Orders of the Day — Transport Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire 12:00 am, 22nd July 1952

As an ordinary Member of Parliament, I took steps to look that up myself. I thought that part of the duty of a party of planners was to know what was in order.

I shall be glad to discuss the Bill in all its detail with the interests concerned. Those who want to retain the road haulage monopoly in public hands will never be satisfied. Those who also want permanently to shackle A and B licences within the 25-mile limit will never be satisfied. Those who want to hold road transport to a theory will never be satisfied.

All those who recognise the present situation recognise the need for radical changes, but they may differ as to the form any change should take. I shall have the time, patience and readiness to listen to what they have to say. The broad structure of the Bill represents the Government's intentions. I would never be too proud to listen to any advice which may come from those who want to see this Bill work, and who recognise that the existing situation cannot indefinitely be tolerated.

We approach this problem in this way. There is undoubtedly, as is generally recognised, an economic crisis in Great Britain. Transport can play a vital part in bringing this economic crisis under control. To play that vital part there has to be de-centralisation. The railways know it and many railwaymen welcome it. The Road Haulage Executive itself in the Report agrees that is so, and the Labour Party has frequently drawn attention to the need to regionalise national organisations.

The best way to deal with de-centralisation is through private enterprise and competition. We believe that the travelling public and the trader should choose the form of transport that they wish, and should themselves have to pay for it, not only in the ordinary cost of the transport that they use, but also the cost of any other transport services which it is in their own interest should also be preserved. This is the justification for the second use of the levy.

The first use, I think, is clearly right. It would be monstrously unjust to put on to the general taxpayer any loss of goodwill in regard to the sale of these assets. The second use has this purpose: for those industries which need the railways, even though their main interest may appear to lie in road haulage, it is not unreasonable that a charge of this kind, carefully arranged and evenly spread, should also be imposed.

Next we approach this problem from this point of view: it would give me more pleasure than would anything else if I could make a small contribution towards equalising the burdens and improving the competitive position between the railways and roads. I recognise that this is a very real difficulty. I do not believe that anybody takes the view that it can best be achieved by putting more burdens on the roads. It would be almost if not quite impossible to administer a common carrier obligation, an undue preference obligation or anything of that kind. As to taxation, the roads are already paying £350 million in taxes.

But there are ways in which we can help the railways. If there are other ways, I shall be ready to listen to them in the summer months that lie ahead. We can help them in regard to their capital requirements. I know, with Lord Hurcomb, how capital limitations are harming the railways' competitive position, and I will do all I can. The right hon. Gentleman knows how difficult that problem is. We shall hope also to improve their competitive position in other ways.

There is in the Bill, in Clause 22, what the Commission themselves have called the head-room Clause. This will enable the Commission to raise their charges, either freight or passenger, 10 per cent to meet any sudden increase of a temporary nature, to which Lord Hurcomb has repeatedly drawn attention, and which he no doubt has in mind in the covering letter which he wrote to me with the Report. Under the Act of 1947 the Transport Tribunal can impose any manner of conditions on charges schemes. We now intend to alter that and give much more room for manoeuvre to the Commission. Subject only to the obligation of publication under Clause 19 and certain qualifications in Clause 20 of the Bill they will have a wide measure of freedom in that field.

As to the lower charges which many of us feel they ought to be entitled to charge if they think they can get more traffic that way, they will, subject again to the qualifications in Clause 20, made necessary by the huge resources of the railways, have much greater freedom in that field.

As the House knows, I am now in a position to say emphatically that the British Transport Commission would be entitled to retain for the use of the nationalised undertaking a fleet of road vehicles approximating roughly to what was held by the old railway companies in 1947. This meets the criticism of a number of hon. Members, not least one of the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). It will give the railways the chance of wider earning possibilities and will provide a comparison between the smaller de-nationalised units and the British Transport Commission.

Then, in regard to decentralisation of the railways themselves, I know, as I have said, that this is widely welcomed in many informed railway circles, and we look forward to the publication of their scheme. We shall do all we can to make that scheme work. Hon. Members may criticise the vagueness of the scheme, but the Act of 1947 only set up a Railway Executive to assist the British Transport Commission in its functions. We have gone a great deal further than that.

Many human interests are involved, and I shall never forget that that is so. They are involved both in the existing organisation and in the changes which Government legislation will bring about. I have done my best to give a certain amount of temporary security to those people who are working hard on the Commission and the Executives.