HL Deb 06 April 1960 vol 222 cc742-7

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the debate, but with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat to you a statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. This is the statement:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement about the body which is to advise about the British Transport Commission.

"In accordance with the statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made on March 10, I have now appointed the body which will advise me and the British Transport Commission. It will be composed of:

Chairman, Sir Ivan Stedeford, K.B.E., Chairman and Managing Director, Tube Investments, Limited;

Members, Mr. C. F. Kearton, O.B.E., Joint Managing Director, Courtaulds Limited; Dr. R. Beeching, A.R.C.S., B.Sc., Ph.D., Technical Director of Imperial Chemical Industries, Limited; Mr. H. A. Benson, C.B.E., F.C.A., a partner in Cooper Bros., chartered accountants. The Treasury and the Ministry of Transport will also be represented.

"The task of the advisory body will be to examine the structure, finance and working of the organisations at present controlled by the Commission and to advise the Minister of Transport and the British Transport Commission as a matter of urgency how effect can best be given to the Government's intentions as indicated in the Prime Minister's statement."


My Lords, we are glad to have the statement which has been made in another place given to us in the House by the noble Lord. There is not much room for comment. We do not wish to quarrel with the capacities of any of the persons who have been put on this particular Commission, but when we come to deal with examining the finance and working of the organisation of a tremendous concern like the British Transport Commission, and considering some of the off-shoots of these varied items of policy that we have had put before us so recently, I should have thought it would be very inadvisable to have a final report from such a body without there being among its membership certainly a representative of the larger trade unions who may be really experienced in the general day-to-day management of widespread national distribution.


My Lords, I can appreciate what the noble Viscount says. The desire of the Government was to keep this advisory body small. It can, and undoubtedly will, call upon the great help which can be rendered by the trade unions in this great industry and by the members of the Transport Commission themselves.


My Lords, I should like to say that I am delighted with the statement which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mills, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I had a Question down on the Order Paper, but withdrew it, as I was asked to do, because the matter was under negotiation, and I was glad to do so. But I only trust that out of this present deadlock some solution may be found; because it is quite obvious that we cannot go on as we are now. This is a very distinguished panel with a very distinguished chairman, and if anybody can find an answer perhaps he will be able to. And I would emphasise that an answer must be found. It must be remembered that Her Majesty's Government have a duty to provide the public with some transport to and from certain places, whether by rail, road or air. This applies especially to the country from which I come, where many of us have to motor 70 or 80 miles to get to an aeroplane. In the winter the aeroplanes do not fly, and the railways are so large and incomprehensible that they do not always work to time, as we well know. So that I only hope that out of this body will come some answer to this very vicious problem—I say that in no destructive way but in as constructive an attitude as possible. I hope that perhaps the Committee will be able to find some solution.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his general support of what the Government are trying to do.


My Lords, I thought that I detected in what the noble Earl said besides some general support some general anxiety. Could the noble Lord, the Paymaster General, in further answer to the point made by my noble friend the leader of the Opposition, tell us why there is on this body no person associated with labour from the trade union movement or the Co-operative Movement who could make a contribution. I am not quarrelling with the list of names he has read out. They seem to me to be able and competent people. But it is important that this body, in its recommendations, should carry the understanding, if not the assent—possibly the assent—of trade union representatives. It really is most unusual that on these bodies nowadays there should not be a trade union representative. Could the noble Lord also say why the membership of the body is to be drawn entirely from the employing side of private industry?

Finally, could he throw a little more light on what the body is supposed to do? The terms of reference are exceedingly vague—unless we are to interpret them as meaning that the planning body is going to do the job of the Transport Commission itself. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us a little more information on that aspect. After all, in making this statement he represents in this House the Minister of Transport, who is not lacking in making plenty of public statements, sometimes of a specific character which he does not carry out. Surely, in those circumstances, he could have been better briefed than he has been this afternoon.


My Lords, I will gladly answer the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who himself knows a great deal about these subjects. I think he would be the first to agree that what we need on an advisory body of this kind is to have people with great experience of organisation in business; and that is what we have done. I am sure the Trade Union Movement and the British Transport Commission can contribute and help greatly in regard to this study. What we had to consider was: was it wise to have a large body of people, or was it better to confine it to those who have great knowledge of the subject we are asking them to examine? They can call upon—I am sure from my knowledge of the trade unions they will be only too anxious to co-operate—the advice and experience in this industry of the trade unions, and they can call upon in this industry the advice of the members of the Transport Commission: and not only the members of the Transport Commission, but anybody else with a knowledge of this great industry who has a contribution to make. The Government are of the opinion that the measure they have taken is the correct one—namely, to have a small body of people who can ask for the co-operation of a great number of people in the task they have so patriotically undertaken.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may make a suggestion to my noble friend. I appreciate that it is most important to have a small and compact body to conduct such an inquiry, and I appreciate that it would be open to the members to consult all sorts of people—the Transport Commission, the trade unions, and so on. I think it might well be an embarrassment to a trade unionist, or even to a member of the Transport Commission, if he were to sit upon this body, which is the technical term which we now use. At the same time, since it is to consult people, particularly those who are going to be affected by every single thing this body enquires into, and since its conclusions are going to affect their work (this applies equally to the Commission and to the unions), would it not possibly be wise and practicable to have two members, let us say, one from the Transport Commission and one from the unions, sitting in with the body the whole time, rather than ask them questions on this or that subject?

I say that for two reasons. These people would not be members; they would not even be assessors. I think it is common that in all international conferences people sit in and "assist". The people who were asked to sit in in this way would know what was in the minds of the body inquiring, and when some question arose upon which their opinion was particularly required—many unions would be concerned in this—then the body itself would be in a better position to come to a decision. Although, as I say, these people would not be members of the commission of inquiry, and would not be able to sign the recommendations, it would mean that when the recommendations of the body, which has to act as quickly as it can, are published, there would be much more likelihood of their being accepted, or at any rate appreciatively understood by both the Transport Commission and the unions, whose good will will be required to put into effect any recommendations that may be made.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his suggestion. The matter, however, is not quite so simple as that. If we are not careful we shall have a great body of people. After all, there are several trade unions concerned with the undertakings of the British Transport Commission, and there are several branches of the British Transport Commission, too. Whether anybody who is particularly concerned in running the railways wants to be concerned in running hotels and the discussions that accompany that matter, I cannot say. I will see that the noble Earl's suggestion goes forward to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, but I can see difficulties. I should not be fair to your Lordships if I did not say that.


My Lords, may I appeal to the noble Lord not to omit as a full member of the inquiring body a member of the trade union movement. I can quite understand the Government's anxiety not to have representatives serving on a committee of this kind, but there are many people in the trade union movement with considerable experience of this scale of organisation and of the industries concerned. I myself have served on two nationalised industries, and I have served with two of the persons who have been named this afternoon as members of this committee. I am quite sure that the conclusions reached will be infinitely more likely to find general acceptance if there is on the committee someone who has a knowledge of the workers' point of view and, broadly, without being a clear representative of the railwaymen or of anybody else, can represent it. Unquestionably one can find such a person in the ranks of the trade union movement. I beg the noble Lord not to turn lightly on one side such a suggestion. This is a profoundly important question and one that might have far-reaching repercussions.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Citrine. He knows that I, too, appreciate the qualities of trade union leaders, many of whom I am proud to own as friends, and I know what they can contribute. But the Government came to the conclusion that it would be better in this matter not to have interested parties represented, and to confine the membership to people who were really trained in organisation of business on a large scale. However, I will report his remarks to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport.


My Lords, I would only say that, while I greatly appreciate the intervention and kind suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, I hope that whoever is added to the committee (if there be anybody added) will have full status, because it is so important to have the right to ask questions of the witnesses.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks.