Orders of the Day — Steel Industry and Road Haulage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1951.

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Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I am sure that the House will realise the position in which I am placed and will respond to the very slight extent that I ask, in that I have to make my speech three hours or so before I had planned. In view of what has been arranged, I shall not be able to follow the rollicking speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), which we all enjoyed so much, though from different standpoints. We all enjoyed his rollicking humour, and my hon. Friends and I particularly enjoyed the admission he made, in the midst of his jocularity, that the result of six and a half years of Socialism is that the country is now down to bedrock. Apart from that very short response, I must do what it was promised that I would do, and that is deal with the position of transport.

I would remind the House of the terms of the Amendment which we are discussing, and the concern which is expressed because it is alleged that our proposals will create anxiety and uncertainty in two vital industries. This tenderness comes oddly from a party who must have caused, and intended to cause, more industries to shake in their shoes during the past few years than any other Government in history. May I put this simple point? It may well be that putting something right involves a certain disturbance, but it does not involve so much disturbance as putting something wrong, and it is always more worth doing.

Whatever else hon. Members opposite may have doubt about, they cannot have any doubt about our intentions in this matter. They are set out quite clearly in our election documents, and our intention is, as it has always been, to diminish the monopolistic powers of the British Transport Commission over the long-distance section of the road haulage industry, and to give an opportunity to those private hauliers who wish to do so to return into a business from which so many of them have been ousted by the Transport Act.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) asked us to explain why. It is almost five years to the day since I moved the rejection of the Transport Bill. I see opposite hon. Members who listened with praiseworthy patience to almost all of the 179 speeches I made on that Measure, but no hon. Member can say that during those five years I have ever resiled from the position that road haulage is a matter of local application and can only be carried out by small units which can give that application in the country. So at any rate what we are doing is no surprise.

We believed five years ago, and we believe now, that the specialised service which free hauliers can render to trade and industry is an indispensable part of our transport position, and that they cannot be adequately replaced by a nation-wide undertaking, however well organised or administered. The reason for that is that in any business there is established an intimate and specialised relationship with its hauliers who carry the goods. The haulier thoroughly understands his customers' needs and any special features of the carrying on of that business, far better than any large impersonal undertaking, however eager it may be for the trade. The haulier in that position is enabled to make these special efforts to deal with particular difficulties or emergencies which constantly arise.

The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), in a very careful and closely-reasoned speech to which I listened with great attention, raised the problem of the labour position and the potential wastage of labour in the sense of too much labour, but not wastage in the other sense. He—and, if not he himself, many of his colleagues—has insisted time and again that the over-use of road vehicles is to be found in connection with the C licence. I ask him to consider this point, as I know he will, whether he ultimately agrees with it or not.

It is because of the absence of that essential service which gives that local application and that study of the needs of industry at both ends, for raw materials coming in and products coming out, that we have had the enormous growth of the C licences of which he is aware. The only way in which we shall deal with that growth and the problem which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have so often posed is by getting a road transport service which is efficient and deals with that point.