the purchase of specified property has been issued under the last preceding section; or
(c) the Board have informed the Commission that they would be prepared to approve the issue of such an invitation,
the Commission may, if the Minister gives his consent, make over to any company under their direct or indirect control all the property and connected rights and obligations, if any, which the purchaser would have obtained under a purchase resulting from the invitation, and in that event subsections (4) and (5) of the last preceding section, the next following section and the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect as if the transaction had been a purchase in pursuance of the invitation and as if all such things had been done as would have fallen to be done if the transaction had been such a purchase, and without prejudice to the generality of the preceding provisions of this subsection, references in the said provisions of this Act to transport units, to purchasers of transport units and to additional vehicles shall be construed accordingly:
§ Provided that, without prejudice to the power of the Minister to give or refuse his consent under this subsection in any case and on any ground, the Minister shall so exercise his powers under this subsection as to secure that— 120
- (i) the total weight unladen of the motor vehicles made over to companies there under does not exceed five-fourths of the total weight unladen of the motor vehicles owned on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-eight, by the bodies corporate which, on that day, came, by virtue of Part II of the Transport Act, 1947, under the direct or indirect control of the Commission; and
- (ii) without prejudice to the preceding provisions of this provisions of the total weight unladen of the vehicles so made over which belong to each of the three following categories, that is to say:
- (a)vehicles (whether motor vehicles or trailers) specially constructed to carry abnormal indivisible loads;
- (b) motor vehicles (of whatever character) which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be regarded as special vehicles constructed for special purposes other than the carriage of abnormal indivisible loads;
- (c) other motor vehicles,
§ (2) The annual statement to be prepared by the Commission under section ninety-four of the Transport Act, 1947, shall, as respects any period during which any company to which property has been made over under this section remains under the direct or indirect control of the Commission, include information as to the principal activities of the company and be so framed as to show, as far as may be, the financial and operating results of each such activity, and the Minister and the Treasury shall exercise their powers under the said section ninety-four accordingly.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "if the Minister gives his consent." The noble Lord said: My Lords, now I have the noble Earl in this receptive frame of mind I am emboldened to think that he may agree to this next Amendment which, with your Lordships' permission. I will take together with Amendment No. 19.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Amendment 20 is consequential. We can discuss that Amendment as well. Three may be my lucky number. In Clause 4 we are dealing with the transfer of transport units to companies under the control of the Commission. Rather jokingly, on the last occasion I put it to your Lordships that this is the clause where the Commission ask permission of 121 the Board to tender for their own assets, and when the Board has been graciously pleased to allow the Commission to issue an invitation to themselves, then comes what we think to be one of the obnoxious provisions. The subsection says:…the Commission may, if the Minister gives his consent,…Then at line 15 we find this:Provided that, without prejudice to the power of the Minister to give or refuse his consent under this subsection in any case and on any ground, the Minister shall so exercise his powers under this subsection as to secure that—and so on. I hope the noble Earl will not accuse me of having a distorted mind, but to me there is something sinister about these words. The noble Earl tried to explain the matter to us on the Committee stage, but it appears to me that the position is this. In this Bill, the Commission are told that they can have a company or companies to operate a number of vehicles—a number which may hereafter be specified—and may go out into the world, this cold stern world of competition, and compete in the transport business. But then it is proposed to circumscribe the Commission in a manner which is not, and never will be, possible with their competitors.
The noble Earl—I paraphrase his words: he will correct me if I am wrong—said on the Committee stage that the real object of this Ministerial veto, expressed in the wordsin any case and on any groundwas that the Minister could say to the Commission, "No; you are not going to form that company to operate there; you are not going to form this other company to operate here. What you are really attempting to do is to set up a monopoly in this corner or that corner." The Commission are told that they will have so many vehicles, and that they will have to compete with all these other undertakings. There is an obligation on the Commission—it has not been removed from the 1947 Act—that they have to run their concern at a profit. Taking one year with another, they have to make their revenue meet their expenditure. Then the Commission are told they are to be hedged around with all sorts of conditions of this kind. If that is not what is meant, I see no reason for having a Ministerial power of veto. The Commission have to go to the Board and 122 say: "Can we take so many of our own assets?", or "May 'A e form this, that or the other company cud absorb the number of vehicles which the Bill allows us to have?" After that permission has been granted, the Minister could then say at once: "You can do nothing of the kind." I put the veto very high on the Committee stage: I put it that the Minister, if he so desired, could say," You cannot have any vehicles at all."
As we have been reminded so many times, what we are doing here is legislating. The present Minister may be a most reasonable man, but we are not legislating with regard to individual Ministers. We are legislating for the future, and we want to be certain that what is in this Bill is fair and equitable. I have put these Amendments down hoping that the noble Earl will see the sense of our case, as the Government have teen the sense of our case in regard to the last Amendment. It took us a long time to convince the Government on that other Amendment, but we succeeded at last; and I hope that the Government will be convinced on this one. After all, power has been given to the Commission to form companies. Why does the Bill then go and say that "in any case and on any ground" the Minister may say, "No you cannot"? That does not appear to me to be sensible. It does not appear to me to have the elements of common fairness. Why does the Bill give power to the Minister to say that to the Commission, a publicly-owned body which handles the taxpayers' money? It is a thing that you do not, and cannot, say to any other transport organisation in this country running in competition with the Commission. I hope the Government will see their way clear to accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 1, leave out ("if the Minister gives his consent").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, we had a very considerable discussion on this matter on the Committee stage, and I do not propose to speak very long now. Perhaps I may just explain how the situation is supposed to work. First, the Board has the business generally of arranging a fair distribution among transport units. It has to do that for all transport units. I think it is not intended that the Commission should collect all the "plunder" 123 into one unit and keep it because of the general obligation to get the best price. The Board has nothing to do with deciding which units are retained by the Commission. That is purely a matter for the consent of the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, suggests that the Minister should be cut right out of this and should have nothing to say upon the matter. I say, with respect, that the Minister does come into this. I think he is entitled to decide whether the Commission are to have a predominant position either in a certain area or, alternatively, in respect of a certain type of vehicle. I think that, in the circumstances, it is not unfair for the Minister to have that power. It might be, otherwise, that with regard to the use of one type of vehicle the situation would be completely dominated by the Commission's fleet. I think it is only fair that the noble Lord should bear in mind that this is a purely temporary power. It is all very well for him to talk about the Commission being "circumscribed." and being "hedged around," and that sort of thing: but this is purely a temporary power. Once the Commission are down to these figures, they are free to reorganise and develop, subject to licence, entirely as they like. There is no question of" circumscribing," "hedging around" or anything of that sort.
I should like for a moment to deal with the theoretical position that the Minister might refuse to allow the Commission to have any vehicles at all. Frankly, you cannot get away from that, even if you change the words around and say that they would have not less than five-fourths. The only answer would be to give a precise figure, and I suggest that to give a precise figure would be employing a rather rigid method. What the Bill says—and the Minister cannot get round it—is that:the Minister shall so exercise his powers…as to secure that—(i) the total weight unladen of the motor vehicles made over to companies … does not exceed five-fourths of the total weight unladen"—and so on. I really cannot think that the Minister would run right in the face of the obvious and clear intention of Parliament. I suggest that the Minister's powers are reasonable in the circumstances, and that the anxiety which the noble Lord has expressed is quite unfounded. There is nothing sinister about 124 this at all. It is quite straightforward and, I think, fair to all Parties. In the circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I moved an Amendment, and I have the right to reply. It is difficult to know just what one is entitled to do on Report stage.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Am I right in supposing that what the noble Earl says is that the Minister could say one day, "You must not do this; you must not do that"? Suppose that it were said that it was important to form one company to go into the contract "A" business—a contract hire business, say Whitbread's—and that the Commission thought the most profitable thing to do was to concentrate all their 4,000 vehicles; and suppose that they said to themselves," That will put the most money into the coffers of the Commission." Am I right in saying that the noble Earl's explanation means that the Minister could then say, "No, I do not think that is the right way. You cannot do that; you must spread it more," and yet the day after the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament the Commission are entirely free to do exactly what they want? If that is the case, it does not really add up to sense to put in the provision at all.
The noble Earl went on to say that, while the Commission are under the Minister's veto up to the time the Bill becomes an Act, after that they can go to a licensing authority, and if they can persuade the authority to grant a licence for vehicles they can throw to the four winds of heaven anything in this Bill, anything that regulates the number of vehicles which they are allowed to have and what they do with them when they have them. That is what I understand the noble Earl has just told me. If that is so, what in the name of goodness is the purpose of going into all this rigmarole 125 when it can be circumvented as easily as that? Of course, if the noble Earl likes to adorn the Bill with all these things, I have no objection, because they do not add up to anything at all. If what the noble Earl has told me is correct—and he has not contradicted me, so I assume I am right in that—then I willingly withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in proviso (i) to leave out "live-fourths" and substitute" seven-fourths." The noble Lord said: This is where we come to the most serious Amendment which we have in the Marshalled List and I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me if, in connection with this Amendment, I subject him to some rather heavy criticism. I trust it will be good-humored. This is an Amendment put down to rectify what I and my noble friends consider to be a gross injustice to the Commission. When I tried to move an Amendment to rectify it on the Committee stage, my figures and my arguments were distorted to such an extent as to mislead the House, because some of the things that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said, were absolutely untrue. I am not suggesting for one moment that he issued them knowing them to be untrue. He was badly briefed. I now hope to put the matter right.
§ What I seek to do is to give the Commission enough vehicles to allow them a fair chance, and only a fair chance, to start on their life in a decent manner. I would beg of you, my Lords, to consider what the Commission have to do, because whatever noble Lords say, the Commission are still a publicly-owned concern and they have shouldered public responsibilities. I know that by this Bill we are withdrawing any obligation imposed in the 1947 Act to provide this country with a proper system of transport; but while the British Transport Commission is in existence, it will always be held by the British public to be responsible for providing a proper transport system. All through the arguments that have gone on, when I wanted to increase the number of vehicles I have been charged with wanting to breach the principle of the Bill. I have never yet been told what that principle is. The Bill clearly lays it down that the British 126 Transport Commission shall be allowed to indulge in all forms of road haulage. That is a principle it admits. All I have tried to do is to increase the number of vehicles to carry out that purpose. In trying to do that t do not breach any principle at all.
All the way through the Bill, it has been insisted that the number of vehicles which the British Transport Commission are to be allowed to have should be based upon the number of vehicles which the British Transport Commission acquired from those companies engaged in road haulage for hire or reward whose share capital was wholly owned by the railways. That amounted to roughly 3,899 vehicles. They came over when the railways were nationalised and they were vehicles owned by Hays Wharf Cartage Company and its subsidiaries, and Carter Paterson and others whose whole capital was owned by the railways. This Bill does not deal in any way whatsoever with any other vehicles owned by the British Transport Commission; it does not deal in any way with any vehicles owned by the Railway Executive. The Bill, in Clause 1, says quite clearly
the British Transport Commission…to dispose…of so much of their undertaking as is at the passing of the Act carried on through the Road Haulage Executive.
The Road Haulage Executive have conducted the long-distance road haulage and all road haulage operations of the British Transport Commission.
§ On the Committee stage, when the noble Viscount was attempting to refute my argument, he said, "The British Transport Commission start off with 14,000 vehicles owned by the railway." But, my Lords, these 14,000 vehicles are "horse and cart" vehicles for local station delivery—not horses and carts literally, but of that type—and 7,000 of these 14,000are mechanical horses. Noble Lords will know what mechanical horses are: they are the little vehicles you see trundling about with trailers, attached to railway stations. The noble Viscount argued that the British Transport Commission can use 7,000 mechanical horses for carrying goods far hire or reward from London to Scotland.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I never said anything at all like that. I have my speech here and I am reading it again.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, col. 1158. The noble Viscount said:First of all, be it remembered that the Transport Commission is being left with all the railway collection and delivery vans which are operated by the Railway Executive. Now that is not just a few vehicles; that is no fewer than 14.000 vehicles. Therefore, observe that the Transport Commission start, as I may put it, 14,000 up.That is exactly what I have said. The noble Viscount goes on and adds the number by which I wish to increase the five-fourths. I had two alternate Amendments down on the Order Paper which I did not move. The noble Viscount calmly takes these and adds them all in, and presents that to your Lordships as his case—"He is asking for 50 per cent. of the 40,000 vehicles the Commission own at the present time." If that is not distortion and misrepresentation, then I do not know what it is.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am very glad that at last the noble Viscount has the grace to admit it. The only thing that has tempted him to do so is the fact that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is sitting next to him.
Having disposed of that fallacy, what does the Bill say? The Bill intends to increase the original number of vehicles expressed in unladen weight tonnage and the Commission will be allowed in future to have 25 per cent. more unladen weight tonnage than came to them from the haulage concerns owned by the railway companies. When, in another place, the Minister gave notice that there would be a five-fourths increase put into the Bill when in your Lordships' House, he said that this was to take care of the five years' natural growth that would have happened in any case, irrespective of nationalisation, and he promised to take into consideration over and above that the 4,000 horse-drawn vehicles that also came over in the same way from the railway companies. Of these 3,000 have been replaced by mechanised vehicles. So that a 25 per cent. increase of the 3,899 vehicles is to take care of five years' natural increase. 3,000 converted horse-drawn vehicles and 50 per cent. of Messrs. Curry's fleet of 500 vehicles, which were weed to the extent of 50 per cent. by the 128 railway companies. That 25 per cent. increase related as to vehicles from unladen weight tonnage is 1,000 vehicles bringing the total up from approximately 4,000 to again approximately 5,000 vehicles.
On Committee stage a noble Lord said that he could not follow me because I was arguing in numbers of vehicles, whereas the Bill says "unladen weight." Well, the five-fourths increase in the Bill will give the Commission an unladen weight tonnage of 17,200, which will take care of 4,875 vehicles at approximately the same average unladen weight. That is exactly five-fourths of the tonnage of vehicles the Commission owned on January 1, 1948. But a new technique has grown up in long-distance haulage since that date. Then the average unladen weight of these vehicles was 3½ tons, but since then many of these vehicles have been sold because the new technique of construction and economic operation on long-distance trunk haulage requires an 8-ton unladen weight vehicle. The Commission have gradually built up a fleet of these. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, if the Commission, as they admittedly can do (it was admitted this afternoon), were to concentrate on the long distance trunk routes, because they have been proved most successful and most profitable to all concerned, and concentrated all the tonnage allowed under the Bill on 8-ton vehicles, they would be allowed to have only 2,150 vehicles—or less than the number of vehicles they had when they started.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I am not sure that his figures are right. Under the head of heavy haulage, it is proposed under the Bill, as amended in Committee, that the number of vehicles should be 210, of an unladen weight of 2,500 tons.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I have not reached that point. I am not talking about the noble Lord's Amendment, but about the five-fourths of the total unladen weight of vehicles owned by the Commission on January, 1, 1948. I am not talking of any refinement proposed by the noble Lord. That is the overriding consideration: that the Commission shall be allowed to have five-fourths of the unladen weight of vehicles they had on January 1, 1948, 129 and that is 17,200 tons, or, expressed in vehicles, 4,875 vehicles, if they continued to use the same pattern of organisation and the same type of vehicle. As I have explained, if the Commission converted this tonnage to 8-ton vehicles, they would be allowed to have only 2,150, with an unladen weight of 17,200 tons. But let us say that the Commission would average their fleet out. If they average it out as between 3½-ton unladen weight and the 8-tonunladen weight, the average vehicle they would want to run in future, if they go on with their present pattern of development, would be somewhere about 6-ton unladen weight. If my Amendment is carried to increase the total to seven-fourths, instead of 17,200 tons unladen weight, they would then be allowed to have 24,000 tons unladen weight; and they would have 4,000 vehicles, with the new pattern they have developed now, which is exactly the same number of vehicle as the road haulage companies had in 1947.
So far as unladen weight is concerned, where the Bill really fails is that it bases a mathematical calculation on the type of fleet which came over from the railway companies in 1947, and it pays no regard to the fleet which the Commission have to-day, which has been developed along the lines I have indicated. I submit that the figure I am putting forward is a reasonable thing to ask for. I ask your Lordships not to follow this red herring of the Railway Executive's 14,000 vehicles—I have an inventory of them here: the 7,290 mechanical horses, and another 4,000 vehicles of under 3-ton unladen weight, with huge canopy vans. How can they be utilised for conducting a business of long-distance haulage, as the Commission has to do in future? The transport of the Commission as it will be operated in future will be entirely divorced from that operated by the Railway Executive.
The next Amendment standing in my name deals with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. I shall prove to your Lordships that Lord Teynham's suggestion, on investigation, will be found to be absolutely unworkable. But on this Amendment, I am asking for no larger number of vehicles than the exact number of vehicles they had. I am asking for that increased tonnage which will allow the Commission to run under a 130 pattern that has been developed, and which the needs of the transport system of this country, from the experience of the last five years, has made necessary. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 20, leave out ("five-fourths") and insert ("seven-fourths").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I do not think the House was in the least misled last time as to what were the facts. I have checked up, and I find that I was perfectly accurate in the statements I made to the Committee—and I am not surprised that I was, because I got them from the admirable Ministry which has supplied me with instructions. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the little mechanical horses. Your Lordships would imagine from that, unless you were familiar with the technical terms in the trade, that what he bad in mind was a sort of hobby-horse, with a small motor attached to it, the kind of thing that you might buy at Hamley's at Christmas time. It is not that at all. These mechanical horses (that may be a good name for them) are those motors which may be seen going about in all the large towns with a big trailer behind them. These vehicles, called mechanical horses, are used instead of 3-ton lorries because they are handy things to turn. But they are just as much a lorry or motor vehicle as is any delivery van or smaller type of lorry in this country. Therefore, I was absolutely accurate in saying that they were one of the things the Transport Commission enjoyed as an asset.
I never said that the Road Haulage Executive had them; I said that the Transport Commission had. We must not think of them as having nothing in the way of motor vehicles except what they are to get under this Bill. I said that we must not forget that they have the whole of those vehicles which were used for railway collection and delivery, perfectly described as motor vehicles, and accurately described in their number as 14,000. I then said that, as originally proposed in the White Paper, they were to have nothing else, because the idea was to hand over the whole of this business to private enterprise. I think we have improved upon that. We have said 131 that they ought to be able to come in, in proper company structure, and compete. But that does not mean, as I said last time, that they have got to start halfway down the course. I did take the noble Lord's Amendments on the Paper seriously. I apologise to him if I treated his Amendments seriously when I ought not to have done, but I thought that, as he put them on the Marshalled List, he meant me to treat them seriously.
I now take the Amendments which he has down to-day. If these Amendments were accepted, instead of having five-fourths, which is what the Committee agreed to last time, we should have seven-fourths. That, it is true, would give 6,825 vehicles and, I think, a total unladen weight of 24,000 tons, as against 4,875 vehicles, which was the number I accepted in the increase proposed by my noble friend Lord Teynham. We debated this matter at great length in Committee, and the Committee came to the conclusion that to give five-fourths was a reasonable thing to do, both to allow for the "breeding" (as I called it) which would have taken place in the number of vehicles which the old railway companies held, and also to make a replacement for the horses—not the mechanical horses, but the real horses that were covered by the number of lorries which we discussed at length last time. I will not go on, because I gather that we are to debate this point on another Amendment.
In addition to that, however, we agreed to the greater elasticity which was proposed by my noble friend Lord Teynham in allowing them not to take these vehicles in mathematical numbers in each of the three classes, but to permit a wider range of tolerance—a proposal which I may say is acceptable to the Commission. I do not mean to say that the Commission would not like to have as many vehicles as they could get. No doubt they would rather have 6,800than 4,800; no doubt they would rather have all the vehicles that are being disposed of under this Bill. But that is not the purpose of the Bill. So far as the distribution and the measure of tolerance not being workable are concerned, I am assured that both the Commission and the Ministry agree that it is entirely workable, and also an extremely acceptable variation and measure of tolerance. For 132 those reasons, I ask the House to stand by the arrangement made last time: that what we should do, in order to deal fairly with this matter, not to weight the scales in favour of the Commission but to give them what is the fair equivalent of the old railway companies position, plus some reasonable addition for developments which have taken place under the Executive structure, is to say that we were right in accepting Lord Teynham's Amendment and that we should be wrong to go further.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I must say that that is a very disappointing reply. The words provided in the Bill are "five-fourths." My noble friend Lord Lucas's Amendment is to substitute" seven-fourths." There was an obvious solution which I hoped would have been adopted, which would not by any means have been satisfactory but it would have been less completely unsatisfactory than the five-fourths proportion. I had hoped that the noble Viscount would have seen his way to "meet his adversary" and give us that little concession—it really is a very little concession. I hope that he has not altogether hardened his heart. There is a chance of doing something there, and if only the Minister were listening—of course, I do not know whether he is here or not—I feel quite certain that at this time of the evening he would be anxious to meet us and say, "Well, let us all leave this part of the Bill and call it six-fourths." I still hope. I never give up hope. I hope that those few words of mine may melt the stony-hearted Minister, if he is stony-hearted, or I am sure the very tender-hearted noble Viscount opposite. I must say that there is a very strong case for this increase.
I have said many times, in the old days, that there is no objection whatever to having a system of public enterprise competing with a system of private enterprise—and may the best man win! But I do want the system of public enterprise to be able to do what it has been doing with extreme efficiency. The Commission are now to be confined, broadly speaking, to transport on the main trunk lines. But we have had no evidence whatever throughout our discussions on this Bill that they have not done that job of work exceedingly well. I am aware that people who are doctrinaire, like your 133 Lordships on the other side of the House, think that private enterprise is the better system, but you have to explain away this very awkward fact that this system of public enterprise has worked with extreme efficiency. It is one of those awkward facts which comes in and which are so apt to upset theories which have been formed. Having listened to a very large part of this debate, and having read that which I have not heard, I think the only evidence we have had of any inefficiency in this work are the instances from Welwyn Garden City where, for some obscure reasons, something went astray.
It is the fact, as I told your Lordships, that the Road Haulage Executive have so worked their organisation that in many cases they are able to get 100 per cent. of return journeys—and the average, I believe, is 80 per cent. It is a vastly important factor in our crowded and congested roads that the vehicles which are travelling on those roads should be fully laden, so that the number of vehicles on the roads is reduced as far as may be. If you are going to return to a system of a vast amount of private enterprise, it is obvious, to my mind, that their chance of getting return loads is very much less. Consequently, there are likely to be very many more vehicles. Just look and see what you are doing. We had a discussion earlier, when the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, told me that the number of delivery vehicles run by these companies—Whitbread's and the like—was of the order of 4,500.
I should not like to say definitely that they are all delivery, but they are all on contract.
§ EARL JOWITT
Anyhow, that sort of figure. Be it 2,000, it is enough for my purpose. So far as I know, these vehicles have been run with complete efficiency. I do not know that any of these distinguished firms, Whitbread or Lyons, have complained about the service they have received. I have never heard of such a case. What is the point of making the Commission sell those vehicles? You get into all sorts of trouble fixing up new contracts with these people. I take it that if you are going to give the Commission only some 4,700 vehicles in all, they will presumably have to dispose of them. Who benefits by that? Why not let them keep all those vehicles? What I want 134 them to do is to be able to keep on with their service—of course in competition, and not as a monopoly—on the main trunk routes, and to have enough vehicles to do that. That is the important thing. I see no point whatever in making them sell those contract service vehicles; but for some reason or other the Bill is going to make them do that. At any rate, give them enough vehicles to run the trunk services efficiently, but not as a monopoly. It has been very efficiently run. Traders, chambers of commerce and, I believe, the Federation of British Industries, have themselves indicated quite plainly that it has been a very efficient service, although being busy with this doctrinaire theory they would prefer to hand it over to private enterprise.
Take the fact that it has been an efficient service. Why disrupt it? Why confine it? Why crib it to such an extent that it can no longer work efficiently? I believe that if this Amendment were accepted, it would just make the difference. If the Commission were then to strip themselves bare and, for some obscure reason, get rid of all their contract service vehicles and confine themselves to the main trunk routes, they might just have enough vehicles to be able to make a show at it. If private enterprise comes in and cuts them out of business, well good luck!—that is perfectly fair. But why make them fight this battle with their hands tied behind their back? Why give them what you know is too few vehicles? Why give them deliberately too few vehicles to carry out the service which, admittedly, they have worked with extreme efficiency? That is what this Bill does. I do beg that if I cannot get the Amendment I should like—namely, the seven-fourths, which is very reasonable—at any rate your Lordships will extend this concession to us and meet us at the halfway house—namely, at six-fourths.
My Lords, I feel that I must comment on one or two points which have been raised by the noble and learned Earl. He has told us that the Road Haulage Executive long-distance work has been run with approved efficiency. I must take exception to that statement. A number of examples have been put forward in your Lordships' House proving that a number of their services were inefficient. In fact, I myself 135 suggested that the whole set-up was wrong. They arranged their set-up into geographical areas, and there have been numbers of cases of consignments being lost from one area to the other. It is quite improper to say that it is run as an efficient service.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, as there is no further reply coming from the Government, I think it behoves me to say two things. First of all, I am very disappointed. No doubt it is the Government's idea of fair competition to weaken the competition, as my noble and learned friend said. The ultimate result of what your Lordships are going to do now is to put 82,000 "A" licence private enterprise vehicles against 4,870 vehicles, those 4,870 vehicles operated by the British Transport Commision having, if I may use the metaphor in this sense, both hands tied behind their back. What do the Government want to do? They do not want a fair field and no favour. They do not want to see, as the Minister has said so many times, "A fair field, and let the best man win!" What they want to do is to weaken every service that the British Transport Commission are giving and make it a prey to the rapacious. If that is the Government's idea of "fair play and fair competition" I have a different word for it. The noble Viscount said—I hope he will correct me if I am quoting him wrongly—that they could run their services and would be quite satisfied—
§ *See Cols. 193–4 and 237–8.136
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
What I said was this. It was said that the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, giving the 5 per cent. more tolerance in the three classes, was unworkable. I said that it was wholly workable, and that both the Commission and the Ministry were satisfied. I never said that the Commission were satisfied with the number of vehicles they would get.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Then the noble Viscount was discussing, an Amendment to which we are not addressing ourselves. That is an Amendment with which I am going to deal when the time comes. I understood that we were talking about the five-fourths, as opposed to the seven-fourths. The Commission have told me that it will be impossible for them to operate under this five-fourths proportion, and they are at the present time engaging the Minister in serious conversations about it. So, if there is any suggestion in any quarter that it is entirely satisfactory, let that go out on the record as a direct contradiction. In view of the unsatisfactory answer I have been given I must say this as a final word. I am sorry that the noble Viscount appeared to think my Amendments were not to be treated seriously. These are not my Amendments; they are down in my name as a matter of form only. They are Amendments on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition; and perhaps the noble Viscount will take it that they are to be treated seriously on every occasion and are not to be regarded as a source of ridicule. I am now going to ask your Lordships to divide on this Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: * Contents, 22; Not-contents, 54.137
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Crook, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Jowitt, E.||Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.]||Pakenham, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Kershaw, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Lawson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Uvedale of North End, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.) [Teller.]||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Winster, L.|
|Noel-Buxton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Davidson, V.||Gifford, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. President.)||Furness, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Harcourt, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Long, V.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Swinton, V.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Leconfield, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Baden-Powell, L.||Llewellin, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Brassey of Apethorpe, L.||Mancroft, L. [Teller.]|
|Munster, E.||Braye, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Carrington, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Cawley, L.||Rea, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Cherwell, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Derwent, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Digby, L.||Schuster, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E.||Ellen borough, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Teynham L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Freyberg, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 7.24 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1), to leave out the whole of proviso (ii). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment seeks to exclude from the Bill the substance of what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has just mentioned. It was put in through an Amendment which the noble Lord moved on the Committee stage. It seeks to split the five-fourths number of vehicles which the Commission are allowed to retain into three categories, none of these categories being allowed to have more than a certain number of vehicles. I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, will not get annoyed with me when I tell him that, when I heard him on the Committee stage—I now quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT (Vol. 180, col. 1168) of March 10—in accepting the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, say:
Before I accepted this Amendment I ascertained that it is not only administratively quite possible but extremely acceptable to the Transport Commission,
and when I saw that in cold hard print, I just could not understand it. Accordingly, I inquired whether that was so, because I could not myself see how it would work. The information I had from the British Transport Commission was that they were absolutely dissatisfied with it and it was not possible to make it work. So there is a conflict of evidence.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If the noble Lord says that they would rather go back to what was in the Bill before, which is entirely contrary to my instructions, I am prepared to withdraw the concession I made.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not know what they would prefer to do. All I know is that their reply was that this is absolutely unworkable: and, if you look at it, of course it is. What are you saying? You are saying to the British Transport Commission: "You can have these vehicles but they have to be in certain categories. They have to be specialised traffics." They are detailed here:(a) vehicles (whether motor vehicles or trailers) specially constructed to carry abnormal indivisible loads;That is one category. The next category is:(b) motor vehicles (of whatever character) which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be regarded as special vehicles constructed for special purposes other toan the carriage of abnormal indivisible loads.The third category is:(c) other motor vehicles.So what will happen? You will get a specified number of furniture vans and other vehicles in one category; you will get tippers in another category and you will gat general haulage vehicles in yet another. What is going to happen if the British Transport Commission try to carry on their business like that? If they get more work for one category than they can handle with the vehicles they are allowed to have, they will have either 139 to refuse the business or use vehicles of another category to deal with it. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, when he moved this Amendment, envisaged what would happen in the case of tippers—sand and ballast tippers. If the Commission get more sand and ballast business than they can handle with their tippers, does the noble Lord really think that they will use furniture vans to carry sand and ballast in?
The noble Lord must not forget that, if the Commission want to have any more vehicles in a particular category, they can go to the licensing authority and get a licence.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
That is just what I hoped the noble Lord would say, because it simply boils itself down to this: Why waste time putting this subsection into the Bill? Because, the day after the Bill becomes an Act, the British Transport Commission can, as the noble Lord quite rightly says, go and get any vehicles that they can persuade the licensing authority to give them.
It is quite wrong to say that they can persuade the licensing authority. The licensing authority would judge the case on its merits.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
If they can say: "We have far too much work for our sand and ballast vehicles and our only alternative is to use furniture vans for it," then surely the licensing authority will say: "All right. If you can prove the need for them, we will give you licences." Is not that what will happen?
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
Unless the licensing authority find that there are enough private enterprise vehicles in that category to justify the refusal of the licence.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
All right; that is exactly what I have said. I know what I am arguing about. I have 140 Said "if they can prove the need for them" If they do that, there are not enough private enterprise vehicles to serve the people who want the sand and ballast carted. If there is a shortage of sand and ballast vehicles, the Commission can get them. In other words, I do not know why you are "freezing" this. This is exactly the same argument as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I had on a previous Amendment about the Minister vetoing the development of the Commission in forming companies "on any grounds and in any case". But it was admitted by the noble Earl the day afterwards that there was no restriction upon the Commission at all and that this was only an artificial restriction.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Of course there is a tremendous difference between the special "A" licence granted under the First Schedule and going to the Commission and asking for a new licence, and the noble Lord should not confuse the two.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am not confusing the matter at all. Really this proviso is hardly worth putting in the Bill and I ask you to take it out, because I do not think it will work. I cannot see the object of it. Perhaps the object is to prevent the Commission—and this can be the only object—from concentrating its efforts in one direction. I suspect—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, will be good enough to tell me whether or not I am right—that one of the most successful divisions operated by the Road Haulage Executive to-day is the special traffics division built up on the Pickford's organisation. It is reputed—I do not know how true it is—to be a very big profit-earner. Perhaps the noble Lord is thinking that the Commission might plump for that one particular division, and go 100 per cent. for it, and that this proviso would effectively prevent them. But I should think the British Transport Commission would have far too high a view of its responsibilities. I should think it would have, as it has always had, a mixed bag where it could have one. I should think that if the Commission plumped for anything—I am not on the Commission but if I was the chairman of the Commission this is what I should do—it would plump for general road 141 haulage. That would be about the best thing for it to do. I put this Amendment down in order that I might say what I have said, and I will, of course with courtesy, listen to the Government's reply; but I frankly do not think this division will work and I do not think it is really worth putting into the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 26, leave out from ("Commission") to end of line 42.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I am very much surprised that the Commission has apparently instructed the noble Lord that this will not work. I was much impressed that they should have instructed the noble Lord and not the Minister of Transport or, at any rate, that they should not have included the Minister of Transport among those to whom they gave the information. Therefore I made it my business to inquire, and I was informed authoritatively by the Minister that on no occasion has the Transport Commission made any representation to him, or given any information to him, that this division into categories will not work. I should have thought that if they had to make a representation of that kind—and observe that the division into categories has been either in terms or by implication in the Bill or in the scheme from the very start—it was odd that the representation should not have been made to the Minister of Transport, to whom, after all, the Commission is responsible, so far as it is responsible to anybody under the present system.
Now, if I were to accept the noble Lord's Amendment, it would remove any limitation on the Commission's freedom of choice. I understand, of course, why the noble Lord wants to give them complete freedom of choice. It is because he wishes the Commission to retain a complete monopoly in certain types of service. But that is exactly what it is the purpose and the intention of this Bill to frustrate and defeat. The noble Lord said he accepted the principle of the Bill; but he cannot accept the principle of the Bill and move this Amendment, because the principle of the Bill is to remove monopoly and the purpose of this Amendment is to restore it. If I were to accept this Amendment it would enable the Commission to maintain something very 142 near a complete monopoly, but certainly an absolutely preponderating position in particular classes of traffic, such as heavy haulage.
Now, the Amendment which I accepted from Lord Teynham gives to the Commission a wide latitude in choice between the different kinds of vehicle, and I am sure it is acceptable to the Commission, though not as acceptable as having a complete monopoly. But, of course, if the Commission would rather not have these concessions which have been made to them by the Ministry, it is perfectly simple to withdraw them on Third Reading. I should be very much surprised if the Commission asked for any such thing. In fact, the Bill as it stands now, with the extra concessions of five-fourths, plus the wider measure: of tolerance which I accepted on Lord Teynham's Motion, would mean this sort of thing: that in heavy haulage the Commission would be able to maintain 210 vehicles compared with 164 owned by the companies in January, 1948; in special vehicles (that is a term which is, I understand, well known, covering tank wagons, insulated vans, timber wagons and so on) under the new concessions which have been given in the Bill, the Commission will be able to retain 1,630 of those vehicles as compared with 1,257 in the companies in 1948. And then I am told that these concessions which, made one after another, put the Commission in a better position, are worthless. Well, they are worth exactly that. What I will not do, my Lords, is destroy the main purpose of this Bill and restore by this Amendment that monopoly position of which this Bill seeks to deprive the Commission.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (EARL DE LA WARR) moved, in subsection (2), to leave out from "show" down to and including "activity," and to insert:
the financial results of the activities of the company.
§ The noble Earl said: This is an Amendment to a subsection that the noble Lord attempted to remove from the Bill on Committee stage. The Government were unable to meet him for this reason, if for no other: that it is important to ensure the efficiency of the running of each separate company by having as close 143 financial particulars as possible available. The noble Lord raised the point that he thought we were really asking for too many particulars, to the extent that we should actually embarrass the Commission if they had to publish figures that would be of use to their rivals, and so on. Her Majesty's Government have considered that point and have certainly come to the conclusion that there is something in it. Therefore, as a sign of the usual generosity of the Government, we have put down this Amendment to meet the point made by the noble Lord. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 3, leave out from ("show") to ("and") in line 4 and insert the said new words.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I should like to thank him for the trouble he has taken over this matter. Right through this Bill, in all the tasks he has had and in all our discussions, his attitude has been most conciliatory and helpful. I am grateful to him because this meets our point, at least so far as we can hope.
§ Clause 5:
§ Transfer of property to companies with a view to the sale of their shares
§ 5.—(1) If it appears to the Commission that it is expedient that any property held by them for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking should, instead of being disposed of under section three or section four of this Act, be disposed of under this section and that such disposal will not prejudice the purposes to which the Commission are to have regard under subsection (3) of the said section three, they may make over that property, together with any such rights or obligations of theirs as in their opinion can conveniently be made over therewith, to a company under their control in the shares of which no other person than they themselves have any beneficial interest, with a view to the subsequent sale of the shares of the company:
§ Provided that the Commission shall not exercise their powers under this subsection without the approval of the Board.
§ (2) Where any property is made over to a company under subsection (1) of this section it shall be made over at a price equal to the net value thereof as shown in the books of the Commission (but adjusted so as to take into account depreciation up to the time of the making over therof so far as not already taken into account), increased by the value, if any, as so shown, of any rights of the Commission made over therewith, and decreased by the 144 value, if any, as so shown, of any liabilities of the Commission made over therewith.
§ In this subsection "net value" means value after deducting depreciation, and the references to values shown in the books of the Commission are references to values so shown after making, if the Commission, in keeping their books for any year falling wholly or partly after the passing of this Act, depart to any substantial extent from the principles and practice applied by them for the years falling before the passing of this Act, all adjustments which are necessary to produce the result which would have been produced but for the departure.
§ (6) If any difference arises between the Commission and the Board under this section, the Commission or the Board may refer the matter to the Minister and the Minister shall give such directions as he thinks fit and any directions so given by him shall be binding on the Commission and the Board.
§ 7.41 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved, in subsection (1), to add to the proviso:
and the Board shall not give their approval unless it appears to them that the proposed course of action is expedient and will not prejudice the purposes to which the Commission are to have regard as aforesaid.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Swinton, I beg to move this Amendment, which also arises out of the Committee stage. I would refer your Lordships particularly to the words in the OFFICIAL REPORT of March 10, at column 1202, where the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in dealing with the "companies clause." said:
I do not think that it is stated that what we want to do is to get the best possible price.
To all intents and purposes, this Amendment incorporates that principle. The purposes which are referred to in the subsection are the purposes shown in Clause 3 (3), the last words of which are:
the existing road haulage undertaking fetches in the aggregate the best possible price.
Accordingly, I think we have met fully the point which was raised by the noble and learned Earl. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 28, at end insert the said words.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation, because, when I read the Amendment, I was a little worried.
145 At the beginning of Clause 5 I saw the words:If it appears to the Commission that it is expedient.Then, when I saw at the endand the Board shall not give their approval unless it appears to them that the proposed course of action is expedient.…I thought perhaps e had gone full circle. I could not quite make out why the word "expedient" was used twice. So puzzled was I that I looked in the Oxford English Dictionary to see what was the hidden meaning of "expedient," and I discovered that it meant "politic rather than just." When I saw that, my apprehension was increased, and I thought the, noble Earl was trying to do exactly the opposite to what he says he is doing. I am prepared to accept what the noble Earl says, and to thank him very much for meeting the point.
§ 7.46 p.m.
VISCOUNT SWINTON had given notice of two Amendments to subsection (2), the first being, in the second paragraph, to leave out "keeping their books for any year falling wholly or partly after the passing of this Act" and to insert:
making up their books for the year nineteen hundred and fifty-two or any subsequent year.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am afraid I have to trouble the House with a new matter, and one of some substance. I would ask leave to discuss this Amendment and the next with Paragraph 2 (g) of the proposed Third Schedule, which appears as Amendment No. 66 on the Marshalled List. Your Lordships will see that sub-paragraph (g), is a new matter, whilst much of the rest is reproduction. Sub-paragraph (g) refers to
two million pounds (in respect of assets forming part of the property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking the cost of which has beep charged by the Commission to revenue).
As this is a new point I must give the House a fairly full explanation.
§ The wording which I have just read out proposes to credit the Commission with an additional sum of £2 million, the justification for which arises as follows. Whereas the vehicles and certain other assets stand in the books of the Commission as capital assets, and are charged on their book value, the Commission have purchased out of revenue tyres, tarpaulins, 146 ropes, chains and loose tools which are charged to revenue and not to capital; and in the aggregate these items come to quite a large sum. The greater part of these items will be sold, and the Commission will retain only a reasonable proportion having regard to the number of vehicles which they will retain. As these items will be sold and will increase the purchase price of the units or of companies, it is fair that they should appear, so to speak, on both sides of the account. They do, in fact, increase the value of what the Commission are selling, just as they will also increase the total purchase price which will be realised. Naturally, I have inquired why this new element has to be introduced at this late stage. The explanation is that, in taking the value of the assets which have been included in the Schedule, the Ministry naturally confined themselves to capital assets, as shown in the books of the Commission. The Commission have now represented to the Ministry that ifthey—that is, the Commission—had contemplated that the Road Haulage Executive would have a comparatively short life they would not have charged these items entirely to revenue but would have charged them, or a good proportion of them, to capital, subject to depreciation.
§ The Minister is satisfied, and so equally am I and I think your Lordships also will be satisfied on these facts, that this is a reasonable claim. Moreover, it would have been competent for the Commission to change their accounting practice and to adjust their accounts by transferring all or part of the unexpired value of these items from revenue to capital. I am sure all your Lordships will agree that it is much more satisfactory to deal with this on the reality of the situation as it has been found to exist, and to state plainly in the Bill what is being paid, rather than to allow the Commission to deal with it by an adjustment in their accounts after the Bill is passed. In all the circumstances, the Minister is satisfied that it is fair to allow the Commission an additional sum of £2 million in respect of the value of the items which have been charged to revenue in this way, and which will be inducted in the sales. In order to do this in this clear manner the small Amendments which appear on the Marshalled List—Amendments Nos. 25 and 26—are really consequential on 147 the main operative part of this proposal, which, as I have pointed out, is to be found in the new Schedule under Paragraph 2 (g) and also in certain concluding words of the Schedule as it now stands as an Amendment.
§ I have thought it right to take the earliest possible opportunity I could to explain the situation to the House. I hope that I have done so clearly and fully. I am sure the House will agree not only that it is right that I should do that but that, if we are to deal with this matter—as I am sure we ought to do—we should deal with it absolutely clearly in the Bill in the way now proposed. Having given that full explanation, and with apologies to your Lordships—though it was no fault of mine, nor of the Minister's, that this should appear at this stage—may I add that I am sure this is the right thing to do? It puts the matter plainly on each side of the account. I am certain that it is a clear and simple way of doing the right thing, and I beg to move.
Page 8, line 41, leave out from ("in") to ("depart") in line 42, and insert the said words.—(Viscount Swinton.)
Page 8, line 44, leave out ("passing of this Act") and insert ("year nineteen hundred and fifty-two").—(Viscount Swinton.)
§ 7.53 p.m.
VISCOUNT SWINTON moved to add to subsection (6):
Where Scotland is affected, the Minister shall consult the Secretary of State for Scotland before giving any directions under this subsection.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is an Amendment at page 9, line 33. I am sure that it is most appropriate that the Minister should consult the Secretary of State for Scotland. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 3, at end insert the said words.—(Viscount Swinton.)
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, on behalf of my Scottish colleagues, I beg to thank the noble Viscount for moving this Amendment.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am not quite so grateful as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, though I have no objection at all to the Amendment which the noble Viscount is proposing to make. Indeed, I should like to see Scotland consulted in every possible way, and the Amendment, therefore, has my full support. But there is a very serious absence from this Bill, and that is the absence of any mention of Wales. I want to know why a similar provision is not included in the Bill to ensure that the Minister shall consult with the Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs. Why not consult Lord Lloyd—who is the Under-Secretary—if necessary, though, of course, the Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs is the appropriate Minister and is roughly the equivalent of the Secretary of State for Scotland?
I hope I shall have the support of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in this, just as I have supported him. The Conservatives have just put out in Wales a pamphlet addressed to the Welsh people, in which they set out how much they have done for Wales since they have been in office, and, in particular, how much the Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, has done. The propaganda of the Government Party is to the effect that they are doing everything they can for Wales. How embarrassing it will be for Sir David Maxwell Fyfe if on every occasion when he speaks in the future he has to make an exception in regard to transport. Every time he speaks at a rotary club—and he speaks somewhere in Wales practically every weekend; I give him full marks for that—he will have to make that exception. Every time he speaks at some Grand Habitation or other branch of the Primrose League, or at some club of which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, is President, or at some smoking concert or Conservative meeting, or whatever it may be, he will have to say: "I am consulted by the Government on everything except transport." That will be a very embarrassing position for him. So, for his sake—apart from the sake of Wales—I suggest that the Government should consider consulting Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, and 149 putting a provision to that effect in the Bill.
Earlier on, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred to me in what was not intended to be a complimentary sense at all as being "full of Welsh eloquence" and a "Rupert of debate." Earlier still. the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, talked of Doctor Livingstone and compared this Bill, quite rightly, with Darkest Africa.
§ LORD OGMORE
Well, I can see no point in it if that was not, his reason for mentioning Stanley and Livingstone. If it was meant to be comparing like with like, it must have been a comparison of this Bill with Darkest Africa. Otherwise, there is no point in the reference to Doctor Livingstone. If we are going to take analogies in this debate, historical or fictional, I should like to make one also. I should like to say to the noble Viscount and his colleagues that they are, in this Bill, treating Wales rather like a famous Yorkshire schoolmaster, Mr. Wackford Squeers., treated the boys of Dotheboys Hall—namely, with discouragement, disparagement and neglect. Wales is just as much a nation as Scotland, and is equally entitled as Scotland to be consulted in all matters relating to national affairs. I am informed by my noble friend Lord Lucas that there is no transport reason at all in this Bill why Scotland should be in and Wales should be out. I repeat what I have already said, that I do not object to Scotland being in; I welcome it. But in this case and, again, as your Lordships will see, in Amendment 56, Scotland is in and Wales is out. Therefore I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that in order to rectify this glaring injustice to Wales both of these Celtic countries should be in the Bill.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, I should like to tender my thanks also to the noble Viscount for moving this Amendment. Its effect will be that Scottish affairs will have special consideration in matters to which this clause relates. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord opposite who has just sat down, and it has confirmed my view that noble Lords 150 opposite and their colleagues are very angry indeed because they did not think first of having a special Minister for Wales. They cannot get away from the fact that the position of Wiles, both geographically and otherwise, is very different from that of Scotland. Scotland is much further away for one thing. Edinburgh, the capital, is four hundred miles from London. Wales is much closer. Scotland is also a much bigger country and a large part of it is very far away indeed. North Scotland is as far from London as is Berlin—over 600 miles. I do not think that anyone looking at this thing objectively can put the administrative position of Wales in exactly the same place as that of Scotland.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
All this Amendment is doing is to say that the Secretary of State for Scotland shall be consulted about the transfer of property in companies with a view to a sale of shares; it has nothing to do with geographical position.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
I was following in the steps of the noble Lord's colleague, but if I am not in order I will not go on any longer. But I think there are several considerations concerning Scotland which should be met, and do not think the same considerations apply to Wales.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Swinton, I beg to move this Amendment, the purpose of which is to bring vehicles in this clause under both Part I and Part II of the First Schedule.
Page 10, line 16, leave out ("Part I of").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
Page l0, line 27, leave out from ("said") to the end of the line and insert ("First Schedule to transport units, to purchasers of transport units and to motor vehicles sold as or as part")—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ Clause 6:
§ Disposal of property otherwise than in transport units
§ (2) The Minister may give directions to the Commission, as respects any property held by them for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking, requiring them to dispose of that property otherwise than as or as part of a transport unit, and the Commission shall comply with any such directions.
§ 8.3 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (2), at the commencement of the subsection to insert:
Without prejudice to the preceding provisions of this Act.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Amendment to see whether we could overcome the difficulty which was illustrated on Committee stage concerning the position of the Minister in giving directions, and I am hopeful that the noble Earl will be able to accept it. I do not want to go over all the argument again, but the subsection states that the Minister may give directions to the Commission as to any property held by them for the purpose of a road haulage undertaking, requiring them to dispose of that property otherwise than as or as part of a transport unit, and the Commission shall comply with any such direction. The power, we felt, was far too wide, and something which we considered should not be granted to the Minister. We thought that by inserting these new words it would confine the Minister's power to what I believe, according to the noble Earl's explanation last time, is really intended. We regard the words as an essential safeguard, and I hope they will be accepted. I beg to move.
Page 12, line 18, after ("(2)") insert ("without prejudice to the preceding provisions of this Act").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his brevity in moving the Amendment. I realise the point he has in mind: the fear, to put it exaggeratedly, that the Minister will omit the whole of this Bill from Clause 1, subsection (1) until the beginning of Clause (6), subsection (2), and will dispose of the whole of the roal haulage assets under Clause6 (2). The position needs only to be stated to see how absurd 152 such ideas necessarily are. The Minister has presented these clauses quite clearly with the object of trying to get the best price. He has set up the Disposal Board to advise the Commission as to how to get the best price. I wonder whether the words "Without prejudice to the preceding provisions" would have any particular effect. Supposing it did prejudice the preceding provisions, what would happen? Are we to have a series of court actions in which the Minister is being charged with a breach of previous provisions of this Act? I do not think it would get us very far. All I suggest is that the words would be rather uncertain in their effect. The Commission have to dispose of a road haulage undertaking. Suppose that the Commission, charged with this duty, refuse to do so—I am not suggesting that they would, but suppose that they did. Are we really to leave the Minister completely powerless to carry out the will of Parliament?
This is a practical position. I have already, in the Committee stage, emphasised that there will be a number of final disposals which will take place. There are one or two things which will take place, probably, before the final disposal and I should like to mention the sort of thing which might happen. Suppose, for instance, that we are in some area where the Commission had formerly a large repair depôt and the private hauliers who bought from the Commission had no reasonable repair facilities at all. The question might arise as to whether the Minister should use his power fairly early on to make the Commission dispose of such repair depôt—and for this reason: that by the Act of 1947 the Commission cannot do repairs for other people. Therefore, the central repair depôt, in some areas, might be quite valueless unless disposed of to someone else. I say deliberately that an early use of powers under Clause 6 (2) would be acceptable. The real purpose is finally to dispose of the assets. I should add, of course, that the directions will be to the Commission and will be recorded so that everyone knows them.
I admit that the powers here are fairly wide, but may I ask your Lordships to look at Section 2 (7) of the 1947 Act and the powers given to the Commission? I say, with respect, that the powers given 153 there are far wider than those given to the Minister in this case. As the noble Lord knows, the Minister can be asked questions, not only in this House but in the other House, and the chance of his misusing his powers are very slight. But the Minister must have these powers as they stand: he has a heavy responsibility. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord will withdraw this Amendment I recognise what he feels, but in the circumstances I feel there is no need for anxiety about the Minister misusing any of these powers.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Give and take is a very good thing. The noble Earl has been very conciliatory to me to-day and I reciprocate. I withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved to leave out subsection (4) and insert:
§ "(4) Any land or interest in land which—
- (a) is property held by the Commission for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking; and
- (b) immediately before the date of the transfer, as defined in Part II of the Transport Act, 1947, was property of any of the bodies specified in the Third Schedule to that Act; and
- (c) on the said date of transfer, vested in the Commission under the said Part II,
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment is moved especially to meet the point of criticism raised by the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, who I am sorry to see is not here. I want to be quite frank. We thought the original draft was satisfactory but in our anxiety to meet a reasonable point we have put in an entirely new draft. It is a little more complicated to read, but it is fair to emphasise that we have taken out altogether the Minister's consent. The Commission think this particular draft satisfactory, and I hope that it will be agreeable to the House.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Earl. May I thank him on behalf of my Leader? We shall get on very well 154 like this. It might be a very good Bill by the time we have finished.
§ 8.10 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (5) to leave out "section" and insert "Act." The noble Lord said: This is where I try to help the noble Earl. This subsection appears to be either false drafting or a bit of untidy drafting. It states:
(5) Save as provided by the preceding provisions of this section, the Commission shall not dispose of any property held by them for the purposes of the existing road haulage undertaking otherwise than as or as part of a transport unit:
Provided that nothing in this subsection shall prevent the Commission consuming or disposing of any such property in the ordinary course of the carrying on of the existing road haulage undertaking.
But we have put in a new Clause 5, which enables us to dispose of any property in a company. Surely when that new clause was put in this subsection should have been altered, and I Suggest to the noble Earl that it would be a tidier piece of drafting if he agreed to this Amendment and to the following Amendment on line 4. The subsection would then read:
Save as provided by the preceding provisions of this Act, the Commission shall not dispose of any property held by them for the purposes of existing road haulage undertaking otherwise than in the ordinary course of the carrying on of the existing road haulage undertaking.
I think the noble Earl sees my point. I put this Amendment forward to help him and I think it is necessary. I beg to move.
Page 13, line 1, leave out ("section") and insert ("Act").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right. I confess this is a matter of a little complexity. He will see that the same point was omitted in subsection (10) of Clause 5, which says:(10) Any property made over to a company under subsection (1) of this section shall be deemed for the purposes of section six of this Act to have been disposed of as or as part of a transport unit, but if, after any property has been so made over.…I am not prepared to give an opinion about whether the noble Lord's drafting is better than that of the Bill, but I am 155 told it has absolutely no effect. The meaning would be identical. The draftsmen, perhaps with a prejudice for their own drafting, consider it is unnecessary. Frankly, if I were to give the noble Lord his point it would make no difference to the Bill, and that would be an empty gift. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the point, and if he would not press the Amendment, I should be grateful.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I shall not press the Amendment, but I should like the noble Earl to go into the matter again, because I do not think he is right. While he is right in regard to the companies which will come under the ownership of the Commission. I would point out that there are two kinds of companies—companies that will be under the ownership of the Commission and companies formed for the express purpose of sale. I am not going to press the noble Earl now, but I am sure he would not like this delightful Bill to go out with this sordid blemish and I hope he will look at it again. In the meantime, by leave of the House, I will withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, Viscount Swinton, I beg to move this Amendment. We try here to avoid putting an obligation on the Commission to transfer or sell bank balances and cash.
Page 13, line 8, at end add ("and nothing in this subsection shall apply to any such property being money or a claim for a debt or other monetary claim.")—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved, in subsection (3) (b), after "including" to insert:
to such extent as may in all the circumstances appear proper.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment meets a point raised on Committee stage in regard to certain new provisions affecting the granting of licences of road haulage vehicles, in regard to the emphasis which should be placed on charges. I gave an undertaking to look at the point to see whether
it was desirable to make any alteration and the paragraph as amended will provide that:
in considering whether existing transport facilities are to be treated as suitable, the licensing authority shall have regard to the relative efficiency, reliability and adequacy of the existing facilities at the date of the application and the facilities which the applicant will provide if his application is granted, and to all other relevant considerations, including to such extent as may in all the circumstances appear proper the charges made and to be made in respect of those facilities respectively.
The effect of that is to modify the position of charges, although it remains an important element which the licensing authority have to bear in mind. Where it is relevant, it will apply, but it does not necessarily mean that those making the lowest charges will always be granted a licence. I hope that this Amendment meets substantially the point raised by noble Lords behind me. I beg to move.
Page 16, line 3, after ("including") insert ("to such extent as may in all the circumstances appear proper").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
My Lords. I am grateful to the Government for putting down this Amendment, which I think goes a long way to meet a number of points which I raised during Committee stage.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved, after Clause 9 to insert the following clause:
Abrogation of rights of Commission and companies controlled by them under covenants etc. against carrying on road haulage business
.Any right which the Commission or any company under the direct or indirect control of the Commission has at the passing of this Act by virtue of any covenant or agreement theretofore entered into in connection with the sale of an undertaking or a part of an undertaking or of shares in a company to restrain any other person from carrying on or taking part in carrying on business consisting wholly or partly in the carriage of goods by road in Great Britain or in any part of Great Britain shall, on the passing of this Act, cease to be exercisable.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, when the Commission took over certain undertakings there were agreements that those from whom they took over should not enter into the road haulage business. There were various covenants of that 157 character. The circumstances which prevailed at that time made it rather difficult to say that those covenants were entered into entirely voluntarily. We feel that at the present time it is in the public interest that restrictive covenants of that character should not be valid. Accordingly we move this new clause to the effect that such covenants will not have effect and will leave people free to enter into the business of road hauliers if they should feel so inclined. I beg to move.
After Clause 9, insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I should like a further explanation of this clause, but I shall give the noble Earl a little opportunity to read the document that has just been handed to him. Suppose a company had been taken over, not in whole but in part, and there has been left some part of their undertaking. They accept a price, but there is also imposed upon the company an onerous undertaking. It would seem to me to be wrong simply to give that back to the company, to wash out the undertaking and not exact a higher price. What we are dealing with here is the taxpayer's money. If this corn-party has got £xfor its undertaking, and has had to submit to an onerous undertaking, if it had not to submit to that onerous undertaking it would have got £x plus £y. It seems to me rather lopsided to wash out the undertaking without at the same time saying to the company: "You gave that undertaking and that is what reduced the purchase price you got; otherwise the purchase price would have been different." Does the noble Earl follow what I mean?
§ EARL JOWITT
Ought there not to be some consideration of that aspect of the matter? We are dealing with the taxpayer's money, and it seems that the taxpayer is getting stung both ways.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I appreciate the point, and it has been clearly before my right honourable friend the Minister. In the whole circumstances, the amount which that would come to is not considered to be very great.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The noble and learned Earl talks about an onerous contract which was necessarily refused on that account. When this Act was passed, the value of that consideration was fairly small, and in all the circumstances is not believed to have entered greatly into the price—certainly not in regard to compulsory acquisition, and not a great deal into voluntary acquisition In those circumstances, it is not considered sufficiently important to make any special provision for it, bearing in mind all the other considerations. If this is the way we are to run transport, we are convinced that it would be wrong to exclude people who are competent to do it by such circumstances as those.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to. Clause 13:
§ Clause 13:
§ Payments to Commission out of Transport Fund for loss on disposal of road haulage undertaking
§ (6) Interest at such rates as may from time to time be fixed by directions of the Treasury shall be paid out of the Transport Fund to the Commission at such times as the Minister may direct on so much of the amount required to be paid there from by subsection (1) of this section as is due and remains unpaid and, for the purposes of this subsection—
- (a) the whole of the said amount shall be deemed to have become due at the end of the year nineteen hundred and fifty-four; and
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, this is an Amendment, of which I gave notice on the Committee stage, which removes a large part of Clause 13, and in particular subsections (4) and (5), into the Schedule. There are, as a matter of fact, one or two Amendments which go in there, two in particular, but I suggest that it would be more convenient to discuss them when we come to the Schedule. Meantime, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 39and 40, which have the effect of moving these two subsections into the Schedule. I beg to move.
Page 20, line 18, leave out ("subsection (4) of this section") and insert ("the Schedule to this Act (Meaning of "Road Haulage Capital Loss")")—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I should like to ask whether these are mere 159 drafting Amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who knows this Bill backwards, is not here, and I confess that looking at this Amendment I am in a complete fog. If the noble Earl tells me that this is a drafting Amendment and we are coming to the substance presently, I am quite prepared to accept it. But, at the moment, as I am sure he will agree, he has given us no explanation at all, and I do not know where we are. If he says that this is a drafting Amendment, so far as I am concerned he can take it.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I want to be absolutely frank about this matter. This is basically drafting. What has happened is this. In order to shorten the inordinate length of Clause 13, the draftsman has thought it desirable to take out subsections (4) and (5)—the method by which the road haulage capital loss is calculated—and put them in the Third Schedule. What I said was that subsequently there will be two Amendments to that Third Schedule, and I suggested that those Amendments would be more appropriately discussed when we came to that Schedule. So far as we are concerned at present, I suggest that we can regard this Amendment as entirely drafting.
Page 21, line 27, leave out ("subsections (4) and (5)").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved, in subsection (6) (a) to leave out "the year" and insert "June." The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Swinton, I beg to move this Amendment. The effect of it is to place the date from which interest is due to the Commission six months earlier. We consider that it is fair and right to the Commission and, accordingly, we have incorporated it in the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 43, leave out ("the year") and insert ("June").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ Clause 15:
§ Re-organisation of railways
§ (2) The said scheme shall provide—
- (a) for the abolition (if it has not already been abolished) of the Railway Executive; and
§ (3) The said scheme may provide—
§ (9) In relation to Scotland, for the requirement in paragraph (b)of subsection (2) of this section there shall be substituted a requirement that the scheme shall provide for an authority for the whole of Scotland (with or without authorities for areas in Scotland) and, in relation to the authority for the whole of Scotland, references to Scotland shall, in the provisions of this section subsequent to the said subsection (2), be substituted for the references to the areas of the authorities setup under the said subsection (2).
VISCOUNT SWINTON moved to add to subsection (2):
(d) for the compilation and publication as respects each of those areas of such statements of operating costs and such statistics as may be so specified.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, on the Committee stage we had a far-reaching discussion upon how we should get some form of statistics or accounts which would enable us to have a sort of yardstick by which we could measure the comparative efficiency of the different areas under decentralisation. It was desirable that Parliament should be able to see in that way how decentralisation was working, and obviously, also, it was very much in the interests of the different areas, if I may use that anodyne term, not only to know their own efficiency but to be able to compare it with others. At the same time it was made plain in the debate, not least by noble Lords from Scotland, that you could not take as a yardstick of efficiency whether a particular area was making a profit or loss, even if you could ascertain it. For instance, there might be a very lucrative area which ought to make quite a considerable profit, and which ought not to be too easily satisfied. At the same time, Scotland, for all its great qualities, would, on a purely autonomous financial basis, always be in the red. But that would not mean that Scotland was being inefficient.
§ I explained last time—and it was reinforced by many noble Lords on both 161 sides, notably by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, with his experience, and by others who had been railway directors—that even when there were four railway companies, individual costings, in the sense of exact expenditure and revenue returns, really were not a test, and, indeed, they were only maintained because there were four separate financial entities. It was said, for example, that the old Railway Clearing House, through which millions of individual transactions went, had to be maintained simply because there were four companies among whom the resulting revenue had to be divided. But even then they tried to cut it down, and the parcels traffic, I think, was just treated as one lump. It was clear from that—I will not bother the House with examples, but it will be in the recollection of your Lordships that I did give examples last time—how impossible it was to take an accurate proportion of a particular cost, in the ser se of a piece of expenditure, and say to whom it was attributable. For instance, through traffic going to a marshalling yard had to be marshalled; other trucks were joined on to a train en route; there was common usage of wagons. Now costs of things of that sort, in the sense of detailed income and expenditure accounts, would be very expensive to produce. It is estimated that to-day it would cost at least £1 million to restore the Railway Clearing House, and to no purpose at all.
§ At the same time, we wanted to get something which would be of value, not only to Parliament, but to the individual areas themselves. I ventured to ask the House, whatever else they did, not to put us into a straitjacket over this matter, because we could only tell what we wanted as we evolved the scheme of decentralisation. Therefore, we have evolved this: first, that there should be a compilation and publication as respects each of the areas of such statements of operating costs and such statistics as may be so specified. I lay particular stress on "so specified," because it has to be specified in the scheme. I am sure we do not know what we want until we get the scheme. As your Lordships know, I am going to have an opportunity of debating with the Leader of the Opposition the way in which we should deal with the scheme. When we get the scheme before us, we shall then know what form it is to take, and the House 162 will have ample opportunity of debating whether we have put it into a good form or not. Therefore I hope the House will accept this Amendment—over which we have taken a great deal of trouble—as the best Amendment we can produce in order to meet what was, I think, the general desire of the House. I beg to move.
Page 25, line 21, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Viscount Swinton.)
§ 8.33 p.m.
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Viscount. I think it is as a result of an Amendment which was put down on the Committee stage by some noble friends of mine and myself that he has introduced this Amendment this evening. With all due respect to the noble Viscount, so far as I can see this Amendment does not bring about the conditions which we desire. It seeks to have "statements of operating costs and such statistics as may be specified." I have in my hand the financial and statistical accounts of the British Transport Commission, and without the necessity of a clause of this kind you may see the very detailed statistics. For example, you see the train miles per train engine hour: the London Midland Region is 14.15, the Western Region, 13.42, the Southern Region, 15,32, and so on. There are already available an endless variety of very elaborate and detailed statistics, and I do not see that the noble Viscount can expect to obtain more information by this clause, which seems to me, with due respect, to be redundant. The next Amendment on the Order Paper is my Amendment, which seeks to make some alteration to the one I previously put down. I should infinitely prefer that the noble Viscount, should see his way to accepting my Amendment rather than to press his own, which, as I say, I do not think helps the situation at all.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, unfortunately I was not here at that part of the Committee stage when we dealt with this part of the Bill. Therefore, I should like to say that I am afraid I do not entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Falmouth that this Amendment is redundant. As the Bill now stands, we have paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), and none 163 of those paragraphs refers to what is, to my mind, a very important thing, which is that we should get the proper statistics. It would be possible to criticise this Amendment by saying that it is not the most watertight Amendment that ever was seen. But I am not going to do that on this occasion, because first of all I think that if the area authorities are composed of good railwaymen—as I am sure they will be—they will know what sort of statistics are proper for a railway to produce, and they will produce them. If the Transport Commission know theirs business, they will see to it that the road statistics are produced so that they get a proper picture of what each of the area authorities is doing; and where like can be compared with like, they will compare results. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Swinton that when we get the scheme we shall know exactly what is proposed, and although we may not be able to amend the scheme we shall be able to discuss it.
The last point I wish to make is this. There has been a good deal of talk about the Railway Clearing House—how wrong it would be to start it, how cumbersome it would be under modern conditions, and so forth. After all, the Railway Clearing House was invented in the days long before mechanised accounting was thought of. I would guess—if it is not more than a guess—that with modern machines a great deal of the need for the Railway Clearing House would be obviated by the use of better machines and the setting up of a correct code for the use of those machines. Therefore, unlike my noble friend, I feel that this Amendment goes a long way to reassure, certainly myself, that this matter will be properly attended to, and I am grateful to my noble friend in front of me for moving it.
My Lords, I would humbly suggest to my noble friend Lord Falmouth that he accepts the Amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the House, and I hope that the Deputy Leader, in turn, will accept his, because these Amendments are not at all in competition: they are completely different things. The one deals with the statistics that must be produced, and the other deals with the monetary yardstick for services performed. Therefore, I 164 hope that the Deputy Leader will be able to accept my noble friend's Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
No. I hope that I am always very frank with the House. I definitely cannot accept the Amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Falmouth. If I were to do so, I should be misleading the House, because I should put in "may." I do not believe in putting in "may." I have no intention of doing so and, what is more important, I know that neither the Commission nor the Minister would have any intention of doing so, because they are convinced that it would saddle them with an enormous cost and to no purpose at all. If the Minister and all his advisers, the Commission and those who have spoken with great railway experience in this House, honestly believe that, it would be dishonest of me if, just out of courtesy, I said to my noble friend, "Well, I will take it all. I do not mind what I put in as long as the word is 'may'." I will not treat the House like that. I have been very frank with the Opposition, and when I thought they were wrong I asked them to divide the House against me. But I honestly could not accept that. I beg my noble friend to accept my Amendment, which is a genuine effort. It is true that it deals a good deal with statistics, but it also deals with operating costs.
I am well aware that operating costs are not the same thing as a statement of revenue and expenditure. For the reasons which both my noble friend Lord Radnor and I, and others gave, I am not prepared to ask for the statement of revenue and expenditure. I believe that it would be amazingly costly to produce, wholly artificial in its division of the incidence of expenditure and very largely irrelevant for the purpose of having an effective yardstick to test either the individual efficiency of an area or the comparative efficiencies as between different areas. Believing that, I could not possibly accept the noble Viscount's Amendment. Taking operating costs (and it is on operating cost to-day that railways and other undertakings rely for comparative efficiency), when you come to a comparison you come across, for instance, engine miles run. You may get the costs of particular operations—for instance the cost per engine mile, or the cost per ton handled in the marshalling yard, or the 165 cost per passenger carried. All this information you can get within the scope of the words of my Amendment; and, I submit to the House, that it covers the figures which are most needed. They provide the test we most want. Therefore, I ask the House to stand by my proposal, and if my noble friend persists in his, to reject it.
§ 8.43 p.m.
VISCOUNT FALMOUTH moved to add to subsection (3):
(c) for a system of so allocating receipts and expenditure to the regions as to enable a comparison to be made of their respective financial results from year to year.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am in rather a difficult position, because you have already heard the Government's views on the previous Amendment. I should like, however, without detaining your Lordships too long, to give a few reasons why I put down my Amendment. I had a somewhat similar Amendment down on the Committee stage, and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was clearly interested in the Amendment. Although he pointed out certain difficulties, he was prepared to consider it. Obviously he has considered it in Clause 15; hut his Amendment does not quite carry out the wishes of my noble friends and myself.
§ The object of my Amendment is to enable the receipts of the different areas to be stated. I agree that the receipts of a railway undertaking are not easy to come by; they are much more difficult than, for instance, those of the gas board or electricity board. At the same time they are enormously important, because they enable the people operating the board to see how they are functioning, and they encourage these people to develop an esprit de corps which is essential for the working of an undertaking of this size. I feel that this is a very desirable thing to be able to do, if it is at all possible, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to examine this matter. My former Amendment was mandatory; this is permissive. All I am asking is that Her Majesty's Government will look into this very important question to see whether it is not possible, by some means or other—not necessarily by a very elaborate system on the basis of the old 166 Clearing House but on a system rather like one which has been suggested today, equipped with modern accounting machines and so on—to get these results which are so essential if we are to get independent working on the railways.
The noble Viscount made another point—the question of certain of these areas finding themselves in the red. This is a perfectly common feature with some gas and electricity boards in certain of these areas. These are perpetually in the red, for reasons beyond their control—thin population, high cost of fuel and so on. There is, therefore, no discredit to the area concerned, but it is a fact which emerges in these accounts. It is helpful to all the areas to see the position of other areas; it encourages areas to struggle on to improve their position and to try to achieve a higher position in the next year. I beg the Government to think over this matter again. I am afraid that they approach it with a closed mind, and that they are determined not to have this Amendment. As an undergraduate I studied the works of the great Mr. Paley, and there is a sentence somewhere in his works which I think eminently suitable for this occasion. It runs as follows:
Contempt before examination is an intellectual vice from which even the greatest minds are not wholly free.
I hope that, upon further consideration, Her Majesty's Government will see that it is possible to do what I ask. It would be well worth while. I do not want a huge expenditure undertaken; I only want this matter examined, and if this suggestion of mine can be carried out, I hope that it will be carried out for the benefit of the whole railway undertaking of this country. I beg to move.
Page 25, line 37, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Viscount Falmouth.)
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, as I seconded the Amendment proposed by my noble friend on the Committee stage, I rise to support this further Amendment. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, for having looked into the matter and for putting down his Amendment to try to meet our point. I am, nevertheless, very disappointed, because I do not think it meets the point. I do not think it is quite satisfactory. The Railway Executive is now keeping the 167 accounts of the four regions. That work, we understand, will be done by the Commission. Someone has to keep the accounts of the railway separate from the road side, the hotels side and the docks side, and therefore it will be the Commission. It is possible, when the Commission keep these accounts centrally, to allocate revenue to each of the areas in accordance with their size. It is important that they should know not only their operating costs but what their revenue was when matched up. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, suggested that the Scottish Region would be always in the red. We are advised that it is not possible for the Scottish Region to pay. But there is a difference between losing £100,000 and losing £500,000. If they know approximately what their revenue is, it will help them considerably.
My noble friend was not quite right in drawing, on the Committee stage, his analogy with the electricity boards. The electricity boards do not generate electricity themselves; it is generated by the British Electricity Authority, who then pass it to the area boards. According to last year's Report, half the area boards lost money, but the British Electricity Authority made a little money on their generating and main distribution. The other half of the area boards made a slight profit on the whole undertaking. The important thing is that these accounts provide a yardstick of efficiency to other areas who try to get out of the red or otherwise lose less money than before. Otherwise one area may be a drag on the whole undertaking. For these reasons I feel that we should have some further yardstick of efficiency within these areas. I believe in decentralisation of these areas. It is not, I understand, intended, as I said on Committee stage, to run these areas by one man, as is done now in the other boards by a regional officer, but to run them by a board or committee. That board or committee should know where they stand. Therefore as this is only a permissive Amendment which does not put any obligation on the Commission I hope the noble Viscount will be able to accept this Amendment.
My Lords, we know what Her Majesty's Government feel on this Amendment, and I should not be standing up to speak now—obviously 168 speaking for posterity, and not to Her Majesty's Government—unless I felt very strongly that I was supporting a right cause. To some extent our cause, all through this little struggle, has been misunderstood. It has been obscured by red herrings of one sort or kind. To start with, for the purposes for which we require them, these particular figures of receipts and expenditures—which, after all, are the acid test—are a far quicker method of reflecting waste and inefficiency than are statistics. It is not necessary to have a railway clearing house. It can be done in a much simpler manner. I venture to believe that the whole thing can be allocated and the accountants from each region can meet together once a quarter across the table, and in an afternoon they can iron out the anomalies. Those figures, of course, will not be exact receipts or exact expenditures and, for that reason, I quite see the difficulty Her Majesty's Government might have in using those precise words in a Bill that has to be interpreted in a court of law. I therefore realise the reasons they have for turning down this Amendment. What we want, in fact, is a notional division of receipts and expenditures which, on a consistent basis, are sufficient to revive proper comparisons between year and year and between division and division.
Of course, this is only an enabling Bill, as I said on Second Reading, and it is possible that something of the sort may emerge from the scheme-makers in the scheme they will produce. I am quite certain that the advice that will be given to them by the auditors will probably favour some such solution of that kind, but I realise that Her Majesty's Government have a difficulty in putting into a Bill the words "receipts" and "expenditures" which are not actuals but are nationals.
My Lords. I opposed the Amendment put forward by my noble friends, Lord Falmouth and Lord Wolverton, on the Committee stage because I thought it went much too far and it was quite impractical and undesirable to resuscitate any form of railway clearing house; but, if it is possible by some arbitrary means to form a yardstick and keep some sort of separate accounts for the regions, as is suggested in this Amendment, I should be pleased to support it.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, may I suggest that the noble Viscount's Amendment provides for the necessary yardstick, whereas the Amendment which we are now discussing provide; in the future for the resuscitation of the railway clearing house?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, out of courtesy to my noble friend I must reply on the Amendment, though I anticipated in speaking on my own Amendment that it was bound to act on the merits or the demerits of Lord Falmouth's Amendment. I ask him to believe that, though I come within many condemnations, I do not come within the particular one which he cited from Mr. Paley. I have no a priori convictions in practical matters. I was almost going to be rather rude about it and say that I have been looking at the "something" thing ever since the Bill started. I really have looked at it, and looked at it with great sympathy, because no one was more emphatic than I was in the debates on the nationalisation Bills about the difficulty of getting a yardstick, because that is one of the real difficulties of a nationalised industry, particularly if it is a nationalised monopoly—that it is almost impossible to get a yardstick.
But observe the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, and indeed the closing observations of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. In a sense, if they will forgive my saying so, how unreal the proposition is, or rather how unreal is the alternative to which they are driven! After all, if revenue and expenditure mean anything, they mean that certain revenue is received and certain expenditure is incurred, and that revenue is received in an area and that expenditure is incurred in an area. But observe what the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, said. He said: "Let us take an arbitrary division of expenditure and let us allocate that expenditure to the regions in accordance with their size." That really is a most extraordinary thing. There is Scotland—I must not call it a region; it is a kingdom or a realm—"realm" is the right word; I have it! It is a very large one but it produces, I understand, com- 170 paratively small revenues. That is why we have always to give them the Goschen formula of fourteen-fortieths or fourteen-twentieths—
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
—and you have the London Transport Area which is concentrated and rich—and it ought to be with the fares always going up. But then how are we to do it? We have to take an arbitrary figure. If mathematics mean anything, they certainly do not mean an arbitrary division. And the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, "We are not asking for accurate figures." Figures really are not figures unless they are accurate. He said, "We are asking for notional figures You are bound to be driven to this sort of expedient unless you take the suggestion of my noble friend, Lord Radnor, which is to take every item of expenditure and income and set them out—and then that, really, is not any good to you. It would be possible, under my clause, to put in anything that is useful and effective in the way either of costs or statistics, and, when the scheme comes before you in due course, if we are, all alive and here, we shall see what has been produced. But I must reject this Amendment because I cannot, in common honesty, put into the Bill a permissive clause, as it is called. which I know is not going to be used, or at any rate is not going to be used in the sense in which the mover means.
Before the noble Viscount sits down, would he clarify one point? His Amendment will provide foroperating costs and such statistics as may be so specified.Could those statistics include monetary receipts? I am most anxious to see that when a region makes a good decision, they can see that money flows in from it.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Yes, certainly. A statistic can very sell include a monetary receipt. You can have a statistic about anything. If my noble friend will look at the Digest of Statistics, which Her Majesty's Government produce every month, he will see that it contains masses of receipt figures as well as masses of 171 other figures. It is the most comprehensive document I can think of.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, it seems a pity to intervene from this side of the House, but I really rise to say this. In my time at the Bar, I have known people locked up for producing what we called "notional accounts." I little thought I should come to this House and hear the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, pleading for what he was pleased to call "notional accounts." I am deeply shocked.
I am very much indebted to the noble Viscount, the Deputy Leader of the House, for having explained his view. Therefore I ask leave of the House to withdraw this Amendment. At the same time, I hope that the noble Viscount will consider this point carefully at a later stage, when the whole scheme comes up before the House for further consideration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, this is a consequential Amendment. Its effect is to ensure that in Scotland the statement of operating costs or statistics required by the Amendment which the House has just passed should be rendered for the authority for the whole of Scotland as well as for any authorities or areas in Scotland. I beg to move.
Page 26, line 46, leave out ("subsection (2)") and insert ("paragraph (b)").—(Viscount Swinton.)
My Lords, before we leave clause 15, may I have leave to make an apology for an erroneous statement which I made in supporting an Amendment by Lord Falmouth on Committee stage. We were talking about refreshment rooms and the Hotels Executive, and I stated that there was no new refreshment room on Victoria Station. I was correct in regard to the Brighton side, which is the side I frequently use, but I have been taken to task by the Chairman of the Hotels Executive who tells me that there is a new "Golden Arrow" Bar on the Continental side.
§ Clause 16:
§ Approval and amendment of re-organisation schemes
§ (5) The power conferred by this section on the Minister to make orders shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, and no order shall be made by the Minister under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
§ 9.4 p.m.
EARL JOWITT moved, in subsection (5) after "section" to insert:
until both Houses of Parliament have been asked to take note of the details to be contained in a draft order and".
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for being here. I hope that within the last few weeks he has not been thinking too deeply of the Transport Bill or confining his reading entirely to this measure. There is a principle involved here, however, and I rise to move this Amendment to tell him what it is. This Bill is, inter alia, a Bill, as its long title tells us:
to provide for the reorganisation of the railways.
§ The reorganisation of the railways and their more efficient running, and the rest of it, are obviously matters of very great import to all of us, on both sides of the House. Therefore, there can be no doubt that we are here dealing with a very important matter. That is the first point I make.
The next point I make—and I should like the noble Marquess to bear with me—is this. This Bill, if the noble Marquess will follow Clauses 15 and 16, is framed on these lines: that the Bill itself does not state what the scheme is to be, but it provides that there shall be a scheme and that that scheme in due course shall come before the House. May we just look at that? I turn to Clause 15. The noble Marquess will see that it says there, under subsection (1), that:
Within twelve months from the passing of this Act…the Commission shall prepare and submit to the Minister a scheme.…
Subsection (2) provides that the scheme shall provide for three things—and I think we have added a fourth on the Committee stage: that is to say, it shall provide for the abolition of the Railway Executive, for the setting up of areas,
and for the delegation to the area authorities of such functions as may be specified. It is difficult to know what those functions will be, and at the present time I am not exaggerating when I say that no one knows—but perhaps that is natural enough. Thereafter, the noble Marquess will see from subsection (3) of Clause 15 that the scheme "may provide for the setting up of other authorities" and that by subsection (4) the scheme may provide for regulating the positions of authorities inter se. Subsection (5) says that the authorities set up may he corporate or unincorporated. Subsection (7) is a saving clause to make it plain that the Commission need not delegate all their functions. Subsection (9) relates to Scotland, and the noble Marquess may like to know, and will not be surprised to learn, that the Scottish members are a little apprehensive about what is or is not going to be in the scheme.
§ So there we are. We have, so far as I have gone, this provision that the Commission are to prepare a scheme. It must contain certain things and it may contain a whole lot of other things. But no one at the present time is able to say—and it is natural enough that they should not be able to say; I am not making any complaint about it—what the scheme is to contain. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, on, I think, the Second Reading of this Bill, made a most interesting speech in which, speaking as an old railway director, he pointed out that it is very difficult to see to what extent these various functions could be delegated. Finance, and so on, must be central, and the noble Earl went through a series of functions which, obviously, should be kept central. But, assuming that there will be some delegation, my point is that at the present moment we do not know how much or what it will be.
Will the noble Marquess now turn to Clause 16? This shows what is to happen. When he has the scheme sent to him the Minister has to consult with such bodies who are likely to be affected by it—the National Coal Board amongst others—as he thinks fit. No doubt he will discuss with them and try to meet their objections and so on. Then he propounds the scheme, either without modification or with such modifications as he may think fit. So it really becomes the Minister's scheme, because I think the Lord
Chancellor will probably agree with me that it is very difficult to set a limit to the extent of what is and what is not a modification. It may be a very substantial modification, or only a slight modification. So the Minister propounds the scheme. Now may we look at subsection (5)? That says:
The power conferred by this section on the Minister to make orders shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, and no order shall be made by the Minster under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
That is to say, the order will be subject to an Affirmative Resolution.
§ So far as I have gone, I think I can summarise what I have said in this way. Here we have a very important scheme—there is no doubt about that. Indeed, it is such an important scheme that the Under-Secretary said—and I have quoted the passage before—that although he could do all these things provided for in Clause 15 without any new power at all—that is to say, he could do them under the existing powers of the Transport Act, 1947—yet the matter was so important that he thought he ought to put Clauses 15 and 16 into this Bill. I am far from saying that he was not right. That is the first thing. It is very important.
§ The second thing is that we have no sort of indication as to what this scheme is to be. The third point is that what we are to have is a statutory instrument, submitted on the principle of "Take it or leave it!" Now, it was said, I think, by Lord Teynham, that myself had a past in this matter, and that I, or the Government of which I was a humble member, had done the same sort of thing. I do not remember it, but I am not prepared to deny it: I plead "not guilty," and I reserve my defence. I am bound to tell your Lordships that whatever I did seems to me to be wholly it relevant. What matters is this: that though I was, perhaps, a poacher, I have now turned gamekeeper and intend to be exceedingly efficient about this. I never trouble to look at back numbers of Hansard, or anything of that sort. If I had done so, not only, no doubt, should I have been much more ashamed of myself than I am at the present moment, but I should have found lovely passages from the noble Marquess about the iniquity of coming down with just a statutory order, "take it 175 or leave it!" with no chance of making an Amendment, and that sort of thing. I am sure that I should have found some very good passages indeed. However, this is the position, and I think this is a very real case.
§ I state quite frankly that I am a believer in this system of having delegated legislation and statutory instruments. I do not believe that Parliament would be able to carry out its functions unless we had that system, and, though I have given much thought to this matter, I have never been able entirely to satisfy myself that it would be possible to have a system of moving Amendments to such instruments. It is difficult to see how that could be done. I rather understood, before the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, went away, that he was going to ask some of us to meet him about it, to see exactly how far we ought to go. But circumstances made that impossible. This is an extreme case. Here is an important matter about which we are given absolutely no information as to what is to be done; we are to be presented with a scheme in the form of a sort of order, and we shall be told, though not as crudely or impolitely as this, "Take it or leave it! At any rate you cannot move any Amendments to it."
§ I believe that I am right in saying that there are a large number of Members, on both sides of the House, who do not think that is satisfactory. If I may say so, I am quite certain that there are a large number of Scottish Peers who do not regard it as satisfactory. What are we to do about it? I believe that the right thing to do would have been to leave out of the Bill altogether Clauses 15 and 16. I believe that, under his powers under the 1947 Act, the Minister ought to have got busy with his scheme at once. He ought to have got his scheme prepared. He did not need any statutory authority to do that; he already had it. He ought to have consulted with all these people. He ought to have formulated his scheme, not as a statutory instrument but as an Act of Parliament, so that we might have availed ourselves of all the machinery of moving Amendments and so on. I realise that it is now too late for that, but I want to try to see whether we cannot devise a method of giving Parliament some kind of check and control over this situation.176
§ I admit at once that the fact that Parliament has to give positive or affirmative approval is in itself some check, but in my experience it is not a very satisfactory check, and for this reason—I hope that I am not saying anything offensive: I do not mean to; I think I can relate it equally to the last Government. Our Party were in a great minority in this House. But when a Government come to Parliament with an order, and have to seek affirmative approval, then if that approval is not forthcoming it is rather a blow to their prestige—they have suffered a defeat. They have got to take the order away, and it means that the other side have won a round. I am anxious to try to devise some scheme—I believe that the noble Marquess is more likely than myself to think out something satisfactory—whereby this House can discuss the matter before it is absolutely cut and dried, and in a way in which no question of prestige would be involved. The sort of thing I have in mind, and the best I have been able to think of (one noble Lord, I think Lord Fairfax, suggested this on the last occasion), is that the purpose I have in mind might be achieved by the Government's publishing a White Paper.
§ What we need is something sufficiently definite to contain the actual terms of the order which the Minister proposes to promulgate, yet we want to have that document at a time when Government prestige is not wholly wrapped up in it. If we could have a scheme of that sort, the Minister could promulgate a very simple White Paper to which was attached a copy of the order he proposed to make. Then let us have a debate in the House on that White Paper, so that the Minister can say, "The order I propose to make is set out in the White Paper, but I am quite prepared to listen to what is said in the House; and if, one way or another, I think there are sound points made, I will alter and modify what is contained in this White Paper, and when I come to the final document I shall bear in mind everything that has been said." Then, when the House had had a discussion on that sort of White Paper, at a time when everything was not absolutely cut and dried, and when no question of loss of prestige arose, let the Minister bring his final order to the House and let it lie on the Table; and let that 177 be the order for which he will seek approval.
§ My Lords, I suggest that my proposal is a real attempt to meet this problem. Thereby, we may have a discussion and may tell the Minister what Parliament thinks about the order, at a time when, without any loss of prestige, the Minister can say, "Well, I will gladly listen to your discussion, and if I think any of you are talking sense in any respect, I will modify my order to give effect to what you have said." That is the best solution I can think of at the present time. I am not concerned with the actual form of my own Amendment. I could suggest a good many reasons why it is not satisfactory. This is not a Party matter, but a Parliamentary matter which concerns this House. I am not going to press this Amendment. I move it only in order that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, or the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, may make some statement to see whether we can evolve something which is better than the crude words I have suggested, so that, in one way or another, this House has an opportunity of passing upon this Instrument in such a way and at such a time that Amendments may still be made to it in the light of our discussion. It is for that reason that I put down my Amendment, as a peg on which to hang those discussions. I beg to move.
Page 27, line 27, after ("section") insert the said words.—(Earl Jowitt.)
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, my noble and learned Leader has put forward his arguments so conclusively that there is little to add, but I should like to use what I am sure must be the experience of many in your Lordships' House who sat for years, as I did, in the other place, to reinforce some of the things that he has said in moving his Amendment. We used to have some procedure similar to that set out in the clause in the case of pensions, where an Order was brought forward and the House was confronted with the position of either supporting or voting against the Order. It was exceedingly difficult for Members in another place to vote against an Order providing money—
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I think it was both pensions and unemployment assistance, but in any case the principle was the same as this. It was difficult, and the Government often had to carry through au Order in a form which very likely trey themselves had seen, from the criticism made about it, was not wholly satisfactory. That is one great difficulty about bringing forward an Order for acceptance or refusal. The position is still worse in this case, because two Houses have to be considered. In the case of money grants it was almost entirely a matter for the House of Commons, but in this case both Houses have to approve. Even if it were possible for the Minister to take away the Order and carry out the wish of one House, it would be much more difficult where the two Houses might come to conflicting views on the question.
There is another point that I should like to make, one which I think was not touched on by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the Opposition. Suppose a preliminary stage is taken, as was suggested, without involving the prestige of the Government, and that certain suggestions are made in either or both Houses. Then the Government may say "Well, we will take back our Order. It has not been promulgated as an Order. We will bear in mind the suggestions that have been made, largely by the Opposition in both Houses." They can then go through this further process, which I think is not compatible with the procedure proposed in the Bill. They can consult the members of the Opposition in both Houses—and not only the Opposition; it may, in many cases, be some of their own supporters also. They can consult those who have made positive suggestions during the debate, and they can, in the light of those suggestions, get general agreement among all sections of both Houses to the Order they finally introduce. It may be said, perhaps, that they could do that in any case before they actually put the Order into shape. But there is a difficulty about that, because there is resentment among the Back-Benchers, particularly in the other place, if leaders are taken into full conference and give decisive answers to certain questions without consulting the Back-Benchers. If the Back-Benchers are consulted in advance, the Government are in this position: that they will 179 often have given away their position before they have made it public.
But these disadvantages will not arise if the scheme is put forward in general. Then there is open debate in both Houses, and after that open debate the Government can readjust their scheme. They can do it, and consult people who have taken part in the debate—whether from the Front Benches or the BackBenches—and, in the light of that, bring in new proposals different only in detail, of course, from those of the original scheme. All Governments admit, or profess to agree, that in the passage of Bills through the Houses of Parliament those Bills are improved. Therefore, left to their own devices, the Government cannot produce schemes which are as good as those which emerge from a passage through the two Houses of Parliament. So it is not at all unreasonable that they should be prepared to modify a scheme which seemed to be good in the first instance, until they heard the criticism of it, and then after criticism, improve it by making modifications to meet certain views. Therefore I hope that in some form—not necessarily in the form in which it has been moved by the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition—the Government will see fit to embody in legislation some of the ideas in this Amendment.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, certainly I am sure that in this House, as in another place, there is much joy over repentant sinners. I am certainly not going to reject the noble and learned Earl's advice, because under his Act, or under the Act of the late Government, as he himself said, the whole of the decentralisation scheme could have been carried out by the present Minister without coming anywhere near Parliament at all. But I think that would be a very unfortunate thing to do. We discussed this matter at considerable length on the last stage of this Bill, and certainly in no Party spirit. I have considered it very carefully and have consulted with the Minister of Transport upon it. As I said when we were in Committee, the whole object of laying a draft—observe, my Lords, this is a draft; it is, in fact, exactly what, as I remember it from my House of 180 Commons days, we did over the Unemployment Regulations and so on—is that, as it is not an order, there shall not only be what I may call a general Second Reading debate, but all the details of the scheme shall be discussed. If there were general agreement, or criticisms only of a few details which could be answered and justified in debate, everyone would, I think, agree that either House could be asked to pass the Affirmative Resolution approving the scheme.
But the real question is what should happen if there is a substantial volume of criticism. Here it is reasonable to suppose that any Minister would want time to consider those criticisms. I think we are all agreed—indeed the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, said so in terms to-day—that Lord Jowitt's original idea that we could follow the very cumbrous Indian precedent of having draft Orders in Council, which could be amended in each House, is really a procedure which Parliament would never adopt again if it could possibly be avoided. And he has, very fairly, gone right away from any idea like that to-day.
At first blush, I was rather attracted by the idea, which we threw out to one another last time, that in what I may call the second stage, after the draft order has been taken back or is under further consideration because it has been the subject of a good deal of criticism, the Minister might then proceed, taking into account those criticisms which he thought were right, by an order which would be subject to a Negative Resolution. The Minister would make his order and it could be prayed against. The idea of a Negative Resolution seemed to me at first attractive because it meant that an order would be prayed against only if the Minister had failed to meet criticism. Normally, that is quite a convenient procedure. Indeed, I am not at all sure that it was not the procedure which was followed in some of the cases which Lord Pethick-Lawrence has cited—debate on the draft, then the order, then if any exception is taken to the order, Prayer against it.
But I do not think that that would do here; and for this reason. Whatever form the scheme ought to take, it ought to come into force as soon as possible after it has been adequately considered by Parliament. The procedure by order 181 subject to Prayer and Negative Resolution does make possible a very long delay. An order can be prayed against any time during forty sitting days of each House, and this might mean that the order would be in jeopardy for a very long time, particularly if a Recess intervened—say the long Summer Recess—before the forty days were over. With some orders that does not matter very much. They are put into force, and if either House should have a successful Prayer against them the Minister has to revoke the order. But in an important matter like this, concerning the whole transport system, with the whole railway system dependent upon it, the Minister of Transport could not, I think, risk putting the decentralisation scheme into force if there were any chance that afterwards he might have to revoke it. He must, therefore, know within a reasonable time where he stands. Therefore, we are thrown back on the Affirmative Resolution.
So far as this House is concerned, I am glad to meet the fair criticism that there should be full and detailed debate and consideration. Therefore, I can give this undertaking, in which the Minister assures me that he fully concurs and that, if opportunity should offer, he would be willing to give a similar undertaking with regard to procedure in the House of Commons. The undertaking that I would give is this. If there should be substantial criticism on a number of points, the House would not be asked to come to an immediate decision on the draft order. The Minister would take further time to consider the criticism which had been offered. Having considered all this criticism, the Minister would then, if satisfied that there was a case for alteration in one or more respects, withdraw the draft and substitute a new one. Of course, if after full consideration the Minister thought a case had not been made out for alteration—that the plan as it stood was right—then he must be free to come back to Parliament and ask both Houses to approve the original draft.
Under that procedure you would have certainty that if there was any substantial volume of criticism, the draft would be taken back. What the noble Lord has asked for is there already. A draft is there; that is better than a White Paper 182 because the draft is the actual form the scheme is going to take and it is there in draft. If there is a substantial volume of criticism that will be taken back, and the Minister will, after consideration, relay before each House of Parliament either the same draft, if he is going to take a chance on it and thinks it cannot be bettered, or, if it is subject to a good deal of criticism (and we have altered this Bill from its White Paper stage to its present form, and a further alteration, I think, will even come in on Third Reading), the draft iv which very likely some Amendments have been made. But full consideration will be given to the matter by the Minister and his colleagues, and what both Houses are ultimately asked to approve will be a considered order which the Government of the day wishes to put before the House, having heard a full debate upon all its provisions.
Now, I give that undertaking, with full responsibility, on behalf of the Government. I think it entirely satisfies the point the noble Earl has raised. Just in order that there may be no misunderstanding, I ought to add this. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that once the scheme is in force, carried by Affirmative Resolution, then I think I am right in saying that any Amendment to that scheme also has to be carried by Affirmative Resolution. It is extremely improbable that an Amendment to the scheme would raise all the wide range of detail which the initial scheme would involve. It might be something quite small. At any rate, it would not be comparable in its size and score. I only want to make it plain that the undertaking I am now giving must not be held to apply to Amendments of the scheme. But it applies, and applies fully, to what I may call the master scheme. I hope noble Lords will agree that that is a most practical way in which to meet what I think is a genuine need in this case. It will, I believe, satisfy noble Lords in all quarters of the House and I hope be considered satisfactory in another place.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, as I spoke before, may I add just two sentences? It seems to me that no Government really loses face by accepting the opinion of Parliament. It depends entirely on how the draft order is put before either House. If it is 183 put by a Minister bringing it down and saying. "This is a draft order which I think is best but on which I should like the opinion of Parliament," he loses no face by afterwards adjourning the debate, taking the draft back and perhaps having second thoughts. If more Ministers did that in regard to these orders, there would be fewer difficulties.
The difficulty with these orders, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said, is that the two Houses consider them concurrently, and what might satisfy opinion in one House might be considered somewhat disastrous in the other. I remember very well one of the early unemployment regulations, which was introduced by the late Mr. Oliver Stanley, that had a very rude reception in the House of Commons. It had not been brought forward with a request for suggestions from the House, and eventually, at any rate, it had to be withdrawn. I am saying nothing about the late Mr. Oliver Stanley, who was a great personal friend of mine, and a man for whom I had a great deal of admiration; but at any rate the regulation was not brought forward in the spirit of asking for comments and criticisms. In a case like that, the Government of the day do lose a certain amount of face. But I think we have here a procedure which will do all we want. I do not think any Government will lose face when they bring forth an order for the first time in the same way as they do a Bill, saying, "We should like the comments of Members of Parliament, whether of the House of Lords or the House of Commons, upon this." When the Minister takes it back, he normally gains popularity by accepting suggestions in either House, and I do not think he loses face.
I do not see that we should improve procedure by calling the draft a White Paper. That would not be effective for criticism unless a draft order was annexed to it; so it does not carry us much further by calling it something else. As we have an undertaking in this case that the main order to be made under Clause 16 will at any rate come before us in that form for our comment, and with a request for our suggestions, then, I believe the House has all it could reasonably desire.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, perhaps I may say a word on this question, because the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, referred specifically to me in his opening remarks. In a very interesting and thoughtful speech, the noble and learned Earl ranged a good deal wider than the Bill. He raised the whole question of delegated legislation which he said—and I do not dispute it—is raised by these two clauses; and that, no doubt, was the main reason why he put down his Amendment. It was indeed, as he said in his closing words, a peg on which to raise this particular issue, and he referred to speeches I had made in the past on this subject. I fully agree with him that anyone in politics makes speeches which occasionally embarrass him later on, but that is not the case here. I do not withdraw one single word of what I said in those speeches, and I hold exactly the same views now as I did then. As he said before, I was unhappily obliged to be away for a short time, but it had been my intention that we should get together and discuss these topics, and I hope that can be done at an early date.
The noble and learned Earl made certain suggestions. He was not happy about the particular form of wording in this Bill, although I think it largely arose from a misunderstanding which I hope has been dissipated by what has been said by the noble Viscount Lord Swinton. He suggested it might be possible to have something in the nature of a White Paper on a vitally important matter of this kind, which could be published, digested, considered and then form the subject of further discussion. I do not say that that is a bad plan: in fact, it is the plan which the present Government adopted in regard to the Iron and Steel Bill last summer, as your Lordships will remember. It did not have perhaps the enthusiastic response from the Party opposite one might have expected from the noble Earl's remarks to-night; but at any rate, it was a plan. It was a genuine endeavour on the part of the Government to do just what the noble and learned Earl has been praising to-night. Frankly, I think this is a better plan, because a White Paper is usually a very general document. It does not give exactly what a Government intend to put 185 forward. It is a broad outline, a sort of skeleton. It is no more.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, if the noble Marquess will allow me to say so, it seems to me that noble Lords are making unnecessary difficulties in respect of the form of this document. It could be a White Paper and could contain also precisely the order which it is intended to make. It could contain the order with an explanation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, says is true, but I still think this is a better plan, if it is interpreted in the right way. The purpose of the Government's proposal is that they should produce the scheme itself in draft. The noble Lord says it might equally be produced as a White Paper, but it can be presented as a draft order—and I emphasise the word "draft."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
An order itself cannot be amended, as we know. That is one of the difficulties we are all faced with in Parliament at the present time. But a draft order is put before Parliament for consideration. That draft order might be generally acceptable. It might be found by all Parties to be about the best that could be devised. In that case, Parliament in effect approves of it, and when the order is produced, it will be produced in exactly the same form. On the other hand, if the order were subjected to criticism in one respect or another and that criticism were serious enough, the Government would be well advised—and any Government with any sense would be willing to do it—to withdraw it, consider what had been, said and see whether it could be amended and improved. In that case, it would be amended and improved and then produced in an amended form and submitted to Parliament, very much in the same way as in the scheme proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, with regard to delegated legislation generally, which I think had a good deal of support in this House from members of all Parties.
My impression is that what has gone wrong, so far as anything has gone wrong, is that the noble and learned Earl has 186 not recognised that this is What subsection (5) of Clause 16 means. It says that the draft order shall be laid before Parliament and will be approved when, in the view of the Government, it has received criticism and has been properly examined by Parliament. I see no harm in that. I think it is a move in the direction which we have all advocated; and I hope, in the light of the explanations which my noble friend Lord Swinton and I have given, it will now prove acceptable to noble Lords opposite.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, by leave of the House I should like to make one comment on what the noble Marquess has said. I think the idea which does not appeal to us on this side of the House—certainly it does not appeal to me—is alit a Minister may feel that there has not been very much criticism and that, in spite of all the arrangements and protestations made from the other side, an order will be carried through forthwith, in whichever House the matter is being discussed. I feel very strongly that if we were to accept what the noble Viscount has suggested, with the support of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, we should get away from the idea of two days—one day on which the scheme was produced as a draft order and taken away, and a second on which it should be brought back again as a final order. Once we get the idea that, if there is not what is called substantial criticism, the Government might press through an order on the day on which the draft order is presented, the Government are robbing us of the safeguard which they are proposing to give to us.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, there is a great deal in what the noble Lord has said, but I do not think that producing an order on two different days would effect the results which he seeks to achieve. The draft order is debated in Parliament The Government say, "We think that the order has had a great amount of criticism, and we do not think we ought to put it in this final form." Therefore, they postpone it. Or the Government think that it is all right and the order will be accepted. Suppose that the Government think that it is all right. They will postpone it for only a few days or weeks and will produce the final order in exactly the same 187 form. It must be left to the Government to decide finally whether a scheme needs amending. If Parliament thinks the Government are wrong, it has its own remedy. I do not think that by any new machinery which we can devise we can prevent the Government from finally taking the decision as to whether or not, in their opinion, the scheme has been rightly designed. They cannot throw that responsibility on Parliament. What they can do is to come to Parliament and say, "Here is our scheme; what are your criticisms?" But the Government are the rulers of the country, temporarily, and it is for them finally to decide whether or not those criticisms are valid. The important thing is that there should be an opportunity for those criticisms to be made before a final decision is taken. That is what we wish to produce by this machinery, and I think it is the best that can be done.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, for the time and trouble they have taken about this matter, but I am deeply disappointed. I thought that I was going to get something very much more satisfactory. I believe that what we want is a discussion in this House (I am not talking about another place) when a scheme is still in a more or less formative stage—by that, I mean simply at a stage when Government prestige is not involved. That was my idea in advocating a White Paper. All I want in a White Paper is something like this: "The Minister proposes to make the following scheme:"—and then the Paper would set out the scheme. The point of having that as a White Paper is to demonstrate that it is not the order. On that scheme—call it a White Paper or what you will—we have a discussion; and then, what I think is so important, we have an interval of time—a week if you like; I do not want a long time or to delay this matter—before the Minister promulgates his final document which he will ask the House to approve.
Where the undertaking disappoints me so much is that on the last occasion the noble Viscount said he was impressed with my point about the interval of time. A week is enough for me. But I want to have the discussion on one piece of paper, 188 which is not the same piece of paper that the Minister is afterwards to present to the House for our approval. I want the Minister to be in rather a receptive mind when he puts forward the first piece of paper—call it a White Paper or what you like. I want the Minister to say, "This is what I am at present advised to bring to the House, but I am willing to listen to your discussion to-day; and if anybody advances what I think is a sound criticism, I must take it away and have a week to consider it." He may then make a new scheme bearing that criticism in mind. But I do not think that whether or not he takes away the order ought to depend on the volume or extent of criticism.
I think that what is required is an interval of time. It may be that the scheme as finally propounded by the Minister will be precisely the same scheme as he propounded in the first instance. He may not think the criticism valid—that is a risk we must take. I should like the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount to go with me a little further, and give me an interval of time—I should be content with a short interval—between the first discussion of the House, when opinion is expressed, and the second time, when a new document comes—as I say, it may be in the same form as the first document—and is laid on the Table of the House, and when the Minister says, "That is what I am asking the House to approve." I will say no more to-night, but I will withdraw the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, can only speak again with the leave of the House, but I should like to say a word on the last point. There are really two quite separate issues which the noble and learned Earl has put before us in his last speech. The first is what form the document which is to be produced to the House should take. He wants what I may call a rather loose White Paper, with the general ideas—
§ EARL JOWITT
No: not at all. I want the precise form which the Government then contemplate the scheme should take.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
But the draft scheme is the thing which is the draft order. It really must come in a precise form. After all, observe what is being produced. First of all, the Commission get to work. The Commission, after taking counsel with many people, produce a scheme of decentralisation; they send it to the Minister. The Minister consults with a large number of people, and he then produces that scheme, with such modifications as he thinks right. It must be that which is presented to us for our consideration. Therefore, whether or not it is laid in the form of a draft order, which is the common form in which these things are done in the House, the document which is to come forward is the scheme in its entirety. It might well be accompanied by an explanatory White Paper, as these things generally are. Nobody here would be content with just a White Paper, arid it may well be that there would be what I may call a "Child's Guide to Knowledge," drawing attention to the salient features of a scheme which, because of its completeness, might be rather intricate. But the fact that I have said that discussions should be in detail, and have given an undertaking, in effect, for both Houses—though, strictly, I can give it only for your Lordships' House—that if there is a substantial measure of criticism we undertake to take it back, shows that at that stage the thing is not being regarded as a matter of confidence. After such a volume of criticism, in whatever form the Government then bring it back, that would be a matter of confidence, because the Government would be giving their considered opinion, by which they must stand or fall. Therefore, I do not think there is anything between us. If the scheme were received with enthusiasm nobody would object to the scheme going through then.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If everybody said: "This is the best scheme in the world," the noble Lord would object?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
It comes down to this. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has said that it must be for 190 the Government to decide whether criticism is so small that they feel that they can answer it at once—it might only be on one or two aspects of the thing—and can answer it so completely that they could ask the House to take a decision immediately. That seems to be the only point between us. What the noble and learned Earl is asking for is that, however small the volume of criticism, the draft should always be taken back.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I should have thought, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury said, that we have done everything to satisfy any reasonable man.
§ EARL JOWITT
I am grateful again to the noble Viscount, but I am still not entirely satisfied. I am sure that he will honour his undertaking, both in the spirit and in the letter. But if he looks at the letter, I think he will find it unsatisfactory, although I am sure the spirit will be all right. It may be that, in practice, there is little between us. I think the confusion has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, with his use of the words "White Paper". I want to make quite plain what I mean: I mean the document, possibly containing just one opening sentence. And then I want the Minister to say, "This is the scheme I have it in mind to promulgate," and that he shall then set out precisely the scheme he has in mind. I value the idea of a White Paper—for this reason: in that form it cannot be that Paper which the Minister promulgates; it must be another Paper. What I feel is important is that there should be an interval of time—quite a short time, if you will. When the House considers the first Paper, no Government prestige is involved. The Minister is saying, "This is what I have thought of, this is the form in which, as at present advised. I Propose to make the order. Here you hive a chance of discussion. Say what you like, and in a week's time, or whatever it may be, I shall come back with the scheme. If I think that your criticisms are valid, I shall modify this scheme that I have set out here, but otherwise I shall not."
Do not let us depend upon the extent of opposition, the extent of criticism, or anything of that sort to decide this matter of the interval of time. In any event, 191 the House should have the first discussion at a time when it has the precise order which the Minister has in mind as being the order he wants to make. At this time no question of prestige would arise, because the Minister could fairly say, "I have consulted all sorts of people, as I had to, but I have not yet consulted Parliament. I should like to consult Parliament to see what they think about it; and in a week's time, having consulted Parliament, I will come back with an order, and of that order, which may or may not be modified as a result of the discussions, I shall ask for your approval." That is my idea. I think it is largely covered by the undertaking given by the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount. But there is that point. I think if they look at it they will see that there is so little between us that probably in the interests of Parliament—not in the interests of Party; I make no Party point here at all—that is the way to do it. We might experiment on those lines, and perhaps we can work out something which will be rather useful in what is, I readily concede, a difficult problem.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, I should like to say this. The noble Viscount will not forget that there are two Houses involved. If his suggestion is that, in the absence of much objection, an order should be approved, we might get in this position: that in this House, rising at six or seven o'clock in the evening, no criticism may be put forward, and therefore, the order would be carried, whereas there might have been criticism in the other place, and by eleven o'clock, when their proceedings ended, the Government might decide to withdraw the order. That situation might present difficulties.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, perhaps, I may speak again, with the leave of the House. I would go so far as to say this. I believe that this has been a valuable discussion, and my view is that the way these proposals would work out would probably be that which noble Lords opposite envisage. I do not 192 give an undertaking about that, but for the reasons which have been stated by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, my belief is that that is how it would happen.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.