Clause 12. — (Vesting of undertakings.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Transport Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th April 1947.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South 12:00 am, 30th April 1947

Yes, but this is not D-Day. This is victory day. What I desire to stress is that it is not a question of trying to foresee now the situation that will prevail at the end of the year. From the beginning of the preparation of this Bill, we have had to determine the dates when the Bill would be ready for Parliament, and the arrangements of the Parliamentary time table, which made the Guillotine necessary. I say it with regret, and I shall explain that later, when the proper opportunity to do so arises. Nevertheless there was the necessity of a Parliamentary time table being fixed so that the Bill could pass to another place in plenty of time for consideration, and so that mature consideration could be given to the fixing of a vesting date, as a definite target day, on which the property would be transferred. That is all we are determining at the present time. On that date the property will be transferred from private to public ownership.

There is every advantage to the Minister, and to the scheme, in being able to appoint the Commission and to get the Executives ready so that they can take over the responsibility for the process of co-ordination commencing from 1st January. I speak now with some experience as the Minister who exercised a measure of Parliamentary control over this group of undertakings under wartime conditions, and I can state without any hesitation that the present arrangement, which was necessary in wartime, becomes, increasingly undesirable in peace conditions. The Minister of Transport, surrounded by his Departmental organisation, has no organisation effectively to exercise control over the management and direction of railway operations, canals, and the London Passenger Transport Board.

In peacetime conditions a transitional period is always undesirable. At a time when the nation is involved in all the serious matters of the readjustment of our national economy to peace conditions, I see no advantage in maintaining these transitional arrangements which exist at present. The Railway Executive—that is, the four general managers of the railway companies—under the Control Agreement, is ostensibly under the control of the Minister, but that form of control is exercised only in a general way to deal with emergencies such as the fuel crisis, through which we have recently passed. The Minister is not surrounded with either the staff or the machinery to make effective an administration of that character. Therefore, it seems to me there is everything to be said for bringing into being as quickly as possible the Commission which is to be charged by Parliament with the task of the co-ordination and creation of an efficient and adequate transport system. I cannot see that there would be any advantage in the Minister's delaying the appointment of the Commission when the Bill receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament. The Parliamentary timetable has been made on the assumption that in the normal way the Bill will be able to receive the Royal Assent in July.

I would emphasise the important and vital part which the efficiency of our transport system, its cost, its capacity to discharge its job for the industries of this country, will play in the efficiency of British industry. During the last 12 months, we have seen the results of the ravages of war on British railways and British transport as a whole. To say that is to make no reflection on those who have been responsible for the conduct of the railways, or on any aspect of the Control Agreement. It is because, during the war, practically the whole of the weight of the transport of this country was channelled through the railways. It is not, and cannot be, the Minister's responsibility to initiate the necessary decisions to remedy that state of affairs. Will any hon. or right hon. Gentleman, whether he favours the principle of this Bill or opposes it, tell me that in a transitional period of this sort the railway directors can make decisions incurring large expenditure of capital? Of course, they cannot do so, because they foresee the position that the property is to pass out of their control. As a matter of fact, by the provisions of the Bill, they are precluded, except with the consent of the Minister, from undertaking certain capital expenditure. On the other hand, until we know the decision of Parliament, and until the Bill receives the Royal Assent, it would be difficult to pledge public credit for any considerable expenditure that may be necessary.

Therefore, I say that the Minister would be shirking his responsibility if he did not definitely fix a vesting date and if he did not fix the shortest possible time, with the knowledge in his mind that it could be carried through within that period. The desirability of appointing the Commission and the Executives so that the preparatory work can be undertaken, and they can familiarise themselves with the responsibilities they will take over from the railway directors, is all on the side of definitely fixing the date. As the date has been fixed after very serious consideration, and as nothing has arisen in the preparation of the Bill or in the Parliamentary timetable so far which suggests that the date is wrong, I regret to say that I must refuse to accept the Amendment, and must ask the Committee to support me in going forward steadily and definitely to accomplish this change by 1st January, and to remove all further uncertainty, so that everybody concerned in the job will know exactly what he has to do and will gut on with doing it.