HL Deb 24 June 1968 vol 293 cc1120-7

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause [Establishment and general duty of Freight Corporation]:

LORD WADE moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 10, leave out ("Corporation") and insert ("Council"). The noble Lord said: I should at the outset explain that all the Liberal Amendments in Part I, down to and including the Amendment to Clause 8, have the same objective; namely, to alter the constitution and functions of the proposed National Freight Corporation. It may be convenient to the Committee to consider these Amendments together, as they all relate to the integration of transport services. We shall then have a fairly wide-ranging debate on the Amendments to Part I. It may also be convenient, if your Lordships agree, to consider at the same time the Amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford.


It would certainly suit the convenience of noble Lords on these Benches to have a general debate on those lines, if this suits the convenience of noble Lords on the Government Benches; then we can conclude the discussion as one debate.


That seems to me to be a very eminently suitable suggestion, and I readily concur.


I should point out that the two Amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Merrivale are on a different point.


I am much obliged. I think at the outset I should make it clear that the Liberal Amendments are intended to be constructive—I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will have the same comment about his Amendments—and they are entirely within the proper and traditional functions of a revising Chamber. If any of these Amendments are carried, they will be sent to another place for their consideration in accordance with constitutional practice.

It so happens that I took part in the debate last week on the Rhodesia Order, and I was one of those who strongly objected to the rejection of that Order. But in the course of speaking on that debate I mentioned that this week I might be moving or supporting Amendments to the Transport Bill, and that, so far as the constitutional issue was concerned, I saw a clear distinction. It is our duty to examine this massive Bill very carefully and to suggest Amendments to it. My only dilemma was that of deciding whether to table hundreds of Amendments, which we could quite well have clone, or to limit our amending to a number of major issues. We chose the latter course, for which I hope the Government will be duly thankful. The Liberal Amendments are certainly not wrecking Amendments. In so far as the object of the Bill is to achieve a more efficient transport service, we fully support that aim. But we have grave doubts as to some aspects of this Bill.

On the Second Reading of this Bill, on June 11, at column 31 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, my noble friend Lord Henley had this comment to make on Part I: Part I 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". The purpose of these Amendments is to do precisely that.

I do not propose to go into any great detail at the outset of this important and, I hope, very valuable debate, but I shall indicate in broad outline the object of these Amendments. If there are any imperfections in the drafting of the Amendments which appear in the names of my noble friends and myself, I have no doubt that noble Lords speaking from the Government Benches will point them out. I should be very surprised if there were no defects in drafting, since it is extremely difficult to draft Amendments to a massive Bill such as this, but I hope that the debate will turn mainly on the principles involved and on the main features of the Amendments to Part I.

I shall summarise the intention of the Liberal group of Amendments tinder three headings. First, instead of having a great new Corporation—that is the National Freight Corporation—imposed on our transport system, we suggest that there should be a Transport Freight Council which would act as a holding company. There is no great significance in the difference in wording between "Council" and "Corporation", except that it emphasises the distinction between what we think proper and what has been suggested by the Government in this Bill. The functions of the Council are set out in the substitute words shown in our Amendment No. 7A: Council shall acquire by transfer the assets of the Transport Holding Company including any additional assets transferred to the said Company under the Transport Holding Company Act 1968 and shall operate those assets in association with the existing Board and in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1962. In other words, the Council would be similar to the Transport Holding Company. I should emphasise the fact that we do not wish to create a monopoly of road and rail transport, since transport users would suffer from monopoly conditions. That is the first aim of these Amendments.

Secondly, under our proposals the freightliner service would not be taken away from the railways. Some very powerful arguments were put forward during the Second Reading debate by those who have a great deal of knowledge on this subject against the removal of the freightliner service from the railways, and I hope that the advice given by many noble Lords on Second Reading will lead the Government to have second thoughts. The third objective of the Liberal Amendments is to strengthen and improve the advisory and consultative procedure.

If I may deal with the last of these proposals first, we do not object to the concept of setting up a Freight Integration Council which is referred to in Part I. We welcome the idea, so far as it goes. But we must recognise that the nationalised Transport Advisory Councill, which it would supersede, has not been particularly effective and the whole history of consumer advisory bodies has not been very encouraging. The membership is, of course, important if any advisory body is to be effective. Under our proposals there would be a consultative Integration Board composed of the following—and this, in turn, is also to be found in Amendment No. 7A: a consultative Integration Board shall be established consisting of

  1. (a) a Chairman and Vice-Chairman appointed by the Minister;
  2. 1124
  3. (b) four members appointed by the Freight Integration Council;
  4. (c) four members appointed by the Railways Board;
  5. (d) four members appointed by the road haulage industry;
  6. (e) four members appointed by the organisations representative of users of freight transport."
To return to the main issue—namely, how to achieve an efficient and coordinated transport system—may I offer one or two general observations? It is a mistake to over-simplify the problem, and to regard it as the simple one of deciding how to force goods off the roads on to the railways. That would be particularly inappropriate in certain areas of the country where the railway lines have already been closed. Such a policy would involve attempting to force goods off the roads on to railways that no longer exist. Therefore that would be a mistaken way of approaching this problem. I think it would also be a mistake to assume that railway losses are entirely due to the transfer of freight from the railways to the roads during the post-war years. The urge to direct traffic on to the railways is based on the misconception that the expansion of road haulage is the prime cause of the railways' losses. But it is clear that the railways are suffering primarily from the diminution of bulk load-carrying. Coal and steel transport has declined drastically in the last decade. Plants using large quantities of fuel or raw materials have been located nearer their sources of supply, a significant amount of oil is carried in pipe-lines, while the production of coal—the fuel which it is replacing—has dropped considerably. These have all contributed to the loss of freight. Therefore we must try to get the problem in the right perspective.

There is another general observation which I should like to make. I do not believe that the business community use the roads instead of the railways out of sheer cussedness. For example, a manufacturer in, say, the West Riding of Yorkshire wishing to send his goods to the Port of London, or to the Ports of Hull or Liverpool, will have a number of factors to take into account, apart from that of transport costs. There will be two main considerations: one is the amount of loading and unloading, and the other is the arrival of the goods on time. These are two essential factors in the equation, and if industry is to be efficient and competitive, they are extremely important considerations. If there has been a preference for the road, it is not due to an obstinate desire to clutter up the roads with lorries. I do not think the solution to these practical problems lies in the creation of a great new Corporation, especially if the intention behind this Corporation is one of compulsion rather than attraction due to better service. I am sure that compulsion would not be the right policy, and it is not one that I should welcome.

May I now say a word about loading and unloading? Most European railways have felt the same contraction as ourselves but, on the whole, they appear to have shown more ingenuity in seeking fresh markets. They have tried to offer what road transport offers—door-to-door service—by providing, for example, a service for private sidings. On the Continent there has been a dramatic increase in rail freight-carrying between private sidings. Industries with regular loads of raw materials coming in and finished goods leaving have always known the enormous advantages of avoiding all unnecessary loading and unloading during a journey. There has been a great superiority of road haulage over rail in this respect. But private sidings would, I think, enable the railways to offer the same services. It is true that companies which now operate their own railway sidings are still not able to reap the full benefit because so many of their suppliers and customers do not also have their own sidings, and only when a large number of firms possess them does it become increasingly advantageous to use private sidings. But I think that if this development were followed up both railways and industry would benefit. Certainly I think it is a line of progress worth considering; and we have something to learn from the Continent. But I believe that the creation of this Corporation might well be a hindrance rather than a help.

This brings me to the freightliner service—not quite the same kind of point, but also closely related to door-to-door service and speed of delivery. I listened to the arguments on Second Reading and I read those that I was unable to hear, and I am sure that the weight of evidence is in favour of allowing the railways to keep this service. I need not repeat all the arguments, but may I just make one comment which I think is relevant? It is, alas! a sad coincidence that this, the first day of the Committee stage of the Transport Bill, should be the first day of the "Go-slow" on the railways. I do not think it would be very helpful for me to make comments on the railway dispute, but I am quite sure the longterm effect on the railways will be harmful. I think there will be a loss of custom which it may be difficult to regain. It is certainly very frustrating to the public.

There have, however, been frustrations for the railwaymen in the post-war years, and these have not been due entirely to matters of pay but have been due partly, I think, to loss of status; and that, in turn, has been due to circumstances beyond their control. If that is so, I think it would be unfortunate to add to the difficulties of those running our railways by taking away the freightliner service and so causing a further loss of status. I know that strong feelings are felt on the subject of the freightliner service, and there are Amendments—namely, the Amendments to Clauses 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to which I have already referred—which pinpoint this particular aspect of the debate on Part I.

I am anxious to be as helpful as possible. If, in the course of the debate, a strong desire is expressed to record a decision on this specific issue (and I know that strong feelings are felt), I am prepared to advise my noble friends not to press the Liberal group of Amendments on the wider issue but to support the Amendment on the issue relating to the freightliner service. But for the present I think that I must reserve my position and see how the debate proceeds. I hope that I have given a fair summary without being unduly long. In conclusion, may I emphasise that although the Liberal Amendments are major Amendments to this Bill our aim is to create an efficient, co-ordinated transport system with the minimum of compulsion, and our desire in doing this is to be as constructive as possible. I beg to move.


In order the t we may now hear Lord Kennet's Statement on the Sainsbury Report, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.