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 James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Cardiff South East 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I want to deal with one or two matters mentioned by the Home Secretary. He asked us to find some common approach with him to the problems that we have to solve. I shall suggest some tests which we shall apply in order to achieve national unity.

The first test in connection with the steel industry is that he should so arrange whatever form of organisation that he wants to set up so that the profit to be made during the period of re-armament does not go to the benefit of the shareholders but reverts to the nation. If he can undertake that the whole of the profit in the steel industry will go to the nation and not to private shareholders who have nothing to do with the efficiency, the output or the future of the industry, there may be some grounds on which we can listen to him with a little more patience than we have done tonight.

The second test is whether he will be prepared to drop the proposals about the de-nationalisation of road transport. He says that it is our common objective to see that industry gives of its best to the nation. On that test there is no case at all for de-nationalisation of road transport. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), said just now that he could not understand why the Home Secretary was dealing with this matter. I congratulate the Minister of Transport on not having to deal with it, and I suggest that he lets the baby stay where it is, because before it is finished with it will be a very troublesome baby to handle. The real reason why the Home Secretary has dealt with it is that the Home Secretary has still got the Conservative Central Office brief. If the Minister of Transport had had to deal with it he would have had a brief from his officials and they could not have written anything like what the Home Secretary has said tonight.

The Home Secretary spoke about the necessity for getting rid of the monopolistic powers of the Commission. He must know that that is not true. Today 6,000 hauliers are operating on A and B licences over the 25-mile limit carrying goods up and down the country. Does that sound monopolistic? What about the special traffic for timber, meat, furniture, and livestock, none of which are run by the commission. Is that a monopoly? These traffics may be, and are, carried on by anybody. Does that sound monopolistic? What about all the C licence holders? The Home Secretary has told us that there are thousands of them, and he says that they have been growing up because the British Road Services cannot give the service that the consumers want. Does that sound monopolistic?

The Home Secretary must put over a better case than that before he advances that as the first reason for doing something about road transport. The first task he has is to make the integration of road transport with rail transport better than it is. The right hon. and learned Gentleman—I really mean this—ought to be ashamed of this proposal. He spoke tonight as a Minister looking after the interests of the road hauliers. The job of his right hon. Friend is to look after the transport of the nation and not the road hauliers. It is the job of the Minister of Transport to ensure that the minimum amount of our national resources is put into transport in order to do the job properly.

The new proposal is that the hauliers will be allowed to come back into the industry later. How are they coming back? Are they to be allowed to buy back their vehicles from the British Road Services? Is that the way it will be done? It is a rather important question. If the hauliers are to be allowed to buy back their vehicles, upon what terms will they buy them? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made a great deal over the last few months about the loss that the British Road Services have been making this year. I will advance the reason why they have made a loss. The reason is given in the Report which I have here. It is because British Road Services took over so much junk and have had, in the words of the Report, to renovate vehicles almost wholly. This is interesting. Why have they had to do that? It is because they cannot buy new vehicles as they are going for export.

I ask the Home Secretary to listen to this point because, when he or his poor right hon. Friend comes to deal with the Bill, he will have to make a difficult decision. Will he let British Road Services sell to the hauliers the vehicles which they have renovated? If so, what will be the price? Alternatively, if the road hauliers are coming back into the industry, will they have to buy new vehicles and will they have to show the licensing authorities that they can lay their hands on new vehicles? If so, what happens to the President of the Board of Trade's export drive?

The only reason why the British Transport Commission has taken the trouble to renovate the vehicles is that so many vehicles are going to export now that they cannot get hold of new ones. Either way there will be a gross waste of national resources at a time when the Government are asking us to put everything we have into the job. This is a piece of legislation which we can all oppose bitterly and wholeheartedly because it has no element of national interest in it.

I want to deal with another point which must have arisen from the Central Office brief and not a Ministry of Transport brief. The Home Secretary told us that transport is of local application and that we wanted, therefore, to get away from the over-centralisation which has been going on in transport. The Conservative Central Office have failed to read the British Transport Commission Annual Report, in which it says quite clearly that there are 1,000 local depots up and down the country and that the British Road Services control only 40,000 vehicles out of the 800,000 goods vehicles in the country.