Orders of the Day — Transport (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd February 1951.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I realise that the Bill which I am sponsoring this morning, unlike the majority of Private Members' Bills, is controversial, and I will say in mitigation of that offence that it is perhaps fitting that on a date like 23rd February we should be engaged in some kind of controversy. This is the first birthday of His Majesty's Government, and I resist the temptation to speculate on what its expectation of life shall be. I appreciate that some hon. Members probably object to a Private Members' Bill being made the instrument of what is apparently a partisan Measure.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

If I may quote from the "Economist"—and I apologise for quoting from that infallible organ of public opinion—it says that Private Members' Bills should be serious attempts at legislation in fields with which the political parties, as such, are not concerned. It adds in its dogmatic fashion: Road transport is certainly and properly outside that category. I can only say that that is a point of view, but it certainly is not mine; nor is it the point of view of most of my hon. Friends on these benches. This Bill is a serious attempt at legislation, and I most earnestly hope that the House will consent to give it a Second Reading.

There is one proposition that must be considered quite fundamental to any Bill of this character. It is this, that if a nationalised industry, whether it is transport, coal, electricity or anything else, is not reasonably efficient or does not promise to be reasonably efficient in the foreseeable future, neither the methods nor techniques of the State board who control that industry, nor the Act of Parliament which did the nationalising, can be regarded as sacrosanct by the House.

I am ready to admit that there may be times when, on the direction of the right hon. Gentleman, through the executive action of the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, it may be possible to bring about substantial improvements in the level of efficiency of the Road Haulage Executive. But I suggest that there will also be occasions—we cannot entirely close our minds to this possibility—when the principal Acts which did the nationalising may themselves require revision and amendment.

The purpose of this Bill is twofold. It is, first, to protect the independent haulier, the free haulier, from what I can only describe as the tyranny of those who are demeaning themselves today as though they acted by divine right and who are threatening thousands of decent, hard working citizens with the prospect of commercial extinction. The second object of the Bill is to protect the consumer from the iniquities of what obviously threatens to fatten into an obese and unfettered monopoly which is responsible to this House on one day out of 365 and to nobody in particular on the other 364 days.

May I deal with the second object of the Bill—that is to say, the protection of the interests of the consumer from the effects of monopoly? I hope the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not think I am being presumptuous when I say that I am a little hopeful that in the process I may be able to convince at least some of them, that it is possible to support this Measure without any sacrifice whatever of Socialist principles.

There was a time in the history of the party opposite, in the time of the Webbs, the Shaws, the Oliviers, the Hyndmans and all the other pioneers of Socialism, when it used to be held that State monopoly of industry was inspiring in conception and would prove to be more or less Utopian in execution. They used to take that view largely because they were litterateurs and dilettanti—people who had very little experience of the hard facts of life. They were far more interested in the beauties and delights of conception than they were in the pains of execution.

It was precisely that approach to Socialism which led to that cry from the heart by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence at the Labour Party conference at Bournemouth, in 1946, when he said: Unfortunately, while the Labour movement has, quite properly, focused upon the fundamental ideals of Socialism, little attention has been paid to the extremely difficult technical administrative problems which the carrying out of nationalisation involved. I am sure that it has always been a very great solace to hon. Members on this side of the House to know that, especially during the last five years, a large element of the party opposite has been more influenced by experience than by the theories of nationalisation, and I believe it is true to say that probably a majority of hon. Members opposite no longer regard the Fabian Eassays and "Das Kapital," as the last word in earthly wisdom. They have learned the hard way and I believe the consensus of opinion today is that competition is not the evil and anti-social thing it was once considered too be by the Labour Party.

May I quote from a speech by the Lord President of the Council at Battersea on 26th November last year? He used these words: We won't hesitate, if we think an industry is not giving the consumer the services it should, either to bring it wholly under public ownership or to set up public enterprise, which, by the force of its competition and its example, will encourage enterprise to great efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman has many friends on the benches opposite. If he believes that the competition of public enterprise may be a wholesome and salutary thing for imperfect private enterprise, how in logic can he resist the argument that the competition of private enterprise may be a good thing for erring public enterprise?

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Or, if I may say so, for other forms of private enterprise.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I entirely agree. I have no prejudice either one way or the other. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but will they laugh when they hear this statement from their own party publication on this point? It is from "Labour Believes in Britain," April, 1949—the official policy of their own party: For private and public enterprise to compete fairly with each other can be good for both. The anti-socialist can hardly object to such competition as unfair since he should be convinced that the superior efficiency of private enterprise will always win through. That is a glimpse of the obvious. The statement went on: Nor should the socialist fear competition from private enterprise. I want to be scrupulously fair to hon. Members opposite and to concede at once that if it could be shown that the Road Haulage Executive, the authority with which we are concerned in this Bill today, was in a reasonable state of efficiency or was likely to achieve such in the near future, the case for applying the spur of private competition to the Road Haulage Executive would be very weak indeed. I do not pretend to know the views of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on that question, but what I do know with complete certainty is that those who are closest to the activities of the Road Haulage Executive would never dare to say that that authority is giving the public, the trader and the industrialist the service it ought to give today.

Lord Hurcomb, the chairman of the British Transport Commission, made a speech, I think it was in Hull, four months ago. He complained, as he so often does, that many observers, instead of acclaiming the miracles which have been wrought by the Transport Commission, emphasised and exploited every defect discoverable. But we do not need to discover them; my locker is bulging with them this morning. Lord Hurcomb said: We are merely carrying out the duty, which Parliament has laid upon us, on lines which will give the public more and better service. I know we live in a country of restrictions but, after all, there is no embargo on the use of the present tense.

I was interested in a speech made by the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, in another place a year ago, when he was replying to what I thought was a very able case presented by one of my noble Friends. In his reply the Parliamentary Secretary used these rather startling words: Does he really believe that there is any equity in throwing £70 million—which B.T.C. were forced to pay in compensation—down the drain? I confess that when I heard that suggestion from the Parliamentary Secretary I was literally astonished, although on second thoughts I realised that he had stumbled out of the darkness into a penumbra of half-truth. Whether this figure of £70 million is correct or not, the fact of the matter is that there could be no question of the assets of the Commission, to use the noble Lord's rather plebeian English, "going down the drain" if the services and charges of the Road Haulage Executive were competitive.

Indeed, I would go further and suggest that a large part of these assets—it may be unknown to the noble Lord—have already gone down the drain. I am not being dogmatic and I hope that the Minister, if he participates in the debate, will try to help the House here, because many of my hon. Friends have been trying to find this out from the B.T.C. accounts and it is a very difficult task. Of one thing I am perfectly sure: the Transport Commission have paid several millions of pounds; I will not give a figure, because I cannot do so; it may be £5 million, it may be £10 million, it may be £15 million, and it probably is not more—but that is the compensation paid either for cessation of business to acquired undertakings or as compensation for good will. As the Road Haulage Executive was certainly running at a loss in 1949, that compensation for goodwill had already disappeared.

I do not know whether hon. Members opposite accept as a fact that the Road Haulage Executive incurred a loss in 1949. I have heard it argued repeatedly in the House during the past 12 months that this organisation earned a profit of about £1½ million during 1949. But, of course, that takes no account whatever of central charges, and when it does take into account the payment of compensation interest at the rate of 3 per cent. on a figure of £48 million, which was the compensation figure for the tangible assets, and probably another figure of £10 million or £15 million for compensation for cessation, it becomes perfectly clear that the ostensible 3 per cent. profit on turnover is converted into a loss.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question? In his extremely interesting argument, that I am trying to follow, he said, if I understood him rightly, that before the public undertaking knows whether it has made a profit or loss it has to reckon the interest paid on compensation stock. Would he, when considering whether a private company has made a profit or loss, consider the dividend before he came to the question of making a profit?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I think the position is perfectly clear, inasmuch as the compensation interest to acquired firms is paid in fair or foul weather, and the payment of interest, whether the public undertaking makes a profit or loss, is guaranteed by the Treasury. Therefore, that interest is in the nature of debenture interest and is a legitimate charge on the concern.

I want to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, to tell me, now or later in the debate, whether in the circumstances I have described big road haulage operators like Pickford's, and all the long-distance people before 1947, were operating at a loss before they were taken over by the Road Haulage Executive. Is the small man who is still operating on an original or a substituted permit, operating at a loss today, as is the Road Haulage Executive? If he is, why is the Road Haulage Executive so anxious to revoke 5,300 permits in the next four years?

I do not deny for a moment that nationalisation possesses a number of not inappreciable advantages over competitive private enterprise. That will be quoted against me in the years to come, but it is a fact that nationalisation, because of its size and the nature of its organisation, does possess certain advantages. The Road Haulage Executive can buy its tyres, its petrol, its diesel oil and all the rest of it at maximum discounts, chiefly because of its size. The small operator has none of those advantages, and yet the small operator operating on an original permit, can still out compete the Road Haulage Executive into the bargain, and can earn a profit of 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. on turnover while the Road Haulage Executive is incurring a loss.

In those circumstances, I find it extremely difficult to accept the dictum of the Minister of Labour, that: The whole public sector of our economy is being poisoned by the miasma of private enterprise surrounding it. I find it rather easier to accept the converse, but whether I be right or wrong in that, of one thing I am quite convinced—and I believe that, in their hearts, many Members on the benches opposite are convinced of it too—and that is that without a standard of comparison, without a competitive alternative such as this Bill seeks to give to the country, we shall not get the transport services to which we are entitled.

Let me say a word or two about the terms of the Bill itself; and here I propose to be brief. Clause 1, as hon. Members may know, seeks to extend the radius of operation of A and B licence holders operating without permits from 25 to 60 miles, and the justification for this Clause lies in the fact that the radius of 25 miles, which is the present radius, is obviously inadequate even for a short-distance haulier. In the case of haulage operators in places like Liverpool, Hull, Preston, and other coastal towns, the present radius of 25 miles becomes, of course, a diameter, and I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can possibly sustain the argument that a diameter of 50 miles is right for hauliers in Birmingham, while a diameter of 25 miles is right for hauliers in Liverpool. It does not seem to me to make sense.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

The hon. Gentleman has stated that Liverpool is a coastal town where hauliers are restricted to a one-way limit of 25 miles. Is it not the case that hauliers who have been 25 miles, either way, by going into Cheshire and to the other side of the Mersey, can go further? The Mersey is not 25 miles broad.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

The point I was trying to make was that in places like Liverpool and other coastal towns the radius of 25 miles becomes the diameter—unless, of course, an operator is prepared to operate amphibious vehicles in the Irish Sea, or something like that.

Let me say a word or two about the position of the cotton industry in Lancashire, about which I happen to know just a little. As the House knows, the cotton industry is organised on a horizontal basis. There is the spinning end and the weaving end and the finishing end, and in the past the services of small road hauliers in the county of Lancashire were largely used by these sections of the cotton industry for carrying yarn or cloth, or whatever it might be.

Because of the 1947 Act those services are very largely non-existent, and a man in the cotton trade is compelled either to take a C licence or to rely on the so-called services of the Road Haulage Executive. I must tell the House that the almost unanimous opinion in Lancashire is that the services of the Road Haulage Executive in the transportation of yarn and cloth in Lancashire are completely deplorable. I do not propose to weary the House with examples, because I am perfectly certain that many of my hon. Friends will do so if they have the opportunity to speak.

As far as I can gather the only objection to this Clause is that, if it were to become effective, it would take business away from the Road Haulage Executive. I should have thought that the obvious rejoinder to an argument like that would have been, that to the extent to which this Clause did have the effect of taking business from the Road Haulage Executive, it would clearly demonstrate its value to British industry. When all is said and done, the interests of British industry and trade, which are the interests of the nation, are far more important than the interests of any industry, whether it be nationalised or privately owned.

Clause 2 refers to permits, and would transfer from the British Transport Commission to the licensing authorities the power to grant, modify or revoke permits. It also provides that original or substituted permits which were in force on 2nd November last year shall be deemed to have been granted by the local authority.

I would say a word or two on the question of permits. By Section 53 of the main Act of 1947, A and B licence holders were entitled to apply to the Transport Commission for permits to travel beyond the radius of 25 miles. Applications were lodged in July, 1949, for permits to exceed that distance.

In all 17,000 were applied for: 3,800 were granted in full; 7,100 were granted in part; and 40 per cent. of the total were rejected by the British Transport Commission. More recently the fate of these permit holders has been reviewed by the Road Haulage Executive, to which body the powers of the Transport Commission have now been delegated. The fate of these hauliers now is to be something like this: 3,800 are to have their permits continued; 2,700 are to have them modified; and 5,300 are to have their permits revoked.

I say in all seriousness that, to the best of my knowledge, this massacre of the small men was never contemplated by His Majesty's Government when the 1946 Act was debated in the House. If it was contemplated by the Government, then I say that they have been guilty of a breach of good faith with the road haulage operators, because as recently as January, 1947, the hon. Gentleman who is now Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and who was at that time Chairman of the Labour Party Transport Committee, wrote a book which was published by Transport House, and, on this very point, used these words: A further large number of operators are likely to apply for permits to continue in business and the vast majority may well obtain them. In this way the claim of the opponents of nationalisation that the small man is squeezed out is quashed. Is it indeed? Is the claim of the opponents of nationalisation quashed or is it justified? Of the 17,000 applicants for original permits how many is it proposed to continue now? A miserable 3,800. Is that the vast majority? Or is this the new Socialist arithmetic? I repeat, there may have been no intention—and I should be sorry to think that there was—of bad faith on the part of His Majesty's Government, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to escape the impression that they have been guilty of bad faith.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I would not interrupt the hon. Gentleman if he had not made an allegation that there may be some bad faith here. Surely he knows that the pamphlet from which he quoted was never Labour Party policy or a Labour Party document. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no use saying "Oh," because it was a pamphlet written for the Fabian Society for the purpose of studying nationalised transport. Therefore, there can be no question of breach of faith in this matter. I have the pamphlet here.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I cannot take a very high view of that interjection, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, because it so happens—and he can confirm this here and now—that the pamphlet was published from Transport House.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has the wrong pamphlet.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

Then he has the wrong pamphlet. The pamphlet from which I have quoted was issued by Transport House. Let me make this perfectly clear. The pamphlet from which I am quoting is called "The Nationalisation of Transport, by Ernest Davies," and it was published by the Labour Party, Transport House, in January, 1947.

Clause 3 of the Bill would require the Transport Commission, like the independent haulier, to apply to the licensing authority for licences, but, of course, the present vehicles of the Commission would be exempt from that provision. Clause 4, upon which I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) will have something to say, requires the Commission to maintain a register of vehicles in its ownership or possession. Clause 5 deals with interpretation, Clause 6 with the short Title, and the Schedules with Amendments to the 1947 Act.

As I said at the outset, I am very conscious of the fact that, in a general way, Private Members' Bills are non-controversial, and the only reason why I sponsored this Measure—and I say this without any sense apologising to the House—was because I feel most strongly and most sincerely that the small independent haulier is not getting a square deal from the Transport Commission. I also feel—and I say that this reason is no less important that the one I have just given—that when a nationalised in- dustry, even in the climate of peace, is unable to popularise or to justify itself in the eyes of the great mass of traders and industrialists, it would be folly to do away with the competition of the small haulier and say to the country, "You must rely in future, be it in peacetime or be it in war-time, on a nationalised industry which has not yet justified itself."

11.36 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I beg to second the Motion.

I am sure that hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they sit, will join with me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) upon three things: first, his good fortune in securing a place in the Ballot; secondly, his good sense in introducing, by virtue of that place in the Ballot, such an important Measure; and thirdly, the excellence of the speech to which we have just listened. My hon. Friend has obviously made a very close study of these questions of road transport, and I am certain that the House will congratulate him upon acquitting himself very well indeed this morning.

He began by reminding the House that 12 months ago this morning the nation was going to the polls, and the consequence of the ballot, as we all know, was a great defeat for the party opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I should not have thought it was disputed that the reduction in their tremendous majority of voting Members which they had in the 1945 Parliament to their present miserable rump of six or seven was a defeat—unless one applies that same Socialist arithmetic to which my hon. Friend referred, which is always used in connection with nationalised industry, so that the bigger the loss the greater the success.

In any event, whatever the main reasons why the party opposite suffered such a loss of support at that election, I am convinced that one of the reasons was the quite unnecessarily cruel and unjust way in which the Transport Act treated road hauliers. This Bill is an attempt to mitigate some of the worst results of that treatment. I want to emphasise to the House at once that this Bill is not, an attempt, concealed or overt, to interfere with or disturb the basis of nationalisation of this industry. That is a matter which must wait until some later date when another Government sit upon those benches. Nor is this Bill an attempt to hamstring the nationalised road transport industry and make it impossible to operate. The plain and simple aim of this Bill is to relieve hardship upon those who have served the country well in the past, are serving it as best they can now, and have still the opportunity before them of serving the country well in the future. That is our purpose in presenting the Bill.

I will not review in great detail the policy which was originally envisaged in the Transport Act, or the many developments which have taken place since, should however like to remind hon. Members that the policy of the Act was, in general terms, to nationalise long-distance road haulage and, having done that, to leave the small local haulier a pretty clear field for himself with regard to the local and excluded traffics. I think that it was believed at the time—certainly the Minister, his noble Friend, the Lord President of the Council and various other Ministers, went on record in 1946 and 1947 to make it clear—that the intention was that the small, private enterprise local operator would have a free field inside the 25-mile radius. This did not happen, and it is for that reason that this Bill is necessary.

The Road Haulage Executive have been constantly and steadily encroaching in a number of ways upon that sector which was left by the Transport Act largely to the private road haulier. The first way, about which we make no complaint, is by straightforward competition, by attempting at least to provide a better service, by attempting at least to provide services at cheaper rates, and by competing on favourable and fair terms with the private haulier. That is not our complaint. We would not mind if that were where the matter ended. But we say that the private road haulier is being largely driven out of business by unfair and tyrannical competition on the part of the Road Haulage Executive.

This position has given rise to other results as well, such as substantial dislocation, very bad service in many cases, a great deal of inefficiency and a great deal of dissatisfaction. I might mention in parenthesis that efficiency was put forward as being the main reason for nationalisation. Those are all serious allegations, and I can assure the House that I should not come here to make them unless I had evidence to support what I say. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me while I give instances of what I mean.

Let me remind the House that the Road Haulage Executive took over a large number of firms, after the passing of the Transport Act, some by voluntary acquisition and others by compulsory purchase. When they did so, they acquired various types of traffic, predominantly long-distance haulage, but in addition a substantial interest in local traffics and excluded traffics such as in timber and furniture removals. That gives the Executive an opportunity to run locally in competition, but the scale is very heavily weighted in favour of the Road Haulage Executive in that local field. To begin with, the vehicles of the Road Haulage Executive do not need to be licensed by the licensing authority. They do not need to worry about A or B licences. There is no check on the number of vehicles which they can put into any area. The consequence is that the private road haulier operating within the sector which Parliament has specifically laid out for him is trying to do it with one hand tied behind his back.

Clause 3 of the Bill is intended to correct that situation. It provides that the licensing authority shall have the task of licensing Road Haulage Executive vehicles in exactly the same way that it licenses, or refuses to license, those owned by the private operator. We believe that by doing that we shall correct a great deal of the bias which has undoubtedly grown up in favour of the Road Haulage Executive.

Let me turn for a moment to a point which my hon. Friend mentioned, the question of permits. This question is very closely bound up with the problem which we have to consider today. My hon. Friend gave figures of the number of applications for permits and of those which had been refused or granted subject to such modifications and restrictions that for all practical purposes they were of very little use to the operators to whom they had been issued. I do not think that public opinion as a whole in this country is yet fully aware of the situation. I wonder what the ordinary, independent shopkeeper would say if, before he was entitled to carry on his business for a further period, he had to go to his principal competitor round the corner and get permission to do so? The shopkeepers would rise in their millions if that were the case.

Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that there is a distinct difference between public interest and private interest?

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I think that it is about time that the hon. and learned Member realised that there is a distinct difference between private interest and public interest, and that private interest is bound up with the public interest.

The effect of Clause 2 is one to which, I think, in fairness, whatever may be the political implications, no hon. Member can really object. The Clause withdraws from the British Transport Commission, which means in practice the Road Haulage Executive, the power of deciding whether or not a permit shall be granted. It places the power to grant a permit in the hands of an independent arbitrator, in this case the local licensing authority. May I remind the House that he is a gentleman of considerable experience? There are 11 of these licensing authorities in the country, each of them with one area to cover which he has been covering for a number of years. These authorities know the local circumstances and the local demand. Therefore, they are the ideal persons in our view to hold this balance and to make these decisions. What we really want to do by Clause 2 is to take from the Road Haulage Executive, who are themselves engaged in this line of business, the power to sit in judgment upon their competitors. That is something which in fairness this House ought to do.

What will be the effect of the new principles which we wish to introduce into this matter of road transport, the effect of Clauses 2 and 3 taken together? First, it will no longer be possible for the Road Haulage Executive to mutilate the business of independent operators by either refusing permits altogether or granting them subject to such restriction and modification that for all practical purposes they are useless, and then, having done that, to go before the licensing authority and object to a road haulier applying for renewal of his own licence. That is the sort of thing the Road Haulage Executive are doing. Having refused a permit, or granted it subject to restrictive modification, they wait until the man has to go to have his A or B licence renewed. Then they object and say that there has been a change in circumstances because the man has no longer got his permit, or his permit does not permit him to engage in the same sort of business.

The second effect would be that it would no longer be possible for the Road Haulage Executive to do what they have been doing for some time, that is, to switch a large number of vehicles from one area into another temporarily, with the object of being able to show the licensing authority, when he is considering applications for renewal of licences by private operators, that they have a large fleet waiting and ready to do whatever jobs may be going, thereby enabling the Road Haulage Executive to steal traffic away from the local operators. Another effect would be to modify the very great opposition by the Road Haulage Executive to application for licences decided in favour of local operators.

I have a case from Kent—I will give particulars to any hon. Member who wishes to have them—of a local operator who applied to a licensing authority. He asked for renewal of his A and B licences. The Road Haulage Executive opposed the application very strongly, but the licensing authority came down on the side of the local operator and renewed his licences. Immediately thereafter the Road Haulage Executive cancelled the permit under which the man could have continued to run his services. [HON. MEMBERS: "Persecution."] It was indeed persecution. But there is more to it. The next thing they did was to cancel the man's other permits as well, and they have more or less effectively put him in the bankruptcy court. Hon. Members opposite must realise that that sort of thing is happening.

Here is another matter in which our proposed system will bring improvement. The licensing authorities themselves have been complaining that when they come to consider applications for renewal of A and B licences they have not got full information of the facilities which British Road Services have available in certain areas. They have many times said that if only the Road Haulage Executive would tell them exactly what their facilities were in a certain area, it would be of immeasurable help. Clause 4 requires the British Transport Commission to have a register of all its vehicles and to deposit extracts from the register in each area showing the vehicles which are available to the Road Haulage Executive in that area. That would give the licensing authority an opportunity of gauging the need far better than they can now.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I understood the hon. Member to say a moment ago that the Road Haulage Executive adopted the practice of switching their fleets of vehicles round, with the intention of framing a defence against the granting of permits in certain cases. That is a very serious charge. Can he support that by evidence and refer hon. Members to cases?

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

Indeed I can, and I will do so if the hon. Member wishes me. I have here a copy of a document issued a short while ago—in August, 1950—by the Road Haulage Executive setting out in detail for the benefit of their local managers the basis upon which they are to carry out their functions when licences for local operators come up for review by the licensing authority. They say: After negotiation at the Road Haulage Liaison Committee it has been agreed with the Road Haulage Association that the agreed Joint Procedure should not be amended. The Executives, however, have reserved the right to oppose an application for renewal of a licence without modification, when the Road Haulage Executive has refused, or intends to refuse, grant of permit to the operator concerned.… Applications for renewal without modification to which all or any of the Executives have lodged objections will be listed for discussion by the Road/Rail Negotiating Committee concerned. At these discussions it will be necessary for the representatives of the Executives"— this is amusing— while maintaining a reasonable attitude in connection with these cases, to endeavour to get the agreement of the applicant to exclude from his licence any vehicles which have or will become redundant, either on long- or short-distance work, as a result of the partial or complete refusal of the R.H.E. to grant a permit. Where agreement cannot be reached at the Negotiating Committee, opposition with this object must be maintained in the Traffic Courts, on the ground that the grant of the licence as applied for would result in vehicles being in excess of requirements. Those are some of the instructions.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

What does the hon. Gentleman find to criticise in that?

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. I know he does not want to make an unfair charge, particularly on a serious matter. I suggest that what he has read out does not support in any particular his charge that there is any deliberate switching about of vehicles.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I am sorry. Perhaps I misunderstood the point which the hon. Member was making. I suggest that the hon. Member should make inquiries in his own constituency, as we on these benches know that this is the regular policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] No, I do not think there is anything for me to withdraw.

I now pass to the general effect of Clauses 2, 3 and 4 taken together. They will relieve hardship and lift the burdens which are imposed on the private operator. They will give private operators a fair chance to earn a living for themselves and they will stem encroachment by the nationalised sector of the industry into the private sector. It will restore freedom of traffic to local operators, and I believe that it will also substantially assist in the restoration of efficiency. We have to consider the question of service to the consumer as well as everything else, and I believe that substantially increased efficiency will result from the extension of the radius from 25 to 60 miles.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I should have thought that would have been clear to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I have no doubt that if he remains here throughout the debate it will at the end of the day be pellucidly clear to him. There is no doubt at all that the customers of British Road Services are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. I have here a letter written to me on 8th February by a firm in my constituency which manufactures paper. They have their headquarters at Sandford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. After referring to other matters not connected with the debate, they said: The raising of the 25-mile radius restriction to 60 miles"— this is the answer to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering— would be of great assistance to us, for such is the nature of our business that urgent loads are frequently required to be transported, and the circumstances do not allow our transport contractors sufficient time to apply for job permits. In all probability these people did not know that so very few job permits have been granted that it makes the whole position quite ludicrous. They added: We naturally do not wish to pass the work to British Road Services"— [Interruption.] Hon. Members had better wait for it— as our contractors are able to give us the benefit of the many years of experience gained in handling our materials. I would remind the House—

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

As the hon. Member referred to me, will he give way?

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

—that the context in which I am quoting the letter is the question of satisfaction to the consumer. Here is a firm which wrote to me, quite "out of the blue," asking my support for the Bill and pointing out—

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

—the reasons they wished to see the Bill go through. I could detain the House for a long while on the question of the increases of charges. There is a number of instances—almost every day one sees them in the newspapers and has them in one's correspondence—where the charges by British Road Services are substantially in excess of those which private operators used to charge for exactly the same jobs. Cases of 100 and 150 per cent. increases are common. How about inefficiency? There has been substantial inefficiency. I am certain that every hon. Member has had complaints of this sort from different individuals.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

It may be that the constituents of hon. Members opposite know that it is not much use writing to them. At least on this side of the House all of us have had examples of inefficiency. As for delay, it is becoming a byword that British Road Services take longer to do a job than the private haulier ever did. Every day we see in the newspapers instances of unnecessary and long delay in carrying out important export work, transporting goods from factories to the ports, and so on, which are urgently needed—

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

Many newspapers. If the hon. Member wishes me to do so, I will give him instances. Would the hon. Gentleman, for example, consider the case of a gentleman in Deptford, a Mr. Holder—

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

Mr. Holder wrote to the "Daily Telegraph" of 31st October, 1950. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Let him write to the "Daily Telegraph"; it is just as good as the "Daily Herald." This is what he wrote: The Road Haulage Executive … have admitted to us that they are taking at least six days to deliver goods from London to Birmingham and four days to Oxford, as against the 24 hour door-to-door delivery to these towns given by the free hauliers. The British Transport Commission are slowing up the commercial life of the country and putting transport back to the horse and cart era. Let me say, in conclusion, that the purpose of this Bill is to try to achieve four things: first of all, justice—common, ordinary justice, nothing more, nothing less—for the haulier; secondly, a better service for the community; thirdly, great efficiency; lastly, to restore what I believe was the true spirit and purpose of the Act of Parliament which hon. Members opposite support so strongly and about which we on this side of the House have serious doubts. But that is not the issue here. What I believe we have to do today is to take a decision upon whether or not this great industry—upon which, as we have been reminded, we shall have to depend if another war or emergency comes—is to be put into a happy, a healthy and a contented state.

I want to remind hon. Members opposite, if I may, that this is a Private Members' Bill, however controversial it may be. So far as I am aware, on their side of the House the Whips will not be put on tonight if a Division is necessary. So I would suggest that hon. Members in all parts of the House should vote upon this matter in accordance with their consciences. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have not any."] At least I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I believe that unless some Measure of this kind is quickly put upon the Statute Book, and even more quickly put into operation, the local road haulier, the independent operator, who for better or worse comprises the largest number of indivisuals in this great industry, will be strangled out of existence. That is something which we dare not allow to happen. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will join with us in giving this Bill a Second Reading.

12.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months."

I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) which was good-humoured, entertaining and well delivered. However, I could not follow him in some of the things he said and I shall deal with most of them later. The hon. Member said he wanted to see much more competition in the road haulage field, but his seconder, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), made it quite clear that he was complaining bitterly of the competition of the Road Haulage Executive in a field which he said should be exclusively that of the local road haulier. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I am within the recollection of the House, and I do not think that that was what I said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] What I said was that Parliament, by passing this Act, had largely given the local field and the excluded traffics to the private haulier, that we did not complain of ordinary competition in those fields by the Road Haulage Executive, but that we complained at the scales being weighted in favour of the Road Haulage Executive.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

It all boils down to the point that the hon. Member is complaining bitterly of competition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Unfair."]—in this particular field—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense"]I can well understand his raising this point, sitting as he does on the benches opposite, seeking always to reserve for the private haulier the most profitable and remunerative fields, and letting the Road Haulage Executive do the other work. I shall deal with that, too, later.

I do not think the hon. Member was fair in talking about the Road Haulage Executive in respect of the quotation he made from a document which did not in any way support the point he was trying to make. The hon. Member might have quoted from the minutes of a liaison committee set up between the Road Haulage Executive and the Haulage Association, which endeavours to secure that, within the limits laid down in the Act, there shall be a degree of fair competition, and it sets out to establish the terms of that. What do these minutes say? None of the Executives will seek to press their competitive activities unnecessarily to the detriment of those engaged in the transport of specific excluded traffics or in short-distance work. Thus while the Executives have an interest in the short-distant field, they will not, as road hauliers, encroach unreasonably or unfairly upon this field. Then it goes on to make it quite clear that complaints by independent hauliers of unnecessary additions to fleets for short-distance work or excluded traffics by the Executive will be investigated through the Road Haulage Liaison Committee. It gives the independent hauliers the right, the machinery and the opportunity to make representations in this short-distance field. I submit that is a more germane quotation than that which the hon. Gentleman read.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

The hon. Gentleman said at the outset that he would not survey the principles of the 1947 Act, but if we are to talk of amending that Act, we must give some consideration to the principle upon which it is based. The principle of that Act, as I understand it, was to provide, secure, promote, etc., a proper and integrated system of public inland transport. Those who passed that Act realised that the Transport Commission would have to acquire long-distance road transport if we were to have an integrated transport system for this country.

That meant, with certain minor exceptions with which I shall not weary the House, that the Transport Commission was given the power and the means to acquire road haulage transport over the 25-mile radius limit. It meant that a monopoly was created deliberately by that Act in those fields outside the 25-mile limit. Why was that done? I am not going to weary the House with a long series of quotations. I could do that; it has been done in this House before. I think it is enough to quote from the 1930 Report of the Royal Commission on Transport, which says: It appears to us that without unification—however it may be accomplished—no attempt to bring about complete co-ordination would be successful. The Transport Act was an endeavour to prevent the country from going back to the chaotic system of transport which existed in this country in pre-war days and which gave rise to commission after commission, conference after conference, railway appeal after railway appeal and Act of Parliament after Act of Parliament in an endeavour to clear up the mess in which transport had become involved, and those Acts of Parliament completely failed. How was it to accomplish a monopoly in this field over the 25-mile limit? It was by the purchase of the railways—

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

The hon. Member keeps on talking about the establishment of a monopoly, but surely he must recollect—because I think he was a Member at the time—that on 1st May, 1950, the Minister of Transport said in this House: I suggest that it is sheer nonsense to talk about a monopoly, unfair contradiction, or the crushing out of the small haulier or small operator."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1533.]

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

The hon. Member is as unfortunate in that quotation as he was in the previous one. I do suggest that a man of his calibre, to whom I have listened in the past with great interest, should take some pains to read up the case before coming to present his brief to the House. A monopoly quite obviously was intended over the 25-mile limit. Within the 25-mile radius there was to be competition. It is made quite clear in the minute I have read that the Road Haulage Executive is going to work reasonably and fairly. It was to be done, as far as road haulage is concerned by the compulsory purchase of the business of road hauliers who operated outside the 25-mile limit.

On behalf of the taxpayers of this country, the Transport Commission have had to buy that monopoly by purchasing goodwill and assets at rates which can only be described as generous and, in some cases, very much too generous. They cover the period of taking over and establishing the control of road transport over the 25-mile limit and the Commission were authorised to issue permits to allow private road operators to operate outside the 25-mile limit subject to certain conditions which are well known and set out in the Act.

We are now only in the take-over period, a fact which must be kept in mind by hon. Members opposite, who seek to persuade the nation not to try to assess what has been done up to now by the Transport Commission in a very short time—and they have made an excellent job of very much of it—but rather to ferret out, to emphasise and to exploit every delay and defect discoverable in a vast business which is still in process of being built up. As a part of this process some 2,700 road haulage businesses have been purchased by the Road Haulage Executive, with a fleet of 40,000 vehicles and at a cost to the nation of £70 million.

What does this Bill seek to do? It seeks, first, to increase the radius of the so-called short-distance haulier from 25 to 60 miles, and to increase the area over which he may range from 2,000 to 11,000 square miles. What would be the effect of that? Quite obviously—and this is the important point in this Bill—it would be to permit all those hauliers at present holding A licences, and some of the B licence holders, at present operating within a radius of 25 miles to engage in operations up to a radius of 60 miles. That is the purpose.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I think it must be stressed in this connection, and brought home to the hon. Member who said "Hear, hear," that those who would be admitted to this field can have no major interest in long-distance traffics, or they would already have been acquired under Part III of the Act. The Bill suggests permitting people who have no real interests in it to enter this field. Those who would benefit most have least claim to benefit in this matter.

I understand there are 119,000 vehicles in the hands of A and B licensees and they might use them against the Commission's 40,000 vehicles, or such part of them as they could use within the 60-mile limit in competition with the Transport Commission which has already paid on behalf of the taxpayers to establish a monopoly in this field. The effect of this would be to hand over to the private hauliers what is perhaps the most profitable section of the whole business and to make them a present of something for which the Transport Commission have already paid £70 million. To permit him to enter, and in some cases to re-enter, this profitable field is described in the "Economist" in these words—and I see no reason why I, like the mover of the Motion, should not quote the "Economist": This is the traffic between big neighbouring centres—Liverpool and Manchester, Manchester and Stockport, Birmingham and Coventry, Luton and London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Durham and Newcastle and many more. The distances between these centres are more than 25 miles but most are less than 60 miles. They are, in fact, distances which are ideally suited to the economical running of a road haulage business and over which the railways cannot hope to compete on equal terms. It must indeed —

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

Will the hon. Member allow me to finish the quotation? It must indeed be said that without such traffic national road haulage would find it extremely difficult to run at a profit. Furthermore, if the integration of road and rail services is to mean anything, it is precisely in this sector that road transport should be able to relieve the railways of uneconomical short-distance working and serve as a feeder to the longer trunk routes over which road transport is neither as economic nor as quick as rail transport.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I wish to be quite certain that I have understood the hon. Member aright. Is he arguing that the cream of the road haulage business in this country consists of transportation within a radius of 60 miles? If so, can he give the House any evidence in support of that argument? Secondly, are we to understand that his argument is that if the radius is extended from 25 to 60 miles, the Road Haulage Executive admit that they cannot compete with the private haulier?

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

They say nothing of the sort. What they say, and are quite right in saying, is that they have already paid £70 million for a monopoly in a field in which hon. Members opposite wish the private operator again to enter. I can understand them wishing that: what I have quoted from the "Economist" admirably sums up the Bill which hon. Gentlemen are presenting to this House. It is clear from the motives of the promoters of this Bill that it relates to the cream of the road haulage traffic.

The Bill is in every way in keeping with the known policy of the Tory Party of keeping the profitable parts of industry in private hands, while leaving the nation to carry the burden of the unremunerative parts. This Bill seeks to take the power to issue permits for running outside the limit for short-distance traffic out of the hands of the Commission, and to place it in the hands of a licensing authority. As I understand it, that means the cancellation of the revocation of the 5,300 permits of which notice was given to the holders in October last, and the placing in the hands of a licensing authority of the power to re-create competition in a field that was so largely the cause of the trouble between the two wars. No wonder it has been said of this Bill that it is an attempt to get the nation to throw away the £70 million, and to start all over again to build up a similar position to that which existed in 1939, and all because in the meantime the going will be very good for the private haulier. Thus the motives of the Bill are admirably summed up.

I must again remind the House that the purpose of the 1947 Act was to secure the integration of our transport system by the creation of a monopoly with the safeguard of its being answerable to the public. It was no part of the purpose of that Measure that the Transport Commission should become a permanent permit-issuing body. Obviously it has to issue permits for others to do certain long-distance jobs until such time as it has created the organisation and has the vehicles to do the work. It was certainly not the intention to vest anyone with the right to issue a permit and for the person to whom the permit was issued to have the right of holding it until some licensing authority takes it away. It was never the intention of the 1947 Act that that should take place.

The Bill seeks to prevent the Transport Commission from putting additional vehicles on the road until that body has obtained a licence from the licensing authority, presumably with the representatives of the haulage business, who might have been bought out of the long-distance haulage part of their business, having the right to object. In pursuit of its statutory obligation, the Transport Commission must obviously be prepared to adjust the number of its vehicles to its integration plans. That must surely be clear to everyone. Will the Commission—and this is a question that must be answered—have to go to the licensing authority and make out the whole of its case for additional vehicles, lay before that body all the details and give to such an authority what would be virtually an oversight of something which the nation has already decided shall be a monopoly on its behalf?

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Would the hon. Member agree that the licensing authorities also have a public duty to see that there are on the road sufficient vehicles to satisfy the public need and at the same time to eliminate wasteful competition?

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

That is so up to 25 miles, but we are here dealing with the position over the whole country, where quite possibly the Road Transport Commission would have to consider the matter in relation to road-rail integration. What is being asked for by this Bill is that, in respect of all the details of all the work on integration which is done by the Transport Commission, the Commission shall be required every time it wants an additional vehicle, to go to the licensing authority and ask its permission.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

The hon. Gentleman has touched on a most important matter. Do I understand him to concede that within the 25-mile limit the licensing authority is the appropriate body to hold the balance as to the number of vehicles? Do I also understand him to say that within the 25-mile limit the Transport Commission should produce all the facts and figures about its plans and about the additions to its fleets?

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

The Transport Commission should not be expected to go to such a licensing authority whether in respect of inside or outside the 25-mile limit.

The Act of 1947 was designed in the interest of the nation to improve the overall transport service. The interest of the nation undoubtedly means the safeguarding of the consumer interests, which is extremely important. It also means safeguarding the lives of the workers which are invested in the industry. To return the most profitable section of the industry to the private trader and operator might secure a purely temporary advantage for the consumer, but that temporary advantage might be secured at the expense of the collapse of the scheme for integration, and might in the long run bring disaster both to the consumer of transport as well as to the worker in the industry. These plans have been worked out as the result of all the consideration that was given to the matter by the commissions, conferences and reports of experts which led up to the Act of 1947.

To wait until £70 million has been paid for the property of the long-distance hauliers, and then to introduce a Bill to permit the private haulier to re-enter the most profitable field in the business is to show a cynical disregard of the nation's rights and property. [Interruption.] I can well understand the party opposite exploiting every international difficulty for party ends; I can understand them speaking for the Argentine against Britain; I can understand them belittling Britain's great post-war effort; but I cannot understand them seeking to break the value of a national asset for party friends. I believe that this Bill is the apogee of contemptuous disregard of the national interest. I rather feel that if a careful guard is not placed on the tongues of some hon. Members opposite, there will come an agonised cry that "the hauliers are the nation." That sort of thing comes occasionally in a self-revealing moment from hon. Gentlemen opposite.

What are we trying to do? Not, as has happened elsewhere where the railways are State owned, to stifle road development in the interests of the railways, but to produce a balanced transport system capable of serving the consumer without the waste of capital, manpower and effort that so marked our pre-war system and which is inevitable where competition reigns in transport. Some of the difficulties are being felt in the United States and elsewhere, and they will be felt wherever that competition does reign in transport. I believe that this experiment is great and well worth while and that we should permit it to develop.

12.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Amendment has been moved so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), that I can be quite brief in seconding it. The hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. J. R. Bevins), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, reminded us that today is the anniversary of the last General Election, when the legislation of the previous Labour Government was approved by the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite seem to be under the impression that their party won the last General Election. I must remind them that we still have a Labour Government—

Photo of Mr John Arbuthnot Mr John Arbuthnot , Dover

We are sorry to say.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are!

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

—still with a majority, Which was returned in 1950 with a record vote, the highest vote ever given to any party. One would have thought that hon. Members opposite, having sat in the House for 12 months, would have begun to reconcile themselves to the fact that the legislation passed by the previous Parliament was the law of the land; and that it ought to be supported unless and until it is altered by the verdict of the country. The Bill which has been brought forward is obviously an attempt to torpedo the Transport Act of 1947.

The hon. Member for Toxteth said he intended to be scrupulously fair. I submit that he failed in that endeavour. The speech he made was, both in matter and manner, nothing but a propagandist party speech. It was a very good propagandist party speech, but he was certainly not being scrupulously fair in the arguments he advanced to the House. I would go so far as to say that in his speech, and in the speech of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and in the interjections of their supporters, it was perfectly clear that they were simply blinded by party prejudice in this matter. In a way, I do not blame them, because it is their job to defend the vested interests of big business in this country. A big propaganda campaign on this subject has been promoted and carried through for many months in the country. Hon. Members opposite are armed with beautifully produced and voluminous briefs and they are doing their job very well in using this opportunity to promote the vested interests of big business. But, equally, we on this side of the House have the duty of defending the interests of the consumers and of the nation; and if we concede to hon. Members opposite the right to do their job, then they must concede to us the right to do ours.

Be that as it may, I submit that the case has been badly over-stated by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Toxteth asked, in rhetorical fashion, whether the Road Haulage Executive had produced a reasonable state of efficiency. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East, reminded the House that this business is only in process of being set up. It is an attempt to co-ordinate a very large number of firms; 2,700 had to be taken over and welded into one concern. That is not a task which can be carried through in a short time. It must be borne in mind that exceptional cases of difficulty were bound to arise, but certain exceptional cases have, upon investigation, been found to have very little foundation.

Neither the hon. Member for Toxteth, nor the hon. Member for Henley, was here in the last Parliament, when we spent a long time on the Transport Bill. They would not remember the discussions which took place at that time. But if they will read the records they will find that every argument produced today by hon. Members opposite was fully discussed during the progress of the Bill in 1947. All the points they mentioned were very firmly dealt with and the Bill was framed in the light of those discussions.

Take for example the question of whether the radius limit should be 25 miles or 60. I do not think it necessary or desirable for me again to go over all the arguments in favour of 25 miles. They are on the record and can be referred to by anyone who is interested.

But if it is seriously argued that 25 miles is an arbitrary limit, what is the virtue of 60 miles? If the Transport Act had laid down a limit of 60 miles no doubt the hon. Member who was fortunate in the Ballot today would have produced a Private Member's Bill to increase the 60 miles to 100 miles, and similar arguments would have been produced. That point was fully argued in 1947, and I do not think we ought to do over it all again today.

It is always amusing to hear arguments in favour of competition coming from hon. Members opposite, from the party which always supports monopolies. They argue about competition in theory, but, in practice, they go in for monopoly. It is monopoly they want. While we all recognise the waste which goes on if we have too much competition, the difference between us is that they want monopoly in private hands and we say that if an industry reaches the monopoly stage it cannot, in the interests of the country, safely be left in private hands. That is the difference. I would remind the House of a previous controversy on this subject—the famous "square deal" campaign for the railways and road transport industry. It was an intensive campaign on the part of the transport interests in asking for a square deal in the form of a privately-owned monopoly. That was the considered decision of the transport industry.

On the question of competition, I accuse my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport of having gone too far in allowing competition, because he has given way far too much on the question of C licences. I put that to him in a very friendly fashion but, nevertheless, quite firmly. The Minister has conceded far too much to the Opposition on the question of C licences. I hope that he will not concede any more, and I am certain that he will not concede what is asked for in this Bill. If it is a question of a square deal, it is the Road Haulage Executive which has not had a square deal from the traders of the country or from His Majesty's Opposition. The hon. Member for Henley mentioned the word "hamstring." Here is another attempt to hamstring the Road Haulage Executive, but I am sure that it will fail.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

What I said was the exact opposite of what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I said that this was not an attempt to hamstring the Executive.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

I did not accuse the hon. Member of using the word in any particular context. I said that he used the word. I am throwing it back to him with the counter-accusation that this is an attempt to hamstring the road transport industry. It is very much in line with the attempt to hamstring the Steel Board by not allowing their people to sit on the Board, and in other ways.

I will not spend much time on the speech of the hon. Member for Henley. Its lack of merit was exposed by the reckless charge which he put forward and which, after he had been challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) he was quite unable to substantiate. But, in passing, he mentioned the possibility of developments in connection with war, and the part the road transport industry would play. When this country goes to war we find it essential in the interests of efficiency and economy to put the road transport industry, as well as other industries, under a large measure of public control. That is when we find the benefits of proper organisation and the disadvantages of unco-ordinated competition. It is possible that we may find ourselves in those circumstances again, but, whether we have a war or not, the lessons we learn during war ought to be applied in peace-time. We must get economy and efficiency in peace as well as in war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East, showed that the Bill would be unworkable, because the development of the industry has already gone too far. But, even if it were workable, it would make impossible the real purpose of the 1947 Act, which is the integration of the different forms of transport. That is the next stage, to which the Road Haulage Executive must proceed as rapidly as possible. If, by any conceivable combination of circumstances, this Bill ever did reach the Statute Book it would put back that work for years. That is one reason why we must not allow it to pass today. It would wreck the whole development of the transport services. I submit that neither the mover nor the seconder of the Motion have made out any case for the Second Reading of the Bill.

12.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

I oppose the Amendment and support the Bill, and wish to do so from the point of view of the railways.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

The hon. Gentleman will have a hard job.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

It has already been pointed out that proposals of a nature similar to those now before the House have been discussed in another place. Therefore, we on this side of the House have heard something of the objections which may be made to the Bill. One of the principal objections has been that the Act of 1947 was designed to create a monopoly and that this Bill would prevent that monopoly. That argument has been reinforced by the mover and seconder of the Amendment. It is said that the Bill would make it impossible for the Transport Commission to carry out the duty placed upon it by Parliament.

My contention will be that, all along, there has been a misinterpretation of Section 3 of the Transport Act, 1947, and that the meaning of that Section is not as is usually interpreted by hon. Members opposite. But, even if that is not correct and a monopoly is intended, it is clear from the general tenor of the Act that that monopoly must be taken to be restricted only to long-distance road haulage. If that is so, it follows that we must allow a reasonable livelihood to the short-distance haulier. All that the Bill does is to attempt to find a way whereby the short-distance haulier can earn a reasonable living in competition with the Transport Commission. In any case, if the object of the opposition to the Bill is to try to find a means whereby the Transport Commission can make its undertaking pay, that will not be achieved by persecuting the small haulier.

Section 3 of the Act of 1947 says: It shall be the general duty of the Commission so to exercise their powers under this Act as to provide, or secure or promote the provision of, an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport … within Great Britain for passengers and goods.… Section 3 (4) says: All the business carried on by the Commission … shall form one undertaking, and the Commission shall so conduct that undertaking … as to secure that the revenue of the Commission is not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another. That Section has been interpreted to mean that the Transport Commission should take over the long-distance road haulage and the railways and run them as one unit or business with the overall object of getting a profit from the whole and unifying it as one monopoly. Anyone who chooses to consult a dictionary will find that the word "integrate" does not mean that at all. The word does not mean "to unify." It means "to make whole by adding parts." It is the proper duty of the Commission to make whole by providing a service suitable and convenient to the public. In any case, it is clear from the other Sections of the Act that it was never intended that the Road Haulage Executive, under the Commission, should acquire a complete monopoly of all transport. I think that hon. Members opposite have admitted that.

That is clear from Section 39 which deals with the acquisition of certain undertakings by the Commission, and Section 52 which deals with the restrictions on the carriage of goods for hire or reward other than by the Commission. It is clear that it was intended that there should be a field for the small road haulier independent of the Road Haulage Executive. Our argument is that Section 52, which has left a field for the small road haulier, has not left a sufficiently big field. One hon. Member has mentioned that a haulier in Liverpool can cross the Mersey and secure business on the other side of that river. This country, however, is an island and consists largely of peninsulas and coastal inlets, and in many cases a large portion of the permitted area of a small road haulier extends out into the sea.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

Would not the same thing still apply even if the Bill were carried? All that would happen would be that the 60 miles limit would replace the 25 miles limit, and people on the coast would still be in the difficulty of having half their circle going out to sea.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

That may be, but a 60 miles limit would, as one hon. Member opposite has pointed out, enable the linking up of certain towns which is not possible under the 25 miles limit, and would in many cases enable a haulier to carry on a business when he cannot do so at present unless he is one of the fortunate ones who have not had their original permits revoked.

We have been given an example today of the difficulties which arise for the small road haulier when he is asked by a firm for whom he normally operates, to carry a load beyond his radius of 25 miles. A haulier may frequently be asked to do a job for a firm with whom he has dealings, but cannot do so because he has no permit. The figures which have been put forward show amply that there has been a great contraction in the number of original permits now being allowed. It is difficult to understand how this contraction should take place, unless it is deliberate policy to prevent a haulier in any way from going beyond the 25 miles limit.

It is interesting to note that in a number of cases where permits have been refused beyond the 25 miles limit, the firms concerned are those which have already received notice of acquisition on the ground that they were long-distance hauliers, but have successfully resisted that application and have proved that they were not long-distance hauliers. It is rather difficult to resist the conclusion that that refusal may have something to do with the desire of the Transport Commission to bring pressure to bear upon those firms in order to make them seek acquisition.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

Give some examples.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

There are lots of cases which could be quoted. Clause 2 is specially designed to deal with that kind of position by taking the onus of giving permits out of the hands of the Transport Commission and of the Road Haulage Executive, and giving it to an independent licensing authority with the duty imposed to see that there was fair play between one type of haulier and another and that there was no wasteful competition. This seems to us to be a much more reasonable procedure.

Finally, I should like to deal briefly with the general proposition that if we restrict the competition by small road hauliers, we shall in some way help the overall expenses of the Transport Commission and so enable the Commission to pay their way. That is the gist of much of the arguments against competition in the limited field of the small road haulier.

But that is a quite impossible proposition, because the road haulage assets of the Commission amount to only 5 per cent. of their total assets. Therefore, whatever profits they earn on their road haulage assets, they could not possibly make sufficient from that to make the whole of their undertaking pay their way if the rest of their undertaking is not paying.

The real problem of transport is how to provide a cheap and efficient means of enabling people to move themselves and their goods from point to point; it is not a question merely of speed, but also of cheapness and convenience. To prove that it is desirable to give a monopoly to the Transport Commission, the Commission must fulfil that test of providing a cheap and efficient service. If the Bill is accepted and the licensing authority has to make decisions regarding licences for operators in the smaller field, the onus will be on the Commission to show that they can fulfil those needs. At present, they can put as many lorries as they like into any particular area, with only themselves to judge as to whether they are acting in the best interests of the public or are causing excessive competition to people already operating in the area. We on this side submit that that is grossly unfair to the small haulier and is of no value at all to the Transport Commission as a whole in meeting their main problem of how to make their undertaking operate on a paying basis.

12.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, is absent from the Chamber for the natural reason that he, like most of us, is now feeling the pangs of hunger. The only difference is that he is fortunate enough to be able to satisfy his needs. I congratulate the hon. Member on two things: first, on his luck in the Ballot. For 13 years I have been trying to achieve the same thing, but have managed to secure only one Adjournment Motion as a small consolation. I congratulate the hon. Member also on his speech in moving the Second Reading. It was very well reasoned and I enjoyed listening to it, although I disagreed with almost everything it contained.

I am in a dilemma, because I do not know whether to support or to oppose the Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I really do not mind which I do.

Another thing which I admire about those responsible for the Bill is their great temerity in bringing it forward. I should be very happy if the Bill received a Second Reading today, provided I could be a Member of the Standing Committee upstairs which will consider it, and if I could make my impact upon the Bill with three Amendments, its sponsor would be very sorry that it ever saw the light of day. Those who have introduced the Bill are very brave to have brought it forward. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) will know exactly what could be done with the Bill in Standing Committee. I am grateful to those concerned for drawing its terms so widely that they would enable me to bring C licence vehicles within the scope of the Bill. For that reason, I am sorely tempted to join the Opposition in supporting the Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I do not want to make my speech too long, because there are many hon. Members who want to speak. The only thing which prevents me from supporting the Second Reading is—

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

No, it is not the Whips. The hon. Member ought to know that I have the honour of being the only Member in the House who has been able to defeat the Government on a Motion before the House. I have some greater claim, therefore, than has the hon. Member to be an opponent of the Government in this matter. The reason why I do not know that it would be safe for me to help to assist the Second Reading of the Bill, is that I am not quite so sure that I could persuade the Minister of Transport, and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, to ensure me a seat on the Standing Committee upstairs.

I want to deal with two points raised by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) in seconding the Motion. He said that we were tying one hand of the road haulier behind his back. I do not know whether that is true or not; neither do I know whether the road haulier was unable to fight because he had one hand tied behind his back. But I am wondering whether, in order to correct that situation, it would be right to tie both the Transport Commission's hands behind their backs and chop their legs off at the same time, because if anyone suggests, or if anyone is gullible enough to believe, that this Bill is not intended to destroy the whole Act of 1947, he does not know very much about the operation of transport.

There is one other point which, being on the record, ought to be contradicted. The hon. Member for Henley said that the Transport Commission had written and acknowledged that their transit time for consignments between London and Birmingham was six days. I should like to correct that. I have had some inquiries made, and the position is that a specific consignment had a transit time of six days—that was admitted by the Commission—but they never for one moment admitted that their transit time of goods between London and Birmingham is six days. It is normally one or one and a half days. I only say that because it is right that it should be on the record.

In moving the Second Reading the hon. Member for Toxteth spoke of many of us here having been influenced by experience in our approach to various problems. That is the reason why I am speaking on this Bill. It is over 32 years since I started to work in the transport industry. For 20 years I served in almost every section of the railway industry, including administrative, operating and commercial sections. Throughout the whole of that time the railways were always on the defensive. They were continually losing ground. They were never able to pay decent wages, and they were seeking all the time to combat unfair competition from the roads. History bears me out, as hon. Members know very well.

For six and a half years during the war I did Army movements work, moving men, materials, equipment and food to every part of the world by road, rail, sea, air, inland water, coastwise shipping and ocean-going freight steamers. I saw, during those six and a half years, an integrated transport system at work. I helped to work it. It is true that I have not seen it since the passing of the 1947 Act, but I saw it in those war years and had some part in it. I can say without fear of contradiction that in no other way could the job of the war years have been done. The saving to the country in doing it was enormous.

I support nationalised transport because of that experience, and for no party reason—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present:

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

On a point of order. Would it be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for me to point out that the hon. Member who has drawn attention to the numbers in the House has fewer on his own side than there are on this side?

House counted, and 40 Members being present

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

It is a great encouragement to have the presence of 40 Members during my speech.

I was saying that I support nationalised transport because of my experience during the war years. However, it is not the sort of nationalisation that we have today that I support, but a real integrated transport which I know to be in the best national interest. I have always felt that any of us who aspire to legislating in this House have placed upon us a considerable responsibility. I have always understood that legislation which was framed in the interests of private persons was not good legislation, and that legislation which had as its incentive the interests of private bodies could not be good legislation, if the national interest were thereby subjugated. The Bill before us today seeks to legislate for the benefit of a sectional interest without any regard to the over-riding national interest. It is legislation in the interests of political expediency, which I believe to be the worst form of legislation at all.

What are the purposes of the Bill? We have been told what its purposes are not. Hon. Members opposite have been at great pains to tell us that to hamstring the nationalised undertaking is not one of its purposes; that it is not to do this, that or the other thing. What, then, is its purpose. I was reading the report of the proceedings on a similar Bill in another place, and found that the same point was made. If anyone believes that, then he is extremely gullible. It would be as reasonable to ask anyone to believe that the boy who threw a stone at a greenhouse had a perfect defence when he said that he was not attempting to break the glass.

The real purpose of the Bill is perfectly plain, and it is to be seen by anyone who cares to look. Its effect would be entirely and completely to destroy nationalised transport. It would leave the railway system and the Transport Commission with considerable capital assets on which it could earn no revenue. But, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), and by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), there were obligations laid upon the Commission by the 1947 Act. That obligation was so to exercise their powers as to provide, secure or promote the provision of an adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport. We cannot lay upon a body an obligation to do something and then take from them the wherewithal with which to do it, and expect them still to honour the obligation.

There was an additional obligation—an obligation in which, I imagine, hon. Members opposite are even more interested. There was an obligation to pay interest on £35 million a year. There was an obligation to redeem their capital, and an obligation to create a reserve. But how can we put such obligations upon anybody and then pass succeeding legislation depriving them of the power to meet those obligations?

My case is this. It is not that the Commission have provided or secured an adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public transport. That is not my case. I do not believe it; I do not subscribe to the view. I think their failures are many, and the reasons are perfectly plain to anyone who knows anything at all about transport. My case is that we cannot have that obligation in the 1947 Act and this Bill at one and the same time. I do not think that can be denied.

What has brought about this Bill? As I see it, there are two or three things that have brought about this legislation. I will admit that the nationalisation of transport did bring in its train hardship to certain operators; I have never hesitated to admit it. I am, I think, one of the few hon. Members on this side of the House—I have not asked my hon. Friends—who, since the passing of the Nationalisation Act, have supported an application before the licensing authorities for an A licence. But the fact is that there is scarcely any legislation which goes on to the Statute Book which does not inflict hardship upon someone. What we have to consider is whether to legislate for the small number of people who suffer hardship or generally in the national interest.

It seems to me that hon. Members opposite have looked at the situation and have said, "Here is a body of men with a grudge against the Government. We must muscle in on this. We must work up this opposition and this hostility to the Government; we must capitalise it and turn it into Tory votes at the next election. We must make it work for the party—never mind the national interest."

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

Like the peace pledge ballot, in 1934.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I was not associated with the peace pledge ballot. I know little about it, and it has nothing to do with this Bill.

I believe that the second reason for the Bill is the fatal surrender of the Government over C licences and the failure of the Minister to realise and correct the mistake. That has given encouragement for hon. Members opposite, having got so much of the cherry, to try to chop the cherry tree down altogether. We on this side of the House must accept our full measure of responsibility for that situation.

The third point which has helped to bring the Bill about is the composition and the timidity of the Transport Commission itself. There was public apprehension in the House yesterday, when the Prime Minister announced that an American admiral would be in control of the North Atlantic Forces Fleet. It followed, of course, the appointment of a United States commander to the land Forces. Many of us must have thought, "Is there no British commander or general who could fill these posts?" I confess that I did, but, having given the matter some thought, I wondered whether it might not be that we had none left because we had absorbed them all into the nationalised undertakings.

The timidity of the Transport Commission has been in relation to integration. In opposing the Second Reading of a similar Bill in another place the Parliamentary Secretary quoted certain words which had been used there: It would be absurd to take over the businesses of people who are operating, and then allow new people to come in in their places. He said: The only comment I have to make is that 'absurd' is a masterly understatement. That has much to do with integration. I ask the Secretary what has been done about it, because the position is this. There were 248,687 operators operating in the road transport industry on the night before nationalisation came into effect. Today, after three years of attempts at integration, there are 424,198 operators in the road transport industry in this country. The integration about which we have heard so much seems to have been operating in some sort of inverse ratio; it has succeeded not in what the hon. Member for Truro gave as his definition—the bringing of parts into a whole—but in complete dissemination, as if an atomic bomb had exploded underneath the original operators and had blown them into very small particles. That is the method by which integration is taking place at the present time—by opening the door wider and wider; and this Bill opens the door wider still so that we should have not 424,000 operators but probably twice that number.

Let me give a word of warning to the A and B licence holders. They are being subjected to some very subtle propaganda by the Tory Party, but I believe they are not so gullible as the Tory Party hope. The real opposition to the A and B licence holders is not the Transport Commission at all; the real opposition is provided by the C licence vehicles, and I can prove that to the satisfaction, I think, of all but the most prejudiced of hon. Members.

We find that there are about 19,000 A and A-contract licensees and 32,000 B licensees, giving a total of A and B people in the industry of 51,000, operating 57,000 vehicles in the case of A licences and 62,000 vehicles in the case of B licences, giving a total of 119,000 vehicles for the 51,000 licensees. We are being asked to believe, and they are being asked to believe, that the people who are threatening their existence are those in the Transport Commission, with 40,000 vehicles. But the real threat to their existence and livelihood comes from the 373,000 people who operate 720,000 C licence vehicles with the powers to go just as great a distance as any Transport Commission vehicle. If it is suggested that 40,000 vehicles are jeopardising 119,000, how much more must 719,000 vehicles be, jeopardising the 119,000?

A case has been made that many road haulage men have been put out of business by the Transport Commission. The newspapers have waxed eloquent on the subject. But it is not so; there is not a grain of truth in it. There are more A and B licence holders in the country today than there were before nationalisation. Hon. Members may be a little surprised at that, but it is true. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many vehicles?"] If hon. Members wish, I am prepared to give the figures but they are competent to look them up if they desire to do so.

There are 119,000 A and B vehicles today, as I have already said, while before nationalisation there were 149,000 vehicles. In C licence vehicles the comparison is between 719,000 now and 383,000 before nationalisation. If hon. Members want a fair comparison, which is between the number of vehicles operating outside the Commission's service before nationalisation and the number today the figures are 432,000 and, today, 838,000—nearly double. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am not here to say why. I am trying to show to hon. Members that the impact of the Transport Commission has not affected by one iota the number of free vehicles operating outside the Commission's service. Those vehicles have almost doubled in number.

I should like to refer to one other statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced in another place. He said that the prime and over-riding reason for nationalisation was to bring about an integrated form of transport. … All of us who have been anywhere near this transport industry have known for years that this country's transport problem was in having an excess of transport and not a shortage. I agree with those sentiments. I have expressed them here and I stated in the last debate that on my estimate there were 250,000 too many vehicles on the road at present. Never mind whose they were. I am sure that my experience of traffic handling during the war would bear out that estimate.

But if the Parliamentary Secretary really believes that there has always been an excess of transport on the roads, what has he to say as to why he and his Department have allowed the number of vehicles almost to double itself since nationalisation? I wish I knew of some means whereby it was possible to bring the figures home to the Minister—to the Government, to the Cabinet—to anybody who will do something about it, because, apart from any narrow political point, here is something which is striking at the fundamentals of our economy. There are 878,000 of them today—and this Bill would increase the number.

I want to ask the Opposition something. Is there a ceiling—have they a ceiling—as to what they think should be the total number of vehicles on the roads? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Or do they believe in free enterprise and the unlimited licensing of vehicles on the roads? Or do they believe in having as many vehicles as will run, without any licences at all? I should like an answer from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth when he winds up for the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I should like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth to answer. It will be possible to quote his answer against the Conservative Party. I very much doubt whether we could quote anything by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I know that there is no accounting for the hon. Gentleman's indiscretion.

I want to know if hon. Gentlemen opposite have any maximum for the number of vehicles, and how large the number of vehicles must become before they feel that we have enough transport on the roads. If they would like to give me the figure they have in mind, I am prepared to give way now, so that it may be given. Are they prepared to wait until all the traffic is on the roads which can possibly be got on the roads? Is that their target figure? Are the numbers of vehicles to grow until we have diverted all the traffic we can on to their road haulage friends? If that is so, if we are to render the railways completely moribund, I would ask them where they will look for the £35 million compensation payments in British Transport Stock. Will they tell us that—having depressed the railwaymen's conditions to new depths—

Hon. Members:

The Tories did it before the war.

Mr. Harris:

Who is doing it now?

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

—having torpedoed British transport on the roads and on the railways? If hon. Gentlemen will read the report of the recent court of inquiry into the railwaymen's conditions respecting the claim by the British railwaymen for decent wages they will learn something. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the cost of living."] Having depressed railwaymen's conditions to new depths, will hon. Gentlemen opposite tell me whether they will continue to allow the number of C licences unlimited growth? I should like an answer to that. Will they allow C licences unlimited growth until they have made the A and B men bankrupt, and until they have depressed the standards in their own transport industry also? We are entitled to an answer to that because it is envisaged in the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is free enterprise for the C licence holders to go on? Is that the Tory programme?

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

If that is so, then very soon the 51,000 A and B men will be pleading with this party to do something to protect them from the Tory Party.

Photo of Mr Richard Harris Mr Richard Harris , Heston and Isleworth

The Government want to stop competition.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

These are the glories of free enterprise, so lightly taken on, so lightly expounded from the public platform, but with so little thought as to their economic consequences for the men affected. But I would remind the hon. Member for Kidderminster that it has not always been like that. There was a time when the railway shares were owned by the hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Kidderminster

I have not owned railway stock at any time.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

—and by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends. I was privileged to be in the House in those times. How did they talk then, when they held the railway shares? I would refer them to something that was said by a late Member of this House by a right hon. Gentleman, for whom I had the greatest respect and admiration, and who was the first protagonist of the Tory Party with whom I was in conflict many years ago in Westmorland. I speak of the late Mr. Oliver Stanley. This is the first chance I have had to pay my tribute to one whom I admired and respected very greatly. When as Minister of Transport, he was moving the Second Reading of the Bill in 1933 which brought licensing into being, he said: I wonder what would have happened to road transport in the last 10 years if the losses under the competition of road transport had fallen, not on the railway shareholders, but on the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the assets which we now see going to waste had been, not the assets of the railway companies, but the assets of the taxpayers of this country, and it the man who had to stand at this Box every April and explain the losses which arose from this competition were also the man who had it in his power to bring that competition to an end."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1933; Vol. 277, c. 875.] That was what hon. Gentlemen opposite were saying when they were the Government of the country and their friends were the shareholders of the railway companies. The railways were apparently going to waste in 1933, and that was in the days of the glories of free enterprise. They were then facing the competition of 300,000 road vehicles—that is all—not 878,000 as the Transport Commission are today.

Let us come more up to date. I quote now from the Report of the Transport Advisory Council of April, 1939. The Council was under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen. This is not the wicked Socialists speaking. Paragraph 3 states: The financial position of the railways, which has for some time past been very unsatisfactory, has recently deteriorated to such an extent as to give rise to acute concern for the future stability of the companies. The loss of merchandise traffic by the railways has been going on for years, and the cumulative effect is now serious. That was in 1939—eight years before nationalisation. The cumulative effect was then serious. And the railways were then asking—the privately owned railways—for such freedom of action as will, in their opinion, enable them to compete for traffic with road and other transport services on a fair and equitable basis. That was the railway companies "Square Deal" programme, and at that stage the railway companies were in that deplorable state.

Why has the tune changed? Why is it a different tune which is coming from the Conservative Party today? It is only because hon. Gentlemen opposite do not now own the railways. They now belong to the citizens of this country, and so, apparently, they do not matter. I think the country will know what to do about that.

They have spoken today as if the A, B. and C licences were sacrosanct; as though, once having been granted, they were not subject to any further review. That, however, was never in the mind of the Government. The Tory Government who brought in the legislation for licensing in the original Act in 1933, provided, as a matter of fact, that an A licence was valid only for two years, that a B licence was valid for only one year, and that a C licence was valid for three years. It was not until 1938 that the figures were pushed up to five, two and five years.

What did Mr. Oliver Stanley say, speaking on that Bill in relation to the time of the operation of the A, B and C licences? He did not give any assurances to the road hauliers that, having got their licences, they were valid for that time. He said this: At the end"— of the period— of the A licence or B licence … they will fall back under the proper jurisdiction and be subject to the discretion of the licensing authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1933; Vol. 277, c. 861.] So that it was always envisaged that power would rest with the licensing authority to terminate A and B licences. It was always felt that that should be so. Therefore, there is nothing political, nothing violent, nothing unusually revolutionary about the Transport Commission doing the same thing now.

I come now to what the Bill seeks to do. It seeks to increase the mileage radius from 25 to 60. The hon. Member for Toxteth suggested that some operators might operate 25 miles in the Irish Sea. I do not know that it will be any great comfort to them to know that under this Bill they will be able to operate 60 miles into the Irish Sea, because that is all the Bill does.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

It may not be funny, but it is true.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

In my constituency they can go from North Lincolnshire 25 miles into the North Sea or north into the Humber, which is of no advantage to them at all; but if they were given the extra mileage they could go inland to Lincoln and across to Scunthorpe, which is surely a reasonable request.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

That may be true, but vis-à-vis the rest of the road operators their position will be no better than it is at present.

Photo of Mr George Odey Mr George Odey , Beverley

The hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that from a city like Hull the nearest large centre of population is 60 miles away, so what is the use of a 25-mile radius?

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I should have to go into a very long argument if I expounded my own views on this matter. I am not a strong supporter of a fixed area or distance for any licence. My scheme would mean that perhaps some people would operate up to a radius of only ten miles. I would be prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman on this if, in return, he would allow me to introduce a provision for the operation of C licence vehicles. I would be quite happy to make that compromise.

The second provision of the Bill is designed to make the Transport Commission apply for their licences. That provision in itself can only be a wrecking provision in a wrecking Bill designed to wreck the 1947 Act, but I suppose those who framed this Bill know what they are doing. I should like to ask one or two further questions, and I hope that A and B licence holders will listen carefully to the answers. I ask whoever is to reply for the Opposition—I imagine it will be the hon. Member for Monmouth—what will happen to the vehicles which have already been taken over at a cost of £70 million? Will the men from whom they were taken over have to take them back and pay for them? Is that Tory Party policy in this matter? Are the men from whom they were taken to have them back on the understanding that they pay the same for them? If the Transport Commission are compelled to take over certain vehicles, as they were under the 1947 Act—

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

That is not in the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

But the Bill seeks to amend the 1947 Act. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know what they are doing.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I hope there will be fewer interruptions. A great many hon. Members wish to speak and if speeches are too long we shall not get half of them in.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have not had a great deal of experience with Bills. This Bill is intended to amend the 1947 Act which laid upon the Transport Commission the responsibility of acquiring vehicles. If that responsibility is laid upon them and then, by the Bill, they are denied the traffic to enable those vehicles to operate, what will happen to the vehicles they have been compelled to take over? Power should be given to the Transport Commission to compel those men to buy back their vehicles. That would be the honest thing to do. But hon. Members opposite have not the courage to do that. They want the Commission to carry these vehicles without any traffic to put into them. That is the purpose of the Bill.

The Commission were compelled to buy these vehicles, and I should like to know from the Opposition whether the Commission will have power to compel those from whom they bought, to buy back; or are they, with their colleagues in another place, subscribing to the view that if necessary we must cut our losses on road haulage and sell the assets to anybody who will buy them? Is that Tory Party policy—to sell the assets to anybody who will buy them? That will comfort the hearts of A and B licence holders who had their vehicles taken over. We are entitled to know. Or have the Opposition not given any thought to that? Have they been so filled with concern to destroy the nationalised undertaking that they have not bothered to give any thought to that?

A prominent member of the party opposite has said: we must devise a system whereby we can have free competition between road and rail, but we must place some handicap on the road. Note this fundamental statement: free competition between road and rail, but we must place some handicap on the road. That seems queer to me. I do not quite understand it. But, then, there is a lot in Tory philosophy that I do not understand. He went on to say: The only system which will provide free competition between the two is a régime of perpetual subsidy for the rail. Well, that is a new form of free competition that I did not know anything about. This is a responsible member of the Tory Party speaking. Then he defined what I suppose is the Tory Party's transport charter: We must have a rail system. That is all very nice, but it does not say whether we have got to have anything to put on the rail system. Nevertheless, we must have a rail system and we must have road haulage, and we must have C licences. Those are the three cardinal points in the Tory transport charter: a rail system, road haulage and C licences. He finished by saying: though, in the aggregate, the community must pay the bill. "The community must pay the bill." If they try to organise transport in this country on that basis the community will pay the bill. This is apparently the master plan of the party opposite. This is the plan on which the hon. Member for Monmouth lies awake at night, pondering how, when his party take over, if they come back to power, they will re-organise the transport system of this country. These, I imagine, are the results of his deliberations.

He was excelled only by a colleague who said that the railways had been asleep for a hundred years. He said he felt it was not in the national interest that this young prince, road haulage, should awaken the seductive centenarian, not only with a kiss but with a blood transfusion at the same time. That would be most uneconomic. It would not only be uneconomic but it would be a miracle of acrobatic contortion. I confess that I have kissed very many seductive females in my time but never, I think, have I kissed a centenarian; I do not think I have ever tried. Certainly, I have never tried to kiss a maiden and give her a blood transfusion at the same time. That seems to me more a job for a doctor or a surgeon, and our query this afternoon is: "Is there a doctor in the House?" because the more I read this Bill the greater I feel is there need of one by the party opposite.

In the transport industry hundreds of thousands of men have invested their lives, most of them in the railway industry, and I ask if that is nothing to the promoters of this Bill. It used to be when dividends were at stake. It used to be of some moment to the party opposite then. Is it now, when dividends have been removed from the ambit of the railways, now that hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends are secure with £35 million a year whether it is earned or not? The lives of thousands of men in the industry apparently do not count to those responsible for this Bill.

From the railways of this country last year there was filched by C licence vehicles 140 million tons of traffic additional to what they carried in 1946, which had a gross revenue value of £192 million, or a net revenue value of £50 million. On the railways that traffic would have been sufficient to enable the Transport Commission to balance their budget, to have met the wage claims of railway men today without any subsidy from any source, and to have given better service to the public.

Those same vehicles which hon. Gentlemen opposite are proposing to continue in excelsis running about this country, ran last year no fewer than 8,000 million miles of empty mileage. The cost of that mileage is equal to the total cost of the food subsidies payable in this country. It found its way on to every commodity that was carried. The Bill can only aggravate and worsen that position.

The Bill is completely irresponsible in its conception and partisan in its approach to a most serious problem. It is unrealistic, and inept in the proposals which it makes for dealing with the problem.

It is a Bill which, I believe, no responsible person who cares anything at all for this great country or this great industry can possibly support.

1.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Lewisham North

I really shall endeavour to be brief. The hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) said that he was going to make a short speech. If his was a short speech, I hope that we do not have to listen to one of his long speeches.

The Government should welcome the Bill as, in our view, it enables them to carry out the 1947 Act in accordance with various declarations which they have made. The Bill is not intended to cripple the Commission. We have heard used the word "cripple" and the word "hamstring". I would point out that it is extremely unlikely that we should do anything of the kind. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite think that they will remain in power for ever. That is unlikely, and I am putting it at the lowest possible estimate. If we came back to power, it is obvious that we should have to carry out something on the lines of the Bill. We should not be so foolish as to put into the Bill Clauses meant to cripple the very transport industry for which we shall have to assume responsibility before very long.

Time is required to discover the effects of an Act of Parliament, and particularly of this Act. As the House knows, I was not in the House while the Transport Bill was being debated, though I had a certain amount of experience of the Ministry of Transport before the war. From what I could hear and read, the Bill was rather rushed through the House, and therefore there are bound to be defects of this kind. I think the seconder of the Amendment said that we wanted only to get the remunerative parts of the road haulage industry and to allow the Commission to keep the others. That is not true. We have always said that we do not believe that the road haulage industry should be nationalised. If we had had a majority, we would have rejected the Transport Bill.

The object of this Bill is to prevent road haulage from becoming a monopoly. I would remind both the mover and the seconder of the Amendment that road haulage never has been a monopoly under private enterprise. Probably there were more independent units in road haulage before the war than in any other industry. We understood that the Government still wish it not to be a monopoly, because they believe in competition. I will not quote statements made in this House when the Bill was being passed, but certainly, as regards the small haulier, there were pledges that he was to be left outside the Bill.

We want, by Clause 1, and elsewhere in the Bill, to give fair competition to the independent haulier. Not least we want to provide a decent service for the customer. The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that we took a sectional interest in this matter, but it is not so much the independent haulier for whom we are sorry as the customer, for whom the service is now very much worse than it was before the war. We have all received letters and postcards on the subject, and I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know that the service now is bad compared with what it was before nationalisation.

Now I will say a word or two about the relationship between road and rail. We were trying to plan co-ordination of road and rail before the war, all through the time that I was in the Ministry of Transport, and even before I went there. I left in 1939. Our difficulty was to have proper co-ordination so that the railways could pay their way and the road haulage industry would not be completely blotted out. The plan we had—I believe it was called the "Square Deal," or some such name—was to co-ordinate road and railway, and to do so with as much agreement and as little compulsion as possible. We believed that the licensing system prevented wasteful competition and provided the keystone for the further co-ordination which was necessary. We realised that there were certain traffics going by long-distance haulage which could have been carried very much better on the railways, and we hoped to be able to do something on that line by agreement between the two sides. It was coming to something in 1939. I can assure hon. Gentlemen of that.

Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South

The hon. Gentleman is referring to some very important examinations of this problem by the Ministry of Transport. Surely he is aware that, when they were completed, Lord Leathers, who was then the Conservative Minister, said that those proposals were totally inadequate to deal with the situation.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Lewisham North

Whatever observations may have been made by Lord Leathers, the war had then already started, because Lord Leathers was one of the war-time Ministers, and nothing could be done at that time. It does not seem that after three years of nationalisation our prospects are any better than they were.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr said: "You are looking all the time to your dividends." I do not think he meant you, Mr. Speaker. I think he meant hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. Are the railways paying any better now? I think they are worse than they were before. Is congestion on the roads any less? We think that the Act of 1947 has failed, and we believe that the licensing system of itself should be able to regulate wasteful competition on the roads. We also see no reason why the vehicles of the Road Haulage Executive should not themselves come under it; we believe that if some of them were to do so, there would not be the wasteful running that there is now.

Many more hon. Members wish to speak, and so I shall not say other things which I had intended to say. To sum up, the Bill is not meant to ruin the nationalised industry or to wreck the Act passed in the last Parliament. We have a right to amend that Act in this Parliament if the majority of the House wishes to do so. We believe that grave defects in the Act have shown themselves, and that, if the Bill were passed, some, at any rate, of the defects would be remedied.

1.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir Austin Hudson) has made a very reasonable case from the point of view of the Opposition. During my speech I shall endeavour to deal with some of the points he raised. I want to deal first with the hon. Members statement that the Conservative Party, if returned to power, would have to introduce something in the nature of the Bill. That is the hon. Gentleman's opinion, but my opinion is that, if that unfortunate event ever occurred, the Conservative Party would do no such thing. They would be charged with the responsibility for the expenditure of the railway system and the shareholder's dividends and stock and they would take a more realistic view of the problem than is taken in what one can only describe as a highly political type of Bill.

The hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) was associated with me in the political field on Merseyside many years ago. He was a far more eloquent advocate of the application of Socialism to the problems confronting the nation than it was ever possible for me to be. I regret that the hon. Member has recently got into very bad company.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Thompson Mr Kenneth Thompson , Liverpool, Walton

My hon. Friend saw the light.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

I felt that at the beginning of his speech he was rather conscious that this was not really a proper subject to be treated in a Private Member's Bill. I admit that when the Government conceded time for Private Members' Bills, I thought, in common with hon. Members in all quarters of the House, that it would at least afford facilities for back benchers who were fortunate in the ballot to bring forward minor Bills which were important in themselves but did not deal with matters of first-class political importance. We have had many very important and valuable Private Members' Bills, but I am sure it was never intended that these Bills should be used to promote schemes for major changes of Government policy. I should regret it if the dropping of this brick caused the Government to be reluctant to encourage what I believe to be one of the very important privileges of Private Members. I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for Toxteth. Having been lucky in the ballot, he found gat his hon. Friends were asking him to bring forward this rather controversial Bill. I am sure that he was at a great disadvantage because he was not in the House when the Transport Act was passed.

I am connected with the trade union side of road transport, so, if I may make a confession to the House, I should naturally be inclined to support a development of road transport; but I am also here as a representative of my constituency and the general public, and it is my duty to set aside sectional interests—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—yes, and to seek to safeguard the very best interests of the nation. I shall therefore endeavour to approach the proposals of the Bill from the viewpoint of the proper development of our national economy.

I could not conceive of a more unfortunate time at which to bring forward the Bill. We are embarking upon a vast rearmament programme, which will tax to the fullest extent our available supplies of material and manpower, and the railways are faced with serious problems concerning substantial wage increases. This is the time to think, not in terms of wasteful competition, but rather of how we can organise and co-ordinate our transport system to reduce to the minimum the use of manpower and vehicles. It is essential for the Minister of Transport to maintain strict control over the whole field of transport and to make a really drastic cut in C licences, which have grown beyond the bounds of reason and common sense. The more we study the figures, the more we are satisfied that this growth is contrary to the best interests of national transport. In June, 1938, there were 365,025 vehicles with C licences and 178,298 operators. In 1948 there were 590,516 vehicles and 311,811 operators. The last figures I have are for December, 1949—

Photo of Mr Kenneth Thompson Mr Kenneth Thompson , Liverpool, Walton

We have the figures for 1950.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

—when there were 672,301 vehicles and 351,230 operators. Can it be wondered that the Minister of Transport recently told the House that the railways had experienced a decline in merchandise receipts of more than £4 million and proceeded to warn the House that while all the process of eating into railway receipts was going on, the railways had to meet higher expenditure and wages without being able to adjust their charges from day to day.

Should it cause surprise that the railways should be suffering this loss when the number of C licences has increased since 1948 by almost 100 per cent.? This, coupled with a loss on the passenger side by the railways of £8 million, is a serious matter for the nation. In April last, the Minister of Transport informed the House that freight charges would be increased from 15th May by £27 million, an overall increase of 80 per cent. above 1938, but he indicated that the railway costs were about 125 per cent. above pre-war.

The Leader of the Opposition made the following comment: We are now informed or given notice, that on 15th May a new tax of £27 million a year will be put upon the public and upon industry by raising the rates of freight on the railways. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) said at the same time: It does raise a matter which widely affects all walks of life throughout the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1159, 1163.] The Leader of the Opposition is dead right, for this Bill, if passed, will make the financial position of the railways almost impossible.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman mean that in no circumstances whatever could the railways compete with the private haulier?

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

I am not suggesting anything of the kind. I am suggesting that if we continue to take away from the railways traffic which normally ought to be taken by them, inevitably the railways will be unable to pay their way. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter; it is a statement of fact. The railways have a tremendous responsibility to maintain hundreds of miles of private roadway, the expense of laying lines and all the ramifications of the industry. Parliament has always taken the view that they are entitled to some protection against unreasonable road competition. Tory Governments in the past have taken that view.

I want to use the statement of the hon. Member to emphasise my point further. This Bill raises a matter which widely affects all walks of life in the country, for it would result in a further decrease of rail traffic and reflect itself in ever-increasing charges. To my mind, and to the minds of all reasonable people, the railways are vitally important to the life of the nation, whether in peace or war. We cannot allow them to lack the financial resources necessary to provide not only an efficient service but also proper wage standards and conditions of employment.

When the Transport Bill was going through the Committee stage, I well remember how the Tories fought for the highest possible compensation. In my judgment, they got away with far too much, and now it is a serious strain upon the industry. Having got away with that generous compensation, they considered how to boycott national transport. There is a strong feeling in all parts of the country that there has been and still is, a conspiracy to starve the railways and British Transport generally of traffic. This Bill may be, in the view of some people at least, assisting that conspiracy to affect the financial prosperity of nationalised transport. The Tories know that if Parliament extends the radius of operation for private vehicles, this will draw more traffic away from national transport and this, in my judgment, is the real purpose of the Bill.

The Opposition talk a lot about the danger of monopoly. They try to frighten the life out of people in connection with that danger, but this was not a strong point with the Opposition when the Transport Bill was before the Standing Committee. If hon. Members will read the OFFICIAL REPORT of that Committee, of which I was a member, they will find some interesting views expressed by the hon. Member for Monmouth. When the Committee were considering Clause 2, relating to the powers of the Commission, the hon. Gentleman moved a proviso to the Clause reading as follows: Provided that the Commission shall not engage in the carriage of goods by road other than ordinary long-distance carriage as defined in section 40 of this Act. He opened his case for this Amendment by saying: This is perhaps one of the most important Amendments that will be moved on this Committee stage … I know that the Government and the Socialist Party have said many things about transport, but I thought"— I want to emphasise this part of the speech— it was always clearly understood that it the Government took over the railways and the canals and the long-distance road haulage, that was their mandate; and the purpose of this Amendment is simply to limit them to their mandate, which I think is a perfectly fair and proper course to adopt. The hon. Gentleman was admitting that the Commission had a clear mandate to take over long-distance haulage and that it was both fair and proper to do so.

I want to ask the hon. Member for Monmouth how he explains this inconsistency. The hon. Gentleman is always taunting us about inconsistency, but, in view of that quotation, this House is entitled to some explanation of this type of inconsistency when the hon. Gentleman winds up the debate today. I agree that the hon. Gentleman was at the bargaining counter at that time. He was seeking by his Amendment to obtain a monopoly in short-distance traffic for private owners by conceding a monopoly to the Commission in the long-distance field. He went on to say, as though his conscience were pricking him and realising what he said previously: I am not one to decry the value of competition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 11th February, 1947; c. 1219, 1220.] At the same time he was trying to do a deal with the Government on the matter. It was not a question of objecting to monopoly; what the hon. Member wanted was two types of monopoly, a State monopoly for long-distance and a private monopoly for short-distance traffic. He was trying to strike a very effective bargain with the Government.

If accepted, this Bill would destroy the fundamental basis of the Transport Act. All the points raised this morning were raised in the Standing Committee when the present Act was under consideration. I sat for hours and hours listening to the hon. Member and his friends putting forward all these points in Committee. We are entitled to take the view that, whatever may have been the merits or demerits of the discussions in Committee, Parliament finally came to this conclusion and finally passed the Act relating to the co-ordination and nationalisation of transport, and compensation has been paid to those whose businesses have been transferred to the Road Haulage Executive.

The Bill proposes that the ordinary short-distance road haulier should be allowed to become what is generally accepted as a long-distance road haulier. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is so. The basis laid down in the Act was that less than 25 miles was to be regarded as short-distance and more than 25 miles was to be regarded as long-distance. What this Bill proposes to do is to transform short-distance hauliers, who were never in long-distance before—and that is an important point—at least as major undertakings, into long-distance hauliers. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If that were done, what about the road hauliers who have been taken over by the nationalised transport and who were in the business and understood it? What attitude would they adopt towards the application of this Bill? They would say, quite rightly, "The nationalised industry has taken over our businesses, and now Parliament decides to allow people who have no experience of long-distance transport and who have been confined to short-distance work to operate in the long-distance field." They would naturally feel sore about the attitude of Parliament.

In conclusion—[Interruption]—I know that all these home-truths are not very appetising to hon. Members opposite, but I would point out that I sat for hours and hours in Standing Committee "B" listening to far more irrelevant matters. The Bill is conceived with the idea, not of helping the nation through the present crisis, but of trying to make it impossible for the Transport Act to operate as it was intended by Parliament it should operate. I say to the Opposition, quite seriously, that by playing about with these problems, by trying by cheap gibes at the Government to discredit the effort which has been made by this country for recovery—which is vital to the welfare of every section of the community—they are performing a disservice to the nation, and their actions today, whether it be in regard to transport, coal, meat, or anything else, will recoil upon the Tory Party.

2.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Archibald Macdonald Mr Archibald Macdonald , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire

As one of the sponsors of this Bill, I should like to take up the statement of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) who suggested that this Bill has been framed with a destructive idea. It has been framed with the constructive idea of giving the benefit of transport at economic rates to the community so as to help to reduce the cost of living, which hon. Members opposite pretend they have so much at heart. The hon. Member stated that the privilege of Private Members' Bills was given in order that private Members could deal with matters of little or no importance—those were not his actual words but that is what they meant. It was a very valuable privilege given to try to right wrongs which very often the Government did not try to put right.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

The hon. Member is suggesting that I am supporting a policy of injustice to the road hauliers. My colleagues and I are maintaining the system which was established by the Transport Act, which they clearly understood; and there has been no diversion from it.

Photo of Mr Archibald Macdonald Mr Archibald Macdonald , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire

The hon. Member takes a very narrow view. We should go far beyond the road haulier and think of the general public and how they are best and most cheaply served. We as a House of Commons can then say, free of party, that we have the interests of the whole country at heart.

The hon. Member stated that it would be uneconomic to allow these road hauliers to have longer distances to travel than at present, but I do not think that is so at all. The Bill would enable them to give to local users the excellent service which they previously gave. Another statement was that if the radius were extended many of these people would cease to be small hauliers, as they always have been, and would become long-distance hauliers. I think the Committee took a very narrow view in deciding on 25 miles, which was a purely arbitrary figure, and saying that that was the limit for a short-distance haulier and that everything above it was long-distance hauling. Many of the people who have suffered most by the nationalisation of road transport have been people who in the past operated over distances considerably further than 25 miles and are now limited to a 25-mile radius. They gave services at a figure which has not since been attempted by British Road Transport. I hope, therefore, that this Bill will secure its Second Reading.

I consider it to be a very good and very necessary Bill; that is why I agreed to be one of its sponsors. The hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) declared that this was a party manœuvre. Such a statement is nonsense. This Bill is an endeavour to right a wrong—and we have not been given that opportunity earlier in this Parliament—which has been done to some thousands of hauliers and to the general public through the service which those hauliers gave.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr raised the question of the increase in the number of C licences. He declared that that was a plot by the Opposition to sabotage the nationalisation of road transport and to affect the railways. I must declare a personal interest in connection with the illustration I am about to give. I have an interest in a factory at Newcastle. We always gave our deliveries to road transport, particularly deliveries to London and elsewhere. Before the nationalisation of transport, we were sure of delivery in London the following day. We have been giving that business to nationalised road transport, and the goods are lost for anything up to 10 days at a time; no one can find them, and we can get no satisfaction. Consequently, firms like my own have been compelled to take out C licences, which are quite uneconomic to us, in order to give some service to our customers. That is typical of many other firms.

That has not been done with any idea of sabotaging the nationalised road service. We wish it well, and in the interests of the country, which has paid many millions for it, we desire it to succeed. I speak for the average businessman when I say that it is his desire to see it succeed, not necessarily because he believes in nationalisation but because now that nationalisation is an established fact, he wants road transport to pay as well as possible because of the benefits to the country that would result. I have given an example which applies to a good many other firms.

Photo of Mr John Lewis Mr John Lewis , Bolton West

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that, while what he says is probably quite true in respect of loads which, when collected, are not full loads and have to be transferred to another vehicle, it is the case under the present road service system that if there is a full load, one gets delivery within 12 hours?

Photo of Mr Archibald Macdonald Mr Archibald Macdonald , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire

In reply to that point, I would say that when a firm entrusts its goods to nationalised transport, it does not know whether the lorry on which they will be taken will be full or will have only a part-load. One has no guarantee at all on that. I could quote a large number of cases, not only on behalf of my own firm but on behalf of many others, very unsatisfactory treatment.

The small hauliers are, generally speaking, a very fine section of the community because they operate what are usually very personal businesses. I am now speaking about small firms running anything from, say, one to six vehicles, which were started perhaps in this genera- tion or a generation or two ago, and the owners of which have been hard-working members of the business. Those of them whose businesses have not been taken over under the nationalisation scheme are now being forced out of business altogether. They had to get rid of their drivers and are probably leading a not-too-happy existence with one vehicle, the others being laid up.

This state of affairs has been brought particularly to my attention in regard to rural areas. Had the Transport Act been wisely framed, I believe that it would have differentiated between those road hauliers who operate in congested areas and those who are situated in sparsely-populated areas. In my constituency it is virtually impossible for many of these little one-man firms to earn a living today because most of their territory within a 25-mile radius is sparsely-populated country.

From time to time I have taken up this question with the Minister, and I regret to say that I have had no satisfactory reply to my requests that he should reconsider the Transport Act so far as it affects those road hauliers in sparsely-populated areas. It is in order to get that wrong righted that the Bill before us has been forced upon Members who are trying to secure a better deal for those hauliers. It is possible that certain A and B licence holders in congested areas can make a meagre living today, but that is certainly not the case in the rural areas.

As I know many other hon. Members wish to speak, I conclude by urging the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. I do so not only in the interests of the small road haulier, who will not adversely affect the profits of the nationalised transport undertaking, who will give a better service to local customers than they are now getting and who will reduce costs and thereby help to reduce the cost of living; but because the Bill will provide the means of maintaining a very fine type of business which is of benefit to the whole community.

2.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley , North Angus and Mearns

One of the defects of the 1947 Act which three years' working has revealed is surely that the distinction between long and short-distance haulage which was talked about while that Measure was passing through the House has become largely meaningless in recent years. That is because the Transport Commission has acquired a considerable amount of short-distance traffic which it wishes to operate, and, naturally, to do so at a profit; and because private hauliers themselves carry on some long-distance haulage work the loss of which conceivably means, and in many cases which have been brought to our notice does mean, all the difference between working at a profit and working at a loss.

The 25-mile limit, about which many hon. Members have spoken today, is most difficult to operate in countries like Scotland, where the distance between all the major towns exceeds 25 miles. The distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow, between Leith docks and the shipyard areas to the west of Glasgow on the Clyde, between Perth and Glasgow or Dundee and Aberdeen are all in excess of 25 miles. Moreover, when there is an indented coast such as there is on the west coast of Scotland it is all too common for the operator to have to go outside the 25-mile limit to get round an arm of the sea and re-enter his 25-mile radius in the course of his short distance haul. The 25-mile limit has been particularly difficult to operate in Scotland. Again, we have many instances of towns on the seaboard, where, as my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) has said, half the area comprised in the 25-mile limit is in the sea.

The second defect that must surely be apparent after three years' working of the Act is that all fair-minded persons must recognise that it is quite wrong that operators should have to go for permits to an undertaking which is avowedly trying to build up a business and is on the look-out for traffic. As an indication of the kind of policy which is being pursued by the Road Haulage Executive one has only to look at the figures for original permits. When the Act was first put into operation, out of 17,000 applications for original permits only 12,000 were granted, and of those a great many were granted with such onerous restrictions that they were hardly worth while to the operators.

Yet in October of last year the Road Haulage Executive served notice to revoke 5,300 of those original permits in toto as they fell in; 2,700 were to be renewed as substituted permits with additional restrictions, and only 3,800 were to be continued. As a result of representations which have since been made there have been some withdrawals since that date, yet this surely is a clear indication of the policy being pursued by the Road Haulage Executive.

We ought to think a great deal more than we have been doing today about the consumer interests in this matter, the interests of the customer. What the consumer—the customer—wants is, first of all, an efficient road haulage service, and second, an economical road haulage service. I wonder if any of us think he is getting that at present?

I had a case not long ago from my own constituency of a timber merchant in Stonehaven, on the east coast, who was in the habit of getting consignments of timber and plywood from Leith docks. He told me that instead of getting it direct, the plywood was routed from Leith docks to Glasgow, taken off the lorry, put an another lorry, taken from Glasgow to Aberdeen, taken off the lorry again and sent to Stonehaven, 17 miles from Aberdeen, on another service. The consignee has to pay the difference. Not only does it take longer for the timber to get to him, but he has to pay the additional charge.

The other day, after we had had a debate in the House on the subject of meat—that was on a Thursday—I went on Friday morning to Smithfield Market where, at the request of wholesalers and importers of meat, I attended a meeting at which they were going through the result of the previous day's debate. I asked them a question, not with this particular point in mind at all. I said, "The Minister"—I was referring to the Minister of Food—"evidently intends, if he can, to get some chilled beef from the Argentine and give us chilled beef on the ration. How does that work out from your point of view: can you deal with it?" A leading wholesaler of meat said, "In the old days we might have done it, at any rate for the South of England, within reach of the ports. But since road haulage has been nationalised we have not a hope, because we cannot rely on regular deliveries of goods." I had not asked for that sort of example, but it is the sort of example brought to our notice almost every day.

In Dundee, which is not in my constituency but just south of it, there is a big firm who have told me that it now takes, or it has taken within the last month or two, as long as six days to deliver goods required urgently by road from Dundee to Kilmarnock; and six days from Dundee to Halifax. It has taken seven days from Dundee to Leeds and no fewer than 14 days to go from Dundee to St. Helen's, in Lancashire. It seems to me small wonder that there should have been a considerable increase in the number of manufacturers and traders who are being forced to take out C licences and acquire lorries in order to carry their own goods.

The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) spoke as if this was a conspiracy, an attempt to sabotage the Act. But before the war there used to be 365,000 C licences in this country. At the end of 1946 there were 384,000; now there are 719,000 C licences, and the number is still going up. It seems to me absolutely wrong, when this country is engaged in an all-out rearmament effort, that there should be pressure upon manufacturers of lorries to release lorries for road haulage work, for work to be performed under C licences, when that work ought to be performed, if we had an efficient transport system, by private enterprise; or alternatively by the long distance road transport.

Photo of Mr Albert Davies Mr Albert Davies , Stoke-on-Trent North

Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to ask him a question?

Photo of Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley , North Angus and Mearns

No, I will not, because I have promised to be very brief. Many other hon. Members wish to speak and it is only fair to take into account the long time taken by the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) and the hon. Member for Bradford, East, in putting their case. If they had not taken so long I would certainly have given way.

Photo of Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley , North Angus and Mearns

My support of the Bill goes deeper than all these things. With every increase in State ownership the field in which the small privately-owned business can operate is narrowed. I believe that the little man, the small trader, the owner of the one-man business, or the family business, the man who is prepared to take risks and who does not shrink from hard work in his endeavour to make a livelihood and provide for his family, is worthy of preserving in this country.

Short-distant road haulage was built up by men such as these; men of independent outlook who have carved out a business on the personal attention they give to the needs of their customers. In an era of nationalisation I believe we have to be constantly upon our guard to secure the livelihood of the little man. Unless we do so he will be crushed out of existence by the great State monopolies. If that were to happen not only would we lose the greatest safeguard of the consumer against the exploitation of a monopoly, but we should lose a buttress of our national economy.

2.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Sidney Dye Mr Sidney Dye , South West Norfolk

So far, hon. Members on this side of the House who have spoken have been directly connected either with the railways or with road transport. In that respect I differ from them and it may be that my views also will differ from theirs. I would have much preferred the whole debate to have been in the nature of a Private Members' Bill discussion in a non-controversial atmosphere. It would be quite wrong if transport in this country got bedevilled by politics and we could never discuss anything in connection with it apart from party politics. I much prefer the approach of Mr. Hardie when he took over his job as chairman of the Steel Corporation. He said "Now, for a time at any rate, we will leave politics out of it and talk about that particular industry from the point of view of how efficiently it can serve the country."

I wish to speak in the same way about a limited aspect of the problem of road transport. My hon. Friends have spoken from their interest in the railways and in the manner in which road transport can be integrated to serve national transport and to maintain the railways. I think that, as time goes on, we shall have to apply the test of efficiency everywhere, and particularly in transport. We cannot continue to look upon that which is established, that which we have bought, as something that must be maintained I have no prejudice towards railwaymen as such. For the whole of my life in politics, I have been associated with railwaymen. Railwaymen taught me the principles which I hold. I am not prejudiced against them.

We must try to look at this problem of the 25-mile radius. I speak from the point of view of those in an agricultural community. A 25-mile radius in an agricultural community is different from a similar radius in an industrial community. I do not think that there should have been that hard-and-fast limit. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole). He thought that there should be no hard-and-fast limit, but that there should be variations. In agricultural areas it is essential that small hauliers should be allowed to cart corn, sugar beet, lime and other commodities, to a distance very often greater than 25 miles. That applies particularly in a county like Norfolk, which has a large sea coast.

So far, in my experience, road transport has not suffered in the least since nationalisation. I have found, in my small way as a farmer, that both the nationalised transport system and the private people have served me as well as I was served before. I have nothing whatever to grumble about. I think that very few people have any complaint to make. But when the revocation of permits takes place at the end of this month, a number of these small firms will be seriously affected. If we are to make provision for the small firms to continue in business, we must enable them to do so efficiently. I have had letters from a number of firms in my division. One says: We just cannot exist in 25 miles radius. It gets us to no business towns other than King's Lynn. It would not be quite so bad if the B.T.C. left the short-distance work in our hands, but they appear to be more keen on this than ever before. Another letter says: For your information, the revocation of our permit means a loss of turnover to our small business of £350 per month, and causes us to dismiss two of our drivers who have been in our employment for 15 years. Furthermore, there will be insufficient business to keep my father and myself fully occupied, and one of our lorries will not be required at all. Our business, which is a partnership of my father and myself, has been carrying out the work for which the original permit was granted for over 20 years, and consists largely of the carriage of dead poultry to London daily, and the remainder the carriage of a smaller quantity of live poultry which is now temporarily suspended by reason of the fowl pest. A third letter says: On 1st March, 1950, we were granted an original permit which allowed us to cart 750 tons of farm produce and requisites in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk per annum, plus 400 tons of machinery and castings, up to a distance of 200 miles radius from base. The allowance of 750 tons of agricultural goods represented 50 per cent. of the actual amounts we applied for, with the result that we almost reached our maximum tonnage before the corn carting season was half over. Thereafter, we were confined to a 25 miles zone. This firm will not be able to carry on. It is true that there may be arrangements for the Transport Commission to take them over; but this is their life's work and they have served their customers efficiently. I only suggest that, in such cases as that, there should be the opportunity for a revision of the area in which they can continue to serve.

If this Bill had been presented to the House in such a way as to enable the Minister to review the work under the Transport Act, it would have been a very good proposal indeed. I am sorry that when we come to discuss a business closely related to the life of the community—the transport of goods, particularly agricultural goods, at a time when we want to produce greater quantities of food and get them to the towns more efficiently—the matter is bedevilled by party politics. I hope that the time will come soon when, in relation to the life of our country, we can look at problems fairly and squarely and do what is right and good in the interests of the country as a whole.

2.47 p.m.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

Speaking on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House, I should like to say that we are all very grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), because he has had something to say and he has said it, as distinct from his colleagues who have had something to read and have read it. Had they all followed his excellent example, we would have had a much more fruitful discussion than we have had so far. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman is reading."] I have yet to learn that to glance at a page of notes is to read a speech. When I sink to that level, hon. Members opposite can correct me.

I have gathered that hon. Gentlemen opposite resent this Measure, which was introduced in such an able manner by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), on the ground, among others, that they believe the Measure will result in the skimming away from the Road Haulage Executive of the most remunerative traffic. We are told that the suggestion of this Bill is that we should hand over the most profitable section of the industry—that is, the short-distance traffic—restrict it to private traders, and deny to the Road Haulage Executive the opportunity of having this excellent traffic at their disposal.

Hon. Members opposite have spoken, or recited, so long upon this submission that I am beginning to wonder whether perhaps they believe it. If it be true that they believe that the short-distance haulier has the most remunerative traffic, I wonder whether, perhaps at some future date, one of them will introduce a Bill to reverse the procedure so that all distances over 60 miles may be given back to the private trader. I do not know whether they are beginning to try to convince us that the compensation which they alleged they paid, and which they have not paid at all—the £70 million, of which they are so fond of talking—has been badly invested by them. The terms upon which the private road haulier in long-distance traffic was taken over were fixed by the Government of the day when they had an overwhelming majority. Presumably, those terms were fixed with some knowledge of the facts. If they fix the terms, surely it is rather trying our patience to come along at this late stage and complain that they have been swindled.

I notice that, amongst other reasons, hon. Members opposite resist the Bill because they contend that the great difficulty which now exists is due to the very large number of vehicles upon the road. We are told that it is the C licence holders who are aggravating the position, and any criticism which has been directed at the Minister so far from the other side has been directed at his failure to restrict C licences rather than to his failure to provide an efficient service.

If it be true—as, indeed, it is—that there is a larger number of vehicles operating under C licences today than there was prior to nationalisation, surely it would be well if Members on the other side, instead of gazing at the effects, looked at the causes. If they do, they will find that the reason for this is the failure of the Road Haulage Executive to provide an efficient service, and the consequent decision of the private trader as far as possible to carry his own goods in his own vans because he cannot rely on the Road Haulage Executive to do it for him.

In the Bill we are concerned in seeing that some measure of protection is given to the private road haulier in the limited sphere of operations which, we were originally told, it was the intention of the Act to safeguard for him. We are entitled, and justly so, to ask why the Minister seeks to encroach further and further into this field and to put the private haulier out of existence.

Some criticism has been made of the suggestion to extend the 25-mile radius. It was suggested by hon. Members opposite that the 25-mile radius gives the private haulier a diameter of 50 miles in which to operate. Of course, that is how it appears to those who are interested only in figures upon paper and have not very much experience of the intricacies of running a transport business. Those who have had that experience know that in these days of intensive competition, the average haulier collects his business, in the main, within a limited area from the firms which are located near to his centre of operations, and that the man who has a business in the centre of a 25-mile radius does not normally get the bulk of his traffic from places on the perimeter, nor does his traffic normally consist of taking goods from one point on the perimeter to another. Most of his traffic is confined within an area of 25 miles from his place of operation, and is not for a greater distance than 25 or 30 miles.

Because the existing restriction is artificial, we on this side say, and rightly, that it is an unfair one and that in order to give a man a chance to conduct his business satisfactorily he has to have a greater distance within which to operate. Therefore, there has been suggested a distance of 60 miles, which, so far as my own constituency is concerned, would enable us to transport goods from South-end to somewhere, whereas, as the right hon. Gentleman himself knows, under the 25-mile restriction the distance we can get from Southend is just short of his own constituency, even supposing that we wanted to go there.

We are told that we must not criticise too harshly the working of the Road Haulage Executive because it has not been going very long and is a business which is just being built up. If by "being built up" is meant that we are all having to pay higher and higher transport charges for a worse and worse service, then that is not the description which springs most rapidly to my mind. I am not so sure that one is entitled to say that this business, which was started by private individuals, was built up by private individuals, and is giving excellent service to the trading community, is being built up when it is in fact being destroyed. I think that the general view of the trading community is that it is being ruined.

The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) seemed to suggest that what should be done in this matter was to close down all road transport services and send everything by rail. But that would not be a solution of the problem which confronts the transport industry, nor is it the intention of the Bill, which, if they would devote some study to it, hon. Members opposite would see is designed to deal with the problems of the industry. The proposal of the hon. Member for Bradford, East should properly be debated elsewhere; at present, we are concerned with the problems of the private road haulier.

Not only has the private road haulier during the last few years had to operate within a restricted circle of 25 miles, but now, as a result of the revocation of permits, another 5,000 road hauliers, representing a very much larger number of vehicles, are being concentrated still further into that area, an area which, according to some hon. Members opposite, it was the intention of the Government of the day to preserve for the private road haulier in which to operate.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) said that the Executive would not encroach unreasonably upon the field of excluded traffic and short-distance work. It is a lot of nonsense to pretend that they are not doing that. Practically every advertisement by the Road Haulage Executive is for excluded traffic. They do not attempt to leave it alone; they try to collar all they possibly can. Nor is it in any way true that the Executive do not compete in short-distance work, because that is what we are complaining about. That is what the Bill seeks to prevent them from doing to any greater extent. I very much hope, therefore, that the Bill will be supported by the House because of the excellence of what it sets out to do.

We are also invited to believe that the party opposite are the party who protect the consumers. The Members on the other side might try telling that elsewhere than in the House; it certainly is not likely to find very much favour here. Nor is it in any way true to say, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), that prior to being taken over by the State, the industry was something of a monopoly. It is complete nonsense to pretend that the haulage of goods by road, prior to the passing of the 1947 Act, was in the hands of a monopoly. We were told by the hon. Member that whenever an industry reaches the monopoly stage in private hands, it should be turned into a public monopoly. I should have thought—and my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill agrees with me—that the evils of a monopoly are bad in themselves, and that if a monopoly is bad, whether in private or in public hands, it is something which should not be encouraged.

But the intention of hon. Members opposite is to see that they foist upon the people against the people's will, and against their own declared intentions, as distinct from their performance, a vast monopoly which robs the people of service, which robs consumers by extorting from them higher prices, and which denies to those whose energies and ambitions have built up successful, thriving small businesses, the fruits of their labours. Those businesses are to be handed over to boards of retired generals and the like, to whom reference has been made, because the Minister has had such difficulty in finding people who are capable of putting the house in order. I therefore give the utmost possible support to the Bill, which was so ably and fittingly introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth, and I hope that it will enjoy the support of the whole House.

2.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South

This is a Private Member's Bill, and it is not my desire to occupy much of the time of the House, but I do not think there can be any doubt that the Bill represents a substantial and far-reaching amendment of the Transport Act. It is bound to have a considerable effect on public money which has been invested in this direction, and it will not only have an effect on the actual compensation paid for road haulage vehicles acquired, but is also bound to have very serious repercussions on the far larger sum of public money that has been invested in British Railways.

I would remind hon. Members that while political controversy apparently still rages around the subject of road transport, so far as I can gather there is no dispute now between the major political parties about the retention of the principle of nationalisation with regard to railways, the unification of which has been carried to completion. That is a process which has been shared by all parties who have had power in this country.

I feel that hon. Members in all quarters of the House are in duty bound to keep in mind certain considerations before they give a Bill of this description its Second Reading. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), to whose contributions we always listen with great interest in transport debates, stated clearly that if ever the party opposite are returned to power, they will certainly address themselves to some amendment of the Transport Act along the lines of this Bill.

I would like him to consider this problem. Obviously, when the Government of the day were considering the legislation necessary to nationalise the railway system of this country, they could not overlook the liability that it represented at the end of the war. It cannot be disputed that as a result of the war, and the fact that Governments before the war had not dealt adequately with the problem, the railways represented a liability to the Government. If the Government had handed them back to their previous owners there would have had to be some settlement. They could not have thrown back these railways, exhausted, after they had performed a remarkable service to the State and the people in time of war.

If the Government of the day determined that the best way out of that situation was to bring the railways into public ownership, there is a great weight of transport opinion in this country, not confined to Socialist thought, which has always recognised that when that act was performed, to protect the capital assets of the State some corresponding decision would have to be made with regard to road transport. I recollect that as early as 1926, when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when the Road Fund was taken back again into the Budget, he drew our attention to the fact that we could not ignore the growing road competition and its impact on the railway finances. I do not want to weary the House but I have here quotations from Lord Brabazon, Lord Reith, the Marquess of Salisbury and Lord Leathers, all of whom have had responsible relationship with this problem and who have recognised that we cannot separate the issue of long-distance road transport from that of railway finance.

I would point out to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, that if any responsible Government tackled the problem embodied in this Bill they would have to answer for their conduct as any Government and any Minister must answer, at this Box and would have to remember that a Minister must not hand out public money which has been paid for property. I do not believe that any Minister standing here could justify a proposal such as that contained in the Bill. However much people may agree or disagree with the policy involved, that does not alter the fact that Parliament has authorised, by statute, the action of taking away certain people's property and paying for it with public money and with stock which the Treasury has guaranteed.

I cannot conceive for a moment that the House could justify a decision to open that public asset to a form of ruinous, wasteful competition which would destroy it. We must protect the public fund which has been expended in this direction and we ought, therefore, to reject the Bill not, for the moment, on the question of its merits or demerits, but because it is the type of Bill to which the House should never put its signature.

Let me deal with the accusation that we have set up a monopoly. The case behind the Bill rests upon the charge that the Road Haulage Executive's undertakings form a monopoly and that it is an unfair monopoly. The charge is that it does not give efficient service to the traders and the community. I have dealt repeatedly with this question of a monopoly and I want, if I can, once again to destroy the charge in debate on the Floor of the House.

I do not disagree with propaganda and I certainly recognise that there is a clear division of opinion on principle in matters of this kind. Indeed, we all recognise that if a Government do not agree with that principle, they have the right to make amendments or alterations. But in a debate of this character we are entitled to destroy the type of propaganda which is not based on facts and which never uses facts in its presentation to the public.

Let me give the number of vehicles which are engaged in handling goods traffic on the roads of this country, and relate it to the accusation about a monopoly. First of all, I take the great field of private enterprise which is covered by the C licence vehicles. For the moment the controversy about these vehicles does not matter; their existence is a fact and we are not discussing the question that the number has grown since the Transport Act was passed. In fact, the number of C licence vehicles in this country has steadily grown all through the first half of this century.

There are 689,645 C licence vehicles under three tons—and I want to explain, later, why I give a tonnage division. There is that fleet of 689,645 vehicles under three tons unladen weight running on behalf of private traders in this country today—or, rather, there was at the end of December, 1950. The argument that there is a monopoly of road transport in this country does not stand up to facts of this character. Further, there are 43,399 C licence vehicles of over three tons unladen weight. That is the type of heavy vehicle that is most engaged in long-distance transport, and represents the type of vehicle that the Road Haulage Executive, on the whole, has taken over from private enterprise. The total fleet of C licence vehicles is 733,044.

Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South

We do not want any nonsense or braying of that kind when I am endeavouring, in all seriousness, to face the House with facts which it ought to keep in mind when making a serious decision of this kind.

The point I want to emphasise is this, that that figure of 43,399 heavy vehicles of over three tons unladen weight exceeds the total fleet of the Road Haulage Executive, which numbers 39,932.

Let me take this one step further. I turn to the fleet of vehicles in the field open for public hire and reward. That is the problem that we are dealing with here today—not a monopoly, but how far, when there is something like a capital asset of £1,000 million of public money invested in British Railways in a railway system that is vital to this country in peace or war we are to go into the field of road transport for public hire and reward and relate it to the common carrier conditions of the railways of this country, and eventually get a balanced and economical system instead of the wasteful and ruinous conditions of the past.

In this field, which covers, of course, A and B licences, apart from the 39,000-odd vehicles of British Road Transport, there are privately-owned 56,237 A licence vehicles. What is the use of hon. Members on that side of the House—what is the use of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye)—coming here and saying that private enterprise is crushed out in this field, when there is a greater number of A licence vehicles plying for hire and reward?

The B licence vehicle is the type of vehicle that a person gets a licence for, both to carry his own goods and to carry the goods of other people. The number of B licence vehicles is 63,123. So, if we take these categories, the C licence vehicles or the A licence vehicles or the B licence vehicles, in private enterprise, and compare them with the number operated by the Road Haulage Executive, we find that there is an overwhelming majority of these vehicles in the field of free enterprise; and the Road Haulage Executive covers only a comparatively limited field with 39,000-odd vehicles. The provisions of the Act stood the test of all the debates in this House and in the Standing Committee, and I suggest that even in the debates in another place many of the aspects of the Act in this connection were not challenged substantially.

What do we find when we come to long-distance transport? I want to deal with the problem of the permit. This problem of the permit vehicle, I recognise, represents from time to time a measure of hardship. So does any great radical economic change in society represent hardship. I have been associated with a movement which has had to build itself up against opposition and antagonism for over a century, and in my own business management I have had to meet monopoly conditions and restrictive conditions imposed by private organisations and by proprietors; but that has left no bitterness in my mind; it has not warped my judgment in recognising that from time to time, as economic conditions change, in business practice one cannot help imposing hardship on someone.

The building up of any great business crushes out the smaller type of business. Even the newspaper proprietors of this country in their relationship with their wholesalers and retailers have a radius agreement. It is not a bit of use hon. Members opposite lecturing us and talking high morality to us about these principles. We know from bitter experience that it has no foundation in fact. Ultimately these things all come down to a commonsense business judgment of what is right in certain circumstances to deal with the situation.

What would happen if the House were to accept this Bill without in any way considering its reactions? It would destroy the value of the £70 million asset that the Transport Commission has paid for at the direction of Parliament. They paid that money to certain people for their property on the assurance that when they got the property they could operate it, with a monopoly over a 25-mile radius. What was the instrument of the permit? As visualised in the Transport Act, the permit was not to give the individual a permanent right of operation over a 25-mile radius. That was not its purpose at all. Its purpose was a business-like recognition that no organisation could take over 2,000 or 3,000 separate business undertakings and, by a stroke of the pen, weld them into a nationalised organisation like the railways, or in so many hours replace this chaotic system sprawling all over the country with a nationalised organisation.

I have plenty of figures here to prove that the Road Haulage Executive are developing a more efficient system. Of course, cases can be quoted, but they are not very important when it is recognised that in a matter of six months 100 million consignments have been handled by this organisation. Anyone can bring out half-a-dozen, a dozen or two or three dozen important complaints. I never minimise a complaint; I say that any public organisation which gets a complaint has a bounden duty to look into it thoroughly and try to remedy it. That is one attitude. But the other attitude, which picks up every complaint and argues that it demonstrates the failure of the organisation, is thoroughly unsound. The complaints have to be related to the total number of consignments or parcels.

Now let me deal with the question of the failure of British Transport to pay its way. In 1948, the interest paid by British Transport on its road transport and railway side was £33 million. In 1949, the interest charges were £34 million. In two years British transport, on the stock side of its business, had paid £67 million. At the end of 1945 it had a cumulative deficiency in its balance sheet of £25 million. I assert that if these had been the accounts and balance sheet of a private company they would have disclosed a profit. I do not say that the rate of interest would have been high, but they could have paid a dividend and not have classified it as a loss. Members of Parliament who want to put the case before the public ought to recognise that point.

Now for two efficiency points. Take an organisation like Carter Paterson, which was taken over en bloc from private to public administration. I have heard statement after statement to the effect that after they were transferred to the Road Haulage Executive they became less efficient. There is no evidence for that. I have had complaints, and have investigated them, about things which should not have occurred. It happens in every business. If we apply the average test which is always applied in business to determine whether the efficiency of the organisation is running down, it comes out to the advantage of the Road Haulage Executive. Before Carter Paterson were taken over, for every 10,000 parcels of goods handled the claims were about 28. Last year, the first year that it was fully in operation under the Road Haulage Executive, the average number of claims for 10,000 parcels was 21.2, which shows a decline.

I said that I would not take much time, and I apologise if I have taken more than I expected. I want to deal with some points raised by the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) who introduced the Bill, and also with a number of statements which he made in an article in the "Daily Telegraph" on Wednesday last. Two or three of these statements were not inaccurate in purpose and point, but the figures were not accurate. He said that 5,000 permits were being revoked, representing 30,000 vehicles. But the 5,000 permits represented 15,000 vehicles and not 30,000. He said here today that out of 17,000 permits originally granted only a miserable 3,000 had eventually emerged. He was wrong there. The 17,000 does not represent permits, but applications. Nearly 5,000 of them were invalid and never ranked for permit, and out of the 12,000 permits which eventually emerged something like 7,000 have been either granted, or modified, or are under consideration, as the case may be.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I think I made it clear that the 3,800 referred to permits which were being continued without qualification.

Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South

The hon. Member linked it to the 17,000 applications. My contention is that that gave an entirely erroneous view of the position.

The hon. Member further stated in his article that British Road Services last year ran 300,000,000 loaded vehicle miles and that 70,000,000 of them represented empty running or unloaded miles. Those figures are correct, but they only represent an empty running of 19 per cent., and an empty running of 19 per cent. in road haulage services is considered a very good figure. During the war when the Ministry of War Transport had its own organisation run by private enterprise—they were all joined together—we considered it very good if we got to 20 per cent. That was the first year. Now I want the hon. Member to listen to these figures—

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but is he not aware that the chairman of B.T.C. himself, Lord Hurcomb, made a statement to the Press about a month ago in which he apologised to the British public for the empty running?

Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South

No, Sir, he did not apologise. What it represented was an indication that they would continue to strive to improve upon their present effort which they are doing.

I will now give the hon. Member some more comparisons. Let us take the vehicle miles for December, 1949. The loaded mileage for the month was 40,041,000 and the empty running for that month was 9,898,000 miles, or an empty running percentage of 19.8. In December, 1950, the number of loaded vehicle miles run was 41,787,000 and the number of empty vehicle miles 8,484,000, or 16.9 per cent. I have had a good deal of experience in running road transport for a private concern and I know that any road haulage organisation which can get its empty running down to 16 per cent. is reaching a fairly high condition of efficiency. And that is really in one clear year of running. All this time they have been in a process of taking over undertakings. I ask the House to reject the Bill. It is not justified and it is not equitable. Even if we wanted to amend the Transport Act this is not the method to which the House of Commons ought to put its signature.

3.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I believe that I shall carry the whole House with me in paying a tribute to the speech with which the Second Reading of the Bill was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins). We all have different views on how transport ought to be run, but I think it was a model of the way in which a Bill of this kind should be presented to the House, and it certainly enhanced my hon. Friend's Parliamentary reputation.

In his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport was rather a disappointment to me. I thought that to start off his remarks by saying that it was not a question of the merits or the demerits of the Bill, but that it just happened to be the kind of Bill the House of Commons should not pass, was really making the thing a little too easy for him. The business of the House of Commons is to look at a Bill and to consider its merits and demerits, and that is what I certainly propose to do in the course of my remarks. The right hon. Gentleman, if I might have his attention—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am answering his speech—seemed to me, for the greater part of his remarks, to be talking about some railway Bill. He spoke about railways almost the whole time. He painted an awful picture of the way the great railway companies of this country would be brought down in ruin if a few road hauliers, mostly engaged in short-distance work anyway, were allowed to extend their operations on occasions up to as much as 60 miles. That is a most preposterous picture to ask the House of Commons to accept. If it were true, the situation of the railways of this country would be even worse than most of us already suppose it to be.

I am appalled by this constant theme of the party opposite that the only way in which a great State concern -can possibly run or show a profit is by being safeguarded at every turn against the slightest breath of competition. It is that hopeless attitude of mind which is largely responsible for the decline of railway fortunes which we have seen over the past few years.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I cannot give way. If the railways are to provide a satisfactory service to this country, if they are to be made profitable—as I hope they will be—it will be upon the basis of providing a competitive form of transport and on no other basis. That has to be clearly understood.

Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that of course he had not got a monopoly at all; there were all these C licences. I hope that means that he intends that the C licence position shall remain as it is? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then what on earth is the good of saying that? What an abject deception for the Minister to spend a quarter of an hour—

Photo of Dr Mont Follick Dr Mont Follick , Loughborough

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the hon. Member speak- ing supposed to address you, and not the Gallery?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Mr. Speaker, I hope that I am audible in all quarters of the House. What an extraordinary thing it is for the right hon. Gentleman to spend a quarter of an hour telling the House of Commons that the presence of these C licences was the safeguard of the public when the party behind him quite plainly intend to do away with them at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope that disposes of that argument.

Then the right hon. Gentleman painted a moving picture of the efforts he had made to build up the Co-operative movement, for which I may say I pay him full tribute. I only wish he had built up the transport system as ably as he built up the Co-operative one. He said what a battle they had to fight against the private enterprises which were entrenched at that time in the country, and how they had to get business from them. What would he have said if, in order to start any branch of the Co-operative Society, he had had to apply for permission to one of the joint stock companies? He would have regarded it, and quite rightly, as a monstrous imposition upon the rights of free men. Yet he seeks to apply that system, which he himself, I believe would utterly condemn, to the free road hauliers of this country and to make it necessary for them to apply to their competitors before they are allowed to operate. It is to remove an injustice of that kind—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt him? I ought to inform the House that, by some error, the Division Bells do not ring. Therefore, will the Whips on both sides inform everybody interested who may be about the building? I shall give extra time, but I thought I had better inform the House now, so that everybody should know.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I hope, Mr. Speaker, now that you have given that warning to the House, the fact that the Division Bells do not ring will not be taken by His Majesty's Government as an excuse after they have been beaten.

To return to the debate, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), raised the point of view of the railways, as did many hon. Members. I thought he was going to be the champion of competition at one stage of his speech, but I understand that the only competition in which he believes is between the private hauliers within the 25-mile limit. I say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; let them try a little outside as well. He argued eloquently for a properly integrated transport system, but does anyone suggest that we have a properly integrated transport system at present? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They have not done the thing which the original Transport Act said was desired. There is no such thing as a properly integrated transport system today and the only attempt the right hon. Gentleman and the Transport Commission have made produced a strike the other day on the road side and on the rail side.

The hon. Member said that this monopoly was answerable to the public. How is it answerable to the public? If anyone can inform me how I can get a Question answered in the House of Commons about that great monopoly, I shall be glad to hear it. Of course, it is utterly irresponsible—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth said, responsible to the public on one day out of 365.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

Could the hon. Member say bow often in the last 12 months he has addressed the House on alleged complaints about the transport system?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Far too seldom. The hon. Member seconded the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill in a speech in which be said that we on this side of the House represent the big vested interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well I do not know about that. I have had quite a number of letters on the subject of this Bill. I had one handed to me this morning from a pilot officer who was absent from this country for six years during the war and the only vested interest he had was in his country. He came back to find himself hounded out of business by the Transport Commission. I do not know whether the hon. Member regards that as defending a vested interest. If it is, I am proud to defend it. The hon. Member said there was compensation, but there is a man who for 15 or 20 years devoted his life to building up up a business and he is thrown completely out and given a little compensation. What he wants to do is to serve his country, with profit to himself, and there is no reason why he should not do so. Here is a telegram which came to my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth just now: May you succeed Friday. Best wishes from 300 trade union workers transport, Billericay. I quite agree that is a vested interest, but it is a vested interest which we on this side of the House, at any rate, are very happy to support.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) addressed us at some length and said that he did not know what this Bill is for. I will tell him.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I will tell him, even if he did not say that. The purpose of this Bill is threefold. First, it is to allow the independent haulier to travel 60 miles from his garage instead of the present 25 miles. Second, it is to place both the private and the public hauliers on an equal basis with regard to applying for a licence—no discrimination between the two. Third, it is to enable the haulier who wishes to go outside the permitted limit to make application, not to his principal competitor, the Road Haulage Executive, but to an independent tribunal. Whatever the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, I hope he is now quite clear about that.

The hon. Member spent a good deal of his speech in saying that the real opposition and the real danger to the free hauliers of this country was not the British Transport Commission but the C licence holders. My answer to that is one which I can express on behalf of the free hauliers of this country—give them the freedom for which they ask in this Bill and they will look after the C licence holders. [An HON. MEMBER: "How?"] They will do it in the classic way, by providing a more attractive service than the C licence holder can provide for himself. That is the right answer, not to try to eliminate the C licence holder.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Do we understand that the hon. Member's proposals are that anyone and everyone shall have an unrestricted right to operate a road transport vehicle in this country?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

The hon. Member knows enough about transport to know that I never said anything of the kind. I am now talking about the C licence. I shall speak about licensing in a moment. On the question of C licences, our position is plain. We believe that every man has the right to carry his own goods on the King's highway. When I hear an hon. Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East—say that the Minister has already given away too much to the C licence holders, I wonder what on earth he is talking about.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I never said anything of the sort.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Then I withdraw the statement. It is not a question of giving anything away; it is only the right of a man to be able to carry his own goods.

Finally, the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), said in his speech that we had paid far too much compensation for the railways. Who paid it? His Majesty's Government fixed the amount. So far as I can recollect, that amount was not changed during the passage of the Act.

Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East

Will the hon. Member also inform the House of the activities of himself and his hon. and right hon. Friends during the Committee stage to extract every penny they could more than the amount which was suggested by the Ministry?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Why not? If the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back, he will recollect that the amount which was paid in compensation was precisely the amount which the Government suggested. It is now a little late to complain about that. Anyone would think that the Opposition made the Government take over the railways. The picture they paint is that of the wicked Tory Party pointing a pistol at the Government and saying, "Take the railways over." The hon. Member cannot come along two or three years after the event and adopt an attitude of that kind.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), in what I regarded as by far the best speech made from the benches opposite, brought a breath of fresh Norfolk air to our discussion. He said he thought that we ought to apply the test of efficiency to everything we did. We on this side of the House heartily agree. It is the criterion which we lay down in this Bill. All we say is, "Let it be a fair test of efficiency and let the consumers choose the form of transport which they themselves prefer."

I make no apology for having spent a few minutes dealing with the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. That is the object of our debate. May I now attempt to meet one or two of the principal objections which the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members put forward against this Bill? I take straight away what I think is the major point made against it. It is said—and I wish to represent this quite clearly—that the Government, the country, purchased a monopoly and paid for this monopoly; and that what we are seeking to do now is to whittle that thing away and so to alter it that the £70 million paid will be lost, squandered or, in the eloquent words of the Parliamentary Secretary, "will go down the drain."

If we are to talk about things going down the drain, I would remind the House that there are a good many assets which have gone down the drain already. In the last three years the British Transport Commission have seen an accumulated loss of £40 million going down the drain; and that is the equivalent of two-thirds of the value of their road fleet, together with the goodwill. Let us be quite clear who is putting these things in this unattractive locality. The Government say that this monopoly has been bought and paid for. Let us examine what they did buy and what they did pay for.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

What they bought were, of course, certain tangible assets like lorries and garages. For those they paid what was laid down in the Act, which was not replacement value; it was simply cost value less depreciation. They had to pay a bit more, because they could not take it over on just the break-down value. They paid anything from between two and five years' purchase based on the estimated profits for that period.

There were various ways in which the purchase could be made. It could be made by voluntary acquisition or by compulsory acquisition; but I think I shall carry the right hon. Gentleman with me if I say that in both cases the principles to be applied were exactly the same in the amount of compensation, and were in fact as I have described. Whatever else can be said about that, no one could possibly say it was paying for a monopoly. The whole case that the Government made at that time was that these private firms which they purchased were in a chaotic condition of competition. That was the case against them. We were always being told about the chaotic competition that was taking place. It was never suggested that they should be bought out on the basis that they were running a nice tight little monopoly.

I have read a good many treatises by hon. Members opposite about the basis on which an industry should be compensated on nationalisation. Some have said it should be under net maintainable value. Others have said we should pay no compensation at all. No one has ever said that it should be calculated on what these people would be earning if they ran a monopoly or that they should be compensated on that. Of course, the Government have not bought a monopoly; I have never heard a more preposterous suggestion. If it needed any more clarification, one has only to look at the Act, in which it is specifically stated they must not be paid as a monopoly. In Section 47 (3) it is laid down that regard must be had to the profits which they might have earned, not on the basis of the Act having been passed and everybody brought in together, but on the basis of their going on competing as they then were.

So I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, whatever other arguments he may use against this Bill, will not trot out this really rather thin one about someone having bought a monopoly. He has bought a large number of efficient profit-making private firms which were competing with one another. He put them together into a large organisation, and he claimed that if he did so they would be a great deal better than before. He may have built up a monopoly out of this, but certainly he did not buy one. If they made a profit when they were being run by the private people, it is his fault, of the fault of the British Transport Commission, if they are not making an adequate profit now. I think that disposes of that matter.

I turn to the position of the customer. It is true that this Bill will go a long way to remove the hardships which are felt by the private hauliers; but that is not the most important part of it. The most important part of it is to provide a service to the trade and industry of this country. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not pay much attention to, or at any rate that we should not set too much store on, individual instances of delays, charges and the like. There is something to be said for that. One can draw a wrong analogy if one takes individual instances.

But I was reading the other day an article in a paper called, "Future." I think that the right hon. Gentleman has read it, too. The article was called, "Is State road transport working?" The people who had prepared that article had had a careful survey, or Gallup Poll, taken of the customers of the British Road Services. That is a precaution which many private enterprise companies take. The result showed that 65 per cent. of those customers preferred the private hauliers to the State concern. It said in the article that no doubt this would give food for thought to the British Transport Commission. It did give food for thought to the British Transport Commission. Their immediate reaction was not to try to increase their own efficiency, but to squeeze out the free hauliers, to get rid of them and to withdraw their permits. It was the typical answer of the great monopolists throughout the ages.

That is the general picture of what industry is suffering; but one must pay a little attention to some of the individual examples. Two cases were brought to my notice this morning of transport between Buxton and Manchester. In one it took seven days to travel that distance, and in the other it took 11 days. They are reducing the road services to something almost as slow as British Railways, and, goodness knows, they are slow enough.

Photo of Mr James Harrison Mr James Harrison , Nottingham East

I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that British Railways compare favourably with any other railway system on earth?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

We shall debate railways very soon. Let us leave that until then. Another example is that to take four glass bricks from Bury to Ipswich took four weeks. When the firm concerned began to complain, they were told—and this is hardly credible but it is true—that there was not a service from Bury to Ipswich, but only from Ipswich to Bury. One could give any number of examples of this character. I will not impose further cases of that type upon the House.

I should like to elaborate certain other difficulties in which industry finds itself. It is not only a question of delays, though they are serious enough. They may make the whole difference between getting or losing an export order, and being able to say whether one can catch a ship or not. Some of the regional officers of the British Road Services do not seem to care very much whether we catch the ship or not; but someone in industry may lose an order and may have to pay a very heavy forfeit. The industrialist pays; not the British Road Services.

Another aspect is that of the charges which are made. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the British Road Services are putting up their charges day by day and that the removal of any form of competition will allow them to put them up even quicker. It is not only I who say that. I notice that the Raw Cotton Commission, a Government body, are now saying "We cannot pay through the nose to these British Road Services and are going out to try to get the raw cotton carried, not by the Government concern, but by the private haulier." Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Raw Cotton Commission what are their views about squeezing these people out and refusing them their permits? All these things go straight on to the cost of living.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, very properly raised the case of agriculture. The hardships which are being imposed upon the agricultural industry are something staggering. The Minister of Agriculture the other day did not seem to know what was happening, but the Minister of Transport knows. I have a list of increases on horticultural products in East Anglia ranging up to 60 or 70 per cent—and there is, of course, no possible appeal.

I do not suppose that any organisation has ever been more irresponsible in its charging policy than has British Road Transport. It is not perhaps generally recognised that there is no tribunal whatsoever to whom any appeal could be made. We cannot put down a Question in the House of Commons asking about a flagrant example of charges being put up. They can discriminate, and do discriminate, between one firm and another. They adopt and use all the abuses of monopoly which the House was meticulously careful to prevent in the case of the railways; and as soon as this last form of competition is removed, they will use that opportunity to put up the charges still further.

I claim that the Bill would do two very good things. First, it would restore a measure of freedom to some very well deserving people; and second, at a moment when, as everyone knows, the transport affairs of the Government are not in the best order, it would preserve for trade and industry a valuable alternative method of carrying their goods. It is for those reasons and upon those terms that I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, "That 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 242; Noes, 234.

Division No. 41.]AYES[4.0 p.m.
Aitken, W. T.Bennett, William (Woodside)Bullock, Capt. M.
Alport, C. J. M.Birth, NigelBullus, Wing Commander E. E.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)Bishop, F. P.Burden, Squadron Leader F. A.
Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)Black, C. W.Butcher, H. W.
Arbuthnot, JohnBlackburn. A. R.Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Can, Robert (Mitcham)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)Boothby, R.Channon, H.
Astor, Hon. M. L.Bossom, A. C.Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.
Baker, P. A. D.Bower, NormanClarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)
Baldwin, A. E.Boyle, Sir EdwardConant, Maj. R. J. E.
Baxter, A. B.Braine, B. R.Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)
Beamish, Major TuftonBraithwaite, Lt.-Cmdr. GurneyCrookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.
Bell, R. M.Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.
Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Crouch, R. F.
Crowder, Capt. John (Finchley)Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)Raikes, H. V.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.Rayner, Brig. R.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)Lambert, Hon. G.Redmayne, M.
Davidson, ViscountessLancaster, Col. C. G.Renton, D. L. M.
Davies, Nigel (Epping)Langford-Holt, J.Robertson, Sir David (Caithness)
de Chair, SomersetLaw, Rt. Hon. R. K.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
De la Bére, R.Leather, E. H. C.Robson-Brown, W.
Deedes, W. F.Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Digby S. W.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Roper, Sir Harold
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Ropner, Col. L.
Donner, P. W.Lindsay, MartinRoss, Sir Ronald (Londonderry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord MalcolmLlewellyn, D.Russell, R. S.
Drayson, G. B.Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (King's Norto)Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Drewe, C.Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Scott, Donald
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.Shepherd, William
Dunglass, LordLongden, Gilbert (Herts, S.W.)Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter
Duthie, W. S.Low, A. R. W.Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)
Eccles, D. M.Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughSmithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Erroll, F. J.McAdden, S. J.Soames, Capt. C.
Fisher, NigelMcCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Spearman, A. C. M.
Fletcher, Walter (Bury)Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Fort, R.Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)Stanley, Capt Hon. Richard (N. Fylde)
Foster, JohnMackeson, Brig. H. R.Stevens, G. P.
Fraser, Sir I. (Morecambe & Lonsdale)McK[...]e, J. H. (Galloway)Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David MaxwellMaclay, Hon. JohnStoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Gage, C. H.MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)Storey, S.
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Macpherson, Major Niall (Dumfries)Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)Maitland, Cmdr. J. W.Studholme, H. G.
Gates, Maj. E. E.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Summers, G. S.
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)Marlowe, A. A. H.Sutcliffe, H.
Grimston, Robert (Westbury)Marples, A. E.Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Harden, J. R. E.Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Marshall, Sidney (Sutton)Teeling, W.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)Maude, Angus (Ealing, S.)Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Harris, Reader (Heston)Maudling, R.Thompson, Kenneth Pugh (Walton)
Harvey, Air Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)Medlicott, Brig. F.Thompson, Lt.-Cmdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)Mellor, Sir JohnThorneycroft, Peter (Monmouth)
Harvie-Watt, Sir G. S.Molson, A. H. E.Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Head, Brig. A. H.Monckton, Sir WalterThorp, Brig. R. A. F.
Heald, LionelMorrison, John (Salisbury)Tilney, John
Heath, EdwardMorrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)Touche, G. C.
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Turton, R. H.
Higgs, J. M. C.Nabarro, G.Tweedsmuir, Lady
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)Nicholls, HarmanVane, W. M. F.
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)Nicholson, G.Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Hinchingbrooke, ViscountNield, Basil (Chester)Vosper, D. F.
Hirst, GeoffreyNoble, Cmdr. A. H. P.Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Hollis, M. C.Nugent, G. R. H.Walker-Smith, D. C.
Hopkinson, H. L. D'A.Nutting, AnthonyWard, Hon. George (Worcester)
Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.Oakshott, H. D.Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. FlorenceOdey, G. W.Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Howard, Greville (St. Ives)O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir HughWatkinson, H.
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.Webbe, Sir Harold
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N,.)Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Hudson, Rt. Hon. Robert (Southport)Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)White, Baker (Canterbury)
Hurd, A. R.Osborne, C.Williams, Charles (Torquay)
Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Peake, Rt. Hon. O.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hutchison, Colonel JamesPerkins, W. R. D.Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Hyde, H. M.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.Wills, G.
Hylton-Foster, H. B.Pickthorn, K.Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Jeffreys, General Sir GeorgePitman, I. J.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Ea[...]
Jennings, R.Powell, J. EnochWood, Hon. R.
Johnson, Major Howard (Kemptown)Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Keeling, E. H.Profumo, J. D.Mr. Bevins and Mr. John Hay.
NOES
Acland, Sir RichardBeswick, F.Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)
Adams, H. R.Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Carmichael, J.
Albu, A. H.Bing, G. H. C.Castle, Mrs. B. A.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)Blenkinsop, A.Chetwynd, G. R.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Blyton, W. R.Clunie, J.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)Boardman, H.Cocks, F. S.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Booth, A.Coldrick, W.
Awbery, S. S.Bottomley, A. G.Collick, P.
Ayles, W. H.Bowden, H. W.Collindridge, F.
Baird, J.Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Cooper, Geoffrey (Middlesbrough, W.)
Balfour, A.Brockway, A. F.Cooper, John (Deptford)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Brook, Dryden (Halifax)Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham)
Bartley, P.Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Cove, W. G.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.Blown, George (Belper)Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
Benn, WedgwoodBrown, Thomas (Inoe)Crawley, A.
Benson, G.Burton, Miss E.Crosland, C. A. R.
Crossman, R. H. S.Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)Reeves, J.
Cullen, Mrs. A.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Daines, P.Janner, B.Rhodes, H.
Darling, George (Hillsborough)Jay, D. P. T.Richards, R.
Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)Jeger, George (Goole)Rebens, A.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)Jeger, Dr, Santo (St. Pancras, S.)Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Johnson, James (Rugby)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Deer, G.Jones, David (Hartlepool)Royle, C.
Delargy, H. J.Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Dodds, N. N.Jones, Jack (Rotherham)Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Keenan, W.Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Edelman, M.Kenyon, C.Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Edwards, John (Brighouse)Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Simmons, C. J.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E.Stater, J.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)Lever, Harold (Cheetham)Sorensen, R. W.
Ewart, R.Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Fernyhough, E.Lewis, John (Bolton, W.)Sparks, J. A.
Field, Capt. W. J.Lindgren, G. S.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Finch, H. J.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)Longden, Fred (Small Heath)Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Follick, M.McAllister, G.Stross, Dr. Barnett
Foot, M. M.MacColl, J. E.Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)McGhee, H. G.Sylvester, G. O.
Freeman, John (Watford)McInnes, J.Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)
Freeman, Peter (Newport)Mack, J. D.Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Gaitskell. Rt. Hon. H. T. N.McKay, John (Wallsend)Thomas, Iorworth (Rhondda, W.)
Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Gibson, C. W.McLeavy, F.Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Gilzean, A.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Thurtle, Ernest
Glanville, James (Consett)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Gooch, E. G.Mann, Mrs. JeanTomney, F.
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)Manuel, A. C.Turner-Samuels, M.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.Ungoed-Thomas, A. L.
Grey, C. F.Mellish, R. J.Usborne, H.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Messer, F.Vernon, W. F.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanefly)Middleton, Mrs. L.Viant, S. P.
Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)Mikardo, IanWallace, H. W.
Gunter, R. J.Mitchison, G. R.Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Moeran, E. W.Weitzman, D.
Hale, Joseph (Rochdale)Moody, A. S.Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)Morley, R.Wells, William (Walsall)
Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)West, D. G.
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Hamilton, W. W.Mort, D. L.White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Hannan, W.Mulley, F. W.Wigg, G.
Hardman, D. R.Murray, J. D.Wilkes, L.
Hardy, E. A.Nally, W.Wilkins, W. A.
Hargreaves, A.Neal, Harold (Bolsover)Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)
Hastings, S.Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)
Hayman, F.H.O'Brien, T.Williams, David (Neath)
Hewitson, Capt. M.Oldfield, W. H.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Hobson, C. R.Oliver, G. H.Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Holman, P.Orbach, M.Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)Paget, R. T.Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Houghton, D.Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)Wise, F. J.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)Pargiter, G. A.Wyatt, W. L.
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Parker, J.Yates, V. F.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Peart, T. F.Younger, Hon. K.
Hynd, H. (Accrington)Poole, C.
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Popplewell, E.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Proctor, W. T.Mr. Harrison and Mr. Champion.

Question put, and agreed to.