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.

Alert me about debates like this

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

The right hon. Gentleman has the complete authoritarian approach. That is not how we envisage the thing working at all. We do not ask for powers to over-rule or disregard independent bodies. We ask that justice and equity should be decided by independent people. Why I desired to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the licensing system was this: If he and his hon. Friends had not jumped in with their unsuccessful attempt to find a short-cut, the licensing would have worked out in this way—every road haulier would have had to show the relationship of his post-war work to his pre-war work, and for a good reason.

During the war, we were working on permits. It was pure luck if one fellow was called up to the Army and another fellow was told by the Departments to do an immense volume of work. It is totally unfair that the mere accident of war-time work should decide it. This is not my theory. This was actually decided by the Appeals Tribunal. They could then look at each case, and consider what, in their view—not on the luck of the war but of the fair development of a pre-war business—he should get.

The second point, which the right hon. Gentleman has always ignored, is that in order to get a licence renewed, one must show that there has been no change of circumstances, which means that one must show that one has not altered the places between which one ran or the class of goods carried. If this has been done, then two things have to be shown: not merely that people want to employ one, but that no one else can give an adequate service. It follows from that, as I have tried to convince the right hon. Gentleman before, that if someone who fulfils these conditions is not allowed to run, we areipso factocondemning the producers of this country to an inferior form of transport. That is an economic policy to which my right hon. Friends and I are not prepared to commit ourselves or, what is much more important, the country. That is the position.

I have had this argument with the right hon. Gentleman before, and his view is the perfectly accepted Socialist preconception that if we have a public corporation then the public corporation is always right and can decide, not only what it will do itself, but what its trade rivals will do. Our point of view is that however well a public corporation may be run, it cannot be given these almost godlike powers, but should be subject to the restraint of independent examination for the purpose, as both Acts lay down, of seeing that an adequate service is provided.

I come to the next point which the right hon. Gentleman asked. He asked. "What will you do with regard to the present situation?" I want to explain to him how the standstill is to be conducted in these cases. If the Commission were to acquire any more road haulage undertakings at a time when the Government policy is to facilitate the expansion of private road haulage activities, it would obviously not only cause hardship but be contrary to common sense.

I am glad, therefore, to inform the House that the Road Haulage Executive have delivered notices to operators whose acquisition is pending, offering them, if they wish, a postponement of the date of transfer for six months. These cases arise under Section 54 of the Act which provides that an operator may require the Commission to acquire the whole or a part of his undertaking if they have refused an original permit or imposed limitations on such a permit or refused to continue the permit and by so doing have caused substantial interference with some activity on which he had been engaged before the introduction of the Transport Bill.

There are between 80 and 90 cases which will be affected. I want the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate how it would be done. I would say to my hon. Friends, and to any hon. Members who are concerned with the matter, that we feel that retrospective action would be quite impracticable. We have no power to cancel acquisitions already made. It would be difficult and inequitable to contemplate that we should go back on matters that have already been dealt with. I hope that the House will understand that point and how the standstill will be imposed.