§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, when he rose to introduce the 1962 Transport Act, I am slightly puzzled how best to serve your Lordships' House this afternoon. This is a rather large Bill and one which on first glance could be said to be rather complex. If I were to adopt the usual manner of speaking to the principles of the Bill and then explaining the clauses, clearly I should be speaking at an intolerable length. I understand that this is a controversial Bill, but then no Transport Bill that has been presented to Parliament has been otherwise. I thought perhaps the best course for me was to seek to deal with the main doubts that arise on this Bill, but, despite that, I fear that I shall speak at some length, and I am bound to say my embarrassment about that is added to as—as I have explained to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and I do apologise to your Lordships—I shall require to leave at about 4.30 o'clock this afternoon for some urgent talks which I do not believe can be postponed or delayed. Therefore, I apologise to the House for not being able to listen to all the speeches.
As I have said, this is a controversial Bill. The main element of controversy lies, I believe, within the content and, secondly, the size, and the Parliamentary consideration given to it in another place. The question of size I will refer to later in my speech, but at the outset I must deal with much of the Press and television comment and speculation on the consideration of the Bill in another place, in order that noble Lords may be under no misunderstanding as to the circumstances there and the reason why, I fully and frankly admit, the Bill comes to your Lordships' House ill-considered. We all know that Parliamentary time is relatively short. The Bill spent some 233 hours in another place, of which 191¼ was spent in Standing Committee. It was, in fact, the longest Standing Committee in the history of Parliament. The Opposition and one sole representative from the Liberal Benches said that they intended to fight the Bill line by line and clause by clause, and that, of course, 8 they did. But, my Lords, how the time was apportioned between clauses must be the responsibility of the opposition to the Bill. The Government cannot be blamed if it was decided to spend some 15 hours on one clause, leaving insufficient time for the consideration of other important clauses. The choice was that of those who were opposed to the Bill.
I referred earlier to the 1962 Act which was also guillotined in another place. Although this Bill is slightly larger, the 1962 Act was controversial and I think it is right that we should be able to compare the time taken in another place for the consideration of this Bill with the time taken on the 1962 Act. The average time taken per clause and Schedule of the 1962 Act was 56 minutes, and for this Bill it was 71 minutes. Therefore, as a whole infinitely more time was given for consideration of this Bill. I suggest that a more important factor was the time allowed after the fall of the guillotine. For both Report and Committee stages almost exactly twice the time was provided for this Bill as was provided for the 1962 Act in another place. In fact, in Committee the Act had 24 minutes allotted per clause and Schedule, while this Bill had some 47 minutes. Therefore, I do not think it can be said that the Government did not provide sufficient time for the consideration of this Bill in comparison with other legislation. If it comes to this House ill-considered, then the responsibility must lie with those who sought to oppose the Bill.
I recognise that there are certain clauses, some of which are very important, which were not considered, or some that were only briefly considered. If the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his colleagues have points of substance on any of those clauses, I give him and the House the assurance not only that they will be most carefully considered by the Department, but that I, as the Minister responsible for the Bill in this House, will see the Minister, if not on a daily basis, on a frequent basis to see that the points are adequately considered by the Department. As I have said, in some quarters this is regarded as a controversial Bill. In regard to its contents, the criticisms appear in many guises. In essence, they can be boiled down to two main themes. First, there is 9 the charge that the Bill is a major nationalisation measure; secondly, that it could be described as an extension of Whitehall control. I do not believe that these criticisms are at all justified, and it is my intention, in presenting this Bill, to show that they are unfounded.
I take first the question of nationalisation. I make it perfectly clear from the outset that this Bill does not legislate for any extension of national ownership. It creates three new nationalised undertakings, the National Freight Corporation, the National Bus Company, and the Scottish Transport Group. But these new bodies are to be formed by the reorganisation in a more rational way of the transport assets which are already in public ownership so as to lay a foundation for a more efficient transport service for the public sector, for industry and for the travelling public. There is nothing in the Bill which involves the compulsory acquisition of privately-owned assets by the State.
Part I of the Bill provides for the establishment of a free-standing National Freight Corporation. The situation created by the 1962 Act is that over a substantial field of freight transport there is direct competition between the railways and the nationalised road haulage services. This direct competition, in the Government's view, is a waste of national resources and plays a significant part in the deficit of some £25 million on the sundries traffic of the British Railways Board. The purpose of the National Freight Corporation is to substitute for this competitive framework a comprehensive freight transport service in the public sector, making the best use of both road and rail. There obviously would be no point in interposing this new body in the handling of freight which the Railways Board handle in full trainloads or direct from siding to siding, and there is no intention of altering those arrangements. The intention is that the Freight Corporation should be responsible, commercially and operationally, for, broadly speaking, all the public sector freight which originates by road.
Thus, the Corporation, as well as taking over from the Transport Holding Company all its road goods transport services and freight shipping services, will also take over the railway freight sundries traffic and the Railways Board's collec- 10 tion and delivery vehicles. In addition —and this is an important part of this new concept—the National Freight Corporation will assume commercial responsibility for the freightliners—not for providing or hauling the trains, which will still be the railways' responsibility, but for the marketing of services and the collecting, handling and delivery of containers. These will enable the publicly owned road services to be rationalised and, most important, will enable the fullest economic use to be made of the freightliners for long-distance hauls.
The Freight Corporation will be a State undertaking responsible to the Minister, in the same way as the Railways Board and the Docks Board are to-day. The Corporation will operate mainly through subsidiaries. There will be the subsidiary road haulage companies, which will be taken over from the Transport Holding Company, and the Bill provides for the creation by the Railways Board of two new subsidiary companies, one for the sundries service and one for the freightliner business, which will be transferred to the Corporation.
There has been criticism of the proposal to make the Freight Corporation responsible for the marketing and development of the freightliner network. But we believe it is right to go ahead if the full potential of the concept is to be exploited because the Freight Corporation, with its ancillary services and its wider commercial contacts, will be better placed to press the development of the freightliners. Moreover, the Corporation will have every incentive, once it has invested in the new freightliner service, to see that its use is maximised. The freightliner service will be available, as it is now, on fair terms to private hauliers, as well as to all the subsidiaries of the Freight Corporation itself, and the Government attach the greatest importance to this in maximising the economic potential of the container concept.
But we fully recognise that British Rail should continue to have a substantial stake in this new technique which they have fostered and developed. For they will continue to provide the track and haulage for the freightliner trains, while the Corporation will own the containers, the road vehicles, the depots and their equipment. The Bill, therefore, provides 11 for the Railways Board to have a 49 per cent. stake in the company which will run the freightliners and an appropriate number of seats on the new Board. Thus British Rail will have no less an interest than the National Freight Corporation in securing the maximum economic development of the freightliners.
If I may remove one misconception which has been voiced about the Corporation, there is no question of its being a means of pushing traffic uneconomically on to rail. The Corporation will be a commercial undertaking. Apart from the initial task it will have of reorganising the present loss-making subsidiary business, in which it will be helped by a temporary grant, it will be expected to act on a completely commercial basis. While it is to be given the duty of securing that its traffic is carried by rail whenever that is efficient and economic, there is no question of traffic going by rail where transport by road is cheaper or more efficient. The Corporation's job will be to provide the best transport service—not a road service or a rail service, but a service by whatever means or combination of means of transport is the most efficient and economic in the circumstances.
I have mentioned that Part III of the Bill provides for the creation of the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group. Again, these two new bodies are being created from assets already in public ownership and they do not extend the field of national ownership at all. The Bus Company will take over from the Transport Holding Company all its interests in buses and related business in England and Wales, while the Scottish Group will inherit from the Transport Holding Company not only the Transport Holding Company's Scottish Group of bus companies but also the interests in MacBrayne's and, from British Rail, the Clyde steamer services at present provided by the Caledonian Steam Package Company, Limited.
The point of all this is to create organisations which can devote their whole attention to taking maximum advantage of the opportunities that exist for rationalising services in the public sector, and for providing a fully integrated pattern of bus services and, in Scotland, of associated shipping services. Both of these 12 bodies will, like the Freight Corporation, be on all fours with existing nationalised transport undertakings. They will be commercial bodies with financial targets determined in accordance with Government policy. They will not be monolithic bodies, any more than the Freight Corporation. We fully recognise the need for manageable units in the bus industry and the intention is that both these bodies will continue to operate generally through subsidiaries, as the Transport Holding Company has operated hitherto.
It may be argued that the extension of nationalisation under this Bill will come not directly through compulsory acquisition of new businesses, but through new powers to be conferred upon the nationalised transport authorities, and particularly through the powers contained in Clause 48 of the Bill—the so-called manufacturing powers. If I may say so, there has been a great deal of nonsense talked about this clause. It has been represented as a gateway to backdoor nationalisation, as a device to strangle the garage and vehicle repair business, as a means for the State to get a foothold in motor retailing and so on. My Lords, that is utterly ludicrous. What this clause does is to free the nationalised authorities from the statutory restrictions on their powers to manufacture and repair, and to sell goods and provide services.
Broadly speaking, under the 1962 Transport Act they were restricted to carrying out those activities either for themselves or for other nationalised transport bodies. But if they have assets that can be applied for these purposes, if they have the equipment and the skills, why should they not be able to exploit them? Why should they be restricted? Why should they not be as free as their competitors in private enterprise to turn their assets to the best advantage? Why should not British Rail, for example, who have exceptional knowledge and skill in the making of containers, be able to aid our export business by making containers for export? Why should not London Transport be able to make the car parks, which they provide at some of their Underground stations, more attractive to those who use them by providing service facilities as well? If we want to develop our canals as a source of pleasure and recreation for the people of this country, why should not 13 the Waterways Board be able to sell alongside those canals the sort of goods that people using the canals want—food, fishing gear and the like?
That is the sort of thing which this clause will make possible. There is nothing insidious about it. It is not an attempt to squeeze private enterprise. These are permissive powers. Their purpose is simply to allow these authorities to develop and exploit their assets in the most profitable way, and in using those powers the authorities will be subject to exactly the same competitive pressures and commercial considerations as any private firm.
It has been said that this Bill is pro-rail. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in introducing the 1962 Act, made it clear that our transport problems were dominated by the recurring railway deficits. As the House will know, the deficit for 1967, despite strenuous efforts by the Board and by the Government, and despite increasing productivity, was practically identical, in real terms, to that of 1963. Clearly, therefore, the high hopes of noble Lords opposite that the competitive provisions of the 1962 Act would solve the problem have not been borne out. That is why a new approach is needed.
I ask the House to consider the proposals in the Bill relating to the Railways Board. Part IV provides the skeleton of a new charter for the railways. The provision of the Bill is based on the recommendations made to the previous Minister of Transport and the previous Chairman of British Rail by a Joint Steering Group, which they appointed in the summer of 1966 to oversee a review of certain aspects of railway policy. That was a deep and detailed review of the Board's finances and of management structure, in particular. The recommendations of the Group were published in October, 1967, in a White Paper, Railway Policy.
First, the Bill provides for a completely new financial remit for the Railways Board. A great many people, including noble Lords in this House, have for a long time been bemoaning the size, and the increasing size, of the railway deficit. Yet, at the same time, they rise in wrath when there is any suggestion of the cutting of unremunerative services. But until now no Govern- 14 ment have had the courage to look at the problem squarely and to propose a realistic solution. This is precisely what the Government have now done, because it is no good thinking that we can ever get rid of the deficit by chipping away here and chipping away there. The only answer, if the taxpayer is not to continue to dole out money on a colossal scale to the railways, is to promote a radical reconstruction of the Board's financial framework.
Accordingly, therefore, the Bill provides for the writing down of the Board's commencing capital debt to the Minister from the present level of £1,562 million, of which over £700 million was placed in suspense by the 1962 Act and has not borne interest since then, to £300 million. In addition, the Board will retain the liability for the £70 million borrowed from the Exchequer since January, 1963. This total sum is the maximum on which the British Railways Board can realistically be expected to meet interest out of revenues. Two-fifths of the Board's annual deficit at present is accounted for by interest, and it is quite absurd for the Exchequer to be paying the Board some £60 million a year simply in order that the Board may remunerate its capital liability.
Secondly, we have taken positive steps to relieve the Board of the heavy social burden which they have had to carry for far too long. If the country wafts the Board to continue to provide passenger services which are unremunerative but socially necessary, then we should be prepared to pay for them separately and not seek to bury them in a single deficit. We are providing in Clause 39 for special grants to the Board for such unprofitable passenger services. These grants will be estimated in advance; if the Board incur a greater loss they will have to finance the additional sum from other sources, but if they do better, then they will be able to add to their general revenue. So this system will give the Board every incentive to develop these unprofitable services and make them as attractive as they can.
We are also at last helping the Board to rationalise their track and signalling. The Joint Steering Group recognised that the operating costs of the railways were considerably increased by the need to maintain track and signalling which was surplus to their present-day needs. Under 15 Clause 40 the Minister and the Board will draw up a programme for the elimination of much of this surplus—for example, by reducing four tracks to two; this will involve new signalling to make better use of the remaining tracks—and grants will be payable, over five years starting 1969, towards the cost of the maintenance and operation of this surplus capacity until it has been eliminated.
Thirdly, the Bill removes altogether—and this is of vital importance—the safety net of deficit financing. From the beginning of 1969 the Board will be on their own. They will have their financial duty to break even, after providing for depreciation and interest; and they will, in line with Government policy, be set an appropriate financial target. If the Board fail to balance their books they can no longer look to the Government for support. This, I assure the House, is a tough remit to the Railways Board, and they are under no illusions as to what it means to them. But an essential part of this policy must be a more flexible and competitive pricing policy. As my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport announced in another place just before Whitsun, the Government have accepted the recent Report of the Prices and Incomes Board recommending that the Railways Board should adopt a more flexible and market-orientated pricing policy.
A new financial framework is of little value without management flair and drive. The Joint Steering Group recommended that the Railways Board itself should be restyled so that it will be better fitted for its future responsibilities. In future it will be a smaller Board. In addition to the Chairman, there will be members with specific responsibility for finance and planning and one who will be responsible for co-ordinating and controlling the day-to-day running of the business—a kind of chief general manager. With these exceptions, the Board members will be non-functional; and the intention is that the Board should be free to concentrate as much as possible on broad policy and long-term planning and financial control.
As I said, the Railways Board's task will be hard, but I am equally sure it will be totally realistic. For the first time they are being given a remit which they have 16 every chance of being able to fulfil, and therefore every incentive to do better. We have acknowledged in this Bill that the Government should meet the cost of the social obligation borne by our publicly-owned industry. We have made it quite clear that, for the rest, the industry must be run as a commercial business and as an efficient business.
My Lords, I believe that in another place my right honourable friend the First Secretary, when introducing the Bill, described it as "practical socialism". She may well have been helping herself in another place, but knowing the attitude of the majority of this House clearly her words were not for my aid or assistance. But whether it is practical socialism or not, I suggest that there is nothing doctrinaire in it; and may I say, as one who was once a businessman, that in my view it makes good commercial sense.
Those who regard the Bill as being no more than doctrinaire socialism will no doubt point to the provisions in Part V of the Bill for the so-called quantity licensing of road goods transport. They will represent this as a device for shoring up the railways because they are too weak to be exposed to the winds and tides of competition. The proposals of Clauses 71 to 81 have been attacked more heavily than any others in the Bill, and perhaps they are the most misunderstood. It may help the House if I describe briefly what they are. What we are proposing in the Bill is the eventual scrapping of the existing system of carriers' licensing—the "A", "B" and "C" licences, of which "A" and "B" licences are in themselves a form of quantity control, restricting competition even within the private sector—and its replacement, in so far as it represents a system of controlling the capacity of the road haulage fleet, by a system of special authorisation for heavy long-distance vehicles. It will apply to lorries of 16 tons maximum laden weight going on journeys of longer than 100 miles, or on shorter journeys down to 5 miles if they are carrying a few specified heavy goods, such as coal, certain ores or steel. The control will apply to no more than 100,000 vehicles out of a total goods fleet of some 1½ million, all of which are at the moment subject to carriers' licensing. Thus we propose sweeping away a great deal of the existing control.
Perhaps I can best help the House by dealing with some of the misconceptions 17 which have been commonly voiced in regard to this proposal. In the first place, it is not a distortion of economics; in fact, it is quite the reverse. The Bill sets out in Clause 74 the criteria against which the licensing authorities are to consider applications from road goods operators for special authorisations if they are objected to by the railways or by the National Freight Corporation, who will of course be operating the freightliners. These criteria are speed, reliability and cost. In other words, special authorisations will be refused only if the railways can carry the goods as cheaply, as quickly and as reliably as road transport can. It also follows that if road haulage can move goods more cheaply and quickly than rail, they will go by road. So the whole purpose of these provisions is to secure the most efficient and economic form of transport for long-distance freight movement in this country.
Secondly, of the 100,000 vehicles on which this system will bite, a great many will get special authorisations without any difficulty. If there is no competing rail service provided by the Railways Board or freightliner service by the Freight Corporation, or if the railway operators do not object, then the application will be granted without further question. It has been suggested that quantity licensing will see the end of long-distance road haulage; but road haulage is a very fast expanding business, and our calculations, as set out in a White Paper, The Transport of Freight, published last autumn, show that although it is likely that it will slow down the expansion of road movement, it will not reverse it. On the other hand—and this is of vital importance—the advantage that it will bring to the railways will be proportionately much greater, since the railways carry, in overall terms, so much less than road transport.
I understand that there are fears that quantity licensing will be cumbersome to administer, and that getting a licence will be a slow and difficult business. If the House wishes, perhaps we can go into this matter in more detail in Committee. The Government see no reason why quantity licensing, once the system is in operation and fully understood, should be any less flexible or more subject to 18 red tape than the present system; and, of course, it will apply to fewer vehicles.
Lastly, my Lords, I must stress that the Government have at all stages made it clear that it is their policy that the quantity licensing system shall not—I repeat, "shall not"—come into effect until the freightliner network has pro red itself satisfactory. The whole purpose of this scheme is to maximise the economic use of rail for freight, and to help relieve the roads as much as is economically sensible. In this way we shall be ensuring that our resources are put to the most effective and economic use.
But quantity licensing is only one part of our policy for a modern, efficient road haulage industry. The Bill also provides two other fundamental changes. The first is what has become known as quality licensing. Although we are proposing the abolition of the carriers' licensing system, we are firmly of the view that there must be control over the standards of operation in the industry. This we propose to achieve by a system of licensing of all operators of vehicles over 3½ tons maximum permissible weight. This will apply to some 600,000 vehicles altogether, including, of course, the 100,000 which are also liable to quantity licensing. Clauses 59 to 70 of the Bill provide for this scheme. Its object is to ensure that operators have the proper resources f Dr maintaining their vehicles in safe condition and that someone in the firm should be legally responsible for the stab, of the firm's lorries.
The second big change which we make in the framework under which the road haulage industry operates is a reduction of the drivers' maximum hours of work. Again this is a policy designed to increase safety on the roads. To-day's traffic conditions are vastly more taxing than in the 1930s, from which dates the present law affecting drivers' hours of work. We cannot afford the risk of over-tired drivers. These proposals in Part VI of the Bill will apply to all goods vehicles and will apply also to buses. I am confident that the House will welcome these proposals in the Bill.
Again, the policy for inland waterways outlined in Part VII of the Bill, far from being doctrinaire, is a highly realistic assessment of the future potential of our canal network—not only its commercial 19 prospects but also its potential for recreational purposes.
My Lords, there has been much criticism of this Bill, criticism that it extends Whitehall control over local affairs and pushes still further the doctrine that "the man in Whitehall knows best." I think that this criticism has arisen largely over the provisions in Part II of the Bill, which deals with passenger transport authorities. In fact, what we are proposing goes the other way. We are proposing a concentration of local authority responsibility. We believe that local government must decide the prices and patterns of public transport which can best meet the needs of their localities in the light of their plans for road building, traffic management and parking control. It is because the Passenger Transport Authorities are a new kind of local body that they will have to feel their way in the exercise of their wide responsibilities. For that reason it is desirable that the Minister should be in a position to help and guide them. The Minister must also be the guardian of the public interest generally (and of the national finances, in particular, that will be available) and, of course, of the private interests that remain. So the Minister has been given certain powers in regard to the Passenger Transport Authorities. But I must stress at once that these powers are very limited indeed, and the charge that the Passenger Transport Authorities will be creatures of the Minister and nothing more really does not stand up to examination.
My Lords, public transport does not operate in isolation. The crucial element in the complex structure of transport in our towns and cities is traffic conditions. This again is a matter for local government. But if local authorities are to be able to cope realistically and imaginatively with the traffic problems that we face in our cities because of the continually increasing car population, they need a wider concept of traffic regulations and greater flexibility and freedom from Whitehall supervision over details in their powers to control traffic. That is what we have set out in Part IX of the Bill. Far from increasing Whitehall control and influence, we are in this Bill setting out to give the local authorities much greater freedom and responsibility and a chance 20 to take a real grip on the transport and traffic problems of their areas.
My Lords, I come now, lastly, to the size of the Bill. Noble Lords will now realise that it contains a great deal of meat. I make no apology for this. The plain fact is that the developments in technology, in our economy and in our social structure have brought transport to the threshold of a new era. We face a great many problems in different fields of transport; but the problems are to a large extent inter-related. Transport cannot be reorganised in bits and pieces. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that one of the great causes of the present difficulty is that we have in the past dealt with transport in bits and pieces. This is why, in this Bill, we attempt a comprehensive solution to the needs of the next few years. To leave out some of the Bill, to let some of our transport system stagnate while we legislate to enable other parts to develop, would not make any sense. This Bill has been said to be anti-road or pro-railway. It is neither of these. It is a Transport Bill. The Government are not concerned to champion a particular kind of transport or a particular lobby. We are concerned with the movement of people and goods, whether for business or for pleasure, by the most efficient, most convenient and cheapest means, given the resources at our disposal. It is high time that we began to concentrate on the function rather than the means. What matters is the kind of job that needs to be done, the sort of service that needs to be provided. This is precisely our objective in this Bill. It is because this Bill provides this country with a system of transport which is both realistic and comprehensive that I ask the House to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for giving us such an interesting and comprehensive explanation of this vast Bill. May I first acknowledge the explanation that he gave us of why he will have to leave the House in an hour's time to deal with his very important Commonwealth obligations, and say that he certainly takes with him our best wishes. I turn now to the points which 21 the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made. I thought, if I may say so, that his exposition of the Bill differed strikingly from that which his right honourable friend gave in another place. If anything could be done to make it look a respectable, objective Bill, certainly the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd would do it; but even his great powers of Parliamentary dialectic would be strained to do it. However, we all enjoyed it; and if, now and again, I find myself giving a slightly different version of some aspects of the Bill from that which he gave, I do not think he will be altogether surprised.
I certainly agree with him that this is a record-breaking Bill. As he says, it is a record for length and, I believe, a record for the guillotine. I should think the volume of opposition from industry throughout the country is also a record. The Bill's only friend outside is Transport House which fathered it—or perhaps I should say mothered it. The right honourable lady who introduced it last Autumn said that she commended the Bill to the Labour Party Conference with these words:It will give to our road transport unions the guarantee of a growing and expanding sector of public ownership"—That is in sharp contrast to the noble Lord's version—and will give to us all a Socialist transport policy.The truth is this: although there is much that is good and much that is purely technical in the Bill, this theme of the Socialist doctrinaire approach runs through large parts of it. Noble Lords opposite may like it; but I must say from this side of the House that we do not like it and do not think that those aspects of the Bill are applicable to our transport problems. Outside, in the rest of the country, I think it would be true to say that the Bill is being received with increasing alarm as people begin to understand its implications and the sharp increase in prices which it is bound to cause.
Transport accounts for some 15 per cent. of all industrial costs, and therefore increases here—and this is something that the Prices and Incomes Board noted the other day—affect the price of everything, both for consumption at home and for export abroad. The Multiple Shops Federation estimated that the Bill would 22 add some 3d. in the pound and the Budget transport provisions a further 1½., so with that on top of the general price increase which we have already had in the last six months since devaluation and which amounts to over 8d. in the pound our people are, not unnaturally, worried about the rise in prices which they have already experienced and the further increase which this Bill is likely to bring in the budgets of every household in the country; and this at a time when it is Government policy to hold incomes stationary. This, then, is the background to our debates on the Bill, and in my judgment it more than explains the unusual interest in them; because there is a common hope that our people may be saved 'from the worst features of the Bill, and I feel that they look to noble Lords here to do what they can to modify those worst features.
I should like to say a word about the principles which will guide us in considering the Bill. First, as to the Bill itself, it is quite clear from the Labour Party Manifestos in both the 1964 and the 1966 Election campaigns that the Government have an electoral mandate to legislate on transport policy, and in these circumstances I would advise my noble friends that we should give the Bill a Second Reading. But on l he Committee stage we shall feel free to propose Amendments which, in our judgment, will improve the Bill and relieve our overstrained national economy from its worst features. I hope that these Amendments may win the support of noble Lords in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has, in characteristic fashion, done everything possible to meet the timetable problems within the limits imposed by the massive flow of legislation which is continually coming towards us. The provisional arrangement is that the Government will give us nine days in Committee. But even if we sit until 10 o'clock each night, and possibly later sometimes, that is all too little time to debate a Bill of this magnitude and importance, especially when, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has remanded us, there are some 50 guillotined clauses still awaiting even the first syllable of debate.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, dealt admirably in his explanation of why the timetable was the 23 way it was in the Commons, but I am bound to say that I could give him a very different version. The fact is that this is a gigantic Bill and far exceeds the range and substance of any other Transport Bill; and of course more time is needed. The right course would be to operate our normal arrangements and to set out on the Committee stage and go on until we finish. But we will do our best within the Government timetable and we must see how we get on. We certainly think that it is in the best interests of Parliament that the Bill should be properly discussed and be seen to be dealt with here on its merits. I have explained this timetable dilemma so that we may know here, and so that our people outside also may know, that although the Government cannot cut debate in your Lordships' Chamber by guillotine, much the same effect can be achieved when the Government forces through Parliament more Bills than Parliament can really cope with. My noble Leader, Lord Carrington, has already protested strongly about it and said that it is not in the best interests of government, and I should like warmly to support him.
I turn to the Bill itself. The broad transport aims with which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, dealt so convincingly are of course unexceptionable. The first is to find the right relationship between road and rail freight in the interests of making the best disposition of our economic resources in the field of transport. Every country in the world is trying to do that. The second, in regard to passenger transport, is to achieve the maximum co-ordination of public transport in our major conurbations. Again, every advanced country in the world is trying to do that. Then, in respect of road freight transport there is the need to strengthen safety regulations for vehicle maintenance and drivers' hours, make new arrangements for inland waterways and a host of miscellaneous items, most of which are not objectionable in principle. Indeed the third and fourth categories are mainly technical and acceptable in principle, though there are many points of interest I think we should debate. It is the first two, the right relationship between road and rail transport and the best method of providing co-ordinated passenger 24 transport in our big conurbations, where the main areas of controversy arise; and that is where, in my judgment, Party political influence is out of place. Nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said removes the weight of that comment from me.
My Lords, there is no simple answer to the problem of the right relationship between road and rail freight. The right answers could be found only by detailed objective study to elucidate all the facts, followed by a dispassionate judgment which has carefully weighed the pros and cons of each possible course. That would be the only realistic approach to these problems; but that is very far from the approach made by the Minister. It was, perhaps, unfortunate that the Minister of Transport of the day held views of such extreme political strength that even such an uncontroversial thing as a traffic light always seemed red in her care. The Minister declared her intention to give us a Socialist Transport Bill with an expanding sector of public ownership, and that is the theme which runs through these two major parts of the Bill, irrespective of the merits; and it makes in places in the Bill a curious contrast with the many technical sections which I recognise as having been carefully and expertly built up inside the Ministry of Transport. I would say, in passing, that the good features in the Bill are in danger of being blighted by the bad.
The first thing the Bill does to the railways, as the noble Lord has told us, is to take away the freightliner service and transfer it to the new body, the National Freight Corporation. The freightliner service is the major 20th century achievement of the railways. Sir Stanley Raymond, the previous Chairman, called it the brightest jewel in their crown. Our rail freight system, as many noble Lords will know, is old-fashioned. It was laid out in the 19th century to carry coal and minerals and it is only with difficulty that the railways could adapt that system to meet the need imposed by the expanding traffic of the day, the merchandised traffic. Therefore, until the freightliner service appeared the railways had been fighting a losing battle to get their share of merchandised transport. So this was the great breakthrough which occurred in Lord Beeching's day to meet the needs 25 of this expanding section of our transport, and after a slow start it has been making good progress.
What a desperate blow to the railways was the removal of this liner service! We know from Sir Stanley Raymond, when he was dismissed from the Chair for opposing it, just how it affected the railways. It seems a mighty strange action to me that noble Lords opposite, many of them with personal interests in the railways, many of them being friends of the railways, could do such a thing as this which so demoralises the service from top to bottom. This astonishing Transport Bill begins in Part I by giving the railways this massive body blow, and goes on in Part V to give them the consolation prize of tying the hands of their competitor behind his back by the innovation of quantity licensing for road haulage. I suppose it is fair to say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, "Fair shares of grief for all".
It is interesting to note that the 1967 Railways Board Report takes credit for the improving relationship with industry. Well, I congratulate them. That is good. But if the Government go ahead with quantity licensing they will poison the relationship with industry for the next generation. That method of finding the right relationship between road and rail is easily the worst feature of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, rightly anticipated that we are going to be extremely critical of it.
It starts from the premise—and this is in the Government's White Paper—that freight should be forced off the roads in order to fill the spare capacity of rail. This is to be achieved by special licensing procedure for all heavy lorries—those over 16 tons—for journeys of over 100 miles. Applications for such traffic licences are to be notified to British Rail and the National Freight Corporation, and licensing authorities are to grant licences only if the road haulier can prove that the traffic can be handled more efficiently by road than by rail. In other words, all journeys over 100 miles for heavy lorries will in future be at the discretion of the railways and the National Freight Corporation.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord would like to be corrected on this. This will happen only within freightliner areas. Where there is 26 no freightliner service the licences will be free.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his correction, but this is still a substantial part of the country; and over this large part of the country the new scheme is throwing a spanner into the works of the national economy. Your Lordships may well ask whether the former Minister of Transport intended, instead of sunning railways to serve the country, to run the country to serve the railways.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I look forward with interest to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, explaining how he justifies stripping the liner service from the railways as the best method of equipping them for the future.
This scheme bristles with objections and anomalies, which we can discuss in detail in Committee. But perhaps I might mention now what, in my judgment, is the worst feature. This is the arbitrary depriving of the industrialist or merchant of his commercial judgment on the best means of transporting his own goods. Managers earn their living by using their commercial judgment to decide on the method of transport best suited to their business, in terms of cost, speed, freedom from breakage, interlocking with other journeys, and so on. And to substitute a bureaucratic machine to take the place of the free working of this highly competitive transport market cannot but result in delays, uncertainties and increased costs. Nothing that the noble Lord can say can possibly alter that.
The present Minister seems inclined to modify its worst features, and I congratulate him; but I do not believe that any future Minister will ever make the necessary order to introduce this scheme. It will just sit on the Statute Bock But when we come to the Committee stage, we shall wish to debate these major issues critically. My own view is that the Geddes Report, which recommended that we should free the whole road haulage system from licensing, is the right answer.
With regard to the Part IV proposals for railways, with which the noble Lord dealt and which involve the substantial writing down of the capital structure and 27 the strengthening of central management, I would say that the writing down of capital structure follows the principles of the 1962 Act and so, broadly, does the strengthening of central management; and I welcome both in principle. I also welcome the point which the noble Lord made cogently about the ending of deficit financing. I am sure that this is what should be aimed for. But I would make this observation: that this involves accepting the loss of a large sum of taxpayers' money, and since we have the Prices and Incomes Board's report on the railways, which was not available in another place, to inform our debates, we shall wish to inquire what further action the Government are taking to correct the disturbing picture indicated by that Report. It indicates serious weakness on the marketing side. In passing, I would say that this is one more reason for not stripping rail of the liner-trains, which must make a strong appeal to their most enterprising officials.
Part VI of the Bill attempted to assess an annual charge for freight vehicles related to the wear and tear which each took out of the road. As we know, it has now been dropped. As I have made such stringent criticisms of what is in the Bill, I should like to say that I believe that the principle in Part VI—that is, the scientific evaluation of track costs—is the right one to pursue. This is the right approach to getting the proper relationship between road and rail. The published Report on track costs is extremely interesting, but inconclusive. Of course, this is a very complex subject. I am sure that this is worthy of further study, and I hope that the Government will pursue it. Meantime, in case anyone feels anxious about whether road haulage is not carrying its fair share, let me remind your Lordships that the financial provisions which were imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget on road haulage about double what was put on to them in Part VI, so we need have no fear that road haulage is not paying its share.
In Part II of the Bill, as the noble Lord has told us, the Government attempt to solve the problem of public Transport in the major conurbations by the setting up of Passenger Transport Authorities. I do not propose to go into this subject in 28 any detail to-day, but we shall put down a number of Amendments in Committee in order to promote debates on it. A Passenger Transport Association involves a complex five-tier structure of the Minister, the local authorities, the Passenger Transport Authority, the Passenger Transport Executive (which is the operating body) and the National Bus Company, which provides the buses for the P.T.E. Let me remind your Lordships that the P.T.A. can also take responsibility for commuter rail service loss, which would have to be paid by precept on the ratepayers. Therefore the proposed set-up has very important implications for everybody concerned.
There are just two points that I would make now about the Passenger Transport Authorities. The first is that the P.T.A. concept appears to be a copy of the pattern of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. We have had the benefit of Professor Lentall's article in The Times last March, describing this Authority in some detail. It appears that after three years' operation, it is in such a state of chaos and insolvency that the Federal Government have set up a special commission to investigate it. I suggest that this is more than enough to warn us here in England to tread cautiously and not to plunge in too heavily. We can learn a great deal from the Americans about the management of road traffic, but we can learn from their failures as well as from their successes. Let me add, on the other side, that in spite of this discouraging result there is an idea here in creating a co-ordination authority for conurbations. Something more needs to be done, and we should like to see the Bill improved by strengthening local authority control. Although I would not perhaps go so far as the charge, to which the noble Lord referred, that the Passenger Transport Authorities are to be the creatures of the Minister, I think that there is a wrong adjustment between local authority control and the Minister, and in Committee we shall seek to amend that and try to insure against the worst aspects of the American experience.
The second point I would make is that these are very complex structures, and although there were lengthy debates on Committee stage in another place I still think that the public is largely unaware of how they are going to work, and therefore our debates here could clarify 29 this subject. I hope that we shall be able to convince the Government not to plunge into setting up the four Passenger Transport Authorities which the previous Minister forecast. I am sure that it would be wise to proceed cautiously in this field. Let us take one at a time and learn by experience.
The last point I want to refer to is Clause 48, already well known as the "nationalisation clause". The noble Lord called it prospectively the "manufacturing clause". This clause provides that any Board which appears in this Bill shall have power to manufacture and repair for outside bodies (this is the point) pretty well anything it likes, subject only to the Minister's consent. For a Party committed to the extension of public ownership, it amounts to giving the Boards carte blanche to establish any new industry which they fancy. I suggest that, in the light of the unhappy losses turned in by some of our nationalised industries, it really is the height of folly to consider a major extension of this kind now. Section 13 of the 1962 Act, to which the noble Lord referred, provides fully for the needs of these Boards and authorities in enabling them to manufacture or repair anything required for their own business.
The policy that I am advocating, my Lords, is not restrictive. The noble Lord won a cheer from his side when he asked: Why should not nationalised industries have power to extend in this way in the same way as private industry does? The answer is quite simple: because private industry has to carry the extra taxes to finance, first of all, their capital, and then, should they suffer them, their losses. There is a limit to which this country can do this. And, Heaven knows! we have already reached it. This is why we are against this extension: because we think that it is damaging to the national economy.
In conclusion, I would mention briefly the 50 clauses which fell under the guillotine in another place. Those, as I have said, we shall wish to debate, and we shall put down Amendments. In the main, they deal with secondary matters, but there are some important points there. The transport managers' licences are, I think, most important, and we should debate them carefully. There are important proposals in relation to the 30 Inland Waterways Board. Then there are level crossings, and a number of other important matters. My Lords, by the nature and volume of their legislation the Government have set us a stiff task, but we shall spare no effort to give this monster Bill adequate debate, and where possible we shall seek to improve it.
§ 3.53 p.m.
My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave us a most admirable survey of the difficulties in which we on this side of the House find ourselves with regard to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, thought that Lord Shepherd almost made it respectable. Well, my Lords, this is a much more respectable Bill than the Bill that was first introduced into another place last December. It has been modified considerably, and this is partly no doubt why the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was able to make it appear respectable.
The Liberal Party have opposed the Bill because of overriding bad features, about which I will speak in a moment, although this does not mean that we do not welcome some of its provisions. Indeed, we recognise that it is a bold and imaginative attempt to co-ordinate all the difficult strands in the transport passenger field, and to make for the first time a real transport policy. Perhaps that has been its undoing, as well as its virtue. In saying that, I am not forgetting the little lecture which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, read to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about piecemeal legislation. Its fault has been, possibly, in spite of the fact that the Bill is bold and imaginative, that it has tried to do too much and too quickly. At the same time it has come near to clogging the works in Parliament, and may clog the works in the field of transport. We hope—and I feel sure this goes not only for noble Lords on these Benches, but also those,on the Conservative Benches—that it can be further modified in your Lordships' House in such a way that it will not clog the works in the field of transport, rind also in such a way as to show that Parliament has not got itself "gummed up" over it.
As I have said, we welcome some of the provisions of the Bill. For example, 31 no one would deny that our complicated, but invaluable network of inland waterways is an asset which has not been exploited for the last fifty years. The provisions of the Bill make use of the waterways for recreational and commercial purposes and to us on these Benches this is commendable. We recognise, also, that regulations controlling the permitted hours of work for drivers of heavy goods vehicles, which were laid down, as the noble Lord said, thirty years ago, are inadequate, if not unsafe, under modern traffic conditions, and in relation to production and permitted hours of work in other industries.
The noble Lord drew attention to the enormous toll of life on our roads, and said that this justified the principle of quality licensing. With this I agree, and I think noble Lords on the Conservative Benches would agree as well. I think, also, it is right to mention that the system of grants for unremunerative but socially necessary passenger rail services is something that we are glad to see in the Bill. My Party were rather disappointed that something of this nature was not in the Conservative Government's Act of 1962. Because the Bill contains clauses of this kind, which we all find commendable, it is all the more regrettable it contains these far-reaching proposals of a needlessly restrictive nature which compel us to oppose it.
Part 1 of the Bill is designed to establish a National Freight Corporation to take over the functions of the Transport Holding Company, which has, on the whole, functioned well during the years of its existence. The provisions in this Part of the Bill which enable the Corporation to extend the activities of the former Transport Holding Company in the field of road haulage, and the intention to set up a subsidiary company to take over the controlling interest in the railways—that is, the freightliner service—we regard as wasteful and quite needless in relation to a properly integrated transport system. We shall try to amend these proposals in Committee to restrict the Corporation's activities to what we regard as its proper function; namely, the integration of road haulage, whether it is in the private or the public sector, and the rail freight services.
32 Part II of the Bill, which establishes the Passenger Transport Authority's area, is far too sweeping in concept. There is no need for a Passenger Transport Authority to have the right to set up garages, to sell petrol, spare parts and even motor vehicles, as well as to repair them. Equally, we believe that these P.T.A.s should await the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government, because it is almost certain that they will recommend some form of regional local government, and we believe that the P.T.A.'s should be designed to fit into this sort of pattern. This is another matter which we hope to discuss in some detail on the Committee stage.
Later in the Bill we have the introduction of this new system of quality licensing, and this, in our view, should be reviewed. I take the point the noble Lord made, that the old system of A, B and C licences is quality licensing; and we have had quality licensing in this country for forty years, or whatever it may be, as indeed has any other modern Western society. But when all that is said and done, we feel that this Part of the Bill in its present form will cause hardship to the remoter areas of the country, and especially to those areas designated by the Board of Trade for development. We shall oppose this Part of the Bill outright, because we do not believe it is capable of reasoned amendment. The introduction of the transport managers system of control over quality and quantity licensing is another example of wasteful legislation. Again, I take the point that one of the reasons for this is that there should be some actual person who can be pinned down legally; but I should have thought that it could be done in some other way. This system will be costly to industry, and will require many more civil servants to administer it. In our view, it does not serve any useful purpose.
I have said that we recognise that drivers' hours must be reviewed, but we want greater flexibility than is provided in the Bill. What I mean by this is that if we do not make these provisions flexible the drivers themselves will do so—they will make them flexible by operating them illegally. So let us try to get flexibility here before flexibility is found elsewhere in the wrong sort of way. Again, the existing provisions will 33 be particularly harmful in the remoter areas of the country. My honourable friend the Member for Bodmin managed in another place to obtain valuable concessions from the Minister, but I agree with him that they do not go far enough.
Lastly, I should like to say something about Clause 48, which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has spoken about so effectively. In spite of the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that in fact this does not mean nationalisation at all, I cannot help feeling that nevertheless it gives apparently unlimited powers to the new boards and authorities to enter an enormous field of manufacturing and trading, which seem to have no connection with transport at all. This clause we regard as—I will not say "a backdoor to nationalisation", but at any rate a back-door to a wider area of control than we in the Liberal Party feel we can accept; and we shall try to remove these provisions. The Bill has been most effectively modified in another place, and I hope that the same thing will happen here, because, as I have said before, I regard this Bill as more good than bad. I hope that noble Lords opposite will feel that they are able to accept Amendments and changes of the sort which will enable us on these Benches to vote with the Government when it comes to the Third Reading.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAK-RIDGE
My Lords, I wear to-day the tie of the Royal Corps of Transport. This Corps, as your Lordships may know, was formed three years ago by the amalgamation of the transport units of the Royal Army Service Corps and the Corps of Royal Engineers. By that means was fulfilled the teaching of that great prophet in the transport world, Sir Eric Geddes, who made such a big contribution to victory in World War I. After the war he was made the first President of the Institute of Transport, and at his inaugural dinner he made a statement of which the following is an extract:The State must harmonise the operation of the different agencies as between themselves in the interests of the community as a whole. … In future our effort will be, I hope, to encourage each agency of transport to undertake that part of the total work which it, owing to its special qualities, can most efficiently and economically perform.34 Having made that beginning, your Lordships may be expecting me to say that I think this is a perfect Bill, but you will find that I am not going to say that. I do, however, think that it is a mistake to argue against the principle of the integration of transport, which I believe to be a perfectly sound principle. But there are various ways of trying to reach it, and some of them are not as sound as others are.
Incidentally, your Lordships may know that there is another Minister of Transport in another place trying to get his Bill through Parliament, a Bill very similarly framed to this one and aimed in the same direction. But Herr Leber is rather unfortunate. He is finding that it takes more time to get his Bill through because the Constitution bequeathed to the country by the Occupying Powers made no provision for that useful silencer of opposition, the guillotine. As for this Bill, there has already been talk about the shortage of time which Parliament has in which to consider it. I should like to offer another thought in that connection. I think it is very unfortunate that we are so pressed for time when we are discussing transport. We have not had a proper debate in this House on transport since the Beeching Report (if I may call it so) was brought before us several years ago. This Bill hay been preceded by a snowstorm of White Papers, which I have read, but it has not been found possible to find time to debate any of them; and that is one of the reasons why we find ourselves in our present mix-up.
I was, I must confess, with deference to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd (he is not here now but he may read what I say), prejudiced by the remark made by the Minister when she told the country that she was producing a Socialist transport policy. I think it was a mistaken thing to say, because I do not think the country is looking for a Socialist transport policy, nor even a Tory transport policy. I think it is just looking for a good transport policy. It is looking for a transport policy which it feels ha; been carefully worked out by a bunch of intelligent men and women honesty seeking to produce an answer to a problem that has defeated and baffled their predecessors through generations. 'That is what we are looking for.
35 To turn to the Bill itself, the features which I find most difficult are, I suppose, just those which were interpolated to show what a very Socialist Bill it was. If I may give your Lordships an example, I would refer to the clause which gives licence to the railways to manufacture for outside customers. I do not see much wrong in that, but I think that it was unnecessary and unnecessarily provocative. Look at the way it has provoked our very mild friend, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. He is most indignant about that clause, and it was unnecessary. Does anybody really imagine that the Railways Board have the time or the money to create a great commercial organisation to get the business which this clause is supposed to envisage? Besides, if the railways really get into the manufacturing business, they will find themselves in competition with others, of course; and 'who will be those others? Why, their best customers. The railways know that perfectly well. I think this was the sort of clause that was unnecessary and has given rise to a lot of bad feeling.
As to the best parts of the Bill, those parts which please me best are those which implement the Report of the Joint Study Group chaired by Mr. John Morris. I do not know Mr. Morris myself, but I should like to congratulate him and his colleagues on producing an excellent Report. I suppose I like best in it those parts which deal with the structural organisation of the railways. I like them best because, if I may be forgiven for saying so, they very much reflect my own philosophy on the subject.
To deal with the Bill in a little more detail, I will speak briefly on Part I and Part II and nothing else. As regards Part I, which sets up the National Freight Corporation, I am not going to say much about quantity licensing. There is a reason for that, my Lords. When I had a responsibility for the finances of the railways I put forward very similar proposals myself, not under quite such a grand name, and I should think that if any of your Lordships found yourselves in the same situation you would probably search round for similar proposals yourselves. My proposals were not perfect and they were, 36 as I expected, promptly "shot down in flames" by the Conservative Government of the day. These proposals are not perfect, either. They evidently cause the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, many misgivings; he expressed himself in a very balanced and reasoned fashion, but he is reflecting thoughts that are held widely in the country and are certainly widely held among industrialists.
This is a matter to which the Government must give a great deal of thought. In my view, it will depend very much on how the thing is worked out in practice. If the railway management are going to make use of these clauses to try to grab business which they are not capable of handling as cheaply and as efficiently as road transport, there will be serious trouble. There is an old saying to the effect that you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You can pass all kinds of laws, but when you show an industrialist something you want him to buy you will find it hard to persuade him to buy it if he does not like it. The Minister has said that he does not propose to implement these quantity licensing provisions straight away until the position can be seen more clearly. That is a wise provision and I think the Government might quite properly decide not to rush this horse too fast at his fence.
On another feature of Part I mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I am in complete agreement with him. I am rather shocked by the decision to take the freightliner service away from the railways and to give it to the National Freight Corporation. It is hard luck on the railways; this is really a winner that they have produced, and to have it taken away from them and given to somebody else is most regrettable. But there is another thing which is rather more serious. I have always understood that it is a golden rule of railway management that the selling and the running of the trains, which is called "operating", must be closely welded together, and it is a peculiar thing to do, to give one of these to one organisation and the other to another organisation. I do not say that it will not, or cannot, work well. Almost anything can be made to work, and if the two heads of these organisations work closely together in the interests of the customers perhaps it will work. But I suggest that a good organisation ought to rest on a surer foundation.
37 In general Part I of the Bill strikes me as being exceedingly complicated. I think your Lordships will agree that good organisation is invariably characterised by simplicity. Here we find corporations, councils, companies, boards and groups tumbling over each other until one's head aches in an effort to sort out who does what.
To turn to Part II, with its area authorities, its executives and its companies, at least here we are not given the situation where one organisation runs the buses and another collects the tickets. The basic idea that a local authority should devise a transport plan and, moreover, finance it, if it does not prove to be a paying proposition, I have always thought to be theoretically a perfectly sound idea, but it will not be easy for it to be worked out in practice. This point has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and I have much sympathy with what he said. These Transport Authorities will be composed of a variety of men and women, coming from a number of urban and rural councils and other places—incidentally, they will be men and women of different political complexions, each with his own canoe to paddle, and they will be asked to agree on a transport plan and how to pay for it. I foresee difficulties, and I am not surprised that the Minister has taken several pages of this Bill to endow himself with authority to sort out the tangles.
There was some criticism—and I do not disagree with it—of the amount of authority which the Minister has reserved for himself, although in this particular instance I think he will need all the authority he has taken. The scheme involves the formation of the National Bus Corporation, to which are to go the former companies of B.E.T., of Tillings—which was a nationalised group—and of the municipalities. Personally I am rather sorry that the B.E.T. bus companies are disappearing. I do not quarrel with the idea of more strongly coordinating the management of all the bus companies, but those B.E.T. companies, working alongside the Tillings group companies, gave an example of how nationalised organisations and private enterprise organisations can work side by side in perfect harmony, and the general public will not know which 38 is which. I am sorry to see thorn go, but I think the directors of the B.E.T. companies will probably get over their chagrin. I myself have no great faith in the future of the bus industry, and I daresay they will find consolation.
It is now time to wind up my speech. I wish to make three final points. First, this is an untidy Bill— and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has almost: said so —and it has been inadequately debated in another place. I am sure that the Government would incur resentment in the country if they tried to prevent this Bill from being properly debated in this Chamber, and I do not believe they will. When I had responsibility for the railways I used to say, "There is one thing, gentlemen, we are not short of, and that is advice". We in this House are not short of advice as to where our duty lies and what we should do abut it. My own reaction is always to do exactly the opposite of what I am told, but one must not be guided too much by one's feelings. I strongly support the second Reading of this Bill, and I shall do my best to make a contribution at the Committee stage.
My second point is addressed to noble Lords opposite, and I hope that it will not be taken amiss. In another place, during the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill, the spokesman for the Conservative Party used words to the following effect—I am not quoting them exactly: "This Party will, at the earliest opportunity, see to it that the Bill is radically tackled, amended and repealed". Well, my Lords, if we are going on like that we shall never get a good transport organisation. If, every time there is a change of Government, the cards are to be chucked in the air and we start again, how can we expect the officers and men in the industry to respect the politicians under whom they serve, or to have any enthusiasm for their own job? I seriously commend that point to noble Lords opposite.
Finally, I want to refer to a point which has been mentioned with al parent approval both by the noble Lord Lord Shepherd, and by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent; indeed, I am not sure that it was not also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I refer to the recent decision of the Prices and Incomes Board 39 which has largely disallowed—or recommended that it should be disallowed—the application made by British Railways for higher charges. When I read that in the newspapers I said, "There we are again, the usual old story. It is politically inconvenient that the charges shall go up, so the railways must be told that they are inefficient, and that if they were efficient they would not need to put up their prices".
I hope that whoever replies to this debate for the Government will have something to say on this point. Will he tell us when this application was submitted and when the Government expect to give their final answer to British Rail? I can tell the Government that this Bill now before us will be a complete waste of time and paper, and will not achieve its object of giving financial stability to the railways, if, when their costs go up and up, they are to be refused their requests for higher charges, or are to have those requests delayed over great lengths of time.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I speak as someone who has had reasonable experience of bus driving. Until last November, I was for over six years a conductor and driver for a bus company that is attached to the Tillings Group—that is part of Transport Holdings—in that busy town of Brighton. Even though this is my maiden speech and this Bill is regarded as extremely controversial, I felt it worth while to give your Lordships a short insight into a driver's life and conditions in the way that they will be affected by this Bill.
I would draw your Lordships' immediate attention to Clause 95, Part VI. I am sorry to disappoint the Minister in not sharing his confident view that this House would welcome this provision, because I feel it is not yet ripe. The purport of this clause is to cut down drivers' hours in order to lessen fatigue. It is fair to say that long hours are worked in many places at present, but I am afraid that cutting the maximum working week of a driver from 77 hours to 60 hours and the maximum working day from 11 hours to 10 hours, will only add to the many problems facing the bus industry to-day, principally because it will hit the earning 40 capacity of an already grossly understaffed industry. As was quoted in another place, the Association of Chambers of Commerce have pointed out that the manning of public service vehicles up and down the country is deficient by between 10 and 15 per cent. Thus, by cutting the hours this figure will be considerably higher and more scheduled services will be cut unless radical measures are produced for improving the wages and conditions of busmen.
I feel it is now necessary to give the main reasons why bus work is so unpopular. First, the working of erratic hours, week-ends and bank holidays, plus the staggering of summer holidays from March to October, tends to lead to dissension in the home and to disrupt family life. Secondly, there are very few and not very attractive promotion prospects. Thirdly, except in the case of municipal busmen, the sick-pay scheme is inadequate and has to be augmented privately by beloging to sick clubs, there being in most cases no retirement pension.
The persons who work on buses can also be classified into three groups. In the first group there is the man who joined his company before the war, when bus work was of prestige status and did not have the stigma attached to it which it has to-day. Then there is the man who uses his firm purely as a matter of convenience by just working the bare hours, and has some part-time job as well. Finally, there is the largest group of all, the one that contains the man who does a lot of overtime and usually remains only until he has achieved his goal, whatever it may be, like putting a deposit down on a house or buying a motor car.
The basic top rate of a provincial bus driver, of which I was one, for a 40-hour six-day week is still a measly £12 14s. 10d., but I gather a new scheme is afoot. This amount is abysmally small considering the fact that he has to manipulate between 8 and 12 tons in weight and be responsible for the safety of possibly 70 or so souls through the busy traffic. The ideal bus driver needs to have the concentration of a racing driver, the smoothness of an ambulance driver, the aggressiveness of a tank driver, the dexterity of a taxi driver, the mind-reading faculty of an autioneer—that is, in ability to guess request stops and understand erratic 41 bell signals—the physical endurance of a lorry driver, and finally the patience of a saint. Yet bus drivers are regarded as unskilled labour. I agree that a man should not have to work all the hours in the world to have a proper standard of living, but with expenditure going up daily it is necessary. I myself used to work very long hours some weeks and work most of my days off.
Before I close I must mention one more important fact about the bus industry, and that is about accidents. Accidents, in my view, are not caused mainly by fatigue so much as by lack of experience on the part of the younger element—and I was one. I feel sure insurance companies would agreed. A man is regarded as much safer when he reaches the age of 40. In summing up, I can only repeat what I have already said. The bus industry must continue to reform the wage scale and working conditions before the hours can be cut down successfully. I shall always look back on my "bussing" days with affection and regard my colleagues as the most congenial, cheerful and uninhibited bunch of chaps that I have ever been privileged to work with.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, it is my pleasant task to congratulate, on his contribution to our debate, the noble Lord who has just sat down. We wish especially to do this to-day because, if I may venture to say so to him, it is perhaps no bad thing, in debating this vast Bill, for some noble Lord to come along and make it plain to us that it is about people. It is about bus drivers and lorry drivers; it is about real people—something I want to return to in a moment. I am sure we all congratulate him most sincerely on bringing this pleasant breath of reality to our proceedings; we hope we shall hear him often, and we shall listen with great interest when he speaks again.
My Lords, I think I should disclose an interest because certainly the companies with which I am associated will have their costs adversely affected by this measure. I imagine I am in good company because I cannot think of any large undertaking, including the railways, in my view, which will not be adversely affected by this measure in one way or another. Speaking as a previous Minister 42 of Transport, I am not in any degree trying to oppose the general preposition that in this rapidly changing world one has to legislate in this area from time to time. I am pretty sure that the present Government found plenty of pigeonholes full of draft legislation. It is always the case at the Ministry of Transport. There was the Geddes Report and there was the Steering Group which this Government set up, but I think a lot of their work had been done previously. There were no doubt a number of matters to be dealt with; I do not think we need question that. But whether it was wise to draw all this vast mass of amendments into one Bill is another matter.
The trouble is that even as an ex-Minister of Transport who has laboured at a Transport Bill himself, however charitable one may seek to be to this measure one cannot overlook the nature of it. It is an ill-conceived Bill, a product of a Ministry that I fear at the moment is almost overwhelmed with protests and problems of one kind and another. I quite understand that the noble Lord, the Minister who opened this debate, Lord Shepherd, cannot be with us, but I am afraid he will have to accept that there are certain things that he said to which I must refer. I hope he will at least bother to read them.
The Minister sought to be very conciliatory; and so he should. As the noble Lord has just reminded us, and as I hope I and my advisers tried to remember in my day at the Ministry of Transport, any legislation about transport affects almost everybody in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said this, too. Clearly, I think, in this measure very little account has been taken of the effect it will have and the problems it will create for almost every individual in these islands. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said, if we had had more chance in this House, even if there is not time in the other place, to debate some of the White Papers, some of the proposals, this might have been a very much more practical measure. I noticed that the noble Lord was anxious to make it plain that this was not practical Socialism. I suppose we must assume that it is impractical Socialism, and with that I entirely agree.
43 I am rather sad that this Bill, which could have been a workmanlike and possibly useful measure of perhaps a relatively minor nature, has become an omnibus of ill-conceived and badly digested proposals quite unrelated, in my view, to the real needs of the nation at this time. Even so, I think my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford was right to advise your Lordships not to reject this Bill on Second Reading. I think this is on the ground that it does contain much painstaking work by the Ministry's officials related to previous inquiries and so on, and these no doubt we can improve and embody in whatever Bill, in the end, this House decides to give its approval to.
But I want to say most sincerely that I believe it is our duty to examine this Bill with the kind of expert and critical examination which is possible in this place. Here, we have many experts on transport, many people who have borne the heavy and, I think, almost intolerable burden of being asked to be Chairman of a nationalised authority; and many people, like my noble friend Lord Nugent, who have long and expert experience in this field in ministerial office. Therefore, I think it is our job to try to give this Bill the kind of critical examination that it was not given in another place.
I am not going into all the arguments about which guillotine was sharper than another, but the facts are quite plain. This Bill was ill-debated as to its principles; it has been ill-conceived in its construction. It has, then, had little fundamental debate and examination, except in certain specialised areas. I think that we in this House have to try to put that right, however heavy a burden it may be.
I must say that I was a little surprised when the Minister was kind enough to say that he would take some note, and see that the Minister took some note, of what was raised in this House. This seems to me a quite astonishing doctrine. I have always understood that if this House has any purpose at all, it was traditionally a revising Chamber, where people tried to bring what knowledge they had to improving legislation and that sort of thing. I hope that we are not establishing a new principle, under which Ministers will say that it is their 44 decision whether the debates in this House are brought to the attention of the relevant Minister or not. I certainly hope that what we say in this debate and on the Committee stage will be read personally by the Minister, and I hope he will see that all his officials read it and act on it; otherwise I should think that the House might take a quite dim view of the Bill as a whole.
I do not want to delay the House for long. Let me therefore try to give just one or two practical examples of why I venture to say that I think this measure is ill-conceived and does not bear on the right facets of our national life at this time. First, as my noble friend rightly said, there is the really heavy burden of extra costs. I spoke to the Food Manufacturers' Federation. After all, this is a most sensitive area; and perhaps one of the few things on which the Government and, I hope, our side of the House are agreed is that in this sensitive area we do not want to put up prices unnecessarily. We do not want to put too much strain on trade union leaders who are already under heavy enough strain.
I am told (I cannot say whether this is true or not, but it is their best guess) that this Bill will increase the costs of the food industry by no less than £16 million a year. In this industry, which works on quite small margins, there is no hope of absorbing this figure. In the end, it will have to go through into prices, and therefore, in the end, part of the cost of this Bill will have to be paid by the housewives of this country. I should have thought this Government, who so rarely seem to be looking the same way at the same time, would want, for the sake of their prices and incomes proposals, to do all they could to keep food prices down at this time, rather than put them up by their own legislative action.
Another example is to be found in the various clauses which deal with operators' licences. One could go on for a long time on this. For example, why should applications for operators' licences be required in each licensing authority area? If you examine this Part of the Bill, I think you are once again forced to the conclusion that here is a measure that is going to create a vast amount 45 of paper work, vast numbers of applications, vast numbers of hearings, contested applications and all the rest. I can only pose the question: Is this the sort of thing we require in a country that is fighting for its living, that is trying to reduce costs?
Again, in my view this is an example of the Government's saying one thing in one place and doing something quite different in another, because I believe that this Bill will create more form-filling and paper work than any other measure we have had in front of us for a long time. There is also the proposal that, for example, every employer must employ a transport manager at each operating centre. That does not seem to imply much knowledge of how big companies run their affairs.
I should like now to turn to what I think is the most objectionable part of the Bill; that is, the proposal for the control by licence of the operation of large goods vehicles. If I may venture to say so, we all like the Minister a great deal in this House. He can almost "get away with murder", but I do not think he can get away with this. He said that the provisions of this clause would not be implemented unless the railways (and I think I quote him correctly) were able to give a more efficient and cheaper service. If that is so, why do you want the requirement? My company is a large user of these new fast freight services. So are many other large companies. Why? After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said, this is the one real break-through that the railways have had. It is a first-class service. Why one should take it away from them, I do not know. But certainly, coming to this clause, where that service is more efficient they get the business. Therefore, why have this method, by hearings and licences and control, of trying to create the maximum enmity between the railways and their customers?— because that is what is going to happen.
I think I am right in saying that it is still in the Bill that licences, even after they have been granted, are to be revokable at the request of the licensing authority. This is a most dangerous and damaging provision. If a licence, once granted, can be revoked at the whim of a licensing authority, it will make it quite impossible for large businesses or large 46 users of transport to plan for the future at all. My Lords, I hope that I have said enough at this stage to show that possibly what was a good and useful measure has been subverted to purposes of doctrinaire Socialism. In this we are only quoting the Minister who brought it before another place. Thus, instead of something which might have made a contribution to more efficient transport, it is something which I think will put us all back a number of years in general transport policy. The good parts of the Bill will be entirely lost and destroyed by the bad.
I do not think this is the moment to give any more examples. I must say that I remain fearful about this statement of the discipline of "breaking even" on the railways. This is something we have always hoped for but never yet achieved. I do not believe that the chances will be improved by some kind of forced movement of goods from road to rail or from rail to road. If these things cannot take place in the normal commercial practice of efficiency, of cost cutting and so on, then I do not think they will take place at all, whether you legislate for it or whether you do not.
The last thing I want to say is this. I think that one has a right to say it. There are those of us—I think they represent the majority of our nation—who try to listen when the Government say to us, "Export more; be more productive; work harder", and all these things which it is quite proper that the Government should say. In my view, it is quite proper that we should listen, on one condition: that the Government do not then in other spheres produce legislation, and therefore promote proposals, which are inimical to this doctrine. I believe that this Bill is thoroughly inimical to the doctrine of trying to get a more efficient and more productive nation. Perhaps if the Government are willing to listen and to accept major Amendments in this House—and I sincerely hope they are—we may send back to another place a reasonably workable Bill that would make a contribution But if we cannot, then I really think that those of us who strive hard in export and other fields to do something for our country have a right to say about this measure, "Well, it just does not make any sense to us at all".
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, as the first speaker from this part of the House to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, I should like warmly to congratulate him on his maiden speech. As the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, has said, it is a great asset in this House that we have many noble Lords who have practical experience through working in the actual industry or in connection with the subject under discussion. The noble Lord has shown by his experience that there are problems involved and, if I may say so, I think he has made a most useful contribution to the debate.
Many speakers in this debate have talked about the length of this Bill. Of course it is a long Bill. It is a most important Bill—one which is to co-ordinate all the transport services of the country. In many ways it is almost the same length as the London Government Bill, which was brought in by the Conservative Government in 1963, just five years ago. I realise that the present Bill has rather more clauses; but if one looks at the pagination, which is really the only way of comparing the two, in fact this Bill is only 12 pages longer, which in 268 pages, is not really very much longer. As my noble friend Lord Shepherd will remember, we sat up many a long night on the London Government Bill, and no doubt we shall sit up many a long night on this Bill if there is a very long Committee stage.
Another theme that has run all through this debate is that previous speakers have referred to the remarks of the former Minister, Mrs. Castle, in the other place in the debate on December 20, when she said, "This is Socialism". Therefore, I thought that I might, with the permission of the House, read the very short passage in which Mrs. Castle made this remark. I think it is always a tradition of Parliament that when a remark is quoted it should be quoted in its full context. The Minister said that running through the Bill there was one unifying theme—what I would call 'practical Socialism'. As a Socialist, I believe that transport is a vital service to industry and to our people and that, if economic planning or the physical planning of our environment is to make any sense at all, transport planning must form part of it. In the same way, transport services must be planned in relation to each other—not allowed to go their own sweet 48 way regardless of consequences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 1281.]My Lords, if this is Socialism it is also common sense. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that it would be a tragedy for this country if transport were made the plaything of Party politics, and I endorse absolutely the noble Lord's point that we should do our best to improve the Bill—and that, after all, is the right of the Opposition—and then we should accept it and try to make it work. I believe that it has much merit in it.
This is a long Bill, and there are a great many speakers to follow me, and I do not wish to detain the House for very long. But I should like to deal with two sections of it, with both of which I agree. I may say that I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said about Clause 5, which is the transfer of the freightliner company. I welcome the fact that this freightliner company will be a subsidiary of the National Freight Corporation, although of course the Railways Board will continue to have a share in this. It seems to me to make for much better co-ordination that the N.F.C. should be responsible for the terminals, the vehicles, and the containers, while the Railways Board should be responsible for providing the wagons. That seems to me to be good, common, practical sense, and I reject absolutely the policy of the Opposition that road and rail should be run independently of each other and in competition. Also, my Lords, to my mind it would be a great advantage, as one who has some experience of marketing, that the marketing side of this very exciting project, with its tremendous possibilities, should come under one management rather than under two as at present. Of course, the railways will continue to have a major stake in the success of freightliners, and indeed they will share in the profits of the freightliner company.
Then there is the question of quality licensing, under Part V. I welcome the proposed exemption from carrier licensing of all vehicles under 30 cwt., thus releasing 900,000, almost one million vehicles, from licensing in this way. It seems to me right that in future these should be treated like private cars and be subject to the same annual tests and 49 the same roadside spot checks, but not to be treated as heavy lorries. I agree that the quality licence system should apply only to the 600,000 heavier goods vehicles.
Another reason which has not so far been referred to in this debate is the accident rate. I understand that the number of deaths from accidents is 40 per cent. higher per vehicle mile for the heavier vehicles than for the lorries of 30 cwt. and under.
My Lords, I should also like to touch briefly on the other part of Part V dealing with quantity licensing. I think there is one thing on which both the other side of the House and this side of the House can agree, and that is that rail freight has been declining and that road transport has been increasing. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, made great play with the matter of quantity licensing. He said that all freight—at least (I must be fair) not all freight, but freight—would be forced off the roads; that the Government were throwing a spanner into the works; they were stopping managers using their commercial judgment, and that this was a case of fair shares of grief for all. What is this really all about?—because I do say, with respect to the Opposition, and also to what has been said outside this House, in the Press in many parts of the country, that a great many people have got the Government wrong on this. I do not think they have read the Bill or studied it properly, and I do not think they realise its implications.
In terms of ton-miles, the percentage share of road transport has been rising. It rose from 55 per cent. in 1962 to 61 per cent. in 1966. The rail percentage declined from 26 per cent. to 22 per cent. As the White Paper said, this is largely due to the growth in activities of large users of road transport and also to the decline in coal traffic. It has been estimated that by 1975, with these new freightliners, goods amounting to some 4,500 million ton-miles, mainly of long hauls over 100 miles, could go by rail instead of by road. This would allow the rail ton-mileage to rise by 12 per cent., but the rail share of the total ton-mileage would remain at 22 per cent. in 1975, as it was in 1966. On the other hand, the road transport share of the total ton-mileage would rise to 65 per 50 cent. in 1975 from 61 per cent. in 1966. Due to the growth in total transport demand, the total ton-mileage by road for journeys of over 100 miles would still be rather higher in 1975 than in 1966.
In other words, my Lords, as the total demand for transport rises, all the Bill is doing is transferring 10 per cent. from road transport to rail, hut that will allow a one-third increase in the tonnage carried by the railways. So it is not a question of forcing all the freight off the roads, as the Opposition spokesman said. It is not a question of that at all; it is a question of diverting a small percentage from one sector to the other, and in actual fact the use of road transport will go up as the overall demands and the percentage of the road transport is increased.
The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, talked about the railways. I would approach it in this way: that it is really a question of the chicken and the egg, and which comes first. We have the railways; we have got to make them pay. We cannot make them pay unless we give them some work to do and unless we see that they have a high proportion of our freight. Otherwise what are we going to do? We could close them down and let them rust or we could treat them just as historic monuments. This Bill is an attempt to divert a small percentage, to start with, of freight on to the railways to make them pay; and then, whet the freightliner system comes in, to control the question of heavy loads. We are a small, highly populated country, and our roads are becoming more and more congested. From the national point of view any comparison between road and rail should surely take into account the accident rate, the frustrations and delays caused to other road users by the wrong use of the roads, and also the necessity to make the railways economically viable. There is also the question of thefts and security, though this is a somewhat smaller matter. There is far less risk of thefts on a big scale, and we all know the risks run by many drivers with loads being hi-jacked on the road.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, working in television and films, would raise that 51 matter. I had not forgotten it. That, of course, was a very special case indeed. The noble Lord is surely not going to try to convince the House that, because there was a robbery of a train stuffed full with banknotes, the same thing is going to happen with the heavy loads which it would be very difficult to carry away.
I welcome Clause 74, in relation to decisions on applications for special authorisations. This clause allows the licensing authority to overrule the objection if the provisions for rail carriage are less advantageous, taking into account (and these were the words used by my noble friend the Minister) "speed, reliability and cost". This was made quite clear in paragraph 57 of the White Paper, which said:…the test will, therefore, be on an economic basis. It is clearly not the Government's intention that the licensing system should be capable of being used as a means of diverting traffic to rail uneconomically.It is clear that the relevant order will not be brought into force until the freightliner service has been sufficiently developed. This was confirmed by the former Minister, Mrs. Castle, in another place in the debate on Second Reading on December 20, in column 1287. I always try to understand the Opposition, and I respect them; but I cannot understand why they have got so worked up about this particular clause, since it is quite clear that this scheme will not be brought in until there is an adequate alternative in the freightliner service.
I have studied the Opposition arguments, and it seems to me that their view is that the whole matter of transport, vis-à-vis rail and road, in this country can be resolved by a laissez-faire policy of allowing the ordinary forces of competition to play their part in determining the role that road and rail should play —in other words, to run the two in rivalry as if they were a couple of small removal firms. I submit that this is short-sighted, unimaginative, and wasteful of our national services. I utterly reject this viewpoint, and I strongly support the Bill.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, aware as I am of the custom in your Lordships' House I can promise 52 brevity. As for controversy, should I err I trust that I may have the consideration and indulgence which your Lordships usually extend to those who speak for the first time.
I should first like to make it clear that I have spent my life in the motor industry and so have a particular interest in certain sections of the Bill. However, I wish to confine my remarks to two aspects, one of which is not particularly connected with the industry, namely, the question of the proposed transport manager's licence. Frankly, I do not believe that the introduction of such a licence holder, however well qualified, is likely to improve the operation or maintenance of commercial, or indeed private, car fleets. I have always held the view that, whatever kind of qualification an employee may have in a firm or in a fleet, in the last analysis it is the attitude of mind of the owner—possibly also budgetary considerations—which determines the efficiency, safety and suitability of a vehicle for a particular task. There is little doubt in my mind that with the stepping up of roadside tests, with the introduction of annual testing and other regulations now in force or shortly to come into force, the general level of safety efficiency of commercial vehicles will be greatly improved. Yet there is still in the Bill this proviso for some qualified transport manager to have a licence to operate. I fail to see how, particularly with regard to smaller fleets, this will necessarily improve efficiency within sensible cost limits.
I should like now to turn to the motor industry. I should make it quite clear that I have an interest in this respect since I derive my livelihood from this industry. I do not believe that it is desirable for public monies to be invested in an industry where there is such severe risk and where there is such fierce and keen competition. Neither do I believe that it is desirable for the retail side of the industry to be subjected to the radical changes which I can foresee in the existing franchise system should the Boards or authorities become involved in the direct selling of motor vehicles and perhaps in the sale of petrol and spares, and the sphere also of repairs and servicing.
53 Although vehicle selling is not a highly specialised kind of occupation, I certainly believe that the relationship set between manufacturer and the dealer network, which is now undergoing considerable reorganisation and streamlining, is one that serves the user best because the manufacturer provides by way of training courses, advice, and so on, a kind of background which makes the sale of the vehicle a sensible proposition. If the State were to engage in the selling of motor vehicles, this could seriously upset the balance in the domestic market. This, in turn, could have an adverse effect on the export market.
The sphere of petrol selling, coupled with those items which are associated with petrol stations, I can assure the House is not an automatic profit-making business. There are some 36,000 outlets already selling petrol in the country and the motor trades' own Association have already established that certainly a third of them are not profitable in any shape or form. Indeed, the average throughput is less than 100,000 gallons per annum. Those of us who are engaged in this side of the motor industry know full well that a gallonage of at least double that figure is necessary to make a profitable proposition.
The principal suppliers of motor fuel have already indicated in their long-range planning that the smaller outlet will not be profitable. It will be necessary to have stations where something like 250,000 gallons are to be sold, so reducing the costs of storage, operation, transport and so on. With that kind of background, I cannot see how a provincial city railway-yard-cum-car-park can make a great contribution to the service which most users of petrol are expecting.
Lastly, on the proposal that various boards and authorities may engage in the repair and servicing of all kinds of vehicles for people other than themselves, I assure your Lordships, having spent a great number of years being responsible for the repair and servicing of all kinds of vehicles, that the capital involvement here is very considerable. It is also very specialist. Indeed, most manufacturers are channelling their particular make of vehicle to a certain dealer or dealer organisation, where there is not only the particular 54 machinery required but also the particular staff. There is a considerable shortage of skilled staff, and only some 300,000 people are employed in the repair industry.
I feel that if the various boards and authorities engage in this sort of activity, they can at best provide the kind of service which is mostly criticised in the national Press and by users and which is supplied by a non-franchise dealer who does not have the specialist tools or the specialist knowledge. That kind of dealer has a totally different role to play. I think that a State employer in the field of motor vehicle repair as is generally accepted would create a serious imbalance so far as labour availability was concerned.
May I conclude by suggesting to your Lordships that for very many reasons, some of which have already been outlined by previous speakers aid some few of which I have attempted to outline this afternoon, the provisions in the Bill for this kind of activity just do not make very good sense. Also I do not think they can be considered essentially desirable in the interests of the national well-being, of road transport or of the industry which supplies and services road transport.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, we have listened with the greatest interest to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and both he and the noble Lord. Lord Teviot, have made maiden speeches this afternoon on which I am sure they will receive wide congratulations from all parts of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, showed clearly in his speech that he follows his late father's keen interest in all things to do with transport. He referred most interestingly and with great balance and impartiality to some of the difficulties which may arise under Clause 48 of the Bill. Many of your Lordships will remember the noble Lord's father as a Lord-in-Waiting under the Labour Government before 1950, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and latterly, when I remember him, sitting on the Cross-Benches. It so happens, just by luck, that I knew the late Lord Lucas, because I was a boy at school in the village in which he lived. I believe I 55 am right in saying that the present noble Lord lives in that village now, and I am grateful to him for bringing back some happy memories to me in the middle of the rigours of the Transport Bill. What more can anyone ask, following a maiden speaker, than to have at least a little help in being put at one's ease? So it is with the very greatest warmth that I congratulate the noble Lord on his speech, and I hope that we may hear him again very soon.
I take very much to heart the words of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who said that it is no good one Government following another and throwing the legislative cards in the air, so may I draw your Lordships' attention to just a few points connected with road haulage? The enormous increase of traffic to-day should make road safety common ground for all. It is true that paragraph 43 of the White Paper (Cmnd. 3470) points the finger at heavy traffic as causing the majority of fatal accidents. But statistics submitted by Mr. Peter Doig in the Standing Committee in another place showed that light vehicles cause the majority of other accidents. None the less, the Government are proposing to introduce operators' licences—that is, quality licensing—for greater road safety. To find an effective system, the White Paper recommended exemption of vehicles under 30 cwt., including "light delivery vans and tradesmen's vehicles".
I know there is gratitude on this side of the House for the flexibility of Government Amendments in another place, which have exempted vehicles under 3½ tons plated weight and, as a fall-back, under 30 cwt., and trailers of no more than one ton. But in all fairness there will still be anomalies. Some refrigerated vans will possibly be caught and also—and we all know that the farming fraternity are worried about this—certain dual-purpose vehicles. So in the spirit of the aims of the White Paper, perhaps I may ask the Government to consider raising the dividing line of unladen weight for operators' licences at least to two tons.
May I add a word or two to those spoken by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and beg the Government to consider simplifying somewhat the granting of quality licences? The Bill as 56 drawn will still involve licensing authorities and applicants in particulars of demand for haulage, and in the financial resources of an applicant. Surely neither of those conditions need apply, at any rate to an "own-account" operator, and I should be interested to know what bearing notification ofany change…in the persons holding shares in the companycan really have on the holding of an operator's licence. And yet, amidst this considerable detail, Clause 64(3) does not allow for the licensing authority to give reasons for refusing an operator's licence, which is important in view of the increased numbers of bodies who are going to be able to make objections under Clause 63.
One condition of a quality licence is the appointment of a transport manager. I hope I do not seem to depart too much from what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, when I tell your Lordships that a few weeks ago the transport organiser of a large firm of East Anglian agricultural engineers told me that the concept of transport managers in this Bill is, in his opinion, one of the best things that the Government have attempted in this field. But perhaps I shall move a little closer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, by reminding noble Lords opposite that there is opposition to the requirement that an operator with only one or two vehicles should hold this licence, which for such a person might be argued as a bogus qualification. The White Paper, Schedule 9 and the Minister have made it clear that in future a test will be instituted for transport managers. But what is the small farmer or jobbing builder to be expected to know for this? On Report in another place the Minister said that there will be "varying qualifications for various people", and yet it is surely fair to point out that the penalties will be the same for all transport managers—and they are very searching penalties indeed. This Bill must ensure that it brings home to the point of real responsibility any contravention of the law; and perhaps the noble Lord winding up could say a little more on whether there could not be some relaxation of the responsibility of operators and transport managers under Clause 69.
However the noble Lord may reply, it is obvious—it is common ground, probably—that a transport manager's position 57 will be one of very serious importance. In another place the Minister has suggested that the small operator could shelve his responsibility by nominating a local garage as his transport manager. This is obviously unacceptable, as a garage will prepare a vehicle for the road, not be made answerable at law for the management of vehicles and the conduct of drivers. The Government have shown considerable flexibility over quality licensing: will they still not consider exempting from the appointment of a transport manager's licence an operator with, say, under three lorries, provided of course that the safety condition of notifying the place of maintenance to the licensing authority is observed? Such an Amendment would give the real transport manager the status that his responsibilities will require, and this new concept could start off with a far wider range of acceptance.
One matter in the field of general interest came up during the Committee stage in another place when Mr. Manuel referred to the lack of garage accommodation in housing estates where heavy lorries are parked overnight. In a new council housing estate near my home there is no garage accommodation of any kind whatsoever. This policy disfigures a neighbourhood and is a constant danger to pedestrians, particularly children playing in the street. I beg that Government advice and help may persuade local authorities to spend more money on garaging in future. In 1964—and I make no Party point on this—the Conservative Government gave an undertaking that revenue from parking meters should go only towards the provision of off-street parking facilities, and I am sorry that this is a policy which Clause 123 seeks to vary.
From Clause 71 onwards, in Part V, there are the provisions for special authorisations; the new quantity licensing. I cannot see this licensing helping road congestion very much, or relieving the roads, which was the expression which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, used. Two familiar arguments, perhaps, particularly in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, bear repeating. First, there will be widespread use of lorries under 16 tons plated weight doubling up on heavier lorries to escape Clause 71; and as most freight depots are sited 58 in towns, urgent forward planning is going to be needed. My own railway station at Ipswich has loading depots linked to the main lines by a level crossing over a main road—which, incidentally, leads to the passenger station—that is still operated by hand controlled gates. It is true that the Government have speeded the procedure for an unopposed licence; that a quick grant can be obtained now in "urgency"; and that a controlled journey, it has been made clear, can cover a multitude of journeys as a pattern. Yet, understandably, grave apprehensions remain; and for disputed services, of course, the procedure is almost akin to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
But perhaps most serious of all, the Bill threatens, for journeys which are not part of a pattern, to forbid the granting of "backloads" So it was that attempts were made in another place to gain exemption for the haulage of fish, horticultural and perishable goods, milk and flour, timber and precision instruments. Pleas were made in respect of goods destined for a coastal vessel, goods carried by people on their own account, and for the carriage of toxic wastes and sewage. Against all of these, the Government hardened their heart. An attempt, at first successful, was made to exempt Devon, Cornwall and the development areas, where hauliers, invariably faced with journeys in excess of 100 miles, will be required, like some ghastly repetitive child, to ask the same question over and over again of the licensing authorities. To all these pleas the Minister of State replied:It appears to us that…it is right that there should be exemption. On the other hand it appears to us wrong to write these exemptions into the Statute"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee F, col. 2483.]Surely the Government should at least indicate the criteria, apart from speed, reliability and cost, for exemptions. They have chosen, I admit, livestock. Furniture is also chosen, but it is not the only load which is tricky to pack, and Mr. Stephen Swingler himself suggested that packaging and insurance should be considered by licensing authorities. Surely the third Government exemption, that of oft-shore islands, could be widened to a specified distance from a freight depot. The Minister himself has mentioned disadvantages inherent in a rigid train timetable. As 59 many noble Lords far better qualified than I could tell the House, transport is an arm, but a vital arm, of industry; and if blood to that arm is cut off for about three weeks while an opposed application is decided, a production line may simply die. If the single word "flexibility" were made a criterion, this would help enormously, as would frequency of delivery, risk of damage and contamination and the suitability of a load.
I quite realise that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may say that all these things have been mentioned in Committee in another place and can be dealt with by regulations. Noble Lords will recall that in the Resale Prices Act Section 5 (2) provides criteria for applications for exemptions. I should have thought that this was a reasonable example from which to argue, since applications for quantity licences, despite what some noble Lords have said, will be serious matters, involving a five-year licence for a successful applicant and a valuable precedent for an objection sustained. If criteria could be added to speed, reliability and cost, this might mollify the widespread opposition which exists to quantity licensing. But if the Government refuse to move further in this direction, may I follow the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and say that I hope that when the time comes noble Lords will vote to delete Clause 71, and all clauses consequential upon it, from this Bill.
Although it is not yet clear whether extra costs can be met by increased productivity, and particularly in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said, Government Amendments in another place to reduce drivers' hours to ten hours and not nine, and to allow for exemptions "in cases of emergency" or "in exceptional circumstances" are welcome, but once again it would be most helpful if some indication could be given of possible exemptions. There remains genuine anxiety about how dairymen, the construction industry, some firms' representatives and vets, to give only four examples, will be affected; and once again, my Lords, journeys from the remoter parts of the British Isles will be hit very hard indeed.
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, three particular questions? Could not the time of no more than four 60 hours at the wheel, which gives exemption, be raised just a little? This might help farmers at harvest time. Secondly, bearing in mind the considerable waiting time in queues which many lorry drivers have to endure, could not half an hour be added to the proposed l2½-hour working day? Thirdly, could not drivers' hours be brought into line with quality licensing by exempting vehicles of under 30 cwt.? Such vehicles will not be required, I believe, to be fitted with tachographs; enforcement will be difficult, and the law may in this respect simply be brought into disrepute.
Lastly, my Lords, in company with many other noble Lords, I am appalled by the size of this Bill. There was never any hope of full discussion in another place—and this was ensured, in many ways, by the inclusion of some clauses almost subjects of their own—and the tragedy, I think, is that the very length of this Bill has masked (and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent referred to this) so much that is good. But with the best will in the world I can find little to admire in Clause 48. In another place, an Amendment was drafted to require the boards and the new authorities to show that they could manufacture or repair more cheaply or more quickly, or to a higher standard, than their competitors. The judge of these alternatives was to be the Minister and if permission was given the board concerned must operate as a commercial organisation. Finally, the Amendment sought to restrict the boards to activities associated with that industry's primary purpose.
What answer did the Amendment receive? The Minister herself (it was still Mrs. Barbara Castle) denied the possibility of forecasting the cost, delivery time or standards of any article before going into production and denied the possibility of the rest of the Amendment, with the exception that activities referred to in Clause 48 should be pursued on a commercial basis. But when the Minister was asked what was intended by the phrase "as a commercial organisation", the replies became almost meaningless.
So again may I ask what separate accounting is planned for the activities started under Clause 48? Will annual financial targets be given to these commercial organisations? The previous 61 Minister said in Standing Committee (col. 1950):We cannot tie them to making a profit in a statutory form.What is a statutory profit? What is the form in which it cannot be made? And perhaps, in principle, the most important question of all is this. Will these "commercial organisations" pay selective employment tax? The boards are being given powers to enter into many fields where their private enterprise competitors cannot by any stretch of the imagination avoid selective employment tax. This question, therefore, will require an answer. The right honourable lady, Mrs. Barbara Castle, has said of Clause 48:This is not unfair competition, it is equality of opportunity.Yet the previous Minister admitted that the expression "commercial organisations" has no legal definition and that what mattered was the Minister's intention.
My Lords, if it is the Government's intention to trade on an advantageous commercial basis and so use the taxpayers' money sometimes to squeeze the taxpayers out of business it will be—even if it occurs only sometimes—outrageous. If, in the event, by intention, the Government allow nationalised industries to incur losses by launching into unknown markets, it will be a calamity. But if it is the Government's intention to allow un-fair trading and, at the end of the day, a large bill for the taxpayer to foot, then this is an intention that will not easily be forgotten or forgiven.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, I find myself sharing a very widespread opinion that many parts of this Bill are good and sound and, indeed, overdue; that other parts of it may not be bad, and that bits of it are sufficiently doubtful to merit at least very close examination. I am also impelled to one general reflection: that my recollections go back a good deal beyond 1962, which seems to be the latest date at which any transport legislation is regarded in this House as relevant by those who have already spoken. I should not think that everything that happened, or did not happen, since 1947 is to be regarded merely as a cautionary tale. I think that a great deal of what was attempted, what was done and what was 62 not done in that period can be very useful if taken into consideration now.
In the forefront of their proposals the Government have, rightly, put their solution of the economic crux of the transport problem, the relationship of the carriage of freight by rail and road. And they have tackled this in a new way. The commercial handling of genera1 merchandise traffic is to be integrated in a new combined organisation which will leave operations by rail to the Railways Board. Past efforts to co-ordinate these two activities have, admittedly, not been effective; although in my time at the British Transport Commission the open conflict between the national1y-owned railways and the nationally-owned road transport undertakings, which Lord Shepherd rightly stigmatised as ridiculous, could not have occurred and in fact would not have been allowed. I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Beeching when he was almost forced into a public controversy with what was essentially part of the same undertaking. That at any rate this new solution will avoid.
I am bound to say also that when I was Chairman of the British Transport Commission, I was unable to discover much enthusiasm for the idea of coordination or integration on the part of the railway managements. Naturally, I could discover still less on the part of the road hauliers. I am hound to add that I cart find none at all among the trade unions on either side. Given longer, perhaps we could have got further. But certainly past experience does not lead me to be critical of this new approach to a problem which hitherto has been proved so intractable. How far integration or even co-ordination can in fact be secured with the remaining private hauliers, I do not know. Without some community, if not identity, of financial interests the achievement of real co-ordination in transport is very difficult. In any case, it is right for the Bill as it proposes, to start with the existing concerns already in national ownership.
My chief reservation about the first Part of the Bill is as to its effect upon the Railways Board itself—for much the same reasons that I think are in the mind of my noble friend Lord Robertson. The Board will lose direct control of a major part of its freight activities, although it will retain an 63 interest and a voice in it. But by Clause 8 the Minister can apparently at any time transfer to the National Freight Corporation from the Railways Board (or in the other direction) any other functions of the Railways Board in connection with the carriage of goods, provided —as it is mercifully provided—that he stops short of transferring all, or substantially all, of its functions. What may then happen, under Clause 20, to the control of much of the railways' local passenger traffic is quite obscure. Nor do I think that the possibly unsettling effects of Clause 45 can altogether be ignored.
I think there are very real questions that arise as to how far the not merely financial viability but the organisational personality of the Railways Board will remain intact. Nevertheless, having said that, here is a new constructive attempt to deal with the very crux of the transport problem. It should be given every chance to succeed. What, my Lords, are the alternatives? It would, I think, be a mistake for the Railways Board itself to provide the road haulage services required to complete the freightliner scheme, and thus, in effect, to become a separate and rival road organisation. The principal task of the Railways Board, if I understand the plan correctly, in addition to concentrating upon the running of their trains as efficiently as possible on the operational side, is on the commercial side to quote the most highly competitive rates they can for train loads or perhaps wagon loads; and in this sense they may retain an important commercial function.
I am assuming, and I was glad to infer from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that this new public service of freightliners will be open at the same levels of charge not only to the National Freight Corporation but to all public hauliers and to industrialists; and I hope that I am not too 19th century in my notions in thinking that the rates should be publicly quoted to all prospective customers, though of course subject to change as the Board find it necessary in its discretion. It is, of course, essential that the Railways Board should have an effective voice in the policy and management of the two separate subsidiary companies, the freightliner company and the freight sundries company, 64 to be established under Clause 5 though it is given only a 49 per cent. interest in them. Whether the commercial function of the Railways Board can, or should, go further and deeper than the Bill envisages is a point upon which my noble friend Lord Beeching is far better able to express an opinion than I am.
My Lords, the next major proposal is the creation of regional Passenger Transport Areas and Executives. As far back as the 1930s many experienced transport managers on the municipal side, and some in the private sector also, felt that economy and efficiency would be gained by some consolidation of adjoining local authority passenger transport undertakings into joint boards. But the jealousies and amour propre prevalent among local authorities were too strong for any progress to be made, and there was also in the background the feeling, later so well expressed by Herbert Morrison (as he was then), that joint authorities "tended to be all joint and no authority."
In the Transport Act 1947 an over-elaborate procedure was provided for bringing about regional schemes of the kind now envisaged. The British Transport Commission thought that an important first step would be to acquire, if possible by agreement, a complete interest in the leading private passenger transport undertakings in which, as successors to the old railway companies, we already held a 50 per cent. interest. I was quickly able to negotiate such a transfer with the Tilling Group and the Scottish Motor Transport. The B.E.T. group, in which we also had a 50 per cent. share, were less willing to negotiate, and we were content to leave them as they were, largely for the reasons which I explained to your Lordships when their acquisition by the Transport Holding Company recently came before this House.
As regards regional schemes, my Lords, the Commission were, nevertheless, not altogether inactive, and a good plan for the promising area of the North-East coast was devised, largely with the advice and support of the chairman of the traffic commissioners for the area. But the plan made slow progress and, as I have said, the machinery was very elaborate in numerous stages. The Commission had plenty to do and were not 65 anxious to spend time in combating long-drawn-out opposition to schemes which were likely in the end to prove abortive. We came to the conclusion (and in this I must take my full share of responsibility) that neither the then Minister nor the then Government would be prepared, in the last resort, to push through a scheme against determined opposition from great municipal authorities. Therefore the scheme was not pressed.
In the background, again, there was always the lurking hope that some reform of local government would soon go part of the way. I suppose that the present Government have assessed more correctly than I was able to do the probable attitude of the great municipalities in the four areas likely to be designated for the initial schemes, though I can see many lions in the path. While the arrangements for dealing with local railway passenger traffic, in particular—and no doubt many other points, also—will require close examination when this Part of the Bill reaches the Committee stage, I agree in principle with the aim of securing some reorganisation of public passenger traffic outside London.
I admit, of course, the force of the argument (which no doubt will be pressed at least from one side of the House) that some useful regrouping and amalgamation of municipal and other publicly owned passenger undertakings is likely to result automatically from the long overdue reform of local government areas and that, ideally, this reform ought to come first. This was true 30 or 40 years ago, and it was true 20 years ago; but no moves in this direction took place. Can one now blame the Minister of Transport for getting on with his (or her) policy without all the delay, inseparable from the larger process of the reform of local government?
My Lords, this Part of the Bill will no doubt come in for a good deal of criticism. As has been pointed out in many quarters, there are real risks attendant upon the creation of great passenger undertakings which have ultimate access to the public purse, especially if they are under the control of locally elected representatives. Long ago in New York I believe that the issue used to be put to the voters: "Would you rather have your fares put 66 up or would you like the burden put on the rates?". The answer to that plebiscite was not very difficult to forecast. There are very real risks, but against these risks may perhaps be set the opportunities of knitting transport development and town planning policy more closely together—something of great advantage which we were unable to secure even in London, as my noble friend Lord Latham will no doubt admit, under the Transport Act 1947.
It seems to me, as I have said, that the whole of this Part of the Bill merits further examination. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, might not the Transport Holding Company still have been kept in existence? On the principle that nothing must be left alone, it seems doomed to disappear; or, at least, its fate is left in the, hands of the Minister. Whether the reorganisation of local passenger transport might be effected through this or some other agency may be doubtful, and the dominance of the local authorities in this sphere may be inevitable if the aims of an integrated public policy for transport, town planning and general social well-being are to be attained.
In one respect, however, I feel that the proposals go much further than they need. Interference with the local traffic of the Railways Board, which is very efficiently operated and managed, seems to me to be carried to the extreme. Some financial pooling of receipts, on the lines of arrangements so successfully established between the old London Transport Board and the old main-line railway companies, and close working arrangements with the proposed Passenger Transport Executives seem to me to offer the possibility of a solution which would avoid at least some of the heavy top hamper of machinery, and constant references to the Ministry which the Bill contemplates.
To return for a moment to the problem of freight traffic, it is of course the primary objective of the National Freight Corporation to direct back to the railways some of the merchandise traffic which increasingly encumbers our roads. This aim is powerfully reinforced by the provisions in Part V of the Bill for the closer control of large vehicles for the carriage of goods over long distances. I will say a little more about this important, fundamental and highly controversial proposal 67 in a moment, but may I say first that to my knowledge the scheme of licensing control, introduced for public passenger transport in 1930 by Mr. Herbert Morrison and extended to goods traffic in 1934 by Mr. Oliver Stanley, has worked extremely well. I had much to do with the selection of the original Traffic Commissioners and took keen interest in their work during the formative years. A great debt is due to the ability, devotion and public spirit of this varied team of able men, drawn from many walks of life. Naturally, after nearly forty years the system of licensing needs review, and even if it does not demand, certainly admits of some changes.
I welcome particularly the conclusion that a large number of small vehicles, used mainly in the distributive trades, can be released from the obligation to obtain an operator's licence. But I myself would take a great deal of convincing that the licensing system as a whole ought to disappear. No doubt in Committee there will be many points of detail to raise. On the question of whether in present circumstances it is right to impose some control on long hauls by road, perhaps I may be allowed a personal recollection. When the road-rail controversy was at its height in the early 1930s, it fell to my lot to attempt to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Salter, to preside over a road-rail conference, to which he has referred in a recent book. In argument with me, he said, in his impressive way, that he was prepared to work for profit or for pleasure or for power, but not to waste his time in producing a report designed to get some Minister out of a temporary difficulty and fated then to be pigeon-holed. I replied to the noble Lord, who has been a life-long friend of mine, that I was not in a position to offer him a fee, but I assured him that in my view the job was important and would prove interesting; and that as regards powers all I could say was that I would do my best to induce my Minister to give effect to the noble Lord's recommendations. On that he agreed, and as many of your Lordships will remember he produced a Report which is a constructive, not merely a compromising, classic instance of the reconciliation of opposing interests. If I remember aright his only recommendation which did not in some 68 form or another find its way on to the Statute Book was to the effect that power should be taken to prohibit, if need be, the movement of certain heavy traffics over long distances by road. This was not done.
Again, in 1947 no limiting control was taken, though it was originally contemplated, over any form of C licence, and no power was taken to prohibit or direct particular traffics. I am not questioning the advisability of the decisions taken at that time. No one thirty years ago fore-saw the enormous development in road traffic in present circumstances. But I ask your Lordships whether it is unreasonable to give careful consideration to the restrictive proposals in the present Bill. What view my noble friend Lord Salter will take when this clause is considered in Committee I do not know. I abstained from doing more than giving firm notice that I was going to refer to his Report if I had an opportunity of speaking this afternoon.
I pass to a rather different point. The Bill proposes in various clauses to give many of the organisations in the new setup wide powers of manufacturing and selling. I listened with interest to the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whose father I used to discuss these problems many years ago. If I may, I would take this opportunity of congratulating him upon his speech. I agree that for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and others these clauses need close scrutiny, but I am bound to say that I think that in the past Parliament has taken what has proved in experience to be an unduly narrow view of the extent to which these powers ought to be conferred and has never looked at them from the point of view of the success of the undertakings themselves, but merely from the point of view of the strength of the different oppositions.
There was bitter fight in 1930—long before nationalisation—about the powers of the London Transport Board to provide facilities for motorists at their suburban stations, facilities which the late Lord Ashfield and Mr. Frank Pick urgently desired. The facilities were denied, with the result that for the want of them people who might have been prepared to park their cars at suburban 69 stations and then proceed by rail refused to do so because they said they could never obtain petrol or services of any kind when they needed them at these stations. The argument that these facilities could and should be provided by private traders simply did not work, because private traders were not able to establish themselves profitably at these points merely to serve people who happened to travel by tube morning and evening. So I feel that in the past these powers have been unduly restricted. Surely all nationalised undertakings should be encouraged to develop their land to the best advantage, which many of them have not been able to do.
On the other hand, on points of detail, why is the Railways Board to be empowered to provide and manage hotels anywhere, even abroad, with the Minister's consent, and in places where accommodation is not required by those using the railway services? Many safeguards, of course, are embodied in these clauses in connection with the new powers, but the amount of staff and supervision required in the Ministry to make them in any way effective is rather frightening, and I am led to wonder whether it would not be wiser to give the Railways Board, the Bus Company, and so forth, powers, but much more narrowly defined, and then leave them greater latitude as to ways in which they exercise them.
Again on points of detail, when your Lordships will reach Clause 139 in Committee I do not know; nor do I know whether I shall be able to attend at that time. But I should like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply to this debate why the undertakings themselves (and perhaps they are more to blame than the Government), and the Government seem so anxious to disperse their relics and records. So far as records are concerned, I was anxious, when I was Chairman of the British Transport Commission, that all railway and other transport records should be carefully preserved and collected together under the supervision of a competent archivist, whom in fact we appointed. Far too many transport records of interest to historians and economists have been lost, and I took the view that such scholars were entitled to have access to what remains and that these documents gained in significance if they were 70 expertly arranged and collected together. Relics are a rather different matter and more difficult to house, especially if they are the size of locomotives. But apart from their general interest, they should and could be of special interest to young transport men interested in the history and the progress of their profession; and though some machines, and some objects, may properly find their home in the Science Museum, I hope that such relics as have been preserved or collected are not going to be dispersed, sold or given away. The significance of collections is largely lost by dissipation.
May I conclude, my Lords, with a general comment? I listened with great interest to Lord Shepherd's attractive, and, I think it right to say, fair and balanced presentation of his case. But on one point, that there was no extension of central authority, I found him most unconvincing. This Bill, influenced as it must largely be by the existing financial conditions and prospects of the undertakings with which it deals, goes yet further in the direction of weakening, if not destroying, the concept of autonomous public corporations as being the best type of organisation for managing basic public utilities. At every possible turn it goes in the contrary direction of moving effective control and endless supervision over much more than broad public policy into departmental hands. It is futile then to complain about or to blame the Civil Service for the growth of bureaucracy. The Government are, I think, to be congratulated on the realistic way in which they have now dealt with the finance of public transport. Having set the undertakings on their feet, could they not allow them here and there to walk a little further by themselves?
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, one appreciates tin t his approach to the transport problem is influenced by his vast knowledge and the lifetime that he has put into this public service. We are all greatly indebted to the noble Lord for reviewing the past in the way that he has, and I sincerely hope that the knowledge he has been able to portray to us this afternoon may make some noble Lords think again about their attitude during the remaining stages of this Bill.
71 Undoubtedly, the Bill had a long and arduous passage in the other place: and the storm signals have been erected here this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Nugent and Lord Watkinson, that it is going to have a long and arduous passage through this Chamber. Therefore I think it is as well that we should emphasise once more what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had to say about its pasage through another place. There were 293 hours of debate in the other Chamber. Yet noble Lords say that there are many aspects of this Bill that have not been adequately discussed. This roust of necessity indicate that what took place in the other place, if not deliberate filibustering that could be brought to order by the Chairman, was deliberate procrastination. When the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, indicated that there were 19 hours of debate on one particular clause, those of us with experience in the other place knew exactly what had been taking place. Therefore, I am not affected by any crocodile tears coming from the other side on the fact that various clauses of this Bill have not been adequately discussed. The fault lies with noble Lords opposite and their friends, and the tremendous lobby that has been built up by the Road Haulage Association and many other kindred motoring associations throughout the country. It is as well that we should mention these things and bring them to light.
I was rather concerned when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, use these words: "It is necessary that we should find the right relationship to hold the balance between rail and road". Those words have been used many times by Tory politicians. If we accept what they say is the right balance, well and good, but anything other than that particular line becomes "Socialistic doctrinaire policy". That is just typical.
It is as well to have a look back. I have referred to the wisdom and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. The Act of 1947 which he played a considerable part in drafting (and he ultimately took over the chairmanship of the British Transport Commission) was a Bill that, I think for the first time, attempted to look at transport as a whole. The success of that measure was such that by 1953 the British Transport Commis- 72 sion could not only pay all its working costs and meet all its interest charges, but could, and did, produce a profit. It was from that time onwards, with the advent of the Tory 1951 Act followed by the various measures put forward by Lord Watkinson when he was Minister of Transport, that this huge deficit which the public have had to meet since 1953 has accumulated. It is no use the noble Lord shaking his head; the evidence is there in the 1951 Act and the 1962 Act.
May I refer again to what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, that we should have a fair and even balance. One remembers those Acts that have been placed on the Statute Book and have prevented the publicly-owned undertakings from making a success. One remembers the protests that came in from chambers of trade and chambers of industry in regard to the British Road Haulage, which was created under the 1947 Act, that it was destroying an efficient unit. But it has proved very successful. These are the facts of life. The Tory policy has led to the public having to pay nearly £1,400 million because of the deficit that was created. Then they have the cheek to talk from time to time about wasteful public expenditure! One remembers the vote we had in this House only the other day about a suggestion that we might investigate the question of drug charges. They took the matter to a vote, although it would have meant saving public money. When it comes to their friends, they do not care two straws about public money. I am being very political, and I do not apologise for it.
I welcome most of the provisions of this Bill. I am somewhat critical on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Government are establishing a separate freightliner company, although the Railways Board is to hold 49 per cent. of the shares. Liner trains have been talked about in recent years as though the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, was responsible for their birth and they were something very revolutionary. The old railway companies in private enterprise days were running these special trains, and the liner trains are not the development of any new idea; they are the development of an old railway idea that took many years to be put into operation. Now they have been 73 eminently successful. One hears of the very great success of electrification of the West main line. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and his successor, Mr. Marples, deliberately prevented this electrification from taking place many years previously when the old British Transport Commission were pressing for it. This is evidence—
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but just for the sake of accuracy I would point out that I was not Minister of Transport in the years the noble Lord was talking about, 1951 and 1952, although I certainly supported what my Government did in those clays. When I became Minister of Transport, as I think certain noble Lords here will agree, we provided the finance for the electrification scheme which is now so successful, thank goodness!, on the Midlands Manchester line. I think I raised more money for the railways in my time as Minister of Transport than anybody had done before or has done since. So at least I did something to try to keep them going.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, the electrification scheme was developed from Manchester to Crewe and held up from Crewe by Lord Watkinson, and it took nearly seven years after that before it was extended down to London. The East Coast line was mapped under the old British Transport Commission for electrification. They went to all the expense of heightening the bridges to save overhead electrics. Under a Tory Government that scheme was scrapped. These are the type of things that prevented the British Transport Commission, or the British Railways Board, from making their undertaking a profitable one. It is as well to get this on record while we are dealing with this particular Bill, because this has been so important.
Part I, Clauses 1 to 8, of this Bill establishes the National Freight Corporation and lays down the duty that it must integrate road and rail freight services, and secure that goods are carried by rail whenever this is most efficient and economic. That is laid down as a duty. An application is heard from any organisation which wants its goods taken by different methods on these long distance routes of over 100 miles. The evidence is heard by the Traffic Com- 74 missioners and the railways must prove the case that they can do the work more efficiently and economically. It is laid down in the Bill that the Corporation and the Railways Board have to co-operate for this particular purpose. This is the first time since the 1947 Act that legislation lays down the obligation that there must be the utmost co-operation between road and rail services. This is the first time since 1947, again, that an attempt is being made to look upon transport as a whole. Surely these are the right lines to adopt.
One might argue to some extent regarding the details of a particular set-up. I feel rather keenly that the liners ought not to be taken away from the Railways Board. But, having said that, I believe that the virtue behind this idea is the specific policy laid down for the utmost co-operation to take place. The weakness I see in connection with it—and I regret it—is that there is going to be no overall body to ensure that this is done. That is a weakness that I see with regret. There is not a policy body, such as the B.T.C., that could be responsible for ensuring that it is done. I am pleased that the Bill nullifies the National Advisory Transport Council that was set up under the 1962 Act, which provided the pure and simple sop that the Minister was going to supervise. We all knew at that time that it was a "dead duck". I think it might have met once; it might have met twice. This Bill annuls it completely; but I am sorry that there is not going to be any effective overall control on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, and also on the lines indicated by the 1947 Act.
If we are realists about this matter we see that we are to have the National Freight Corporation as a separate entity and various other bodies—I think there will be about seven or eight bodies all dealing with transport—with no overall holding company to take charge. So far as the goods side is concerned I am rather uneasy about the uneconomic runs for goods or freight. What I mean is that we are requiring development in various parts of the country where we have heavy unemployment. We have the regional development boards established, and they tend to concentrate on bringing new industries into a given area. This leaves many acres of the old villages to go derelict. The regional development boards 75 should ensure that some life is still kept in these old villages. If under this distinct and separate set-up transport costs are likely to be higher for meeting these particular needs, there being no overall policy body, I can see that this matter is going to be neglected and it is not going to develop quite along the lines that we should have hoped.
There is another argument in connection with this. I do not like subsidies for transport. I do not think that they are necessary. If we had a financial holding company for the whole of the boards envisaged in the Bill I am sure that the fear that the public would continue to have to be provided with something like the estimate in the Bill, of £50 million for transport social requirements, would be unjustified. I do not think it would be necessary. Cross-subsidisation in transport has always been a feature of transport workings. I know that "cross-subsidisation" became a very dirty word indeed, but transport operates like other industries. A large-scale industrialist may have some parts of his business running unprofitably, but if he produces the components within his own organisation those parts may thereby be made profitable. In the circumstances I am in favour of providing a social service for vast tracts of the country which have been completely cut off from rail services as a result of the actions of the past Tory Government. Only this last Whit-sun weekend I travelled on the Bridlington line that is now to be closed, with its £19,000 worth of track. This is the type of thing which has been encouraged by the Tories in the past.
I do not want to speak at too great length, but I wish just to refer to the bus set-up. The idea of bringing in this type of arrangement for discussing and creating the Passenger Transport Authorities and the Passenger Executives in local areas is a big step forward. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, I appreciate that there was a weakness in the 1947 Act. The discussions that took place with the North-East with a view to getting a co-ordinated scheme were not successful. Under the present Bill, power is given to the Minister to bring this about, and all of us who have taken an interest in transport know how necessary it is to link up rural, urban and city services. We know that if we are creating the re- 76 deployment of workers, and asking people to travel some distance to work at a new factory, it is no use pointing out the blessings of the new employment if they have to spend one or two hours changing buses and walking before they get to work. If we get the larger regional authorities —and I know how difficult it will be to break down the petty jealousies of city authorities who have their own transport systems and ask them to take a wider view —it will be a great improvement, and I am sure that this Bill lays down the right lines.
In conclusion, I wish to refer to the vexed question of Clause 40. I welcome this clause as it stands in the Bill. This has been an unpleasant matter that has caused difficulties over a number of years. The old private enterprise railway boards had to establish their railway shops, including the building of the motive-power unit, because of the failure of private enterprise to give them good quality goods. I am sure that in the archives to which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, referred, there are documents which could prove this. The railways built a large number of railway shops—some 36, I believe. That number has been reduced to 16; and, not only that, but much of the work that these railway shops have been doing has been put out to private enterprise. This clause gives the Railways Board power to re-establish the railway shops and ensure that they may be kept competitive, and if there is a slackness in respect of the goods needed for their own use they can go on to the export market and produce the same type of goods. It is right that it should be so. This has been completely prevented in the past, and railwaymen think it ironical to see the work that they have been doing in the railway shops going out to someone else and their shops being closed.
What is wrong with the idea of a publicly owned undertaking producing goods in this way? I know that it cuts across the basic principle of the philosophy of the Opposition in this connection, but if a publicly owned undertaking are faced with a slackness in their particular needs, if they can seek orders from outside in order to keep their staff regularely employed, why should they not be allowed to do it? If private enterprise comes in and takes work from publicly 77 owned undertakings surely there should he a quid pro quo? In my opinion a great many crocodile tears have been shed by the Opposition in this connection.
Quite a lot more could be said in connection with this Bill. I believe that there are about 53 million people in this country, and there are about 53 million experts on transport. I have no doubt that a lot of that expert opinion will emerge in the Committee stage, but I think that during the Committee stage consideration should be given to those clauses that have not been discussed because of the attitude of the other place. I sincerely hope that they will not be examined in the same spirit of filibuster that occurred during the examination of the Bill in another place. Let us get on to the issues, because the Government have decreed that this measure shall get through, the Opposition have accepted it as part of the Party policy, and therefore let us be constructive and not just destructive.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, there is at least one point on which I find myself in 100 per cent. agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and that is that there is a great deal more to be said about this Bill. May I first add my sincere congratulations to the noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon, and in particular to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who has a special message for me in the light of those wonderful battles that I used to have across the Floor of the Chamber with his father, and out of which I am happy to say there sprang a friendship which was most valuable to me. I apprehend from the gist of the noble Lord's remarks this afternoon that perhaps the battle will never become quite as intense as it used to be, but I echo the hope that we may hear him again soon, and often, and indeed that hope applies to both noble Lords.
When the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opened this debate he did me the honour of quoting something I once said, but unlike him I am quite clear how I can serve your Lordships' House to-day. I was a little amused and a little amazed that the noble Lord should have depended quite so much for his introduction on things that I said in 1962. How- 78 ever, it occurs to me that that is six years back, and I suppose six years is long enough for recollection to become slightly "muzzy". But when I think of a great many of the proposals that are contained in this Bill—writing off capital, writing off interest, and making; everything nice and easy in a way all of us would love to have for our own businesses if only we could obtain it—I seem to have heard those proposals somewhere before and, "muzzy" or not, in many respects my recollection went back to 1962 in regard to some of these matters. It certainly went back to the opposition that was then voiced to many of these measures by noble Lords belonging to the Party opposite when they were sitting on this side of the House, measures which they fought tooth and nail, only to produce them some years later.
It occurs to me that there is one major proposal in the Bill to-day which was not in the Bill six years ago; that is, that there was not the punitive restriction on road transport which is now proposed. If it is the opinion of the Government (as it may be) that that will make it work, I wish them the best of luck. If I am wrong in what I have said, I know that I can rely on the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, who is to follow me, to put me right. Otherwise, I am not going to follow noble Lords, however right they may have been, who have pointed out the dangerous potentialities of this Bill, its effect on the country's economy and the efficiency of its road transport.
I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument, tempted as I may be to take him on, as a result of his own inimitable and highly individual version of transport political history. Not surprisingly, I intend to concentrate on the interests of the private motorist, though I know it has been said that what is in the Bill does not in fact directly affect the interests of the private motorist. Does it not, my Lords? The fact that there has not been much mention of this point seems to indicate that there has not been much regard so far for the interests of some 15 million of the people of the country—and probably more if you take into consideration the families associated with them.
79 I often regret (I have said this before and I expect I shall say it again) that the word "motorist" was ever invented. It carries an implication of some kind of special animal or a race apart. But, after all, a motorist is only a citizen driving his car, the same citizen who is a pedestrian when on his feet or a cyclist when on a bicycle. And he is also, most likely, a taxpayer, a ratepayer, a voter, a householder; furthermore—and it is not a bad thing to remember this—he is also a man who is capable of taking, and probably does take, a considerable interest in the running of the country. I think that, in spite of Lord Shepherd's statistical attempts, and the righteous indignation of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, the motorist is equally resentful of what I would call legislation by swamp—by which I mean the introduction by the Government of this Bill, vast as it is in size, enormous in its scope and implications—and I do not think he is to be blamed if he shares my view that it may well have been done in the secure knowledge that proper consideration of the Bill could not possibly be given by Parliament.
As the man who pays the household bills, our motoring citizen can be no less resentful of measures which can only have the inevitable result of forcing up the price of all those commodities he requires in his everyday life. His interests become even more closely affected, because the transport policies now being pursued by the Government in regard to commercial and public transport are of concern to him, and to the R.A.C. on his behalf, to the extent that they indicate that much more priority appears to be given to measures designed to facilitate the bolstering up of the railways than to what is required to ease the movement of road traffic. In particular—though I agree that it is not a matter to be dealt with by legislation, and not now—it is highly regrettable that there are still no signs of any really effective action to expand the road programme, athough the White Paper, Transport Policy acknowledges that almost 90 per cent. of passenger traffic, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us, almost 60 per cent. of freight, are carried by road. This 60 per cent. relates to the ton-mileage, but your Lordships will probably 80 recall that the National Plan, in the days when it was alive, had it that the tonnage of freight carried by road was over 80 per cent.
What is more, although I certainly do not deny the importance of improving public transport services on the roads, this is not by any means being pursued in a manner which recognises sufficiently the need for adequate facilities for the use of private and public transport vehicles in urban areas. In the years to come, nearly all the adult population will be vehicle owners or drivers, and they will expect to be able to use their cars or motor-cycles to the maximum advantage, in the cities as well as elsewhere. This is not new, because some years ago Sir Geoffrey Crowther's Steering Group pointed out in the preface to the Buchanan Report, Traffic in Towns, that a car-owning electorate will not stand for severe restriction as a remedy for the problems of living with the motor vehicle. Still less will they stand for severe restriction as a substitute for taking any action to cope with these problems.
More recently, Sir George Harriman, a great leader of the motor industry, drew attention to what seems to be a Governmental attitude, that the private motorist will put up with almost anything. He was discussing the recent Budget, grievous as it was, and he pointed out that the motor industry, and those who buy and use its products, might reasonably have expected, on past form, that their extra burden in finding the extra money the Chancellor needed would be no more than some £100 million, because between them they have been consistently providing just over 11 per cent. of the nation's revenue. However, it was decided that motor vehicles must contribute to the extra yield at more than twice this established rate. They must now provide not 11 per cent. but between 22 and 25 per cent. of the extra cash, which means another £200 to £230 million a year. He told us that more and more people want their car; they want to use it more and more as an essential adjunct to their daily affairs. The Government seem for the time being resolved to place some limit on that use by imposing a much higher tribute for the privilege, and it would seem, from to-day's debate, that they are equally determined to spend that tribute on any number of extraneous 81 purposes. This is what a great many people think; and they also think there should be a good deal more "give" as well as the predominant "take".
Much needs to be done to encourage the use of public transport. For instance, it would help if it were made much easier for motorists to "park and ride". I see there are some new powers in Clause 56 which I think could be used to pursue this objective constructively, by arranging to provide more off-street parking spaces adjacent to railway and Tube stations on the fringes of cities. But it will not work unless we ensure that parking charges are kept to the minimum, or, better still, of course, if there are not any. The grants, I see, under this would be towards the cost of approved projects which would include the construction or the major improvement of:interchanges, including, car parks, for people transferring to and from public transport systems".I understand that the powers in this clause for the Minister to make grants to any person,for the purpose of the provision, improvement or development of facilities for public transportare in fact intended to extend also to grants for off-street parking accommodation generally.
I should very much like to hear in due course that the Government will confirm that this is so, and also perhaps tell the House what plans are being made to use the powers for this purpose. If it is not so, or perhaps even if it is, it is most unfortunate that the Government have not at least taken visibly wider powers to provide financial assistance generally to local authorities for off-street parking, as what I may call a "shot in the arm", which would enable much more progressive parking plans to be put into effect throughout the country without delay.
The British Road Federation has just conducted a survey, to be published soon, which shows that most local authorities are still not tackling this problem as a matter of urgency, in spite of the many clear warnings which have been given about the serious difficulties with which they will be faced in the future if proper action is not started now. The R.A.C. and I, separately and collectively, have repeatedly expressed the view for a long 82 time that the Government should regard the provision of off-street car parks to be a vitally important national requirement and should take powers to provide financial assistance to local authorities for this purpose. If they did, as the Roads Campaign Council's Morgan Report Pointed out, a national plan to improve the parking facilities throughout the country could be implemented as part of the road programme, to the considerable benefit of all concerned. On that I know that at least the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will agree with me.
A couple of interesting points arise on Clause 122. Here the powers to make traffic regulation orders are extended to permit orders to be madefor preserving or improving the amenities of the area through which the road runs.If we take the words to mean what they say, it looks as if there may be a considerable overlap with the Countryside Bill, which your Lordships were considering a short time ago. Therefore I greatly hope that the Government will now give me the same assurances on that provision of this Bill as they have been good enough to give me on the Countryside Bill; namely, that suitable advice will be given to local authorities aid that the exercise of these powers will be fully and adequately considered to prevent the imposition of unreasonable restrictions for such purposes.
The clause also extends from four to eighteen months the period for which temporary speed limits can be imposed. I ask the Government for adequate assurances that the R.A.C. and all other interested organisations will be fully consulted before decisions are made to introduce any speed limits for such long periods, especially in the case of proposed experimental limits. We have been bitten once over this, and we do not want any repetitions of endless expansions of so-called experiments with a view to obtaining, or almost creating, public apathy and, meantime, conditioning public opinion by somewhat dubious public opinion polls. In fact, we do not want a repetition of the history of the introduction of the 70 m.p.h. limit. We want to do it properly in future.
Clause 123 provides for special parking concessions to be granted to particular classes of persons, who usually turn out to be residents in the area of a parking 83 meter scheme. This already happens in London, and more than once on behalf of the R.A.C. I have expressed strong objections in principle to these concessions which are in fact intended to authorise the use of the streets as a garage. This is not something which will in any way help to persuade local authorities to provide the off-street parking accommodation that is required. It seems to me much more likely in many cases to persuade them to adopt this measure as an acceptable course of negative action to cover up their failure to provide any off-street parking accommodation at all. This drastically reduces what space is available for vehicle users generally. This again leads, as is the case in London now, to higher charges for short-term parking, to limit the demand for inadequate space. It goes on to the slippery slope, and it will not do. Furthermore, the space is wasted when the resident is not using it, because nobody else can, although perhaps this would not be so important if there were reasonable alternatives open to other people.
Now I come to what I see as the most objectionable provisions in the Bill so far as private motorists are concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has already referred to them. To be quite clear, I am talking of paragraph (b) of Clause 123, which seeks to extend the powers of local authorities in regard to the use of surplus income from parking meter schemes. When, in 1956, Parliament first approved the granting of powers to permit charges to be made for parking on the highway, unequivocal assurances were given by the Government at the time that private motorists need not fear that this was another way to impose additional motoring taxation. It was made clear that parking meters were to be the means of controlling street parking, and any incidental surplus income would be used by local authorities for the benefit of private motorists in accordance with stautory requirements which were then laid down, that it should be spent on the provision or the maintenance of off-street parking accommodation.
When, in 1960, the first parking meter orders began to come before your Lordships' House for approval, it was my lot to present them to your Lordships. I can well remember the anxiety 84 and insistence of your Lordships that all surplus revenue should be used as provided by Statute. Your Lordships on all sides of the House thought that, as did Members of another place and a great many people outside both Houses. I am sure I am right in saying that that was the firm and express view of all Parties, even if the distribution of seating was different from what it is now. In particular, I can well recollect that it was the express view of the Party opposite who now wish to demolish this principle. It was my job to give your Lordships assurance on this point, and I was able to do that as I can personally testify to your Lordships, with utter and complete sincerity. It was on the basis of this solemn and sincere assurance that the motoring public accepted this means of parking control.
The need for spending the surplus money on off-street parking has been reiterated and "chivvied up" again and again over the years by many different people in many different circumstances. Now, by this Bill, our confidence has been completely betrayed. A true and genuine prospectus has been converted into what I can only say is a dishonest let-down by what I can only describe as the callous indifference of the Government on matters of this kind. All the motoring public are deeply resentful of this dishonest example of what cannot better be described than highway robbery. So should your Lordships be resentful. Unfortunately, experience has shown that a limited contribution at best towards the cost of providing off-street car parks has been made from this source, because about 61 per cent. at least of the income has been swallowed up by the cost of administration and the enforcement of the meter schemes.
Judging from answers to Parliamentary Questions, the Ministry know more or less what the situation is in London, but the R.A.C. have just been carrying out, as best we could, a survey of the country, and I can confirm to your Lordships that 61 per cent., or approximately two-thirds of the money, 4d. in every 6d., goes on administrative expenses, and that seems to be a true pattern for the country as a whole. Couple that with the fact that in most large cities the off-street parking accommodation is still grossly inadequate, and there are no plans for 85 action visibly imminent which will satisfactorily meet the future requirements of the motoring public. It is not surprising, therefore, that private motorists will rightly consider that the assurances given that the money would be spent in this way to induce them to accept the imposition of charges for parking on the highway have now been turned into a false prospectus.
This proposed extension of local authorities' powers would, I say, divert the use of the surplus profits to apparently subsidise, so we are told, public transport or for highway improvements. It seems to me ludicrous, particularly at a time when recent developments in the public transport industry have clearly shown that the public's mobility is greatly dependent on the use of private transport, to suggest that private motorists should accept any such diversion in favour of public transport. It is equally fantastic that the Government should propose this diversion of funds to carry out highway improvements because only about a quarter of motoring taxation is used for the purpose anyway, and there is a very wide and ever widening gap between the Government expenditure on roads and the annual revenue they extract from motorists. So to pass this buck, small buck though it is, to the local authorities in this way instead of financing them properly from central funds for road improvements is a completely unacceptable way of tackling the problem of improving the road system.
There is no justification in the circumstances, my Lords, for raiding the parking funds. It is a development that could be the thin end of a particularly nasty wedge. How long will it be before someone suggests a further extension of this idea so that local authorities can use parking income for any of the other many and varied purposes it is their job to carry out but which are nothing to do with road transport in any shape or form? Last year, for instance, it was our job in the R.A.C. to petition against proposed new powers in the Portsmouth Corporation Bill which would have permitted the Portsmouth Corporation to impose parking charges on certain roads in Portsmouth without any restriction as to what happened to the surplus income. They subsequently, I admit, proposed an 86 amendment to provide that the surplus income should be used in providing and maintaining recreation facilities and other amenities in the vicinity of the esplanade. I am happy to tell your Lordships that the Committee that considered this matter in another place had the good sense to throw it out and so to prevent the creation of an undesirable precedent. As I said, the British Road Federation survey shows that there are few, if any, local authorities who provided completely adequate off-street parking accommodation for Present needs, let alone for future requirements. Therefore there can be no case to contend that the proposed additional Powers are necessary, and to this point If shall certainly return at a later stage of the Bill.
Clause 125 removes the necessity for traffic signs to be erected to indicate general speed limits applicable to motorways. This seems a very retrograde step, because I should think all this power would do is to encourage the imposition of blanket speed limits because they would involve no expense on signs, whereas the logical and sensible thing to do would be to vary the speed limits on different motorways as conditions differ between those motorways. This looks like leading to a sacrifice of common sense to expediency.
Clause 126, in conjunction with Schedule 18, will allow local authorities to impose speed limits on roads other than trunk roads without the consult of the Minister. For acceptance by drivers it is essential, in fact it is axiomatic, that speed limit policy and application should be uniform throughout the country and also that speed limits should not be unnecessarily restrictive. We said in the R.A.C. Road Safety Report in 1964 that this was necessary so that speed limits might be willingly and voluntarily observed by the majority of drivers and so that they might be satisfactorily enforced. For many years, as I well know, the Ministry of Transport have had difficulty in resisting local pressures for speed limits which the Ministry themselves consider to be unnecessarily restrictive. It would surely be even more difficult for local authorities to resist such pressures, and without some central control it is hardly likely, hardly possible, that there will be uniform application of limits throughout the country. If that is true, it will, in 87 turn, be likely to cause speed limits to fall into even greater disrepute than they are at present.
The question of enforcement brings me to Clause 127 and the question of fixed penalties and traffic wardens. When we were consulted by the Home Office about proposals to extend these powers and also the powers relating to the fixed penalty system, the R.A.C. indicated that, subject to certain safeguards, a limited extension of powers would be acceptable. The proposals in this clause have, in fact, gone further than the suggested limitations and they extend the fixed penalty system for some offences, mostly construction and use, which we had no idea at the time were under consideration. However, the specified offences do not include anything to which the totting up procedure applies, so I do not see any real reason to object to it.
However, it is our view that offences subject to the fixed penalty system must be self-proving and uncontroversial. It is also our view that greater use of the fixed penalty system should not cause any alteration of the current practice—which is especially important to relations between the police and the public—whereby a high proportion of the lesser or minor offences are dealt with by oral or written warnings instead of by prosecution. I certainly hope that satisfactory assurances may be forthcoming from the Government on this particular aspect, because these are provisions which were certainly not debated in another place. In view of the importance of them on people's lives, we must certainly see that they are thoroughly examined in the course of our consideration of the Bill. To this and other matters I have mentioned I shall return in further detail at later stages.
Naturally I do not wish to oppose the Second Reading stage—of course not—but with many others of your Lordships I will certainly be trying to seek a good deal of improvement in due course. In the meantime, I can only try to reveal to Her Majesty's Government, in the clearest light, that the citizens of this country, when driving their cars, cannot be permanently subjected to a continual barrage of prohibitions, restrictions and impositions, all resulting in more and more offences that they can commit, 88 without any corresponding benefit which they can see. Apart from anything else, there simply are not the means to enforce all these restrictions physically. I hope that the right honourable gentleman the new Minister of Transport will learn the lesson about endless restrictive regulations which is there in his Ministry to be learned, if he so wishes, and so himself play a major part in avoiding the enforcement of the law being the "laugh" that it is to-day. To-day, as things are, the British motorist, hedged about as he is by often unenforceable restrictions, is entitled to ask the Government, "What kind of people do you think we are?". To-morrow, my Lords, the British motorist may well give the Government a chance to find out.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ LORD BEECHING
My Lords, I will not waste any time by saying that this is not wholly a good Bill, because it seems to me that the true opinion in all parts of your Lordships' House is that, at best, it is no better than the curate's egg—only bigger. There are, of course, in a Bill of this size a great many proposals, and I certainly do not disagree with a great many of them. But there are among the major proposals several which I find it very difficult to accept. Your Lordships will no doubt be pleased to know that I shall deal with only one of them, and I do so since I want to emphasise how wrong this particular feature of the Bill is. I speak, of course, about that section of Part I of the Bill which, in my opinion, will damage the railways more seriously than anything else; namely, the proposed establishment of a National Freight Corporation.
I believe that there is a real need for a more rational use of the transport facilities of the country, and therefore I have a general sympathy with the purpose lying behind the proposed establishment of the National Transport Corporation. Moreover, although I do not myself believe that the right way to achieve rationalisation in this particular case is to set up one single authority, I can recognise the existence of arguments which lead naturally to the acceptance of this sort of solution by the Government. What I cannot reconcile myself to is the folly of the proposed relationship between the new Corporation and the Railways Board. It seems to me to be based upon 89 a defiance of logic and experience, without even a cloak of Party dogma to make it explicable.
At the risk of appearing to state the obvious, may I remind your Lordships that, although we speak of separate functions performed within industrial organisations, the two basic functions are the production of goods or services and the selling of those same goods or services. These two functions, in combination, are the ever-present heart of the business. All other functions are ancillary and serve only to check, in the present, or to improve, in the future, the effectiveness with which these two basic functions are performed in combination. The functions of producing and selling may require separate managements, because they are different and call for different skills. But this only makes it the more necessary for them to come under common management at the next higher level, because the success of the business depends directly and unavoidably upon the effective management of these two functions so that they are properly complementary.
Although there are several ways of achieving a balanced relationship between the two basic activities within a single business, it is an organisational absurdity to bring about deliberately a situation in which the two classes, production and selling, are split between two large separately accountable corporations. Even within a single company severe problems arise if one semi-autonomous part develops a sole supplier/sole customer relationship with another part, whether this be in relation to the whole of its particular business or in relation to some major part of it, some particular product or some particular service. That is difficult within a single business. It becomes quite impossible, in my opinion, if the split is made between two separate corporations, so that these two, in relation to some major activity, have this sort of sole supplier/sole customer connection. Such a split of responsibility applied to virtually the whole of the liner-train service will cripple a development which is vital to the railways' future.
When I think of all the highly emotional cries of "Butcher!" which were levelled against me when we made carefully considered, quite selective, cuts to prune away the most obviously redundant parts of the railway network, cuts which 90 were accompanied by the grafting in of the liner-train services, I am amazed that some noble Lords can sit on the Government Benches while a proposal to cleave that same, successfully developing liner-train business from stem to stern is being discussed—and being discussed as a prelude to an act of cannibalism. Perhaps for some reason cannibalism appears less reprehensible if at occurs only as between a victim and relatives by nationalisation, but no one can suppose that it will be any less fatal.
I believe that the previous Minister of Transport said on at least one occasion that the idea of a National Freight Corporation was based upon a proposal of my own. But any basis which this remark may have had must have been caused by a misunderstanding, and a misunderstanding of a rather significant kind. What I did propose, some years ago now, was that there should be only one nationalised authority responsible for a country-wide sundries or parcels service, and this proposal appears in the present Bill. There were, and are, very special reasons for proposing such a step; but—and here is the important difference—it was never contemplated that there would be dual control of this business under two quite separate authorities. The only linkage I contemplated between the new authority and the railways was the purchase of a minor part of the railways' freight capacity, on a straight commercial basis, for the carriage of only that part of the sundries authority's traffic which it was economic to send by rail. Such a proposal, as your Lordships will readily see, provides no justification for a proposal which will destroy unified control of the liner-train business as a whole and will deprive the railways of effective management of a part of their business upon which the viability of a main-line network is bound to depend very heavily in future.
We have the spectacle of a Government insisting on the maintenance of a greater main-line route mileage thin any traffic forecasts would justify, while imposing an organisational handicap which is bound to hamper the growth of some of the best traffic. Even the arbitrary forcing on to the railways, by road restriction, of some flows of traffic, questionable and short-lived as this result will probably prove to be, could, 91 even if it endured, scarcely compensate my railway friends for the wanton damage which this Bill will inflict upon them. This damage will go on for ever more if this authority is once set up in the way which is now proposed. I cannot see how by detailed amendment this proposal to set up the National Freight Corporation can be made satisfactory. It seems to me that it is not a matter of Party difference; it is a defiance of logic, and the proposal should be deleted from the Bill.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Muirshiel, who I am sorry to see is not in his place to-day, used to have a habit of reading through the Bill before making a speech on Second Reading. If he had followed that habit to-day, he would have had to get up very early in the morning indeed to read through this Bill before making his Second Reading Speech. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made some comparisons between this Bill and the Transport Act 1962, and he said that the 1962 Act was slightly shorter. In fact, it is 102 pages shorter, so I do not know what he understands by the word "slightly".
In this debate we have covered a bewildering range of ground, simply because of the enormous length and complexity of the Bill. I found the debate fascinating but very difficult to follow because of its wide-ranging nature. I think I may be forgiven if I, in turn, open another subject, because that is my sole justification for speaking this afternoon, since my noble friend Lord Windlesham is to wind up from this Front Bench. This is a Bill which affects Great Britain as a whole, but there are some aspects which particularly affect Scotland. Although like many of my noble friends from Scotland I am interested in the many and varied facets of the Bill—and indeed I hope to take part in discussing them in Committee and during the remaining stages—I intend at least in the main, to confine my speech to-day to the application of the Bill to Scotland.
In Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and the North-East, lines of communication are long. The people in the outlying areas are wholly dependent on transport in all weathers, and some of 92 those weathers are worse than in most other parts of the country. For that reason, the quantity licensing proposals will bear especially heavily on Scotland. Also the standard of living of the people in the outlying areas is affected by increased transport costs more than is the case for those who live in more populous areas; and, of course, whatever else this Bill is going to do it will certainly increase transport costs.
The demand for transport in the outlying areas tends to be seasonal and even to arise suddenly in any area largely dependent on agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism. The demand is seasonal for tourism, but is often sudden for fishing. The long haul South will be economic only if the haulier is able to pick up a return load, and I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply, who is a Scottish Minister, will be able to tell us how the haulier will be able to get a special authorisation for a return load at short notice. How is this business of return loads from these remote places to be organised and authorised? If there are to be exemptions, then we should be told exactly what they are to be. That would clearly save much time in Committee, and a great deal of Committee time in the House of Commons was, quite rightly, taken up in trying to find out what the exemptions were going to be.
Of course, exemptions are always tiresome, but the kind of restrictions on drivers' hours and mileages which may be suitable to populous areas in England and Wales, and even in the central belt of Scotland, are wildly unsuitable for the Highlands. Timber is a case in point. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry informed me that transport accounts for about 25 per cent. of timber costs to the purchaser. So any variation of transport charges makes a significant change in the cost of the goods to the purchaser, and without a return load the cost is apt to be pretty high.
I hope that both the Borders and the Highlands will benefit from Clause 39, which provides for grants for passenger services which, although run at a loss, ought to be retained for social or economic reasons. I quite see that the amount of the grant should be reviewed every three years as the Bill provides, but I hope this does not mean that the survival 93 of each assisted line concerned is to be called in question at such short intervals. If Scottish railway passenger services had such a precarious existence as that, the effect on planning and development could be most unfavourable.
I am disappointed that the Bill contains no provisions for the tapering of freight charges in remote areas, for the greatest single handicap of the Highlands is the length of communications. It seems to me that, if a line is to be kept open for passenger services, the more commercially attractive it is made for freight the less grant will have to be paid on the passenger services, and the less need there will be for artificial means of transferring traffic from road to rail.
I am not in favour of forcing freight traffic on to the railways. It is surely wrong to consider only the finances of the railways. To compel a haulier or a producer who has, after the most careful weighing of the pros and cons, decided to invest in a fleet of vehicles for long-distance traffic, to stop using them and to require the goods to be sent by rail instead, against his better judgment, is merely to transfer unused capacity from the railways to the roads. It would probably cause the haulier, whether or not he was the owner of the goods, a considerable loss on the disposal of the vehicles and may well turn out to give him a much inferior service for his own requirements, however equal on paper the services offered by the railways may appear in speed, reliability and cost to the Chairman of the Traffic Commissioners. After all, the Chairman cannot possibly know the finer points of the business of the person for whom the goods are carried, as well as that person can himself know. To make matters worse, the poor Chairman is not to be allowed to exercise his own judgment on speed, reliability and cost, as under subsection (6) of Clause 74 he is to be obliged to assess these factors as well as any detriment to the person for whom the goods are carried.in accordance with any directions contained in regulations made by the Minister.Who is to compensate the carrier and the person for whom goods are carried for the detrimental effects of a wrong decision?—and there are bound to be wrong decisions. The detrimental effects could be very heavy.
94 To abolish all restrictions on the capacity of the road haulage industry and on the work for which any lorry may be used, as the Geddes Committee recommended, would be a great boon for the outlying areas. Now that the railways have started to exploit new techniques, what is needed is not to protect and coddle them by twisting the rules in their favour, but to enable them to compete on equal terms fairly and openly. They will never flourish otherwise, my Lords; of this I am convinced. I view with the greatest misgiving for the economy and the character of the country the prospect of a growing monopoly in freight transport services. The danger of becoming lethargic, smug, inefficient and high-handed is very great for any monopoly, but it is particularly acute, I should have thought, for freight transport. It can happen in passenger transport, too, where there is no choice for the passenger.
I must say that it seems odd that the Scottish Office has not yet made up its mind whether it wants any Passenger Transport Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives or not. I strongly suspect that they were not given enough time to do so by the previous Minister of Transport, after she had finally decided to interpose Passenger Transport Authorities to give some semblance of accountability to local authorities between herself and the Executives. By that time the Scottish Bus Group had started to negotiate with Glasgow Corporation with a view to taking over the running of their buses, though not their ownership. That seems effectively to scupper the prospects of a Passenger Transport Authority in the most likely area of Scotland—and thank goodness for that! The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who has just left the Chamber, spoke of the need for integration in transport. I am all for integration, but I do not like shams. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that the original conception of the autonomous authority has been greatly weakened, and it looks as if it is going to be much more weakened in this Bill. I am inclined to think that the reason why it has been weakened so much is the fact that deficits have been incurred by autonomous authorities and, of course, if deficits are to be incurred by Passenger 95 Transport Executives then it makes it more difficult to pass those deficits on to the local population if there is no representation from the local population.
My Lords, so far as the Passenger Transport Authorities are concerned, I think it will at least mean that passengers will have to meet the costs of carrying them—certainly this will be so, I think, in Glasgow, where there is not to be a Passenger Transport Authority—and there will be no nonsense there about precepts on the rates to meet general deficits which arise from the inefficiency of a Passenger Transport Executive. I am not speaking of pre-arranged deficits on particular services, of deficits agreed in advance: I am speaking of unplanned deficits, which can easily arise through an Executive's activities. If those deficits do arise and there is nobody to pay them under the Passenger Transport Authority system, although the Passenger Transport Authority has no responsibility for it whatsoever, they will simply have to pass them on to the local authorities concerned.
My Lords, if it is decided not to have Passenger Transport Authorities in Scotland, then some other machinery will have to be devised for assisting with railway deficits on suburban rail passenger transport. Clause 58 was introduced at a late stage in the Commons to give local authorities in Scotland power to give financial assistance to the railways for passenger services. What assistance comparable to the assistance to be given to the Passenger Transport Executives in respect of agreements under Clause 20 in England is to be available to local authorities in Scotland who assist the railways financially under Clause 58? I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us that to-night, and I hope the Government will not permit the clause to be used by the railways to blackmail local authorities by threatening to close lines unless financial assistance is forthcoming.
I do not object to the severance of the Scottish Bus Group from the Transport Holding Company, althought it is hard on the Transport Holding Company to be deprived of its biggest profit earner. With it will go MacBrayne, which is at once one of the most useful and one 96 of the most criticised of Scottish companies.
I hope that no attempt will be made to take over the minority shareholdings in organisations such as MacBrayne's. I think there has been considerable advantage in having Coast Lines involved in MacBayne's. There is considerable advantage in diversity of shareholder representation, in enabling undertakings to keep a sense of proportion. Nor do I see any need for the new Scottish Transport Group to dispose of MacBrayne's haulage interests. I sense a very poor resistance from the Scottish Office in having imposed on Scotland the rigid pattern which the Bill seeks to impose on England.
When we come to freight transport I confess I am mystified. Even if the Transport Holding Company are to be deprived of their bus interests, I see no advantage whatsoever in taking away their haulage interests. The White Paper on the transport of freight pays a tribute to the Transport Holding Company's success in tackling the problems of handling general merchandise and parcels traffic. If some closer co-ordination, such as the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, suggested, is necessary with the railways in handling this sort of traffic, I certainly should not object, but I should have thought that one possible answer was to set up a joint subsidiary or subsidiaries but not to dismantle completely the Transport Holding Company. I see no reason why it should not remain as it is to handle freight.
As for freightliner traffic, I am wholly in accord with the views expressed about the folly of depriving the railways of their most promising transport development. If this means an attempt to monopolise the availability of freightliners, it is a most restrictive and damaging proposal. If it does not, then it is clumsy and quite unnecessary, and deals a severe blow at both the finances and the prestige of the railways. The suggestion that the railways are going to be too busy to sell their freightliner services themselves, which is implied in the White Paper, seems to me to be quite ludicrous.
It is not immediately apparent to me why it is necessary to have a single holding company, the Scottish Transport Group, to own and administer all the internal road and shipping passenger services with the exception of a few 97 municipal bus undertakings and some private passenger services in outlying areas. As I said before, I fully agree with Lord Robertson about the need for integration, but I also very much agree with him that integration can be achieved in several ways. It is not necessary to have complete control by ownership. Organisations like the Caledonian Steam Packet Company in the Clyde, I see from the Bill, are to receive quite separate grants, and will presumably, like most of the component units of the group, be separately managed. That is an example of something which is separately managed, and it does not seem clear why this should necessarily be taken under the Scottish Transport Group.
I suppose one answer is that the number of State owned or controlled organisations has now outrun the capacity of the Treasury to control them individually. I do not believe, at any rate, that it has anything to do with efficient management or responsiveness to public need, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be able to explain the need for this large combination of diverse transport undertakings in Scotland. In the present upsurge of national consciousness it is always speciously popular to call some organisation Scottish—indeed, there is already a Scottish Bus Group—but that is no excuse for submerging the incentive to the widest possible circle of people to meet the infinitely varying needs of the community for transport. The needs of the community do not, of course, vary nearly so much in passenger transport as they do in the carriage of goods, contrary to what the White Paper seems to suggest. That is why we do not oppose the proposals for a Scottish Passenger Transport Group (although we are not convinced of their necessity) but we shall look with great disfavour at any tendency towards restriction of choice in the transport of goods, and we shall press for consideration of the special needs of the outlying areas.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD McLEAVY
My Lords, the size of this Bill is in itself an indication of the problems arising from the growth of all forms of transport. It is the first time since the Transport Act 1947 that the Government have faced up to the urgent need for a radical change in the planning of this vital industry. I remember 98 very well how strongly the Conservative Opposition in another place opposed the passage of that Act. Their hostility to the present Bill shows how little they have learned from a changing world. As I went through all the arguments put forward against the Bill in another place I found them to be in the main those which were used against the 1947 Act some 20 years ago. Surely the Conservative Party ought to have a new look at their policy and bring it up to modern requirements. I found the views of The Times more refreshing. In its leader of May 28, under the heading, "Not a bad Monster", it said that the Bill:has been described, more often than not with a touch of malice, as Mrs. Castle's monument. It is certainly monumental; but it is a work of which on the whole she can be proud, and for which the nation can be grateful.My Lords, although The Times had some criticism of certain sections of the Bill it appeared to consider it necessary in the national interest. I think that criticism is good—good in Parliament, good in the Press, good anywhere that it arises, provided that it is constructive criticism and that it is made with a desire to improve the Bill. The provisions of the Bill affect many interests and it is natural that those affected should seek to safeguard their interests as best they can. Our duty in Parliament is to give full consideration to any representations made from industry and to weigh them against the wider interests of national needs. Anyone who has been associated with transport over the years knows how wasteful it is, both in manpower and in material, that while our roads are congested with heavy freight and other vehicles the railway system is starved of traffic and is losing something like £150 million a year. Surely this I situation does not make sense. It is not good government; it is not good national policy.
I believe that the urgent need to-day is for a properly integrated road and rail freight service which will make full use of the railways. There seems to me to be no better way of serving the needs of industry, particularly in the development areas, than to ensure that transport is both efficient and economical. Indeed, the railways are essential to the industrial and communal life of the nation and 99 they should be used to the fullest possible extent.
I should like to say a few words on the public passenger transport side of the Bill. The proposed passenger transport areas and the procedure set out for the management and control seems to me to be well-founded. I like very much the provisions made to leave the planning and control of local transport in the hands of local government authorities within given areas. That local transport investment should be grant-aided will be most helpful in many ways, particularly in the rural areas. While I welcome the proposed bus fuel grant, I should prefer that the tax be abolished altogether. I can assure your Lordships that there is a strong case for this to be done in respect of passenger transport.
Now a word upon workers' participation. That a statutory duty will be applied to ensure consultation with the trade unions upon the setting up of machinery for consultation and negotiation with the workers on the terms and conditions of employment, measures affecting safety, health and welfare, and improved efficiency, will be generally welcomed. These provisions will maintain the best possible relationship between the parties concerned and are bound to reflect upon the standard of public service. This Bill represents a major step towards solving our transport problem. There will, however, be many clauses which we shall wish to examine more closely at the Committee stage, and particularly some which were not discussed in another place. I trust that the broad principles of the Bill will commend themselves to your Lordships.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, I was a little disappointed at the way in which this debate started, the idea that this Bill is likely to cause a lot of trouble in this House. I believe that this is a momentous Bill. It did not surprise me at all to see how large it was. If we show that we cannot deal with it, now that it is before us, it is not the Transport Bill that we are exposing, it is the inadequacy of the Parliamentary system to deal with Government business. I hope that we shall not put this House in that very invidious position, because this is a 100 momentous Bill that meets a deep need. Since Transport is one of the subjects which must always be before us in some form, the fact that we now, after an interval of six years, have it before us in a major form is in no way exceptional.
How does one see the transport system? Is it not really the veins and arteries of our economic life? Will not the strength of our economic life be valued in some terms by the health of those essential elements in the body economic? It is for that reason that it is our duty, as I see it at this time, to look very carefully at what is put before us. The rapid movement of people and goods around the country, and in and out of the country, is our lifeblood. One of the things we have seen in the last ten years—and this is the first part of the transport system—is the very much more rapid pace at which goods and people can move. The motorways, the improvements on the railways, have allowed traffic to go at speeds which ten years ago were inconceivable, except on race tracks. This has made an enormous difference and, as I see it, fully justifies the whole of Part V of this Bill where we wish to look at all the so-called safety devices, whether by rail or road.
We need, as we know from recent experience, to look at the safety of level crossings. We need to look at the efficiency of vehicles using the roads. We need to look at the whole of the licensing system. We wish to satisfy ourselves that drivers drive vehicles, which are highly lethal weapons, only when they are in a fit state to do so. It has to be said, I think, in this connection that the haulage industry has been a little slow to assume its social responsibilities. We all know about the outcry that occurs when it is suggested that brakes ought to be tested, or that tyres ought to be seen to be efficient. And we know the way in which road transport operators will take advantage, if they can, by not providing themselves with adequate depots in which to house vehicles, but leave them cluttering up quiet residential streets. Many such cases have been brought to my notice. This, to my mind, is not social behaviour and it is something which must be put right by legislation if the industry is not prepared to do it.
At this late hour, my Lords, I wish to refer to only one other Part of the 101 Bill, Part II, relating to Passenger Transport Areas. I think this a most important development. Although London is not included in this specific category on this occasion, because it has been dealt with otherwise, I have been engaged in this exercise for some years. It is true to say that five or six years ago the only contact with transport that the local authority and the planning authority had was the six-monthly luncheon between the chief planning officers of the two authorities. Clearly, with the speed at which transport planning is moving to-day this is not enough. I want to underline the great benefit that comes, not so much to transport but to town planning in general, from a development such as this. Each Transport Authority will be a consortium of the local authorities, and planning and transport will never have been brought so closely together before. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will appreciate, as I do, how very important this is. In future they will be able to be consulted and brought in very closely on one-way working, on clearways, on speed restrictions, on the development of new roads.
In the other field, that of welfare services, they will not only be able to make a contribution, if they so wish, to help the disabled, the blind and other categories of people who in some way or other are handicapped, but also be able to ensure that their own new developments, as well as the developments by private developers, are suitably provided for right from the beginning, and not just from the time when a new estate is fully housed, the shops are open and there is a mass of traffic to deal with. The benefits for Town planning that flow from transport planning are enormous, and I should not like them to be overlooked in any debates and discussions of this kind. I hope that when this Bill has gone through the Committee stage, and when we have had all the long arguments that we shall have, your Lordships will feel that this is a necessary Bill and one worthy to be passed in this Session of Parliament.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, in the very few moments during which I wish to address your Lordships' House I wish to say that I cannot possibly sup- 102 port a Bill which, although it contains some good provisions, will increase the cost of transport in this country at this very difficult time for our economy, and will also take away a great amount of the freedom of choice of individuals to decide which forms of transport they wish to use. To-day we have heard from three noble Lords who have had vast experience in the transport field and who have held important jobs: the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who was Chairman of the British Transport Commission; the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who was also Chairman of the Commission and the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, who was Chairman of the Commission and of the Railways Board. They all said that it would damage the railways if their liner-train business were taken away; and with that I fully agree. I also agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Benching, who asked why railway finances should be weakened further. We want to strengthen railway finances. The noble Lord also said—and again I fully agree with him—that in his opinion it is impossible to amend the relevant clause in the Bill, and that it ought to be left out.
My Lords, the other point to which I wish to draw attention relates to Part IV of the Bill, and Clause 38. Subsection (4) of Clause 38 says:Without prejudice to section 45(6) of this Act, section 2 of the Act of 1962 (which requires the Railways Board to set up Regional Railway Boards to share between them responsibility for the national railway system) shall cease to have effect.I took part in most of these battles on transport. The Transport Commission as originally set up under the 1947 Act was followed by the Railway Executive, and there were always rows between the Commission and the Executive about who was to do what. In 1962, when the Transport Commission was abolished, the Conservative Party tried to decentralise the nationalised railway system. Vie set up, instead of the old Railway Executive, the Railways Board, and the Regional Boards. Now the Minister is taking powers to abolish these Regional Boards. He does not say that he is going to do so, but the Bill gives him the power, and probably he will do so. What will be the effect in Scotland which has its own Regional Board? Scotland will come under the Central Board, in London. I 103 think that highly undesirable, because we have had experience recently of Scotland and Wales saying that they want more regional control over their activities.
Powers have been taken in this Bill—and it may be right—to strengthen the Central Board and not to decentralise the vast system of railways into Regional Boards, as we tried to do in 1962. I do not think the set-up since that time has been working too badly, although there were differences of opinion between the regional set-ups and the centre. Your Lordships will remember that Mr. Fiennes, the able General Manager of the Eastern Regional Board, had a difference of opinion with the Railways Board; the speeches that he made displeased the Railways Board very much, and he was dismissed. Then the former Chairman of the Railways Board disagreed with the policy of Her Majesty's Government in this Bill, to hive off the liners from the Railways Board; so he resigned.
I think it quite wrong to take away from the railways this small amount of decentralisation which we tried to bring about. Everything has to be referred to London, and it is bound to slow up the industry. So I hope that the Minister who is to reply will be able to tell us why they have taken these powers. I think that they are quite unnecessary, and I shall try in Committee stage to delete that part of the clause and still keep these useful Regional Boards, which are much more in touch with the public. It will be otherwise, if everything is to be done in London.
§ 7.41 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, neither at this late hour nor at any other hour would I consider going right the way through a Bill like this. In any case, I do not regard it as a polite thing to do in this House, merely to make a speech in which one bolsters one's own authority by quoting bits of the speeches of other noble Lords and saying one agrees with them. That is not a method of making speeches I could possibly follow. I have got up at this late hour to talk about something I know something about—therefore, as your Lordships will know, I want to talk about waterways.
The waterways clauses of this Bill have three main effects on the waterways. The first effect is to split the navigable water- 104 ways into two categories. First of all, there is the category of major waterways. whose main purpose is to carry cargo, but which, of course, have many other purposes. The second category is that whose main use is all the other purposes of waterways—pleasure uses, water supplies and the rest. I cannot disagree with this spliting of the waterways into two categories, because I have a feeling that I invented it myself and put it to the Minister a long time ago. The only thing I quarrel with is the calling of this category of what I might call non-cargo waterways "cruising waterways", because cruising is not their main purpose. The main purpose financially is carrying water, because they get most of their revenue from this. If it is a question of how many people they please, then their main purpose is not cruising but angling, because anglers use the waterways far more than anybody else. The word "cruising" is a slight insult to the anglers. I should like to see them called "amenity waterways", and if the Government were willing to accept an Amendment along this line I should be happy to put it down.
The second effect of these clauses is to provide an advisory commitee. This is very necessary, partly because of the lack of knowledge of waterways which has always been quite extreme in Whitehall and partly because it is extremely valuable to the water users themselves. At present there are many separate categories. There are the people who are supplied with water, the fishermen, the local authorities, industry and the boating enthusiasts. They have not always seen eye to eye in the past, even though some people at the head of each of these categories have realised that they are inevitably linked together, not only because their separate finances contribute to the financing of the waterways but also because physically the activities of each category help to keep the waterways cleaner and easier for the others to use. A waterway is like a footpath: the more it is trodden the better it becomes, and the various users of the waterway help to tread it out (so to speak) for each other. This is just beginning to be understood, but so far there has been no forum where the various users could get together, consult each other and hammer out things to present to the Minister.
105 This extremely valuable little committee is now, thank heavens!, to be set up and it will be of a first-rate value to the waterways in telling the Minister what is the consensus of opinion of waterways users. I must admit that when I first heard that this committee was to be set up I had a slight hope that I might be on it myself, but when I saw that Mr. Illtyd Harrington, recently put on the British Waterways Board and formerly the extremely successful Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Parks Committee, had been appointed Chairman and when I saw the very fine list of members of the new committee, I came to the conclusion that it was going to he superbly staffed, that they would all do the job much better than I could hope to do it. I am happy to go off and do other things which I find take up my life without my having to concern myself with another committee.
The third thing the Bill does for the waterways is to devise a completely new legal set up. The waterways used to depend partly upon Local Acts of Parliament, of which there is the horrifying number of 600, and partly on national Acts, such as Section 17 of the Regulation of Railways Act which the Bill now proposes to repeal. This set-up had the great value of preventing the waterways from being illegally closed. I remember what a fight we had in this House at the time of the last Transport Act, when the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and I, acting together, managed to get Section 17 of the Regulation of Railways Act preserved and embedded in the Bill, although the then Government had intended to repeal it.
Now an entirely different set-up is to be created. The idea is to have the waterways much more under ministerial control and to make the whole concept much more flexible so as to adapt the waterways to their new uses, to strike out of the system those waterways not required and to bring into the system other waterways which will make the system more suitable for its new purposes. This is excellent for many reasons. To begin with, nobody likes the old Private Bill procedure for waterways. Not only is it expensive for the British Waterways Board and therefore for the taxpayers, but it is also extremely difficult for any individual person or body to fight 106 the proposals. Private legislation is notoriously expensive, and opposing it involves sums of money far beyond the means of an individual and often of an association. If a more modern set-up can be created, where there is a public hearing, at which appeals can be put in—and there is also the advisory committee—then that is far superior to anything that we have now.
There is, however, one caution which must be attached to this. Waterways are at the moment heavily subsidised owing to the fact that there is no reasonable method of cheaply abolishing them. The most expensive thing you can do with a waterway is to try to get rid of it. Therefore, whatever we do with these waterways—even if we stop using them altogether—we shall be saddled with a very large running expense which will go on as far into the future as we can see. The cheapest thing to do these waterways is to try to build up their revenue to the point where it gets rid of the deficit. Here we must notice that in the last few years the British Waterways Board has been the only nationalised organisation which has continually reduced its deficit in a major amount each year; and their deficit continues to fall steadily by a large percentage. This is almost entirely due to the better use of the waterways and if this is continued, it is the cheapes: thing for the country. It will also save for us a large amenity which, because of its beauty and the amount of pleasure it gives, not only in the countryside but in our towns, is something that we very much want to retain.
The caution that I want to give is this. If we are to develop these waterways, we must have some security of tenure for all those commercial firms which wish to take part in the process. Nobody will put money into any waterside concern if the waterway itself may suddenly be closed by a ministerial order, possibly without warning. There mast be reasonable security of tenure for al these firms which wish to help in the development of the waterways, and there must be adequate compensation for them if, unfortunately, a waterway has to be closed.
If those two things can be granted, and if the waterways system can be 107 looked at with an eye to the future, with the idea that the use of waterways is rapidly growing, and the revenue will be provided to make up the losses, then I think we can put the waterways of this country on their feet, and make them not only cease to be money losers, but actually money winners in the transport system. But we must make sure that the clauses of the Bill produce that position; that they give adequate security; that where a waterway has to be closed, adequate compensation is paid; and also that the system is allowed to develop properly for its new purposes, and not be knocked about and chopped about before the young tree really has time to take root. That is the only warning I wish to issue on this matter. Apart from that, so far as the waterways are concerned—and I hope this might be agreed by noble Lords opposite—I believe this to be a good Bill.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, outside Parliament I have heard this Bill described as a massive monument to bureaucracy and the assisted salvation of the railways, when in effect the railways should be encouraged to compete for traffic on sound commercial principles. Naturally, they have an important part to play. But is the proposed method of reorganisation right; and is the timing right? I think that on those two counts one can have reservations. As my noble friend Lord Watkinson asked earlier, can this country afford at the present time the luxury of putting further costs on industry or of doing anything that may impede production or hinder the flow of exports or the timely arrival in our factories of the necessary raw materials?
If transport is to be a link with production, subordinated to production schedules, surely a flexible and immediately available transport service is required. In the past, the transport industry has certainly suffered for far too long from a surfeit of administrative changes and instability, and a period of consolidation is badly needed. Will this proposed reorganisation achieve the required flexible structure to meet constantly changing demands? One doubts it. Nor will it permit the development of 108 true competition between transport providers to justify these proposals.
It has been said that users of transport are unreasonably prejudiced against rail. That is a curious statement when one considers the growing success of the freightliner, mentioned by several noble Lords in this debate, with its economic and efficient services adapted to the needs of industry. The user requires a transport system that is flexible and convenient. Can it be, though, that her Majesty's Government are now (when I say "now", I mean within the last few days) beginning to realise what influences consignor or user in his choice of road or rail? For, as I understand it, as the Bill is now drafted both road and rail operators will have to present detailed evidence, so that the traffic will not be awarded solely on a comparison of rates charged.
On the theme of flexibility and convenience, do the Government feel that sufficient has been done to overcome the fundamental defects in the special authorisation system solely by turning the emergency procedure into a procedure based on urgency, and by the Minister's statement at the Hilton Hotel on April 22 last, at a T.R.T.A. meeting, that he saw no reason why licensing authorities should not maintain a 24-hour service in order to deal with urgent applications? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he comes to reply, can comment on this statement by the Minister. Perhaps he would also be kind enough to say whether the Ministry have now had an opportunity of looking at the T.R.T.A. adaptation of the Dutch licensing system, which I understand meets, by persuasion, all the objectives of the special authorisation procedure while eliminating most of its defects.
As it would appear, judging by the Government's change of attitude to a certain extent, that it is now their intention to see that their system is flexibly administered, will a situation not arise whereby, if the conditions are liberal and the system flexible, much traffic will escape the freightliner net? If, on the other hand, the Government secure the primary purpose of maximising the traffic which must go through the licensing procedure, then they may end up, I should have thought, with a situation in 109 which one haulier who is authorised to carry the traffic is unable to do so, because his vehicles are otherwise committed, and a second haulier, who is willing and able, is not permitted to do so because he does not have the special authorisation.
While welcoming the fact that the Road Transport Industry Training Board has now established round the country nine regional offices to assist and advise employers in industry, I hope, with regard to the proposed transport manager's licence, that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will heed the conclusions reached at a meeting of representatives from a number of bodies; that is to say, the Industrial Transport Association, the Institute of Road Transport Engineers, the Road Haulage Association, the T.R.T.A., the Institute of Transport, the Institute of Traffic Administration and the Road Transport Industry Training Board. At this meeting, on April 26, they came to the conclusion that in the case of small vehicle fleets licences should be issued to any persons capable of satisfying simple conditions relating to academic ability or practical ability in so far as vehicle maintenance or operating are concerned. With larger fleets, naturally, higher standards would be required. Would the noble Lord not agree that it would be in industry's interests to develop standards to be achieved by applicants for licences, in the form of either a written examination or practical tests? Could not an independent body be set up which would grant the appropriate certificate or licence, as masters' tickets are granted to mariners?
I would add that it seems curious that at a time when our application to join the E.E.C. is on the table (and this was again stressed this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont) no effort has been made by Her Majesty's Government to bring some of their present proposals into line with Common Market policy, two important tenets of which are that users should be free to choose their transport and that own-account transport—the "C" licence transport—should be unrestricted. Also, how do the quantity licensing provisions conform with the opinion of the Commission that any regulation of capacity which results in compulsory distribution of traffic is incom- 110 patible with the fundamental principles of the common transport policy?
Regarding drivers' hours, it is curious that Her Majesty's Government are not able to emulate the more flexible regulations which the Common Market countries—that is to say, our competitors—are proposing. They are proposing a maximum working day of 13 hours, but with the allowance that on two lays a week the maximum of 9 hours per day driving time can be exceeded for the purpose of coping with big or seasonal demands. Even with the Government's latest concessions there is not that latitude, and I think it is a very important one. This may be a point to which one could return at Committee stage. In conclusion, I would say that I fail to see how these present proposals will achieve what should be, it seems to me, our overriding objective; that is, to set up an efficient system for moving freight (at the moment I am referring only to freight) at the cheapest cost and within the widest range of choice for the trader or industrialist.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I rise briefly at this late hour to draw your attention to a matter which I do not think has been raised in the debate to-day. It is Clause 139, a clause which is causing much worry and anxiety among railway enthusiasts and educational authorities and London boroughs, for this is the clause which will give legal force to the dispersal of a unique national collection of transport relics. Briefly the history is this. At the time of the nationalisation of railways the private companies handed over their precious relics which they had guarded for so many years, on the understanding that they would be brought together under one roof and preserved as a National Museum of Transport. For many years nothing was done, but at long last Clapham emerged as a site, and it was fortunate that London Transport—
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? It was not the old railway companies who made an arrangement of that sort; it was done by the Transport Commission. The Transport Commission formed a national collection of both the archives and the records very shortly after their formation.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I am obliged to the noble Lord, but I think he will agree that these relics came from the private companies.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, perhaps I have been misinformed. I know that the noble Lord knows more about this subject.
§ LORD HURCOMB
As a matter of fact, my Lords, the private companies were singularly unco-operative. They all wanted to hang on to their own things. They had no interest in a national collection. If it had not been for the nationalised Transport Commission the collection of both the archives and the relics would never have been made.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I certainly bow to the noble Lord's wisdom in this matter. But I think that, whoever did it, this is a unique collection of transport relics.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I thank the noble Lord. And the fact remains that they ended up in Clapham, and there they have been. This was not an ideal site, as I think everybody will agree, but the result was that, due to the very hard work and excellent direction of the curator there—and a lot of money has been spent on this—the collection came together in one place. This has not been a financial success. I am afraid that, possibly due to lack of interest, although with intelligent management on the part of the British Railways Board, a substantial loss is incurred. But I submit that this was possibly unnecessary in the past and will be unnecessary in future.
Under this Bill the responsibility for these relics is going to be transferred to the Department of Education and Science. This was probably a very good idea, because I do not think anybody expects the British Railways Board to run museums. But, unfortunately, the first thing the Department have decided to do is to 112 break up the collection and send part of it to York. London Transport will naturally retain its own relics in London. Either they will be sold or sent to other museums, if any have room for such exhibits. It is even rumoured that the unique Royal coaches will not be preserved any more, and with the sale of the land at Clapham it is proposed to open a new museum in York. But one rather sad comment on this is that, although the sale is expected to raise three-quarters of a million pounds, at least one-third will be spent on moving these exhibits up to York, because moving railway engines is a very expensive business.
This decision was made as a result of a recommendation by a Committee. I am not sure what terms of reference that Committee had, but if the White Paper is anything to go by they were not asked to consider any steps that might be taken to make Clapham viable; and, after all, with 165,000 visitors a year this should not be impossible. Nor did they consider whether the move could be made to any other site in London, if an alternative site was available. To many people an alternative site does exist, a unique site, and that is St. Pancras Station. I have it on good authority that had the Committee known about the possibilities of St. Pancras they might well have come to a different decision.
Let us consider St. Pancras for just a moment. It is in the centre of London, near to Madame Tussauds, which attracts one and half million visitors a year. It is a famous historical railway centre with a rail link. It not only has room for transport relics, but also could exhibit many other items of industrial archæology which would illustrate the great age of our industrial expansion which took place in Victorian England. In addition there would be room for the archives, which also are doomed to be moved to York, much to the dismay of railway scholars and other people who wish to do research in London. Again, at St. Pancras there are facilities such as hotels and car parks.
Briefly, tonight I wish only to ask whether it is too late to reconsider this sad decision. In making these comments I am not saving anything against York, or indeed Swindon, whose fine regional collection should also be kept in being and, if possible, extended in due course. It will not be long before 113 millions of young people will be alive in this country who will never have seen a steam locomotive or seen a tram rolling along the streets, and in spite of the excellent but, of necessity, restricted collection at the Science Museum a supreme opportunity is being lost for creating a fine setting for a unique collection of vehicles. Not only that, but it would be a wonderful tourist attraction for London. After all, with the greatest of good will one cannot expect people who are spending two or three days in London to go all the way up to York in order to see a museum.
In addition, the education authority of London is only just waking up to the fact that the closing down of the exhibition at Clapham will be a great loss to their curriculum. Twenty London boroughs have already made their opinions known. I feel the Government owe it to future generations to think again about this matter. The destruction of the Clapham exhibition is indeed a scandal and must be reconsidered.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, apologised for the fact that he would not be able to be here for the end of the debate, but we had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, the Minister responsible for winding up for the Government might have found it possible to be present by this stage. In the course of the debate we have heard many justifications given by supporters of the Government for this Bill. We have heard of the need to co-ordinate road and rail in order to use national transport resources to the best effect. We have heard of the need to put an end to "wasteful" competition, but nobody has had the temerity to try to define "waste". We have heard of the need for nationalised transport undertakings to operate under clearly established financial disciplines. But where is the pattern? Where is the grand design? Where is the philosophy which makes it necessary to combine so many different proposals into this one enormous Bill?
At the end of the debate I make no apology for returning again to the statement made by Mrs. Castle in another place when she introduced the Bill on Second Reading. She was quite explicit and said that throughout the Bill there 114 ran one unifying theme. She went on to describe it as:… what I would call practical Socialism. As a Socialist, I believe that transport is a vital service to industry and to our people and that, if economic planning or the physical planning of our environment is to make any sense at all, transport planning must form part of it. In the same way, transport services must be planned in relation to each other—not allowed to go their own sweet way regardless of consequences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 20/12/67, col. 1281.]
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am giving my support not only because I agree with Mrs. Castle's words butt also because I quoted them at the beginning of this debate.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
Then, my Lords, I think the noble Lord ought to get together with the Minister who introduced the debate. We shall see how it reads in Hansard to-morrow, but I think he will find that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was rather dissociating himself from that line of argument.
The Bill is one that we, on this side of the House, oppose on three different levels. Listening to the arguments which have been put forward during the debate we find that most of them fall into three categories. First, we believe that this Bill has been gravely mishandled by the Government. It has not been sufficiently thought out, and it has been introduced too late. It is beyond doubt that no major piece of legislation of this size—it is twice the size of the 1962 Transport Bill—has ever been introduced so late in the Session. Second, we believe it contains a number of fundamentally bad proposals, most notably those for quantity licensing and for transferring the freightliners from British Rail to the National Freight Corporation, but also others which we shall be raising in Committee. Third, the Bill goes to the root of the differences between the outlook of the two main Parties. What is the role of competition in transport? How is co-ordination of transport services best achieved? Through the market place? By an overall co-ordinating body? Or through common ownership? Should State owned boards be as free as 115 privately-owned companies to pursue ancillary manufacturing and selling activities?
On this side of the House we do not deny the need for a flexible and imaginative transport policy. We see a declining rail system. We see the threat to amenity in overcrowded and inadequate roads. We recognise the need to reform the road licensing system. If I may, at this stage in the debate, I will briefly develop two points, one on railways and one on road haulage, which I think have been central to the debate as it has developed over the last few hours.
In the past the railways have played a major role in the economic development of Britain. For many years heavy capital expenditure has been invested in massive fixed infrastructures which have, quite literally, become part of the environment, part of the economy, part of our way of life. Whole generations have looked to the railways for their livelihood. But the plant used in rail transport is so specialised in design, so vast in scale, and so financially costly that it is difficult to move it, to put it to any other use, or even to change it in any radical way. It is not for nothing that the railways are called "the permanent way". The consequence is that railway systems last, or are made to last, a very long time. New technologies arrive, but the old technology lives on and has to operate alongside the new—steam locomotives will still be in service when supersonic air transports are flying the skies above them.
So these technological mismatches, coupled with the fact that the production of new vehicles (aircraft and automobiles) invariably outstrips the construction of the roads and airports which are necessary for their effective use, inevitably produce operational mismatches with which the consumer, whether he is a businessman or a private passenger, is only too familiar.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Is he advocating that our railways should be abolished and that they are no longer in use?
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
No, my Lords, I am moving on to develop an argument 116 which is in sympathy with what the noble Lord himself was saying earlier. My point is that the great difficulty in a railway system is the quality of permanence; that it lasts for an extremely long time and is difficult to adapt for any other use. I want to come on to the way in which British Railways have attempted to solve the problem by the introduction of the freightliners, and then to talk about the proposals concerning freightliners which are envisaged in the Bill. It is for that reason that I refer to this matter as one of the central provisions in the Bill.
British Railways have been in a declining situation, as I see it, for the reasons I have given, They have had great problems and what we need to do now is to look at the Bill to see what it offers the Railways Board in future. It offers the prospect of a certain amount of new freight traffic. A figure has been given of perhaps 10 per cent. of road traffic shifted to rail over a period of eight or nine years, as a result of what may turn out to be an unworkable licensing system.
All this is to a certain extent speculative. Nobody has yet had an opportunity to see the new licensing system in practice. But, as the Bill is before us tonight, what is certain is that the operation of the freightliners, described by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, quoting Sir Stanley Raymond, as the brightest jewel in British Railways crown, is to be removed from the Railways and handed over to the National Freight Corporation. As Ministers opposite have good reason to know, this proposal is bitterly resented by railwaymen and indeed caused the departure of the previous Chairman of the British Railways Board, Sir Stanley Raymond. And to-day the voices, as we have heard them in the debate, of Lord Robertson of Oakridge, Lord Hurcomb and Lord Beeching, have all been raised in opposition to this proposal. It is a proposal made in the interests of a theoretical integration of the movement of freight by road and rail, and I believe that serious damage has already been done to the morale and spirit of British Railways. If this proposal is brought into effect, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, it will be a "defiance of logic"; as he said, it will cripple a development vital to the future of British Railways. Even on the Government's own side the noble Lord, 117 Lord Popplewell, speaking in support of the Bill in principle, voiced doubts on this point.
British Railways can justly claim to have been right in the forefront of the container revolution. Here at last they had something to be proud of, something to put their best men into, something to show off to the rest of Europe. Now they are to lose control of the freightliner service in yet another bewildering reorganisation based on abstract theories that they find difficult to understand. This is no way to build up confidence within an organisation. This is no way to attract the skilled people who are so badly needed. This is not going to lead to the vitality and enthusiasm which in the end, whatever is written into an Act of Parliament, is the only method of injecting life into a vital part of the transport system. Above all, this proposal fails to recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, explained so clearly in his powerful speech, the crucial relationship between the production and the sales aspects of an undertaking. This is where integration is needed, between production and sales within British Rail, not in the theoretical integration existing only in the minds of the people who drafted the Bill which has now emerged in this proposal for a National Freight Corporation.
This same fatal tendency, to fit the problem to the solution, runs through the Government's proposals for controlling the movement of goods by road. For years the Labour Party have had their solution pat—it has been in their Election Manifestoes—the integration of road and rail by means of a publicly-owned National Freight Authority. When they came to power they got down to work on the implications. Three years later—it took that time—four White Papers later, the Government produced this Bill, 267 pages long, with 156 clauses and 18 Schedules. The Bill has been debated in another place since its introduction just before Christmas. It is the biggest single piece of legislation since 1945. Much of it has been altered in its passage through the House of Commons, sometimes as a result of Opposition Amendments, sometimes because the Government themselves had second, and third, and many subsequent thoughts.
But one crucial provision remains, the absurd and pretentious procedure which 118 is proposed for the movement of goods. Let me remind your Lordships of what the Bill actually proposes. It has already been described by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford when he opened from this side of the House earlier this afternoon—but it cannot be repeated too often. If an industrialist or a private road haulier wishes to send a lorry of more than five tons unladen weight or 16 tons laden weight (or, if the lorry is a bulk carrier, any distance at all over five miles) he has to apply to a licensing authority for an appropriate licence, what is called a special authorisation. The licensing authority then forwards copies of this application to the National Freight Corporation and British Rail. Those two bodies have 14 days in which to oppose the granting of a licence. If they do object, the licence will not be issued until the industrialist or the road haulier has appeared before the licensing authority. The authority then has to decide whether in terms of speed, reliability and cost—the three criteria which are specified in the Bill—the National Freight Corporation or British Rail can match the applicant. If, in the view of the licensing authority, they can, the applicant will be refused a licence. It need not be a faster, cheaper or more reliable service which is offered by British Rail or the National Freight Corporation; what the Bill says is that it should be equal to that offered by the applicant.
Imagine the impossibility of getting a fair comparison. This is what the licensing authority is faced with. How can true costs—and remember the authority will have a statutory duty to make a judgment on this—be obtained when both British Rail and the National Freight Corporation are running at a loss, a budgeted loss for the first five years, and receiving a substantial subsidy from public funds? How do you measure speed—by published railway timetables? How is reliability affected by problems of railway employee relations—go-slows, stop-pages and strikes? How is the general low standard of efficiency of the railway organisation to be assessed? How are tax differentials to be taken into account? British Rail pay 2d. a gallon on diesel oil. Hauliers pay—what? 3s. 11d. a gallon on the same commodity. Arbitrary judgments will have to be made under this system. It is cumbersome; only to describe it is evidence that it is 119 cumbersome. It is bound to be longwinded, and it is a uniquely bureaucratic system that is envisaged.
Anyone who has investigated it must look forward with dread to grave practical difficulties. No one can feel confident that delay and resentment and even injustice will not be the product of this system. The private road haulier will be penalised, and however well the National Freight Corporation or the railways are run this built-in statutory privilege is bound to blunt the spur to their efficiency. And the crucial point surely is this. If industry is failing to appreciate the publicly-owned transport facilities which are available, then the remedy is improved marketing of those services. This is what the railways themselves did with the freightliners. Above all, transport is a service it is not an end in itself. The man who is best fitted to judge what form of carriage suits his distributive and production chain, what suits his business best, is the originator of the freight traffic himself.
In the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons it was pointed out that this major piece of legislation comes to your Lordships' House with one-third of its clauses not debated at all, either in Committee or on Report. Why this is so I believe to be a sterile line of argument in this House. The fact is, it is so. Fifty clauses have not been debated either in Committee or on Report in the House of Commons. The need for thorough debate and amendment of this rushed and badly drafted Bill is shown most vividly in those clauses which were debated in another place.
As a result of the Committee stage, when the Bill arrived on Report before Whitsun in the House of Commons the Government themselves moved more than 200 Amendments. These were Government Amendments as a result of discussions that took place in Committee, on that part of the Bill which had been discussed in Committee—the two-thirds which had been discussed. So what about the clauses of the Bill which were not discussed at all in Committee? What about the one-third that received no discussion? Were they so well thought out and so well drafted that they required no further change at all? Then, 120 as we know, in Committee the Government inserted more than 200 drafting Amendments and Amendments of substance into their own Bill, and there must be a likelihood of additional Government Amendments in your Lordships' House. Then there will undoubtedly be more Amendments from the Cross-Benches, these Benches and the Liberal Party Benches.
All this means that we in this House have a job to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he spoke last month in the debate on Procedure, made quite clear, one of the main functions of this House is to act as a Revising Chamber. Make no mistake about it, this is a function we intend to exercise. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said earlier that we do not ask our supporters to reject this Bill on Second Reading to-day. But what we do ask, and expect, is full support from all parts of the House, from the people with great specialist knowledge of transport who have to-day spoken in the debate, wherever they sit, when we come to scrutinise this Bill in Committee. The Bill cannot leave this House in the form in which it has arrived.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND (LORD HUGHES)
My Lords, I understand that shortly before I returned to the House the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, complained about my absence. I should like to point out in my defence that I was here continuously from 2.30 until 7.20, when I left to prepare a reply to what, up to that point, had been more than four hours of debate. I greatly doubt whether there are many Members of your Lordships' House who were here for a longer continuous period than that. However, if it is the wish of the House that, rather than seek to reply reasonably to the main points that have been raised in a long debate, I should sit right through to the end, taking such notes as are possible and giving a scrappy reply, then I am quite willing to do that. I had thought that the House would prefer a reasonable reply.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord need not get too concerned about this. When he comes to 121 read what I said—he is at a disadvantage, because he was not in a position to hear it—he will see that it was a good-natured observation, and not one to be taken seriously.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, all I know is that when I came back I was told from two quarters that Lord Windlesham had complained that I was not in my place. That may or may not be correct as an interpretation of what he said. But I shall be quite happy to read to-morrow what he said.
There is another point. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, sought to create, or to see, a difference between what my right honourable friend the First Secretary said and what my noble friend Lord Shepherd said. Rather than that the noble Lord should wait until to-morrow I will repeat what Lord Shepherd said.I believe that in another place my right honourable friend the First Secretary, when introducing this Bill, described it as 'practical Socialism'. She may well have been helping herself in another place, but, knowing the attitude of the majority of the House, clearly her words were not for my aid or assistance. Whether it is practical Socialism or not, I would suggest there is nothing doctrinaire in it, and … in my view it makes good commercial sense.If the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, can find disagreement between Mrs. Castle and Lord Shepherd on that, it does not surprise me in the least that he finds it possible to disagree with large sections of the Bill.
If I may start off with what appears to be accepted in the Bill, no one, in spite of the criticism of the length of the Bill, has criticised the Bill as being bad throughout. The worst that has been said about it is that the good parts would tend to be obscured by the bad. But may I just recapitulate some things which have been said from different quarters of the House, excluding those who sit behind me—because, after all, we expect them to support the Bill. I will confine myself to the acceptances which have come from the Opposition Benches, the Liberal Benches and the Cross Benches.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, started off by accepting that the Government had a mandate to introduce the Bill. He accepted the pro- 122 posals for the streamlining of capital structure and for the elimination of the long line of deficit financing. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, accepted the proposals in relation to inland waterways, which he thought were good. He, as did other noble Lords in various parts of the House, liked the measure for road safety which led to the regulation of drivers, although the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and at least two other noble Lords, suggested that there might be more flexibility in relation to this. He accepted that quality licensing was designed to help road safety, and that from that point of view it could be welcomed.
I would direct your Lordships' attention to the fact that much more than one-third of the Bill went without any reference at all during the last five hours; and we can take it, in part at least, that silence means consent. So we come down to a certain number of major items which were raised throughout the debate, on which there is difference in your Lordships' House. We must accept that smile of these are differences arising from political thinking. After all, if the Conservative Party and the Labour Party thought alike on all major matters in economic affairs, it would be a farce for us to be sitting looking at each other; we ought all to be sitting on the same side.
Before I get too deeply immersed in the Bill I should like to get some of the more pleasing aspects off my chest. I should like to join those who have already congratulated the noble Lords, Lord Teviot and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on their maiden speeches. It was quite refreshing to find that two maiden speeches on a Bill of this kind should come from people who spoke from their personal background of experience in the industry, totally different as that was. As others have said before me, it is encouraging to find people taking part in our debates and giving us the benefit of their experience. I do not say that I necessarily agreed with either of them, but it was most refreshing to find them taking part in, and making their maiden speeches on, so controversial a measure, yet doing so in such an uncontroversial fashion. I hope, as others have hoped, that we shale hear frequently from both noble Lords, that the good beginning they made will in time improve, and that sometimes they 123 may find themselves agreeing with the Government.
One of the general criticisms that has been made is about the cost of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, quoted the Multiple Shops' Federation estimate of 3d. in the pound. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson quoted the Food Manufacturers' Federation's £16 million on the British food bill. I understand that this £16 million appeared in a full page advertisement in The Times. I have seen no build-up nor has anyone in the Ministry seen any indication of where this £16 million figure comes from.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I do not want to pursue this matter. Perhaps I should deal with this afterwards, because it is some criticism of the Ministry. But I think the reason no build-up has appeared is because certain letters have not been answered. I should be very happy to deal with this with the noble Lord afterwards if he would like to.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I think that when people make claims of this kind they ought at least to give some factual material behind it. Perhaps it can be the subject of a suitable Amendment during the next stage. We shall be very interested to hear the build-up.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but I was not aware he was pursuing that aspect. If he was asking me where I got my facts from, I can tell him that I did not get them from the advertisement in The Times. I made the proper application and I got a letter from the Food Manufacturers' Federation saying that this was the figure. If the noble Lord wants to see it, he can see it.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I do not need to see it, because, after all, they put the advertisement in the paper. What they did not advertise was where they got the figure of £16 million. What I do know is that there is going to be added to the cost of foodstuffs in the future the cost of the advertisement in The Times. We may yet hear how the figures are calculated, but in the Minister of Transport's Paper, submitted to N.E.D.C., in March, leaving out provisions about road haulage charges which have since been 124 deleted, it is shown that there would be no increase in costs or prices as a result of the Bill, other than any possibly caused by the reduction in drivers' hours; and this will be only if the reduction in drivers' hours is not followed by an increase in productivity. And he would be a foolish man who suggested that the reduction in drivers' hours is not going to be followed by some increase in productivity.
My Lords, the next point which I think was the subject of major criticism from various points of the House was the transfer of the freightliners to the National Freight Corporation; and on this occasion there were doubts expressed by my noble friend Lord Popplewell. I would point out that on this Bill the Government have been accused of one particular thing throughout: that they are seeking to give support to British Rail, irrespective of the effect on road hauliers or on the community generally; that we are bending over backwards to help the railways pay. At the same time we are being asked, or accused of seeking (because it has been put both ways), to deal a death blow to railways by removing from them their most promising venture. If I could put it another way, my Lords, we are accused of "feather-bedding" the railways and then stabbing them when they are comfortably laid down on the bed. It does not make sense if the Government—
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, you know that he who laughs last laughs best. One should never interrupt in the middle of a sentence; wait and see how it is going to finish. It does not make sense to accuse the Government at one time of seeking to do too much to help the railways and at the same time accuse them of trying to kill them. One or other of the accusations obviously must be false.
It is because the Government believe it is essential to continue in one organisation the flexibility and door-to-door facility of road haulage and the speed and economy of rail over long distances that the service is being transferred. The railways, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd pointed out, will have a 49 per cent. interest in the freightliner company. 125 It follows, therefore, that both the National Freight Corporation and British Railways have a practically equal interest in seeing that freightliners work. The railways are not going to be subjected to needless competition from the National Freight Corporation who would not in the other circumstances have to care very much whether the freightliners work or not. But we now have two organisations with the same end in view: to make this a profitable, integrated service, not that one part of it should be more profitable at the expense of the others. It is not going to be in the interests of the National Freight Corporation to see the freightliners become a deficit organisation at the expense of their road haulage interests, or alternatively to have the road haulage interest profitable at the expense of the National Freight Corporation.
We believe that this is, in fact, the best way to guarantee that an integrated service will he a commercially profitable service, and that the railways will get the best possible return from it. And that is why we are doing it.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on to another point, may I say this? He has very successfully scored his point by quoting remarks made in some parts of the House against those made in other parts of the House, but there is one argument with which he has not dealt, and that is the argument very ably put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, and also, perhaps less well, by my humble self. That is, the argument that it was extremely unusual in business to separate the job of selling from the operation of production or operation.
§ LORD HUGHES
Yes, my Lords, but it is not unheard of. We have seen in recent years some very unusual combinations in private enterprise: the growth of the large organisation; the multiple companies in which it is sometimes almost impossible for anyone outside the directors' room of the top holding company to know exactly where the ramifications begin and end. There are very great changes, and the idea that everything connected with manufacturing and selling is necessarily best done if it is being done by the same organisation is no longer totally accepted. It may be that in some cases 126 that is the right way to do it, bat it is at least capable of proof in private enterprise itself that this method is also a successful way of doing it.
We believe that to get an integrated service both the parties should have, as it were, a vested interest in seeing that it is a success. It is because we want to see the railways ceasing to be a drag on the rest of transport that we are doing it this way, which we believe will give the railways the best return for the enterprise which they have shown in making the freightliners something that exists, rather than something which was merely projected. I am not seeking to mace any points on that. The Government are determined—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, would certainly give us credit for seeing that there is no needless waste of money on the railways—that the railways ought not to pile up losses if it can be prevented, and we are doing it in this way because we believe it is the way in which the railways will best benefit at the end of the day.
But, of course, there is bound to be disagreement, because this sort of thing can be proved or disproved finally only in the results; and if the point which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has made is true (and wish to thank him for his reminder), that history, so far as transport legislation was concerned, did not begin in 1962, and if, as my noble friend. Lord Popplewell, said, the 1947 Act had been allowed to carry on instead of being interfered with by the Conservative Government, we might have had a very different story altogether.
My Lords, perhaps I may come now to quantity licensing—and this again is another of the points on which many of your Lordships spoke. Notwithstanding what I thought was a very clear exposition of my noble friend Lord Shepherd, some noble Lords, at least, seemed to be under misapprehensions about it, or at least seemed resolved to continue along lines that they were going to do in any event whether Lord Shepherd had spoken or not. May I remind your Lordships of some of the positions in relation to quantity licensing? In the first instance, it does not apply to any vehicles under 16 tons plated weight. Secondly, it does not apply to journeys under 100 miles, except for a very few specified commodities 127 some of which have been named—coal; some steel products; some ores—and then only to loads which are under 11 tons. The special authorisations last for five years; they are granted by independent licensing authorities, and there is an appeal to the Transport Tribunal. The grant is automatic if rail cannot offer as good a service.
In relation to the point which I think was made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about the situation when something was needed urgently, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the expedited grant of permission which is possible under Clause 75 in circumstances where it would obviously be unreasonable to go through the normal procedure. This was specifically put into the Bill to deal with a situation which ought not to he frustrated merely by the need to go through the ordinary procedure.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, even if it was not the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who made that point—and I rather thought it was—certainly somebody else did. I will come to his point about back loads in a moment. At the moment I have only got to the bottom of the first page. The Minister can make exemptions, and there have already been indications in relation to livestock, furniture removals, and so on. This is referred to in Clause 71(5).
On the question of back loads on which, quite legitimately, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is anxious, these are treated in exactly the same way as outward loads. The special authorisations, normally lasting five years, covering both kinds of loads, going and coming, can be applied for in wide terms—for example, all kinds of goods between X and Y, where X might be a group of counties in the north of Scotland and Y another group in the south of Scotland or in England. The applicant will normally apply in as wide terms as he thinks the rail authorities will not object to, or, alternatively, where he thinks the rail authorities cannot successfully object. So there is no distinction between forward loads and back loads. This misconception arises from importing existing procedures into the new procedure.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am only seeking information. How can the railways object if they do not know the nature of the back load?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the presumption is that the railways will be objecting on their ability to carry the goods, unless there is an indication that it is some special traffic. It does not matter so much to the railways what is in the load; it is the points between which it is being carried. For instance, one would not expect a lorry coming down from Aberdeen to somewhere South of the Border carrying fish to come back with coal dust. Certainly one would not want to be eating the fish that went on the succeeding journey. It is reasonably simple for the railways either to know that they are objecting both to the forward load and the back load or to know that they are not objecting; or, if they do object, that they either succeed or fail in these objections. I have gone out of my way to try to be helpful to those noble Lords to whom I am replying and, as I have said, applicants will normally apply in the widest possible terms they think they can get away with, either without objection or by successfully repelling objections.
I should now like to come to the points which were made on Clause 48 in regard to manufacturing interests. In the seven years in which I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, it has been a regular procedure for noble Lords opposite to insist that the nationalised undertakings should be subject to commercial considerations. This is a reasonable proposition for them to put forward, but they cannot put it forward only on certain occasions and put it back on others. If this Government introduced legislation under which they sought to lay down that a particular company or group of companies which were manufacturing a particular product should be allowed to manufacture only in such quantities as they could use within their own organisation, irrespective of the effect it had on the viability of the product, there would be shrieks of protest that this was an interference with the commercial operations of the company.
When we compel a nationalised body to cut down the size of its operations, its 129 workshops, or whatever it may be, to what it can absorb within its own activities, we may in fact be compelling it to operate on a basis which makes it loss-creating. In relation to these manufacturing activities we wish these nationalised boards to be in exactly the same position as any other commercial enterprise. They should be allowed to get the best value that can come from the proper exercise of their commercial judgment—no more and no less. The Bill includes all the necessary safeguards for this to be done only on a commercial basis. If it is good for Private industry to get this, I cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing the same for a nationalised industry, unless we are seeking to operate on the basis that it should be made as difficult as possible for the nationalised industry to pay its way. If we are all working from the same basis, that we do not want to waste the taxpayers' money by compelling the nationalised industries to lose money, we should at least give them the conditions which provide them with the best chance of making a success of their operation.
There are a number of smaller points to which, even at this hour, I should properly refer. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, referred to the Railways Board's applications in regard to prices. At the risk of appearing to take the easy way out, but in the interests of your Lordships' time, I would direct the noble Lord's attention to the very full statement made by the Minister of Transport in his Third Reading speech, which is reported in Hansard for the morning of May 30. I think that he will find it gives him the complete answer that he is seeking.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, was one of the noble Lords who spoke about the P.T.A.s. There were varying doubts about these Authorities, and I think that Lord Henley's point could be summarised in this way. Why rush into them? Why not wait for the reorganisation of local government? The simple answer is that we cannot afford throughout the whole country to wait for the coming into effect of the reorganisation of local government. This will take a number of years to implement. Initially, the Minister's intention is to set up four, on Tyneside, on Merseyside, in the West Midlands and in the 130 Greater Manchester area. The Government consider the need for reorganisation in these places to be urgent and that it cannot wait for local government reorganisation. In fact, informal discussions are already under way. As for he rest of the country, the Government have said, and we adhere to this, that in this respect they will be content to wait until the future pattern of local government is clearer. In other words, where we can reasonably wait for the new pattern we are content to do so. But where the problem is urgent and will become worse and worse if we wait, then we think that the balance is in favour of action, and that is why these four authorities have been chosen.
On this same subject of the P.T.A.s, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was a little unfair to the Scottish Office in saying that we did not seem able to make up our minds whether we wanted a P.T.A. or not. He referred to the negotiations between Glasgow Corporation and the Scottish Bus Group, and said that these would avoid the need for a P.T.A. in Glasgow. Although the Government also hope that these negotiations will prove successful, they will not necessarily remove the need for a P.T.A. The negotiations will not, for example, affect the surburban rail services which are an essential component of the local system.
The reason why the Government have not yet decided on whether to set up a P.T.A., is that the Secretary of State is anxious to have full discussions with local authorities on the recommendations made in the Greater Glasgow Transportation Study. If I am to be criticised about what we do in the Scottish Office, I would rather be criticised in a matter of this kind along the lines that we are proceeding too cautiously, than that we are proceeding too rashly—and think that the noble Lord., Lord Drumalbyn, will probably agree with me on that point.
Continuing with the Scottish points, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, asked why should the Scottish Transport Group take over the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. It is in order to integrate the domestic bus and shipping services to the fullest possible extent. The C.S.P.C. operates vehicle ferries in the Clyde and its traditional links with the railway system are not as strong as they used to be. C.S.P.C. ships are similar to those of 131 MacBrayne's, and it will be sensible to bring both companies under the same ownership.
Then the noble Lord referred to Clauses 39 to 58. He welcomed Clause 39, but questioned the value of a review at the end of three years. If funds are being made available from public sources, obviously there cannot be a blank cheque going on for ever. There must be a review at some time. But I think it is a mistake to assume that a review, whether it be at three-year intervals or at any other interval, necessarily means that the grant is to be terminated or even that it will be reduced. There is a possibility that in certain circumstances it will be necessary to increase the grant. In some cases, it may be found that it is not necessary to continue it. In other cases, it may be that it can be on a reduced basis. What is necessary is that the grant should be reviewed from time to time, and that a decision in relation to this particular aspect should be taken on the basis of the circumstances as they exist. But there is not necessarily any imperilling of the line simply by reason of the review.
On the question of Clause 58, the noble Lord did not do himself justice by having the quite unworthy suspicion that the reason for this clause being imported into the Bill was so that the Government could blackmail local authorities into paying for the services as an alternative to closing them down. It is a much simpler explanation than that. It is simply designed to give Scottish authorities powers which the English authorities already have. If I can anticipate the Committee stage, we hope to introduce a further Amendment making certain than when district councils do this it does not come out of the ls, limit that is imposed on them at the Present time. So there is nothing ulterior in this at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, raised a number of points mainly in relation to the private motorist, and he asked for some assurances, I cannot do other than accept some of his points as matters to be dealt with in Committee. But I would remind your Lordships that an undertaking was given in another place that a further statement would be made about the guidance which we shall be giving to local authorities on the use of their greater freedom to regulate 132 traffic and control parking, if Parliament approves the provisions in Part IX of the Bill. The guidance will range from quite detailed points of procedure and law to matters of general principle. Most of it will be issued in the form of a manual about the time when the road traffic clauses come into effect. We shall stress in particular the need for adequate consultation and publicity when local authorities make orders to control traffic, and we shall make clear the importance we attach to proper consideration of essential needs in such matters as access to premises.
There was one point upon which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, touched when he was talking primarily of the interests of the private motorist; that was, that when one is considering the cost involved in road as against rail one must at least take into consideration the extent to which it is perhaps necessary to embark on road expenditure to widen roads or to form new roads, where the principal grievance is that the motorist who could move very much faster in complete safety on these roads is unable to do so because he is frustrated by the heavy commercial loads on them. Last week I motored down to London, which is something I try to avoid if possible, and it was surprising how frequently on roads where overtaking was difficult one waited 15 or 20 minutes because there was a lorry tootling along the road at 25 miles an hour and a queue had built up.
To a certain extent some of the proposals in relation to commercial traffic which are flowing from this Bill will be of direct advantage to private motorists, in enabling them to get the best possible use of the roads as they are and the roads as they will continue to be improved. Although this has nothing to do with the Bill, as was the case with the bulk of what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said in his opening remarks, I would point out that this Government are spending considerably more on road improvements and new roads than any Government in our history, and the amount continues to rise.
§ LORD, CHESHAM
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the flow of the noble Lord, but I would just query whether the amount which is being spent is as great as it would have been if the cuts had not taken place.
§ LORD HUGHES
What I was going to say, my Lords, was that it is pretty difficult to refute it. Obviously, the amount which is being spent is bound to be less than it would have been if the cuts had not taken place. What I am saying is that even with the cuts we are spending considerably more in real terms—not just in actual money—than any Government have done, and the figure continues to rise. No Government in this country for years ahead, so far as I can see, will ever spend as much money on the roads as the motorists would like, simply because that would mean devoting a disproportionately large part of our resources to them. What I am pointing out is that whatever defects there are in what we are doing on the roads, they are not as great as the defects of our predecessors. That may be negative praise.
My Lords, I think I have covered most of the main points which have been made, and if I may close on a more jocular note I would say that I at least was grateful for the fact that when the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, was making his criticism in relation to the transfer of the freightliner services he accused the Government of cannibalism in only that single respect. He did not go quite so far as the former Minister of Transport, the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, who said that the Bill was ill-conceived and ill-digested. I have not been able to follow the connection between conception and digestion, unless it relates to the theory that a particular variety of persons who work behind counters eat their young. So far as transport is concerned, the Government have no intention of doing that. We be- 134 lieve that this measure is one that will be of tremendous benefit to the country.
We hope that when the Opposition are considering the Amendments which are to be tabled for the Committee stage they will give preference in their considerations to matters which, because of the way things were done in the other House—and I am not seeking to apportion blame one way or the other when I say that—were not in fact considered there. I am not suggesting that they should confine their Amendments to those Parts of the Bill which were not considered there, but if in fact they wish that in one House or the other tee whole Bill shall have been considered then obviously they will be serving their own purpose, as well as the Government's purpose, by endeavouring to ensure that those matters which ought to be debated and which ought to be the subject of consideration for amendment but which have not been considered elsewhere may be looked at in your Lordships' House.
I should like to say, in closing these remarks, that my right honourable friend Lord Shepherd, when he reads this debate, as he will in due course, will, I think, feel as gratified as I am at the way in which your Lordships have undertaken this Second Reading debate. While there are points of strong fundamental political difference between the Parties here, that has not in any way spoilt our discussion. We have had, I think, a constructive Second Reading debate, and if the succeeding stages of this Bill are conducted in the same way as this Second Reading debate has been, then neither the Government nor the Opposition, or —much more important than either of us—the country itself, will have any reason to complain of the way your Lordships have considered this measure.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.