Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1967.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale 12:00 am, 6th November 1967

The hon. Member knows our policy perfectly well. When we were in government, we set our mind to reducing the deficit. Under the Labour Government, it has gone up consistently year by year.

The cost to the taxpayer is not the only cost to the nation. As my hon. Friends the Members for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) and Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) rightly said, this policy would have most damaging consequences for Scotland. It is common ground on all sides of the House that the cost of transport is a major item in the overall costs of industry. It is common ground that the cost of transport is a major item in the profit margins of our exporters. Here, however, in the midst of a balance-of-payments crisis, the Government are deliberately setting out to force our manufacturers to rely more and more on nationalised transport. This, I suppose, is what the Prime Minister meant when he talked about his Government becoming "a forcing house of change."

At present, manufacturers have the chance of transporting their goods either by road or rail, whichever is the more efficient. Socialist Ministers now take the naive view, however, that they know better. They propose that in future, in respect of certain heavy vehicles, the choice will no longer be left to the manager, but to the bureaucrat. The proposed system is as simple as it is crude. All the remarks which I make on this aspect are based on information which has come either from Ministers at the Ministry of Transport or from official handouts.

In future, in respect of certain heavy vehicles, the choice will no longer be left to the manager. The exporter who has vehicles of his own wants to send his own goods in his own vehicles to the port by road, but the new National Freight Authority will object because it wants the business, and so the bureaucrat will decide. But one would at least have thought before the bureaucrat decided it would be up to the National Freight Authority to show that it could do better. After all, they are the people who are objecting. But not a bit of it. This was made absolutely clear last week by the Government spokesman in another place. The onus is entirely on the manufacturer. That is what the Minister made clear.

It is up to the manufacturer to show that his transport by his own vehicle is superior to rail in terms of speed, reliability and cost. This is the onus which is on the manufacturer who wants to send his goods to the port in his own vehicle. I believe that it is utterly wrong that the onus should be on the manufacturer. If rail is more suitable, then let the railways provide the service and they will get the business.

It is little wonder that British management have turned against this Government. They can no longer decide their prices without the intervention of the bureaucrat; they can no longer decide with the unions their wages without the intervention of the bureaucrat; and now, without the same sort of intervention, they are to be prevented from choosing the form of transport which they consider to be the most efficient. And why? Because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare pointed out, the Socialist Government believe that the bureaucrat knows better than the manager.

Let me quote to the House the pure milk of Socialist arrogance. This is what the Minister of State at the Ministry of Transport said in a speech which he made. He said on this point: You may say that any sensible transport manager makes just this kind of investigation before deciding on what transport to use. If rail services are so good and cheap why do not manufacturers flock to use them? I agree in part with this, but some people are remarkably slow in seeing a benefit when it is dangled before their eyes Then he went on to say: The country simply cannot afford to see all this money wasted because"— these are the managers— some people refuse, whether through ignorance or for some other reason, to spend their own money sensibly". So a manufacturer will in future have to seek permission to use his own vehicle carrying his own goods, and if that permission is not granted he has to use the nationalised transport which he considers to be inferior. He is then left with his fleet of vehicles which are now absolutely useless and he is entitled to not one penny of compensation. This indeed is Socialism with a vengeance.

But this is only part of the straitjacket which the Government have designed for the transport industry. There is also to be a new form of quality licensing. Nobody would deny, least of all my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who spoke on this point, that it is a good thing to bring in new measures for making transport vehicles more safe, with proper maintenance, reasonable hours, and so on, and, obviously, for this there must be some form of licensing arrangement. But here again, the Government's solution is to form any army of bureaucrats to inquire into matters for which they have no competence whatsoever.

There are, after all, about 600,000 vehicles over 30 cwt., operated by thousands of private enterprise hauliers, large and small—thousands of them; and yet, in the purported interest of road safety, what does each one of those firms have to do if it is requested? I will read from the Ministry of Transport handout —and remember, these are owners of some 600,000 vehicles, if they are requested, this is what they have to do: The applicant would have to satisfy the licensing authority that his financial resources were commensurate with his proposed scale of operation and that he had sufficient business in prospect to maintain reasonable financial stability. This is what a junior civil servant or somebody appointed as part of a licensing authority will have to judge.