§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I beg to move, in page 26, line 4, after "determined," to insert:on the application either of the Commission or of the person liable to the charge.Hon. Members who are following this Bill with close attention will appreciate the reason for this Amendment. Subsection (2, b) requires that a charges scheme in future need only fix maximum charges, but there is the proviso that where it is not reasonably practicable or desirable that they should fix maximum charges, charges schemes under Subsection (2, c) may authorise the Commission to make reasonable charges. The proviso has been inserted at the strong request of the British Transport Commission. It remains for the Transport Tribunal to determine any question of reasonableness.
As the Clause was originally drawn, it might appear possible for a competitor of the Commission to object, on the grounds that a charge was unreasonable. Protection for competitors is in Clause 21, and it is not intended that it should be inserted here. The purpose of this Amendment is that either the Commission or a person subject to the charge should alone have the right to question its reasonableness.
Amendment agreed to.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
I beg to move, in page 26, line 12, after "charges," to insert:Provided, however, that any charge in respect of the carriage of coal, coke or manufactured solid fuel between any two places, being a charge below the maximum in respect of such carriage, shall be open to inspection by any person desiring to send coal, coke or manufactured fuel by railway between these places.I should like also to speak on the next Amendment on the Paper in line 12; on a paving Amendment to Clause 20, page 28, line 23, also standing in my name, 1405 and on a new Clause entitled "Coal-class traffic."
If I may make two short preliminary statements, first I must declare an interest as a director of a company engaged in coal distribution. It is an old and honourable business with which my family has been connected for six generations. I assure hon. Members that, in view of this, I shall try to move the Amendments as objectively and as reasonably as possible.
Secondly, my hon. Friends and myself are not tied to the actual wording of the Amendments. We do not expect that they will be accepted as they stand. There may be imperfections in drafting. They have been put down in order that the case we are about to put before the Committee may be developed. I hope that in due course other perhaps more comprehensive Amendments, better drafted but with a similar intent, may find their way to the Order Paper, perhaps put down by the Government.
I should like the Committee to consider the background of this group of Clauses, 18 to 23, dealing with charges. In a nutshell, since the early days of the railways a consignee who wanted to send traffic has been able to go to a railway station, to ask to see the book of charges, and has either been told or has looked for himself to see what was the rate. Sometimes that has been changed, but if so, the book has changed too, and anybody else who went to look at it could see that it had been changed. There has never been discrimination. If the rate was lowered to one person, it was lowered to all.
The present intention, in view of the change of status of the railways, is that they will be allowed to quote charges below the maximum if they please and, if necessary, to exercise discrimination. May I quote some words of the Minister during the Second Reading debate when he was speaking of his intentions to free the railways from the shackles of the present charges structure. My right hon. Friend said:As the House will know, many of these obligations of railway freedom in the matter of charges which it is proposed to sweep away under this Bill date from the days when they were a monopoly, and now there is every reason to believe that the carrying capacity of road haulage is just as high as the railway capacity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1409.]1406 With respect, I disagree with that statement. I cannot hold that the carrying capacity of road haulage today is as high as that of the railways. For example, in 1951 the amount of coal traffic carried by the railways was 169.4 million tons. That included pit to port traffic. By road, in the same time, it was only 25.133 million tons. Further, the proportion of coal traffic carried by rail in the year 1951 was 169.4 million tons, while general merchandise and minerals together were only 115.4 million tons, less than half. That refers to bulk. When it comes to value, the revenue from coal-class traffic was nearly equal to that derived from the whole of that which came from the carrying of general merchandise.
I should like to contrast those figures with the statement that the carrying capacity of road haulage is as high as that of railway capacity. It may be that in due course road haulage capacity will increase, but it is bound to do so slowly, because both roads and vehicles take time to make. It occurs to me, therefore, that the safeguards for private users inherent in the present rates structure, as evolved over many years, are still necessary. That is the gist of my case and my reason for moving the Amendment.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
In making his request for the publication of charges other than maximum charges, does the hon. and gallant Gentleman also make this request to those who do the work by road, asking them to accept a similar obligation in respect of the publication of charges? If not, what is his difficulty with the railways?
§ Colonel Clarke
The hon. Gentleman is going ahead to what I intend to say. I have not yet reached that point, but in the short time at my disposal I want to concentrate on railway transport and not on road charges, except possibly for one or two cases where they impinge upon each other.
There is an additional factor present today. In addition to the need to protect the user against possible abuse by the railway monopoly, which danger I think is greater today than in the days when there were a number of independent railways, there is a further danger, from 1407 another monopoly which exists—that second great monopoly, the National Coal Board, from whom all coal and a great deal of coke and patent fuel is obtained and who themselves put one-third of all the coal traffic on the railways for consignment. I feel there is a risk of what some people have termed "ganging up" between these nationalised bodies. I deprecate the term; it expresses the situation, but it is not polite. I should prefer to say that there is a danger of their receiving advantages which are not given to the private trader. I think that is a better way to put it.
We have no objection to competition between nationalised industries and private enterprise. Indeed, we feel that that will be the pattern of industry in this country for a good many years—a sort of race in efficiency. Personally, I am quite happy about where to put my money in that race, provided both sides run under the same rules and carry the same weights. It is only in that way that the question of which is the better can be settled.
There is probably no risk of abuse of monopoly power, but in framing new legislation we should frame it so that there is no opportunity for abuse, no temptation and no possibility of it happening. Nor do I want to suggest that the relations between the National Coal Board and the private traders are not most friendly, but I think it is only natural that in any association between one very big organisation and its smaller neighbours that the latter should seek to protect themselves.
I hope I shall not be thought flippant if I give an example from the farmyard. There is no happier and more pleasant family life than that of a pig with a great many little ones around her, but the wise farmer puts a rail around the farrowing pen to ensure that the mother does not inadvertently overlay any of her small ones. It is perhaps something of that sort which we are seeking here.
There is another point which I will put briefly. Is it right for a monopolistic national service like the railways to have unlimited powers to discriminate between private traders, as well as, possibly, between traders and another great monopoly? I believe that is not right. 1408 May I for a moment seek to show how these Amendments endeavour to meet this difficulty—and I will be brief because I believe they are quite clear and that anybody who has read them understands their intention. The two Amendments to line 12 of this Clause, are complementary to each other. The intention is that charges below the maximum for the carriage of coal-class traffic to coal traders between the two same places must be disclosed on demand, which, of course, is what happens at present. Secondly, the Commission must offer equal treatment in the matter of rail charges for the carriage of coal-class traffic between the same points to coal traders in the same or similar circumstances.
Next, I turn to the Amendment in Clause 20. This Clause, as its title shows, deals withProtection of traders against unreasonable or unfair treatment as to charges.That is the title of the Clause. The Amendment in page 28, line 23, is, of course, a paving Amendment for the new Clause at the end of the Order Paper, and that new Clause supplements Clause 20 and in my opinion gives greater protection to the consignees of coal-class traffic.
Perhaps I may say why I believe the safeguards embodied in the present Clause are inadequate. It does not appear to me, first, that the Clause specifically meets the case of preventing discrimination between traders. It meets the case of a consignee protesting that he has been charged too much but not of discrimination being exercised against him and not exercised against his neighbour. Secondly, with respect to those who drafted the Clause, I feel that the procedure contained in it is a little vague and a little protracted. After all, tenders have to be submitted in quite a short time, and by the time the machinery here has completed its task and gone through the proper motions laid down, it may be found that most contracts have already been placed, and perhaps placed irrevocably for a number of years.
Thirdly, the Clause as it stands assumes that the "any person" referred to is bound to find out quickly that his competitor is being given an advantageous rate. I do not believe that is necessarily the case. May I remind the Committee of the great railway case of 1901 in which it was found that a railway for several 1409 years had been giving preference to one trader over another—and the matter was not discovered until after that time, but was then put right and compensation paid.
Lastly, there is no criterion of the words "unreasonable or unfair." I presume they are intended to mean the same as they mean at present under the existing rates structure; that what at present is considered unreasonable or unfair will continue to be so considered; in fact, that it means equality of treatment.
I apologise to the Committee for the time I have taken, but I would remind them that I am speaking to three Amendments and a new Clause. I believe that the new Clause will overcome the objections which I have raised to the present Clause and that it does not conflict with the principles of Clause 20. Naturally, in general we support the intentions of the Bill to give the railways much more freedom, but as the intention to do so is based on the fact that there is far more competition to meet now from road transport than there used to be, we feel that in the sector where road transport has not made itself felt, there should be some different provisions.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It might perhaps be helpful to the Committee if I made a few observations at this stage on the Amendments and the proposed new Clause in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). I should like to thank him for the temperate way in which he moved this Amendment and to assure him that the value of what he said was in no way diminished by the brevity of his speech nor the unextravagant language he used. I wish it were possible to say that I could meet my hon. and gallant Friend but, for reasons which I hope briefly to develop, I am afraid that would not be possible.
The effect of the first Amendment would be to demand from the railways the publication of charges other than maximum charges where the coal trade is concerned, and the second Amendment would have the effect of preserving for that trade all the old obligations in regard to equality of treatment. That, of course, would strike at the whole principle which has actuated Her Majesty's Government in the part of this Bill with which we are now concerned.
1410 There are many hon. Members present who have had a life-time of experience on the railways. I hope they will forgive me if I appear to be making observations which must appear to be part of the current language of their homes. I confess that I was one to whom the phrases, "standard charges," "exceptional charges," and "agreed charges" needed some little elucidation. Perhaps I may be allowed to give a little brief definition of them.
Standard charges, as all railwaymen know, are those fixed by the Transport Tribunal which cannot be varied up or down except by an exceptional rate or an agreed charge. An exceptional rate is the rate quoted for a particular commodity between two specified points and at a figure below the standard rate. An agreed charge is the price quoted to a trader for carrying all sorts of assorted goods for varying distances at the same fixed price per ton.
The present situation in regard to the coal trade and all other trades is that the British Transport Commission cannot charge more than the standard charge except by way of agreed charges. They may not charge less than the standard charge except by way of exceptional rates and agreed charges. Agreed charges and all exceptional rates more than 40 per cent. below the standard rate need prior approval of the Transport Tribunal. In addition, not only in the trade in which my hon. and gallant Friend is interested, but in all others, any trader can apply to the Tribunal to fix a new or to reduce the existing exceptional rate or, in certain circumstances, to fix a charge based on an agreed charge.
As we know, up to now the Transport Commission and the railways must make the same charge to all persons sending the same traffic over the same bit of line and give no undue preference to any person or any type of traffic. All agreed charges, whether entered into with the firm of my hon. and gallant Friend, or any other, require the prior approval of the Transport Tribunal. All agreed charges must be published.
In the view of the Government, those are obligations which need looking at again in the light of the modern competitive position in which the railways find themselves. The railways are and must 1411 be regarded and recognised as commercial undertakings which have to be given freedom from any restrictions within reasonable limits—any restrictions which prevent them from achieving the solvency and prosperity that all of us, on both sides of the Committee, want to see them enjoying.
The broad principle of this Clause and the next Clause is to lift from the railways nearly all the restrictions from which they have suffered for a long time, dating from the days when they were a monopoly and when it was reasonable that there should be these restrictions, but to give particular protection to those trades and traders to whom the Commission will stand in the relation of a monopoly. In Clause 20 we shall come to that particular qualification, but our broad intention is to lift the restrictions from the railways.
I am glad to say that in this proposal we have the enthusiastic support of the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive, and there are many indications that we have a large volume of support from trading interests in Britain. I should like to pay my tribute to the many far-sighted people who have recognised that, as far as the railways are concerned, we now live in a new world in which it is impossible to apply the same restrictions to them as were justified in their period of monopoly. The two Amendments would demand publication of charges below the maximum and, secondly, would preserve the old statutory provision as to equality of charges.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I want to get quite clear what the Amendment means. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite correct when he says that it would preserve the undue preference clauses which now operate? Surely that would not be so entirely, as it is narrowed to a certain extent and it would be confined as between two places, whereas undue preference can extend over different areas.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sorry; that was a slip of the tongue. The equality restriction would remain, but the hon. Member is right in correcting me about undue preference. There is the other qualification that the Amendment would 1412 restrict the publication to those who could show that they were genuinely engaged in the carriage of coal.
It is our view that any Amendment of this kind would drive a coach and four through the proposals of the Government in regard to railway freedom. My hon. and gallant Friend talked about monopolistic services. In so far as the railways are still a monopoly vis-à-vis an individual trader, we have drawn up a Clause which we think will protect those interests to whom the railways are still in the old position of monopoly. But I think that everywhere else, and over the other field where the railways are subject to intense competition, we have to allow them the commercial freedom which every other great undertaking enjoys.
If we will the end we have to provide the means whereby that end can be achieved. In so far as any member of my hon. and gallant Friend's trade is concerned—and we know how for six generations his family have played a most honourable part in the coal-carrying trade of Britain—anybody to whom the railways still stand in a position of monopoly is in a position to claim the protection of a later Clause.
The whole pattern of transport is changing all the time, and last year 25 million tons of coal were carried by road and 30 million tons by coastwise shipping. Although it is still true that the railways carry far more coal than all other forms of transport put together, the coal trade provides their best customer and they are one of the best customers of the coal trade. None the less, it would be unrealistic to suggest that there is not other competition than the railways in the field of the carriage of coal.
I know that my hon. and gallant Friend fears that one great monopoly as he describes the National Coal Board, may "gang up" with another monopoly—although I do not think that the railways can be called a monopoly—and the nationalised railways could make profitable arrangements for themselves. One of the interesting sidelights of knowledge which have come to me in the course of the last few months is that it does not follow that because one industry is nationalised it necessarily has an immense preference for dealing with another nationalised industry. Perhaps it would 1413 be out of order for me to develop the reasons which justify that conclusion, but the situation today is that the possibility is very different from what my hon. and gallant Friend envisaged for the future.
It would be quite possible today—though I agree that it would need the approval of the Transport Tribunal—for the railways to agree with the National Coal Board either a series of agreed charges, by areas, or a single agreed charge for the distribution of all deep-mined coal. Under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, the railways could offer the National Coal Board a global transport charge which would be less than the weighted average of railway rates. That would demand the approval of the Transport Tribunal, but I am told—and I have no reason to doubt it—that if the National Coal Board were so minded there would be nothing to stop them acting independently.
I believe they sell a substantial tonnage of coal at a price different from the sum of the pit-head coal prices plus the transport charges from pit to destination. They could sell all their coal on delivered terms if they chose. No regulation of railway rates would prevent this sort of development if it were decided on purely commercial grounds, so I do not feel that the understandable fears of my hon. and gallant Friend with regard to the encroachment, as he calls it, of the National Coal Board could be met by retaining restrictions on the railways in regard to the transport of coal.
If we once conceded that this new freedom in charging was to be restricted in respect of one particular interest, however important, then all hopes of a more prosperous future for the railways would die at the start. So, most reluctantly—as my hon. and gallant Friend is not only a great industrialist but a good colleague—I am afraid that I cannot ask the Committee to accept his Amendment.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
I have listened with close interest to what the Minister has said on this matter because it is a matter of some importance which goes right to the heart of the problem.
As far as the new freedom for the railway companies is concerned, the fears of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) are understandable, when we 1414 remember the system of distribution of coal in this country. There are many hundreds of coal factors who are interested in the distribution of coal and who for a very long time have had a very good living out of their business. The fear of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends, as he so clearly said, is that there may be some kind of new development whereby the National Coal Board might at some point take it into its mind to deliver the coal to its customers.
From our point of view, that would not be a bad step forward. We have long taken the view that that is a step which ought to have received some encouragement and with which some progress ought to have been made ere this. The position today is that in London there are hundreds of coal factors who never see the coal, who never work a ton of coal, who seldom go to a colliery and who serve great monopolies and all kinds of corporations and councils, whom the National Coal Board cannot touch at the moment.
These gentlemen are most anxious to conserve their businesses and they fear the things that might happen if, under these new arrangements, the railway companies are able to quote more attractive rates between all their areas than the firms that would like to do the business. It is a very changed situation, and we can understand how it might very seriously undermine the position which they have enjoyed under the protection which gives equality of treatment to all trades.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it would be a very good thing if the National Coal Board undertook the distribution of the coal it produces and delivered it to the customer. Did he seek the permission of the Co-operative movement before he made that statement?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not have to seek the permission of anybody. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has to go round and consult his friends and obtain directions before he makes a statement, but I certainly have not consulted my Cooperative friends. I have no doubt, in any event, that they share my view, and in any new set-up I hope the Co-operative 1415 movement would have a very large part to play, as I believe they very well might do, contrary to the middle-men, who contribute nothing to the production of the commodities. It is quite obvious that there is some ground for apprehension among the friends of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment.
While we welcome this freedom which is given to the railway companies, we would warn the Minister that it will be very difficult to operate and it is fraught with many administrative problems. After all, this system has been tested over a period of 100 years and whatever criticism we may make of those who carry on the railway organisation, they are pretty hard-headed people who, in the light of experience, have come to certain conclusions. Their practices, after being tested over a long period of time, are well worthy of support. The Commission are enthusiastic about this new freedom because of the changed position.
Why does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman require some obligation to be put upon the road hauliers? Why should he require the British Transport Commission to publish their charges, other than maximum charges, and why should he require them to give an equal service between any two points to any customer other than the one to whom the rate is quoted? There is no similar obligation upon people with whom the railway companies have to compete.
Although the railway companies carry the great bulk of coal traffic, they are by no means monopoly carriers, and serious inroads have been made upon their revenues from short-distance coal traffic. Very little passes by way of the railway companies today. Inter-town traffic within a modest radius has gone from the railways, although they have all the facilities for handling it. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not require obligations to be put upon the road industry similar to those that he wants to see put upon the railways.
If equity is sought and the intention is to give reasonable competition on a fair basis—although I have never quite resolved whether competition can march along with fairness and justice—there are certain ethics which should be observed in a position of competition. Surely it is 1416 a reasonable request that similar obligations should be placed upon those who engage in the other means of transport.
Although there are bound to be difficulties for the traders, for the railway administrators and for the Commission, by and large the freedom will be very encouraging, because it will give them an opportunity to make their charges flexible and not bind them, irrespective of the circumstances, to a formula or code which in some circumstances may be all right but which in other circumstances, because of the geographical situation or because of all kinds of inconveniences which have arisen over a period of time, are not equally apposite.
It is a revolutionary proposal. The Minister has used the word and there is no doubt that it is revolutionary, and it passes from the old principle which required the railway companies, in terms and practice, to protect the rates for primary commodities, and in the situation where all the best traffic may go to the roads we may find that the rates for coal and some of the basic commodities, like iron ore and other things, which are important to the productive industries will have to rise, because the revenue has to come from somewhere.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Since I have had responsibility for this matter it certainly has been my prime fear that if the railways are not allowed to compete in the competitive field they will lose revenue and will have no alternative but to make up for that loss by raising the rates on heavy cargoes. One way to protect the heavy cargoes is to allow the railways to compete in the competitive field.
§ Mr. Davies
In the process of competition we should be less than wise if we did not expect that if—as we anticipate—some of the traffic passes to the roads, with the greater freedom of A, B and C licence holders, to that extent some of the railways' revenue will be extracted from them and their costs will therefore have to be reimbursed from some other source, and that will reflect itself in increased charges on these basic commodities. I think that possible, and to that extent the proposal is revolutionary. However, I think it should have a trial period, and I am glad that the Minister has rejected the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
I wish to say a word in disagreement with the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies). I am not satisfied—at least in regard to the publication of rates—that the suggestion made by the Minister is going to be of such great value to the Commission. For one thing, it overlooks the development that has gone on in commerce and industry for a great many years.
At this moment there are specialist firms in commerce who over a period of time have built up a parity of rates for the carriage of different commodities between particular points in the country. There is no doubt whatever that despite the fact that the Commission have no need to publish any rate that is less than the maximum, they have to render their accounts to the consignor, and, month by month that firm, if it follows the usual practice, will pass over those accounts to a specialist organisation—in some instances, it may be a very large organisation—which collates such information. This applies not only to maximum rates, but to special rates, period rates and exceptional rates, and, in the course of time, payment must be made by the persons consigning the goods.
Is there any difference in reality between such a procedure and publication in the rate book on the station? None whatever, in practice. Although I believe that power to offer an inducement to the man who goes out to get the traffic is valuable, let us not imagine that these rates will not be published. Every single one of them will naturally be published month by month. The specialist firms collating those accounts in all the transport centres of the country can build up a body of rates below the maximum, and can quote it to any person consigning goods. Therefore, publication in the sense of having a rate book at the station means nothing whatever, and that large freedom about which the Minister talks is not worth twopence.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the transport undertakings have already published in their 1953 diary all the railway rate charges and classifications, and that all the haulier has to do is 1418 to pull that diary out of his pocket in order to know what are the railway rates so that he may undercut them?
§ Mr. Hargreaves
I concede that point, but the argument in relation to these two Amendments is the need for publication of railway rates which may be below the maximum. The Minister takes an enormous pride in the freedom of the Transport Commission to charge a particular consignor less than the maximum rate laid down for a particular service. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to be fair as between all forms of transport, let him recognise that the extraordinary thing about this Bill is the unfair incidence that it places upon only one form of transport, the railways.
If he wants to deal with them all fairly, let him consult those who advise him with a view to finding means whereby the same obligations as are laid upon that form of transport may be laid upon the other forms of transport. I realise that there are difficulties involved, but I am certain that the Minister can be given legal advice which will enable him to overcome such difficulties.
Let the Minister not disregard the fact that the unequal and unfair incidence of this Measure is the reason members of the public and traders recognise that the Bill as it stands is a sham. As I have pointed out, the publication of railway rates is of no value whatever to the Transport Commission, because every one of those rates will be published month by month as the accounts go out.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
Before my hon. Friend passes from that point, I should like to say a word or two, because he challenged my view about this. It is true that there are specialists who make it their business to analyse railway charges and rates for big firms. That is well known. But is it not the fact that what the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) is asking for today is not only the publication of rates, but that the same rates shall be available to all traders in respect of traffic passing between two points? Of what use is it to anyone if he discovers from this expert service that a firm has been charging a certain rate if there is no obligation on the railway company to charge him the same amount?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)
Is the hon. Gentleman seeking to make a speech or only to intervene, because I would have called somebody else?
§ Mr. Davies
I beg your pardon, Mr. Thomas, but I was merely seeking to explain to my hon. Friend what he appeared to misunderstand.
§ Colonel Clarke
I am afraid I have not received a great deal of support for my Amendments from either side of the Committee, but I should like to make one or two comments on certain things that have been said.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) referred to the many hundreds of factors engaged in the distribution of coal. They are all in competition one with another, and that is all in the favour of the public, because in a great many cases at present the charges and margins are fixed. They can only compete in service, and they give that service in a way which the National Coal Board cannot do without having a similar organisation.
The factors find out the sort of coal that is most suitable for boilers or for whatever other form of firing is used by industrial firms. Having found it, they see that it is supplied by the National Coal Board, and supplied in proper quantities at proper times. In that way they protect their consumers. In many cases, also, they have an organisation for testing fuel and for seeing that, as far as it is possible to do so in these days, it is kept up to standard.
§ Colonel Clarke
I accept that remark, but I think that it will be agreed that I was provoked to say what I have said.
There was the other question about why we did not include road transport. It would be extremely difficult, since we have the position that one man owning a lorry could make his own rates, to have a scheme to embrace all road transport. I should like, with great deference, to correct one statement by the Minister. He gave the impression, perhaps inadvertently, that the 30 million tons of coal that goes by sea would not be subject to rates. This is not correct. It is like the coal carried by road transport outside the control of the monopoly—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I did not mean to give that impression to the Committee. I meant that it is not as if all the coal were now carried by the railways. I quoted the figures for coastal shipping and road transport merely to show that the railways have competition even in this field. I agree that in certain areas they may well be in a monopolistic position.
§ Colonel Clarke
My point was that the greater part of the coal shipped attracts dues on a pit to port carriage basis. A certain amount, especially on the North-East Coast, may go direct from the colliery to the ship—for instance, at places like Wearmouth and Lambton—but the great bulk pays dues that can be raised or lowered by the railways.
Would I be in order in asking whether my right hon. Friend is also turning down any possibility of considering whether Clause 20 might not be strengthened in some way so that some of the difficulties I mentioned might be better met at a later stage?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The declared purpose of Clause 20 is to protect firms in relation to whom the railways still remain in a monopolistic position. If anything required to ensure that is not in the Clause, of course I would consider any suggestion when we reach it; but I could not give any undertaking to alter the Clause. We have most carefully examined the position with the intention of getting words which will protect the interests which we think ought to be protected. If, when we reach that Clause, my hon. and gallant Friend has any suggestion to make, naturally, I will listen to anything from him with great respect.
§ Colonel Clarke
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I hope at a later stage to raise this matter again. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
I beg to move, in page 26, line 22, at the end, to insert:(3) Whenever the Commission in accordance with a charges scheme publishes any maximum charges or provisions for through charges the Commission may serve notice on any road carrier of merchandise or passengers who habitually renders similar or comparable services to publish such maximum charges and such provisions for through charges as are 1421 comparable with those published by the Commission, Such notice shall indicate specifically or generally the matters required to be published, and within one month of the service of the notice the road carrier shall publish the matters required:Provided that an appeal may be made to the Transport Tribunal—
- (a) by the road carrier within the said month as to whether or not he habitually renders similar or comparable services, or as to which if any of the maximum charges or provisions for their charges required to be published are comparable with those published by the Commission;
- (b) by the Commission within three months of publication by the road carrier as to whether such publication is correct or sufficient;and on such appeals the Transport Tribunal may confirm, vary or quash the notice, extend the time for publication, or order further or better publication in such form and at such time as they shall think fit;Subject to such appeals any person failing to comply with the requirements of a notice or with an order for further or better publication shall, for each offence and in the case of a continuing offence, for every day through which the offence continues, be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds.(4) Matters published in compliance with a notice as aforesaid may be varied from time to time provided that particulars of the proposed variation are published at least one month before it is put into effect, and on such publication the Commission may appeal to the Transport Tribunal in the same way, the Transport Tribunal shall have the same powers, and the same penalties shall apply to noncompliance with an order for further or better publication as if the appeal were in respect of the original publication.(5) The Minister may, and if requested by the Commission shall, give directions as to the manner of publication under subsections (3) and (4) of this section, and such directions may be given either generally or with regard to one or more publications.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I suggest it would be in the interests of the Committee to discuss, at the same time, the Amendment in page 27, line 6, at the end, to insert:(d) provide for carrying into effect the duties and powers of the Tribunal under subsections (3) and (4) of this section.
§ Mr. Davies
That would be convenient.
This is the first of a series of Amendments we have put down to these Clauses dealing with charges with a view to making the obligations covering road charges equal to those of the railways. The objective is, as far as practicable, to apply to the roads the same restrictions as are still inevitable on the railways. The 1422 purpose is to equalise to the extent possible competition between the two.
I feel sure, Mr. Thomas, that you, like your predecessors in the Chair, will allow a reasonably wide discussion on this subject which it is difficult to deal with in precise detail in one Amendment. In view of the Guillotine and the uncertainty about which other Amendments are likely to be discussed, other occupants of the Chair have been extremely tolerant. I ask the same indulgence from you. I will endeavour to keep in order.
We think that the Clauses about charges are a poor substitute for the unified control of public transport which we instituted in the 1947 Act. It is, however, necessary for us to try to mitigate the effect of this part of the Bill as much as possible. One of the reasons we have suggested this Amendment is that the changes are not as substantial as would appear on the face of it. They are not as radical as the Bill implies.
The Clause endeavours to alleviate the worst adverse effects of road competition on the railways, but it seems to us that unfair and unequal competition will remain. During the Second Reading debate, I endeavoured to point out the extent to which I considered that it was impossible to have fair and equal competition between road and rail. I am certain that this Clause does not bring about equality of competition between the two forms of transport.
Let us consider the position today. The Commission has discretion over the charges it makes for passenger fares. Under a charges scheme, rates are fixed which in effect are maximum rates. The Commission can charge below the maximum rates. In many cases it does. In its Annual Report, the Commission pointed out that the fare per mile charged by British Railways has steadily declined since 1948 because of the increasing use of charges below the maximum. This subject is discussed on page 23, where it is said that in 1948 the average fare per mile was 1.38d., and by 1951 it had fallen to 1.24d. That was partly because of the large number of excursions and concessionary fares introduced. In August, 1952, no fewer than 21.9 per cent. of the people travelling on British Railways were travelling at concessionary fares, compared with 5.5 in 1950.
1423 When we come to merchandise, the Minister gave us a very clear exposition of the position at the present time, and he pointed out that in a great number of cases the railways have exceptional and agreed rates, and I believe that the number of exceptional or agreed rates for the carriage of goods by rail is about 80 per cent. of the total. I do not know the exact figure, but I think it is in that proportion. Under this Clause, certain changes are proposed, and the Commission are to be relieved of the necessity of disclosing their exceptional or agreed charges, as they have to do at present; nor do they have to obtain the confirmation of the Tribunal for certain of these rates. We do not deny that that is a big advance, but it is, of course, qualified by subsequent Clauses in the Bill, and particularly by Clause 21, which gives protection for competitors.
The Amendment which I am moving provides that the obligation which is imposed on the Transport Commission to publish their maximum fares for the carriage of goods, which will be determined under charges schemes to be agreed by the Tribunal, shall apply also to road hauliers. As the Clause stands at present, road transport is excluded, except inasmuch as it comes within subsection (1, e), which relates to charges in connection with any other charges of the Commission. So roads are excluded, and the purport of our Amendment is that, whenever the Commission have to publish their maximum charges and they consider that they should obtain the maximum charges that are being made by road hauliers, they can serve notice on any road carrier that he also should publish his maximum charges.
But this is qualified by the fact that these maximum charges must be comparable with those made by the Commission; that is to say, they have got to compare like with like. In regard to the charges for goods carried by the Commission, which have to be published, if similar goods are carried by road the Commission can ask that the charges for the carriage of those goods shall also be published by the road hauliers. If the road hauliers object and consider that the goods are not comparable or that the conditions of carriage are not comparable, then they can appeal to the Tribunal, and the Tribunal can decide the matter.
1424 Similarly, if a road haulier publishes his freight charges, and the Commission do not think that he has published comparable rates, or that, for some reason or other, they are either incorrect or the information is insufficient, the Commission can appeal to the Tribunal, and, under subsection (5) of this Amendment, we bring in the Minister, giving him the right to give directions as to the manner of publication and subsequent matters under subsections (3) and (4).
The Minister wants greater freedom for the railways, and we accept his sincerity in that, and appreciate that he is endeavouring to give a far greater measure of freedom to them than they have enjoyed in the past. He also wants to increase competition as far as he can, both as between carriers of goods by road and between road and rail. He will succeed, if this Bill goes through in its present form, in increasing competition on the roads, particularly, as we have pointed out, on those routes which it is profitable to operate, but that he will get fair competition between road and rail seems to me very doubtful.
I say that because the conditions under which the railways operate and the conditions under which road transport operates are so fundamentally different. However much the Minister endeavours to free the railways, and however great the competition which he is endeavouring to impose upon the roads, I do not think that there can be true and genuine competition between the two on a fair and equal basis.
We have endeavoured, in this Amendment, to bring about the same conditions in one particular, as far as it is possible. I have said that it is not possible to bring about precisely the same conditions, but we can narrow the gap between the two, and our objective is to do that. The first difficulty which cannot, in my view, be overcome, is that the railways are common carriers, and I do not think that there is any disagreement between the two sides of the Committee on the fact that it is not possible to impose completely the same obligations regarding common carriers on both road and rail, but that the difference between them must remain.
On page 42 of their Report for 1951, the Commission state:How a true public system could meet private carriers on fair terms, unless the private 1425 carriers were made subject to suitable regulation of obligation and price in relation to real costs, is a problem for which no solution has yet been found.The Transport Commission, with the residue of their undertakings, and particularly the railways, have the obligations of a common carrier, and have to provide a public service. Thus, they will not be able to compete on equal terms with the roads.
This is the second difference: the provision of a public service. During our previous debates in this Committee, the Minister rejected Amendments moved from both sides regarding the more orderly disposal of the undertakings of the Road Haulage Executive, which more orderly disposal, in our view, would have enabled the undertakings to be formed into units which would have been on a more businesslike basis than is likely to be the case through a forced sale.
More important than that, we on this side endeavoured to get the Minister to accept Amendments which would have ensured that the same services would have been provided by the undertakings disposed of, and that they would operate in the same areas. If that had been done, they would have had an obligation imposed upon them to provide certain services and serve certain areas, some of which services might not have been profitable. In other words, as I said at the time, we wanted after their purchase from the Commission on favourable—terms and we think they will be able to purchase on most favourable terms—road haulage operators to be compelled to take some of the rough with the smooth.
Unfortunately, the Minister rejected the Amendments put forward from this side. Had they been accepted, we would have narrowed a little this gap between road and rail as far as fair competition is concerned. As he has not accepted those Amendments, the operators on the roads will be able to pick and choose their traffic. They will be able to skim the cream of the traffic, because there will be no obligation upon them to operate otherwise than on profitable routes. I see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) smiling, but he cannot get away from the fact that there is nothing in this Bill which puts any obligation—
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I was only smiling because I recognised the words.
§ Mr. Davies
If words of wisdom are frequently repeated, as they are in some old books, no harm is done; and, perhaps, one day a word of wisdom will seep into the brain of the hon. Gentleman.
Because the railways have to act as a common carrier, because they have to provide public services, because in this Clause they are compelled to publish their maximum rates and under other Clauses which we are to discuss they have obligations imposed upon them, because the Minister has relaxed the licensing provisions to enable a freer entry of road hauliers into the business, and because he is weakening the licensing provisions and is to increase competition on the roads, we think that the railways are bound to be handicapped. In fact, their position will become extremely difficult.
As a result of these unequal conditions the railways are rather in the position of a blind man who is being thrown into the boxing ring to fight with his hands tied behind him. We want to try to untie his hands if we can possibly do so. I am afraid that he will always be unable to see, but we might be able to make it a little easier for him to tight. If the railways are to meet this competition they must reduce their charges on certain routes. If they are compelled to do that then, quite clearly, if they are to pay their way, they will have to raise their rates on other routes.
But if they raise their rates more than to a certain extent on the other routes, they will be subject to the claim by traders that the rates are unreasonable. If they lower them more than to a certain extent they will be in danger of being accused by the road hauliers that they are engaged in unfair and unreasonable competition. So although a maximum is fixed by this Clause, there is also an implied minimum which prevents the railways competing to the extent that might be necessary if they are to remain in the position of being able to hold their own. While this Amendment—and others that we propose which would equalise obligations—would compel the road hauliers, where requested by the Commission, to publish maximum rates, 1427 it cannot do more than a certain amount to assist the railways. We think it is desirable that some relief should be given to the railways in this respect.
I said that the railways will be in an extremely difficult position. So they will be, because of the action which the Minister is taking under this Bill. In effect, he has brought an end to integration which, if the Commission had been left alone, would have developed steadily over the years. He is putting an end to unification of the railways which we debated last week and which had brought benefits in the form of standardisation and in other ways. He is limiting the amount of road haulage that the railways can operate, by fixing the number of vehicles at six-fifths of those taken over from the railways in January, 1948, and, of course, he is taking powers to dispose of their road passenger undertakings.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They are not undertakings but only that proportion of their shareholdings which gives them control.
§ Mr. Davies
No, but the shares control the undertakings and once the railways dispose of their majority control in their undertakings their position will be substantially weakened as we find it at present in the case of B.E.T. where, though holding substantial holdings, the Commission neither have control nor much voice in their undertaking.
How would our Amendments work? [Interruption.] The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) need not get exicted. We have time. We have operated under the Guillotine for a few days now and there is no monopoly on the other side in making speeches. We consider that the road haulier, knowing the maximum rates which the railways are charging, will fix initially his rates below those of the railways and if they reduce theirs then he will cut them as far as is necessary to maintain his traffic. In other words, if the railways cut theirs, along comes the road haulier and cuts his further.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
After this stage of quoting a rate below the railway rate and then cutting that again, at what stage do road hauliers go out of business?
§ Mr. Davies
That will depend upon the manner in which Clause 21 of the Bill operates, because, quite clearly, as soon as they are in danger of going out of business the road hauliers will try to implement Clause 21. That was just the point to which I was coming when the hon. Member interrupted me. I was about to say that the road hauliers will cut their rates to the point where they find it necessary to ask for protection from the Minister under the provisions of Clause 21.
The traders will know the maximum rates which are being charged, but, in effect, they will be in the position of being held up to ransom in the case of traffic which road hauliers can carry but which the railways do not. One must not assume that only the railways have monopoly traffic. For instance, where branch lines have been closed and all goods go by road, then, if the lorries are sold off to private enterprise, the road hauliers, knowing that the railway maximum rates do not affect the position at all, will be in a position to charge monopoly prices.
The Minister is proving himself to be a great demolisher. He is demolishing a great deal under this Bill. He seems bent on destruction. We are trying to save something and to ensure that the transport edifice does not tumble down completely, particularly the railways. Our objective is to impose equal obligations on both forms of transport as far as possible. A former Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the House on 24th April, 1928, that it was the duty of the State to hold the balance between road and rail and let the best form of transport win on its merits. That cannot be done unless conditions are equal: and conditions are not equal. This Bill provides a spiv way of holding the balance, tipping the scales against the railways.
§ Mr. Powell
I venture to think that the Committee has now reached perhaps the most important of all the debates in Committee on the Bill, because we are now discussing an alteration in the charging system of the railways which, despite what the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has said this afternoon, was described in the Second Reading debate by his hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and today by the 1429 Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) as "revolutionary"; and revolutionary, indeed, I believe it to be.
I will venture to describe the issue before the Committee this afternoon as that of cross-subsidisation, by which I mean the question of how far one user of transport ought to be called upon to subsidise another. However we try to conceal it from ourselves, this ultimate question arises in all our discussions on this Clause.
In all transport undertakings there must indeed be some measure of internal subsidisation: it is impossible for each service to be supplied purely upon the basis of cost. That fact was recognised by the Transport Commission and they said it clearly in their Third Annual Report. They say:Very few individual transits, passenger or goods, are or could be charged to the customer at their actual cost, and the seasonal changes in railway passenger traffics are not the only cause of internal subsidisation, a process which is going on the whole time.That, I take it, is axiomatic in any transport undertaking, perhaps in almost any kind of business undertaking: there must be some degree of internal subsidisation. But the question which divides the two sides of the Committee is what that degree should be.
Hon. Members opposite, in consonance with the principles of Socialism, would press cross-subsidisation to the maximum. They believe that the losses and the gains on different forms of transport should offset one another. That belief was inherent in the so-called unification, the financial unification, of transport by the 1947 Act. Indeed, they go further. Many of them believe that the losses and gains on different nationalised industries should off-set one another. In fact, Socialism stands for cross-subsidisation on the grand scale, with a system of charges which need bear no relation at all to the costs of providing the services to which they are attached.
In complete contrast with that view, we on this side of the Committee believe that although some element of internal subsidy is essential to a transport system that element should rather be minimised than maximised. And this is not a mere whim: it rests on the fact that, unless prices by and large represent costs, the choice of the consumer is made in the dark, and is likely to be contrary to the national 1430 interest. It is only if the figures with which the consumer is confronted represent the respective expenditure of real national resources on the alternatives between which he is choosing that his choice will perform its due function.
We have here the choice between two systems, between the system of integration by compulsion, which is inherent in Socialism, and that of integration by consumer choice, based on genuine prices, which is the Conservative approach—
§ Mr. Powell
No. I am anxious to develop the whole of this case, as it hangs together. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that I am not generally slow in giving way—
§ Mr. Powell
—but I am anxious to develop the case as a whole.
It is because this Clause, and this change in the rate structure, makes it possible for railway charges broadly to be based on railway costs that it is so important, and, indeed, so revolutionary. It removes, or it clears the way for removing that cross-subsidisation in the whole of the railway charges which was imposed by 19th century legislation which we have brought over into the 20th century.
To give the Committee some idea of the extent to which the present railway charges structure involves cross-subsidisation, involves internal subsidy and distortion in the prices presented to the customer, I wish to quote a few figures. I agree that they are figures which relate to the cost of passenger transport and that, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, we are not here dealing directly with alterations in the law which affect passenger fares. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suppose that the variations in different sorts of freight costs are much less than the variation which the Commission has discovered to exist between different types of passenger transport.
§ Mr. Mitchison
On a point of order. I am sorry to have to raise this, Mr. Thomas, but though the discussion may have been intended to be wide the hon. Member has been talking about nothing 1431 so far, as I understand it, but the question of rail charges. The subject matter of the Amendment we are discussing is whether or not certain road haulage charges should be obliged to be published. I respectfully suggest that this is going beyond, far beyond, anything in the Amendment before the Committee.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Further to that point of order. Is it not a fact that in the Amendment there is a direct reference to, "merchandise or passengers"? Is it not therefore in order for my hon. Friend to bring in passenger transport?
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I say that it is not the distinction between merchandise and goods to which I am objecting? What I object to is that this Amendment is concerned entirely with the publication of certain charges, and so far we have had nothing but discourse, going back into the middle of the 19th century, about railway charges. I agree they have to be mentioned, but we might get to the Amendment soon.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is taking a lot upon himself—
§ The Temporary Chairman
If he had been present when the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) began—
§ The Temporary Chairman
—he would have heard the hon. Gentleman appeal to me to allow the discussion to go quite wide. The hon. Member for Enfield, East himself made constant references to road and to rail and, so far as I am concerned, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is in order.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
I was about to cite a very few figures relating to the variation of costs in passenger transits as an example of the type of variation which undoubtedly exists in the cost of freight transits. The effect of the Clause which 1432 hon. Members opposite are endeavouring to amend is to enable the railways to conform their charges more nearly to the real costs of freight transport. That I believe to be the underlying connection.
In their Third Report the Commission analysed costs per passenger mile of various rail transits. They found they were ⅓d. on a main line express service; 1s. 2d. on a stopping service on a main line; 2¾d. on a cross-country service and 2s. 1d. on a branch line service. That is, a variation between ⅓d. per mile and 2s. 1d. per mile exists in the cost of transporting passengers on different parts of the system and in different circumstances. But to all those the railways are at present applying a charge which works out on the average at about l¼d. If we compare the exactly corresponding road costs we find they vary only between ½d. and l½d.; and according to the same Report that is exactly the range of variation in bus fares outside London.
Those figures show drastically the immense amount of internal subsidisation and distortion which the 19th century system of railway charges has imposed, not only on the railways—perhaps that is not important—but on the public and on the community, and the extent to which the railways and the roads are carrying freight under entirely disparate financial conditions.
The main reason why this system survived from the 19th century—when it was at any rate practicable, in conditions of almost complete monopoly—into the 20th century, where that monopoly has disappeared, was precisely because of the legal obligations of no undue preference, equality and publicity of charges which my right hon. Friend is removing by this Clause. Only when those are removed will the railways be in a position to base their charges, not pedantically but broadly, upon their costs, and only then will the consumer, by choosing the appropriate means of transport, be able to integrate transport by that choice.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "broadly"? He has quoted the extremes of figures. Where would he draw the limits? Is it not an impracticable system?
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman and I both recognise that in any system of transport there is bound to be some 1433 degree of internal subsidy. The question is how much? Under the present charges system it is fantastically excessive; it is keeping in use entirely uneconomic forms of transportation and suppressing the development of economical forms. To keep to the example which I quoted, is it really contended that the railways ought to compel themselves to transport at 1½d. a mile passengers whose cost is 2s. 1d. per mile? It has only to be stated to be observed to be fantastic.
All these things will solve themselves when there is a system of charging broadly on the costs. I make no apology for "broadly." The railways will have, for the first time, the discretion to act like a commercial concern—the words of my right hon. Friend—and to be guided by commercial considerations. When charges are broadly based upon the costs, the anomalies will disappear.
Let not the Opposition think that the people who previously used the branch lines and the consignors who sent their goods by them, will be victimised. That seems to be the idea behind part of the Amendment, and it has cropped up in a number of speeches during the Committee stage. Let us be clear that where bus services serve out-of-the-way rural districts, in some cases at less than cost, with a degree of internal subsidisation, those bus services were provided by private enterprise in the first place. Only a very small number of additional services, mostly in Scotland, have been provided since 1947. The remote districts of Wales, which you, Mr. Thomas, know so well, were opened up by private enterprise bus companies. There is no impossibility about private enterprise providing these services.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
The hon. Gentleman should make it clear that the reason why it has been possible to provide the public services is that the licensing system has given the concerns full protection for their remunerative monopoly routes and, therefore, they have been able to assist the non-remunerative ones.
§ Mr. Powell
I quite agree; but the parts of the 1930 Act which are relevant are not being modified or amended by the Bill. As to the replacement of unremunerative railway freight services by road freight services, the hon. Gentleman suggested that the user will be held to 1434 ransom. But the road haulier can never have a monopoly in the sense in which in the 19th century the railways could have a monopoly. The road haulier is always under threat from a competitor who, especially after Clause 8 becomes law, can say to the licensing authority that he is able to provide the required service at a lower cost to the consumer.
§ Mr. Powell
I have been dealing precisely with the Amendment, which seeks to impose an obligation upon road hauliers, and I have been pointing out that there is no need to impose an obligation since the road haulier will have to compete with other road hauliers to fulfil the needs of those consumers whom he can serve economically and the railways cannot.
The Opposition do not really disagree with the Clause which they seek to amend. On the Second Reading the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said everything about the proposals except that he disagreed with them. It has several times been alleged that expert opinion is against the Government over the Bill. That was said recently by the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), who stated:Every transport expert in this country … has come to the conclusion that this Bill is really a serious mistake."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 1039.]They have not, and on this matter two of the foremost transport authorities in the country are enthusiastically in favour of what the Government are doing. The first is Mr. Ponsonby, the Reader in Transport at the University of London, who has emphatically recommended precisely this policy for enabling railway freight charges to approximate to railway costs. Then there is Professor Gilbert Walker, of Birmingham University—anything but a Tory—who said—these are his words in "The Times" of 29th October:The co-ordination of transport can be brought about only by means of an adjustment of railway rates in the sense recommended. Once that adjustment has been made, transport will be co-ordinated as effectively by competition as by the deliberate act of an all-powerful monopoly.I will, however, adduce in favour of these proposals an authority perhaps even 1435 more respectable to hon. Members opposite than the two eminent experts I have quoted. This principle fulfils the requirements of the Transport Commission itself; for it adumbrated precisely this policy in its Fourth Report:All the Commission ask is that the customer shall pay the real cost of the services he selects, and that he shall not receive one service at its bare cost if he insists at the same time on the maintenance of other services at less than cost. Though in the present state of the country's financial and economic position it is difficult to establish what the true long-term costs of different forms of transport will be, it is of vital importance ultimately that the true costs of the various services shall be brought home to the customer.That is exactly what the Clause achieves, for the first time since railways began in this country. It is for that reason that the Clause and what it achieves is widely welcomed not only on this side of the Committee but in the country at large.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I shall not follow a single word of the speech we have just heard, for the simple reason that such is the infirmity of my judgment that I am entirely unable to appreciate what connection it had with the Amendment. I say that with the greatest respect to you, Mr. Thomas. I merely say, as a Scottish judge once said of the House of Lords, that it must be the infirmity of my own judgment but, at any rate, I could not understand it. I have no doubt that it was connected with the Amendment, but I did not see it.
I want to turn to the more immediate subject of the publication of certain charges in certain circumstances by road hauliers, for that is what the Amendment deals with. I wish to associate myself with two things which have been said from the benches opposite. One is the Minister's own remark that transport is always a changing thing. I entirely agree with that, and, of course, road transport was originally the type of road transport which was mentioned just now—over shorter distances, originating with horse—drawn vehicles; and when the railways came in they became supplementary to it.
It was only recently that the full growth of motor and diesel traction made it a large-scale, long-distance system of transport that really does compete with the railways; in the kind of example the 1436 Minister himself gave us today, that it carries, for instance, a considerable quantity—I think it was 25 million tons —of coal, which is something which any ordinary person would say was a typical instance of a commodity suitable for rail carriage and unsuitable to road carriage.
I remember a number of other instances. I remember once being told the exact year in which road haulage contractors succeeded in substantially pinching from the Great Western Railway the chair traffic between the High Wycombe factories and London; and, undoubtedly, that sort of thing has been going on. I think we must recognise that, when we are dealing with the road and rail question, we are not dealing with something which is as it was a long time ago, and that we are equally dealing with something that is going to develop and change in the future.
The next thing I should like to take up is something from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), who said that all he wanted was to have two horses running with the same weights and without handicap, so that he would know on which to put his money. Well, I am not doing any betting with him, but I do share his wish that there should be fairness in this matter. These Amendments really seek to make a quite small change, and one which is very limited, and which cannot have a very large result, but so far as they go I can see no answer to the claim that they are a modicum of fairness as between road hauliers and the railways.
Let me remind the Committee again of their really necessarily limited scope. The Minister is making changes, about the effect of which we have heard at considerable length, and I am not going into them again; but they undoubtedly are changes, and their effect is that the railways will have to publish now only their maximum charges, and, I think, in certain cases, certain provisions for through charges. That is a positive obligation on them. Those charges are published; they are known to their competitors, the road hauliers. Is there any reason in logic or in fairness why, where conditions are comparable and there is real competition between the one form of carriage and the other, the road hauliers and the road passenger carriers—because it applies to 1437 both; it is the same point—are not to be made to do exactly the same?
That is the object of these Amendments. I do not think we can go any further. Of course, if we had had the old legislation, in a sense one would want, in the interests of fairness, to put more on the road hauliers. But it would have been much harder to do now. I quite agree these changes do make a difference, and they make it very much easier to equal up in this respect the obligations of the two sets of people concerned. We are not asking that this should be done in every case. We are asking that it should be done only where, in the first instance, the Commission itself claims in effect that it should be done by sending a notice requiring publication.
We are suggesting that the road carrier should have powers of appeal, and the points we suggest should determine whether there should be publication or not are, whether he habitually runs similar and comparable services. Both the question of similar services and the question of comparable services are matters which go to the Transport Tribunal already in other connections. They are not new questions for it. The other question is whether he is being made to publish, broadly speaking, only a reasonable amount; that is to say, he ought not to be asked to make an unreasonable quantity of publication.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I myself was puzzled by the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite, in putting forward this Amendment, confined their attention to maximum charges. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the Committee how it is that the publication of the maximum charges of road hauliers will give any protection whatever to the railways or to the customers on either road or rails?
§ Mr. Mitchison
Certainly. They were two questions. Let me answer them both. The reason why we have confined ourselves to maximum charges is that they are the only things that a railway company has to publish, and we could not have gone any further, even if we had wished to do, on the question of publication. We are trying to equate the obligation on both sides. I feel inclined to answer the second question by saying, "If that is so, surely exactly the same 1438 position applies in regard to the railways, so why do they publish maximum charges only?"
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Member must not interrupt me too often. Let me answer the first question before he interrupts me again.
What we had in mind was that the consumer, whom, after all, we are all anxious to protect in these matters, should know as much as possible about the charges he is to be asked to pay. I quite agree they are only maximum, but he then gets as against the road haulier some sort of protection with the publication of maximum charges by the railways.
§ Mr. Renton
We need to have maximum charges published by the railways because the railways will have a degree of monopoly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. But we do not need to have maximum road charges published because, in the essence of things, the road hauliers will be in a state of competition, and their maximum charges are matters purely of business and competition.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am grateful for that interruption, because nothing could illustrate better what I was about to say.
It is only when services are similar and comparable that this question of publication arises. How can we say there is a monopoly when two separate interests, road and rail, are running similar and comparable services? What is the meaning of it, when, in fact, there is daily competition between road and rail, and has been for years? To talk about railways as monopolists in this connection seems to me to illustrate how far ideology can lead people into error and muddle.
I do not wish to say much more. There are others who wish to speak. However, I would say this. This is really a most modest Amendment, and if hon. Members opposite really mean that there should be fairness in this matter between one side and another—that the consumer should, so far as possible, know the facts and be able, on those facts, to make his choice—then I can see no conceivable reason whatever for resisting the Amendment. 1439 I agree that it is a novel principle to make road hauliers publish any charges at all. The road hauliers have only gradually come into the position of being quite such direct competitors of rail traffic as they are bound to be in the future. What was even more difficult before these changes were made in the system of probing railway charges now becomes both feasible and fair by the act of the Government.
I say, too, with some confidence, that if the Amendment is resisted by the Minister and by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, I can only attribute that resistance to one of two things: either a complete inability to apply fairly to the facts the principles which they themselves profess, or an unreasonable and somewhat discreditable preference, and undue preference—since we are talking about that—for the road hauliers as against everyone else.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that he had difficulty in understanding the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I must say that I had some difficulty in understanding the speech of his predecessor, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who opened the debate on this Amendment.
His speech, it seems to me, might equally have applied to Clause 19, and, as the resquest has been made that this debate might be on rather wide lines, perhaps I may be forgiven if I make a passing reference to Clause 19, because that Clause and the reliefs which it gives enabled the railway companies to be in a much more competitive position than they are now. The railway management, for years past, have been asking for the freedoms which are given to them by a later part of this Bill, and if they get those freedoms, they do not in the least need the provisions of this Amendment.
I was rather amused when the hon. Member for Enfield, East mentioned the old expression about taking the cream of the traffic. I wonder if he knows from where that expression came. It never came from Transport House and it never came from the Labour Party at all. It was invented by the publicity officer of 1440 the old railway companies as part of their "Square Deal" campaign which started with a demand for the provisions which appear in Clause 19 and which were, unfortunately, not granted at that time. I think that they might have been granted in 1933, and they certainly ought to have been granted in 1947. But here we have them in this Bill, and, if we get them now, there is no need for the railways to worry about road competition. They need not worry because, for the first time in history, they will be on a competitive basis and able to face the road competition without worrying about it.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
That point contradicts what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said earlier. If the railways are to enter into competition with the road haulage undertakings, which will be very fierce, the rates which they will be charging will be uneconomic and below the cost of the conveyance of the traffic concerned. That may make war between rail and road—each trying to beggar the other—and will automatically place the railways in the position of having to make good their deficiency by increasing their charges on basic commodities.
§ Mr. Wilson
Not at all. The railways will be on the same commercial basis as any other commercial concern. For 100 years they have been in a quite exceptional position. I do not want to get on to a Second Reading speech; I have already dealt with this matter on Second Reading. The origin of all these restrictions on the railway is a psychological kink which arose out of the extraordinary attitude which our ancestors took to railway engines. They thought that these Frankenstein monsters ought to be restricted, and they put all sorts of restrictions on the railway companies, which have long since been unnecessary.
I was only a junior in the railway service at the beginning of this "Square Deal" campaign. But at that time for anyone to suggest that Section 2 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1854, should be repealed was rather like suggesting that one should sell beer on a Sunday in South Wales. It was regarded as sacrilege to suggest that one should touch any of this ancient railway legislation. Here, for the first time, we have done so, and we do not need to bother to 1441 try to persuade small groups of road hauliers to publish their charges, because it will be remembered that, as we have the Bill now, we are contemplating selling operative units of lorries in small groups to comparatively small men.
How it is proposed to operate this Amendment, I really do not know. It would be impracticable to chase up and down the country after small groups of road hauliers to try to get them to publish their charges, and it seems unnecessary. The railways can very well look after themselves without this proposal. I do not want to labour this point, but it seems to me that the whole of this Amendment is a lot of verbiage which is quite unnecessary, and the railways are quite able to look after themselves without it.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I feel that we ought not to take too literally the contribution which has just been made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), nor need we pay much attention to the somewhat exaggerated case put forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell).
We have listened to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West on many occasions during these debates, and I think this is the first time he has not quoted from a Socialist pamphlet. Possibly, he may remedy that omission on a future occasion. I should like to say quite definitely that I believe that on both sides of the Committee we are exaggerating the effect of this reform of the charges scheme on the future of the railways. There will be slight advantages, I think, to the railway operations of the future, but I do not think that the advantages will be anything near the degree suggested by hon. Members on both sides.
I agree that this is the best part of the Bill. It is this part of the Bill which will most certainly, if any part will, assist future railway operations. We must, to make the reform of the charges scheme effective, insert into the provisions something such as we suggest in these two Amendments. If we fail to put the road haulage operator on something like the same terms as the railway operator, I cannot see how even the small amount of good which this reform of the charges scheme will make to the railway operator 1442 will assist us in the future in running the railways profitably and efficiently. I suggest that this reform is not going to be half as important as is being made out, and it is going to be even less important if we do not include these very substantial Amendments in its make-up.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), and the two interventions of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), have really shown the fundamental futility of the Amendment which is now before us. They swept away such theoretical reasoning as might have been put forward in favour of it.
Turning to more practical matters, I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite think small hauliers can go through the operation of sending in constantly changing lists of maximum charges. Either they will not carry out the formalities needed or they will submit figures which mean little or nothing. Let us be practical about it. Hon. Members opposite used some uncomplimentary phrases, which I will not repeat in case they were not overheard. The truth is that the real control on the road hauliers is that they will be able to bring down their charges, for an appreciable length of time at any rate, only to what their costs will allow. It is precisely for that reason that this Amendment has no meaning in practicality, just as it has no meaning in theory.
Railway officials to whom I have spoken do not seem to suffer from anything like the anxiety which the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) feels and do not cry for protection in the same way. They tell me that, with the provisions in the Bill and perhaps with some Amendments which we shall consider later, giving them even greater freedom, they will be able handsomely to hold their own against road transport. I have certainly heard fears expressed by road hauliers that that is exactly what the railways will be able to do.
Hon. Members opposite have suggested that one of the shackles remaining. on the railways after we have improved the charging arrangements, as we do in the Bill, is the obligation to be a common carrier. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the common carrier duty 1443 is onerous only when one cannot alter charges in order to meet additional costs resulting from being a common carrier.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Gentleman really must correct that. He says that the only time the common carrier duty is onerous is when charges cannot be altered. What about having to provide facilities for everything presented to them? Surely that is much more important.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
How will it affect the position in Lanarkshire, where the road hauliers take all the fruit into the market and the railway companies have to take the empty baskets back?
§ Mr. Fort
The answer is that if the cost of bringing these empty baskets back is considerable, the railways, under the Bill, will be able to charge accordingly instead of being hamstrung as they have been by the old charges arrangements. [An HON. MEMBER: "And put up the price of fruit."] And bring it down, too, by the lower costs of the road hauliers in bringing it into the markets. That will balance out. This Amendment is redundant and is not required by the railways themselves, nor is it practicable to suggest that it can be operated by the road hauliers.
§ Mr. Holt
I should like to say a few words about publication. The first Sentence of the Amendment says:Whenever the Commission in accordance with a charges scheme publishes any maximum charges. …It is quite apparent that publication is the chief bugbear in the minds of Members of the Opposition. I must say that, even as worded, I cannot see that the Amendment would serve any useful purpose. It would merely result in a great deal of paper work and provide a lot of figures in the end which would serve no useful purpose to anyone, not even to the railways.
1444 We want to try to keep this in perspective. We are seeking in future to get the railways to run as a commercial undertaking. We are seeking to get away from the idea mentioned by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) of a Frankenstein monster breathing fire and water and liable to eat up any gallant little private trader at any moment. That idea has existed for many years and apparently still exists in the minds of some people, not in the House but outside.
Hon. Members of the Socialist Party seem to have another illusion which is quite inaccurate—that the railways form a kind of synthetic inanimate monster with clay feet quite unable to protect itself.
§ Mr. Holt
This is absolute nonsense. If hon. Members talked to anyone at a railway station connected with freights, before the war or now, they would have been given a very good idea of the rates being charged by road haulage. The railways can get that information just as easily as the road hauliers can find out the rates charged by the railways—except in the one case of publication of the rates in a charges scheme, and there the information is available more quickly. But in any case the information would be obtained and, furthermore, in the maximum charges scheme they are only maxima.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Would the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as a railway man who was put by the old railway companies on to a rates inquiry amongst road hauliers, to find out the charges where the road hauliers were taking one type of traffic, that four different firms were charged four different rates?
§ Mr. Holt
I quite accept that, and I do not take exception to it. Good luck to the chap who got the lowest rate. We 1445 are trying to set up a competitive system and it is nonsense to talk about everyone having a common rate. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has said, we want the railways to reorganise their costing system, and several excellent suggestions have been made. The hon. Member mentioned previously Professor Gilbert Walker. He had a letter in "The Times" a few weeks ago suggesting a type of costing system which they might set up in order to get differential rates for different types of loading at different stations, in order to get a costing system to which fares would truly be related.
I want merely to stress the point about publication. It is a balloon which keeps appearing and which needs pricking, because there is nothing in it.
Another point which I should like cleared up is whether Members of the Socialist Party think road hauliers will make a lot of money out of this reorganisation, when competition gets going, or whether they think the hauliers will go bankrupt. It strikes me that they ought to make up their minds, because at one moment they say the hauliers will take the cream of the traffic and leave the borderline traffic to the railways, and the next they suggest that since there are so many vehicles on the road that if they leave the borderline traffic, some will go out of business and the cream will be left.
Supposing we agree that the cream will be left. What will the railways do about that? Is it suggested that they will do nothing—that they will not try to get the cream of the traffic which is going to the roads? The thing is nonsense.
§ Mr. Holt
I am not giving way because I am going to sit down.
If Members of the Socialist Party, instead of concentrating their activities and their minds, which I am sure are just as good as anybody else's, on futile plans for further nationalisation in the future which will never take place, would try to understand how a proper competitive system works and necessary to see that competition is proper and fair in the public interest, they would do far better and would begin to appreciate some of the goods points in this Bill.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) in commending these two Amendments to the Committee, said what is perfectly true. There never can be absolutely fair competition between various transport undertakings so different in character as the railways and the roads. Running through his speech was a suggestion that the Government were giving something substantial to the railways, on the one hand, whilst taking it away on the other. I hope to deal with that point and with the very definite suggestions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).
The hon. Member for Enfield, East, who moved this Amendment, referred once more to that hardy annual, the common carrier. I was brought up to believe that this was an intolerable imposition on the railways which we recognised could not be imposed on the roads. When I was first appointed Minister, I busied myself to find out what it was all about, and I found that there was a conflict of opinion as to whether the railways were, in fact, common carriers or not. They are statutory carriers, and have been since 1854. Of that there is no doubt.
I have spoken on these matters to many in the railway world and I have found no great worry about it at all. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), which is confirmed by conversations I have had with railwaymen of eminence, that the common carrier or statutory carrier obligation is only a burden for the railways when they are not able to charge a remunerative price based on costs. So I do not think we need do much about that; I have received no requests to have it elucidated once and for all whether they are common carriers, nor after we had so elucidated it to bring that obligation to an end.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
I should like to repeat a question which has hitherto been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), whose services we are deprived of, as he is unwell. We are unfortunate in that because we miss his contributions. Earlier he did ask whether it was intended to prolong the use of the railway classification, and he put this to the Minister. It may seem 1447 a little remote, but to practical railwaymen it is not remote. The Minister said that he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) that if the railways charged what they liked they would have some redress in their position as common carriers but—and this is the question my hon. Friend previously put to the Minister—are they going to be tied down to the merchandise classification?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I join with the hon. Member in what he said about the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) who has not been here for the last fortnight. We have missed many lively and valuable contributions to our debates, particularly in the field of road haulage.
The point mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) was fully dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in winding up the debate on 18th November. I remember that day in particular because it was my birthday. If I could remind the hon. Member of what was said, it was something along these lines. Of course, it is open to the Commission, when they submit a charges scheme, to vary the existing classification if they so wish. They can reduce it from 21 to seven, or anything they like. The only obligation on them is to publish maximum charges but not other charges. They will have a wide measure of freedom in the scope of the charges scheme, in regard to the merchandise classification and a whole host of other things.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East referred to the fact that under Clause 21, as now drawn, the road hauliers would have the right of challenging a railway rate which, in their view, was unremunerative and if persisted in would lead to a loss to the Commission, and which was designed in order to eliminate competition. Very many formidable arguments have been advanced about that, and I hope I shall have the opportunity this evening of making a definite comment upon it.
I am seized of the fact that what is not a mutual obligation is a hardship on the railways, and when we come to that I should like to make some reference to it. Between now and the Report stage, I hope to introduce a change in that Clause, which I think will commend 1448 itself to the feeling that exists on both sides of the Committee.
Though this discussion has ranged rather wide, it is, of course, related strictly to imposing upon the road hauliers the same obligation to publish maximum charges as is retained for the railways. Clause 18 limits the scope of the charges scheme. It specifies the nature of the charges for which the scheme must provide. It applies the obligation to the Commission that makes the charges to publish only the maximum charges, and, in a way that the Commission welcomes, it streamlines the procedure before the Tribunal so that the Commission can get advance guidance from the Tribunal and the charges scheme can be dealt with in parts. Up to now, if there is an objection taken to a substantial part of the scheme, a whole new scheme has had to be submitted. Clause 18 gives very valuable assistance in the railways' competitive position and in the vast volume of clerical work to which any organisation of the size of the Commission is bound to be subjected.
Is it reasonable, necessary or practicable to ask the road haulage industry to publish maximum charges? When we approach this question of competition, I realise there are many burdens on the railways that are not on the roads. A Conservative approach to that problem is to lift the burden from the railways. It is not unfair to say that the instant reaction of many hon. Members opposite is to put a similar burden on the roads. Their philosophy of sharing unpleasant things rather than trying to change unpleasant into pleasant things, has been constantly repeated in the course of this discussion tonight.
Almost all that remains for the railways is this obligation to publish maximum charges, a very meagre remnant of the vast volume of historic obligation under which they have hitherto suffered. It is practicable and it is necessary to ask the Commission to accept this obligation, and as far as I know nobody amongst those who will have to bear the responsibility has seriously challenged that. It is practicable because the railway charges are based on a unit or on a unit and mileage basis, and the size of the business makes it possible for the railway companies to fix charges on the average to apply to the relatively high cost areas 1449 and the low cost areas alike. In that case they are in a completely different position from the road hauliers.
The railways have vast resources and, despite many of the difficulties, the fixing of maximum charges seems to us to be necessary to ensure that railway charges in connection with one business are not made unduly high in order to subsidise another. Here I accept the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in what I thought was a very penetrating speech. The railways as a single business have both monopoly and competitive traffic, and it is not unreasonable that maximum charges should be fixed in order to prevent monopoly charges being put up too high to subsidise unduly low competitive charges.
If hon. Members wish to follow that generalisation, they have only to look further down their Order Paper to see an Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), which we may not reach, and which seeks to make certain that London passenger charges, for example, are not greater than necessary to meet their proportionate share of the Commission's overheads. Could we apply this, is it necessary or practicable to apply it, to road haulage? Hon. Gentlemen who paint such a tragic picture of what will happen to the Road Haulage Executive must, if they really believe what they are saying, realise how foolish it is if, in fact, this great industry, now co-ordinated in one executive, is to be broken up into what they describe from time to time as "a disordered rabble." How can we possibly apply a maximum charge obligation?
We do not believe that it will be broken up into a disordered rabble. We believe that a large number of small companies conducting their affairs efficiently and competently can help the consumer who, as hon. Members point out from time to time, gets very little mention in the House. However efficiently they are organised, they will be, by and large, an industry of small units. Their charges may be on a distance basis, a time basis, a unit basis or a job basis. The methods will vary from time to time and from locality to locality. It will be clearly impracticable to oblige this industry to have maximum prices published and fixed. Nor is it necessary; because 1450 in this field there will be plenty of competition to see that no undue profit is made and that the customer gets service. If the charges are too high, the customer will be quick to get the service from a competitor in the road haulage industry.
For these reasons, I cannot recommend the Committee to accept these two Amendments. I take it that this decision on my part comes as no surprise to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
In view of the Minister's past attitude, it comes as no surprise to us to learn that he does not intend to accept the Amendments. He has shown himself throughout the proceedings on the Bill impervious to argument but susceptible to pressure. He has refused any argument relative to the merits of the case, but if those who are going to suffer the levy bring sufficient pressure upon him he will give way to their plea.
My whole complaint is that the Minister ignores arguments that are presented to him, while he is ready to give way to vested interests provided they are powerful enough. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to us to learn that on these Amendments he does not intend to accept a proposal which would clearly equalise the obligations that are laid upon the Commission and upon the road haulage organisation.
In any competitive world, one of the most desirable things that one trader can find out is what his competitors are charging. That is what he wants to know. [An HON. MEMBER: "The maximum."] Let us not get into the realms of standard, maximum or minimum charges at the moment, although if bon. Gentlemen opposite tempt me to do so I may explore that avenue. The Minister has asked permission to make a statement on Clause 19, and he may not be able to do so because of the Guillotine. I am most anxious that the Minister should have the opportunity to make a statement on that important matter.
In the competitive world it is of the utmost importance that one man should know what his competitor is charging the customer. Road hauliers recognise the importance of knowing what the railways are charging. Look at the Road 1451 Hauliers' Diary. I have had the pleasure of doing so. There was even a time when they sent me one as a complimentary copy. I do not suppose I am on their mailing list now, although, having mentioned it, I may now get one.
In that diary, hon. Members will find a table setting out the rates charged by the railways for carrying merchandise. Publishers do not waste space in diaries. The road hauliers wanted to know what the railway rates were, and to have easy reference to the information so that they could quote underneath those rates, if it was necessary to do so. That was the purpose of the information. It is equally true that the way in which the railways have to set about getting the same sort of information is to start a series of snoopers who go behind people's backs, act as agents provocateurs and find out what rates are being charged by the private hauliers.
The purpose of our Amendment is to provide—not in every case but where the Commission feel that it would be of advantage to them—that they should know as much about their competitors as their competitors know about them. That does not seem to us to be unreasonable. Indeed, although it may seem to the Minister and to those who support him to be unreasonable, there are very weighty authorities for saying that this is a sensible and reasonable thing to ask.
I do not know whether the Minister, in the course of his time at the Ministry of Transport, has yet had the occasion or the opportunity to go back into the past. Perhaps I may remind him that there is a history of road and rail competition which he seems consistently to have neglected or not to know about, in the pronouncements he makes to this Committee. There was a committee well known to many of us and called the Griffiths-Boscawen Committee. It was a Transport Advisory Council which was set up by a former Minister of Transport. It had some very remarkable names on it of people who did know about transport. They included Mr. J. S. Nicholl, Sir James Milne, Sir Josiah Stamp, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, Mr. Ernest Bevin, Mr. John Marchbank, and that old pioneer, Mr. W. H. Gaunt, who did so much in the field of road transport.
1452 Those gentlemen issued a Report to one of the Minister's predecessors in 1937 in which they said—this is at the top of page 6 of their Report:We are agreed that adequate steps should be taken to ensure the publication of Road Rates, and to prevent discrimination or undue preference.Provision should be made for the published rates to be conveniently available to traders, the general public, and other carriers.I suppose they were all wrong; they did not know what they were talking about, and were trying to achieve something which is only to be found in Socialist philosophy. I am bound to say that an Amendment like ours which is founded upon the Report made to a former Minister of Transport by such a distinguished body of transport men as this in 1937, should at least have been taken into account by the present Minister before he dismissed the Amendment so scornfully.
I shall have other things to say about this particular Transport Advisory Council's Report before the end of the day and I suggest that the Minister, if he wishes to be armed, should send for it now. He will find a great deal in it which I shall refer to in the course of Amendments which I shall come to later this evening.
There is nothing revolutionary that we are asking in this Amendment. I agree that it would be difficult to enforce it upon every small haulier because, as the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) said in a sudden access of virtue, they would disguise their rates. They would not give the exact information.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Exactly. It does not matter to me whether they are maximum or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I see no particular virtue in not telling the truth about maximum rates or about any other rates. It is true, and the hon. Member for Clitheroe is quite right, that a number of these small hauliers have such low standards of public honesty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Do hon. Gentlemen want me to quote? I hope that they will not tempt me to make a long speech. It is clearly stated in information provided by the road hauliers' own representative bodies that large numbers of them were constantly engaged in 1453 breaking the law. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will not quote. I will merely refer hon. Gentlemen who are interested in this matter to the appropriate pages of the supplement to the Report which I am quoting, namely, pages 45 to 52. Anybody who disagrees with me when I say that a number of small hauliers had a low standard of public honesty had better read this Report before he makes that allegation.
Our Amendment proposes that wherever the Commission thinks it necessary in their interest to know the rates of the road hauliers, they should be able to ask for publication. We believe that is a modest request when put alongside the fact that the road hauliers will know the maximum rates of the British Transport Commission. For that reason, we believe we should carry this Amendment through to the appropriate conclusion.
The Minister takes great credit to himself for relieving the railways of their obligations to apply equality as between one customer and another. I do not follow that line of reasoning. It does not seem to me to be a step forward intrinsically to say that customers who have hitherto been treated equally should in future be treated unequally. It is, in fact, doing as the Minister says, translating a public service into a commercial enterprise. On this side of the Committee my hon. Friends happen to think that a public service is better than a commercial enterprise in the field of transport.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he and his hon. Friends will divide against this Clause and the next Clause?
§ Mr. Callaghan
If the Minister will wait, I shall come to that point and tell the Committee what is our attitude.
Nor does it seem to me to be an advance intrinsically to convert a provision that there shall be no undue preference as between one customer and another into a venture where there can be undue preference shown to one customer as against another. That is certainly converting a public service into a commercial undertaking, and that is the difference between the two sides of the Committee quite clearly brought out by the Minister.
We think it a retrograde step and, therefore, if there were an integrated transport system of road and rail under 1454 one control we would certainly not have taken the steps that the Minister is proposing to take. Indeed, we did not take them in the 1947 Act. In the context of this Bill, where the Minister is setting the road hauliers free to ply up and down the country and to act purely and simply as a commercial undertaking, the railways should not be denied the same opportunities.
For that reason and no other, I shall advise my hon. Friends to support our Amendment but not to divide against the Clause. If we were to divide against the Clause, we should get the worst of both worlds; we should get no integrated service as between road and rail and we should make it impossible for the railways to compete with the roads. I think the Minister will understand the logic of that approach.
Finally, the Minister takes credit for setting the railways free. We shall see about that in a few years' time when I am certain there will be another amending Bill brought in, even if not by a Socialist Minister. One of his successors will have to amend this Measure.
Why did the Minister not put this in the first Bill if this is such a great gesture to the railways, such a tremendous step forward? It means that he had third or fourth thoughts about this. My guess is that the Minister did not think about it at all, but that the British Transport Commission made representations to him on the subject because they realised that they could not compete with the road hauliers if they were tied down with these obligations. I may be quite wrong, but as it was not in the first Bill, as it was not in the White Paper, and as it appears in the second Bill, that seems to me to be the likely sequence of events. I notice that the Minister does not interrupt me—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am quite prepared to interrupt and to say that if the hon. Gentleman believes that, he can believe anything.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Certainly not. The Commission have never disguised from the start that they would like to be relieved of these obligations. Indeed, that appears in an Annual Report made while the late Government were responsible. They regard these as restrictions on their liberty, but the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman is untrue.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If it is the case that the British Transport Commission did not suggest it to the Minister, of course I must withdraw what I have said. Yet I must say it was a funny coincidence that, while it was not in the first Bill, it appears in the second Bill. In between, the British Transport Commission saw the Bill and made representations on a number of things. However, the Minister says it is not true, so of course we accept it.
§ In view of the unsatisfactory reply of the Minister, I must advise my hon. Friends to divide on the Amendment, after which we will give the Minister the Clause so that he may make his statement before the Guillotine falls on his head.
§ Question put. "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 255; Noes, 275.1459
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.