HC Deb 09 February 1953 vol 511 cc87-109
Mr. Ernest Davies

I beg to move, in page 10, line 4, to leave out subsection (1).

It may be for the convenience of the House, at the same time, to consider the following Amendment, in page 10, to leave out lines 36 to 38.

I move this Amendment because the suspicions we expressed from this side about this subsection were not allayed by the remarks made by the Minister and the Attorney-General during the Committee stage. The Minister at first rather brushed aside the accusations we launched at him that he was making a fundamental change in the licensing system established under the 1933 Act and he had to call to his aid the Attorney-General. But, when the Attorney-General was pressed from this side of the Committee, he rather let the Minister down and showed that the effect of the changes in the 1933 Act licensing procedure was precisely what we had suggested. It relegated the position of the public interest and put ahead of it the interests of transport users and those providing facilities. The general interest came third, whereas the interests of transport users and those providing facilities came first and second respectively.

We stated then, and I repeat it, that this amendment to the 1933 Act either means something or it does not. Quite clearly, it is introduced into this Bill—where it is quite out of place and irrelevant—for some ulterior purpose and that was revealed during our previous debate. The Minister revealed that this fulfilled the objective of the Government to increase competition in road haulage; that he would make it easier for licences to be granted to applicants. In other words, it would be easier to enter into the road haulage business than under the present interpretation and administration of the 1933 Act. He stated: This is an attempt to get greater freedom in the granting of licences. It is an attempt to get ordered freedom. He also said: Because it appears to us to be part and parcel of the general intention of the Government in this field to introduce a greater basis of competition and freedom, and as we think this is in regard to the whole of the activities of the Commission we feel we should provide facilities for the general liberalising of the granting of licences by this new emphasis and under this new order of priority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 538–9.] In those words the Minister made it quite clear that there was a substantial change taking place in those provisions of the 1933 Act which laid down the basis on which the licences shall be granted and considerations which the licensing authority shall take into account. In my view, the changes which it is proposed to make undermine the successful operation of the 1933 Act which made it clear that the licensing authorities had to give primary attention to what was the public interest as a whole. That was the criterion they had to apply when they decided whether or not an applicant should receive an A or B licence. They had to put the public interest as a whole first.

The public interest has been interpreted by those responsible for administering the Act as, to prevent the provision of excess facilities to the extent that they endangered the economic operation of existing undertakings; that is to say, the successful continuance of the operation of the railways and of the road haulage industry was a general matter which had to be taken into account when there were applications for new licences.

The public interest was considered to be, among other things, the providing of sufficient security of tenure, as it were, to those already in the industry, to give them a measure of protection against new entrants and to keep them free from unfair competition so as to enable public service facilities to continue to be provided by road and rail. The protection was considered necessary to make sure that public services were provided—unremunerative as well as remunerative—and that was the basis of the Act. But equally, of course, public interest required that matters of public safety should be looked after and that there should be protection of the working conditions of those employed in the industry or the conditions of the vehicles and, of course, there should not be wasteful capital expenditure through the provision of excess facilities.

All these are matters which are taken into account by the licensing authorities when the applicants appear before them, but under the proposals which are now being made in this subsection it would mean that these considerations, the considerations of maintaining the public service on the railways and on the roads, of the working conditions in the industry, of congestion on the roads, of public safety, and all the rest, as well as the economic considerations of the provision of excess facilities, would be in the second or third place; that if someone came along and said he required transport, required new services to be provided, and someone came along and said, "I am able to provide them for you," that would have prior consideration over the other considerations of the public interest to which I have referred.

Further, these changes provide that charges shall be taken into account, and it is quite clear that the—[Interruption.] Yes, the changes do provide that charges can be taken into account.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I was merely pointing out that the hon. Gentleman is making almost the identical speech he made on a previous occasion.

Mr. Davies

When the noble Lord compares the two copies of HANSARD he will find that the Minister and the Attorney-General, in the statements they made, provided us with new ammunition, and it is necessary to use what they said to re-emphasise—if I may so put it—how right we were when we suggested that the proposals now before us are going to undermine control of the transport system of this country if they are fully carried out.

After all, it is necessary to remember, when considering these licensing proposals and the suggestion of the Minister who wants to increase the amount of competition on the roads, that transport does not produce goods: it simply carries them; and that the same amount of goods is going to be carried; and that if we have more competition there will be more vehicles on the roads. It means that we are to have an increase in the amount of empty running, or partial loading, and that is economic waste which we cannot afford at the present time.

As I was saying when the noble Lord interrupted me, if, under the new provisions which are now before us, anyone came along and said he required a different form of transport, fresh services, and so on, and there were someone willing to provide them, and he were willing to offer to carry those goods at a lower price, then, presumably automatically, the licensing authority would grant that licence. It might not be in the public interest that that licence should be granted. It is easy to find persons who say that they require additional services when these services can be provided more cheaply; but that may be against the public interest, because it may be against the successful operation of the transport industry as a whole.

That is the case which we make against this change. We oppose the change in the licensing system, and facilitating new entrants into the industry, because no proof has been produced by the Minister in his previous speeches that there is a desire on the part of the industry for this amendment to take place. It has not been demanded either by the industry or, so far as we are aware, by transport operators, or, for that matter, by the licensing authorities themselves. In Committee the Minister admitted that he had received no representations whatsoever from the licensing authorities that the present procedure was inadeqate or that it required amendment.

6.15 p.m.

The second reason for opposing this is that it does make a fundamental change in the procedure without any prior inquiry, and that is not relevant to this Bill. As I have pointed out previously, an inquiry is taking place into the licensing procedure for road passenger services, and if the Minister considered that necessary in that case, surely it would be preferable to have an inquiry into this, prior to making the change that is now proposed.

The third reason I would advance for opposition is that this destroys the major principle on which the licensing system was established, and on which it has been administered by agreement by all parties. The original 1933 Act had the support of both sides of the House. Finally, it would lead to increased competition, which would be wasteful, which would increase congestion on the roads, and, thereby, the danger on the roads; and it is contrary to the public interest.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give more convincing arguments for this change than he was able to give on the last occasion. I note that the Attorney-General is not here to support him this time, for which the Minister may be very grateful, as the Attorney-General made it quite clear last time that the change which was taking place was a change which would result in greater competition—by implication, greater competition—by relegating the public interest to the third place.

The Minister, in my view, is not only, through this Bill, destroying the public system of road haulage but through the back door, as it were, he is taking another step which is going to endanger the financial solvency of the transport industry of this country by undermining the system which has prevailed since 1933, and which, although by no means perfect, has prevented a return to the conditions which did prevail before 1933, when there was excessive provision of transport in this country which was wasteful and unnecessary. I hope that the Minister will have second thoughts on this Clause, in the same way as he is beginning to have a little enlightenment on one or two aspects of the Bill.

Mr. G. Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman explain further his third point about increased competition being wasteful? Before the war there was a slump, but now we have full employment and increasing production. Why should increased competition be wasteful? May it not lead to lower charges and, therefore, to more traffic?

Mr. Davies

No. As I said, transport does not produce goods. We can increase our transport as much as we like, but by increasing transport we do not produce a single ton more of coal or a single new machine tool.

Mr. Wilson

What about increased demand?

Mr. Davies

Even if costs or charges in a few cases are slightly less, that in itself will not stimulate production. I do not think that anyone can deny that if we increase the number of vehicles on the roads to carry the same amount of goods those vehicles will not be used as economically as they otherwise would be. That is to say, at present the Road Haulage Executive is carrying the same amount of goods in fewer vehicles. Fewer vehicles are being used on the roads of Britain today to carry the same amount of goods that more vehicles carried before; which was, I say, wasteful.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Having regard to the Guillotine my remarks will be very brief. Indeed, there is only one point that I want to make. When this Amendment and this Clause were considered in Committee the Attorney-General came here specially to explain what this somewhat difficult and technical amendment of previous legislation means. He provided an explanation which was very useful to the Committee, particularly to this side of it, and I now wish to protest vigorously against the fact that neither of the Law Officers of the Crown, neither the Attorney-General nor the Solicitor-General, is here today on what is, after all, a legal and a rather difficult matter. I think it is scandalous that we should be deprived of their authoritative opinion on this point, the more so after what happened in Committee.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has on this occasion repeated the statements which were made ad nauseum in Committee, to the effect that this Clause and the subsection which it is sought to leave out relegate the general public interest to a lower positon of priority than that which it occupies under the 1933 Act. If hon. Gentlemen opposite would take the trouble to look at the provisions of the 1933 Act and to read those of this subsection, and then compare the two, they would not need the assistance of the Law Officers of the Crown to satisfy themselves that the exact opposite is the effect of this subsection.

The 1933 Act directs the licensing authority to have regard primarily to the interests of the public generally. It indicates the primary object to which the licensing authority must direct his mind. It does not specify what the other considerations are to be. It then subdivides "the public generally" into two categories: persons requiring transport, and persons providing tranpsort. The 1933 Act puts those two categories, in the eyes of the licensing authority, on an exactly equal footing one with another.

The present position under the law, therefore, is that the public interest generally has to be taken into account primarily, though other considerations can enter the mind of the licensing authority, and as between the two classes within the general public interest which the Act specifies, no preference is given to those requiring transport over those providing transport.

Now we turn to see what change is made in the positon by the subsection which it is sought to leave out. The subsection would so amend the 1933 Act that the interest of the public generally is, not the primary factor but the only factor that the licensing authority is entitled to take into account. That is the first change. The second change is that, instead of putting the two sections of the public—those requiring and those providing transport—on an even footing, it gives a decided preference and priority to that part of the public which requires transport over that part of the public which provides transport.

In fact, the effect of this Clause is to give the general public interest not merely priority but an exclusive right to be considered by the licensing authority, and to give the interests of those requiring transport—which, after all, is the vast majority of the whole public—a decided priority over the interests of those providing transport. I should like to hear any hon. Member say that he does not consider that either of those changes is in the public interest. So far from making the public interest, in the generally understood sense of the term, secondary or tertiary, the subsection which hon. Members opposite want to leave out puts it at the top.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I would draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman again to the Attorney-General's statement, where he says, regarding the interest of the public generally, not primarily or secondly but, I presume, tertiary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 532.] It is quite clear that the Attorney-General took the point of view that the interests of the public generally did not come First, as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, but third.

Mr. Powell

I recommend to the hon. Gentleman not merely a renewed study of the subsection he is proposing to leave out, but also a renewed study of the Attorney-General's remarks. He will then find that the expression "tertiary" and that part of the Attorney-General's argument relates to the fact that the two categories—those requiring and those providing transport—do not make up the whole of the public interest at any given time, and that there is implicit in the word "including" a third undefined section of the public interest, both in the 1933 Act and in the Act as it will stand amended. What will come first among the general public interests, which alone, after this Amendment has been made, can be taken into account, is the interest of those requiring transport, which will be given priority over those providing transport.

I share the doubts of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) whether the hon. Gentleman was in order in referring at all to the question of charges on Amendments neither of which relates to the part of the Clause dealing with charges. Nevertheless, as the hon. Gentleman did make those remarks, I ought to point out that his interpretation of subsection (3, b) was incorrect. He said it means that if an applicant comes before a licensing authority and says that he can do a particular job at a lower charge than it is at present being done, then he must automatically be given the licence. That was the expression used by the hon. Member for Enfield, East.

There is nothing whatever in this Clause which makes it an automatic requirement that anyone who claims, or indeed proves, that he can do the job cheaper will receive a licence. All this does is to enable the licensing authority to take that factor into account with all other factors. In so far as it is a factor affecting those requiring transport, he will give it priority along with all the other factors which affect the interests of persons requiring transport.

So far, therefore, from the licensing authority being put under a narrower limitation, the licensing authority is enabled to take a wider purview of the general interests of the public, which as a result of this Clause will be taken into account far more fully than under the 1933 Act.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We had a very interesting debate on this in Committee, reported to the extent of 39 columns of HANSARD, and occupying one hour and 50 minutes under what we were told by the Opposition was a very tight Guillotine. I am not in the least objecting to this use of time for such a purpose, because it is a very important purpose, but I say that we are entitled, if more time is now to be taken on this, to expect that some new arguments should be adduced.

I can say to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that we have no ulterior motive in mind at all, but it does seem to us desirable, particularly so now that the railways are to have much greater freedom in charging, that changes, the need for which has stood out a mile for some years, should be made at the first convenient opportunity. That opportunity now presents itself, and we are taking it. We believe that much greater emphasis should be laid on the needs of the consumer, but the Amendment would prevent that. We believe, secondly, that the onus of proof that no new service is needed and that the existing facilities are adequate should rest on the objector and not on the applicant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has, with his usual clarity, put the essential issue. As he pointed out, the wording specifies the interests of the public generally as being the first consideration, including primarily those of persons requiring transport, and, secondly, those of persons providing transport.

6.30 p.m.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, whose absence we all regret—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—has been much quoted in this debate, and I should like to ask hon. Members why, when they quoted the Attorney-General, they did not also quote this: With great respect to those who may think otherwise, I should have thought that there is no justification at all for saying that the public interest is any less to be considered—in fact, on the wording it is actually given more consideration than before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 10th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 531.] So much, I hope, for the first issue—that of the public interest.

As for the second issue—the need for the onus of proof that the existing services are adequate to be shifted, and for the question of charges to be taken into account, I have nothing to add to the very lengthy speech which I made in Committee. In the latter case, I advanced many case law instances where charges were very relevant but had to be disregarded. I think that the consequences of a later Amendment, in the name of an hon. Member opposite, whereby he is anxious that those requiring transport facilities should automatically have their rights granted, might well put the question of costs into a primary position and turn it into the deciding factor, which we certainly do not think it ought to be. We believe that costs should be one of the criteria to which the licensing authority should address themselves—a proposition which seems to us to be self-evident particularly now, in the light of the greater freedom on railway charges.

I assure the House and the Opposition in particular that we had no intention of going back to the pre-1933 situation, and we have no ulterior purpose at all. The licensing system, in our view, fulfils two main duties: first, to secure enforcement of the maximum standard of safety in the public interest in matters such as roadworthiness of vehicles; and, secondly, to prevent wasteful competition and to secure that the supply of public transport is kept generally in balance with the need. The changes that we make, although important, should not be looked at out of perspective, and I hope that the House, having had a second chance to ventilate this matter, will decide to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison

What has the Minister done with the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General? Are they in the Tower or in the Ministry of Transport?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Unlike some previous Administrations, we are all on the best of terms and very busy about the public business.

Mr. Callaghan

I hope that the business which the Attorney-General is busy on at the moment will be of more value to the country than the intervention he made on the Transport Bill. We saw him only on one occasion, and he it was who was responsible for the 39 columns of discussion which we had on that occasion. He burst in, blew up and blew out, leaving the Minister to hold the baby.

I must say that the Minister has done his best. He has made a very valiant effort this afternoon to overcome the discomfiture that he must have felt after having had the eloquent interpretation of the Attorney-General about the matter we are discussing. No one knows better than the Minister that he and the Attorney-General, within perhaps half-an-hour, gave two precisely opposite interpretations of the same Clause of the Bill. We have become used to saying that this is a muddled Bill. We always knew that it was a muddled and chaotic Government, but we did not expect that that muddle and confusion would be shown by two Ministers within the space of half-an-hour on the same particular phrase.

I do not blame the Minister this afternoon for leaving the Attorney-General behind. We put down this Amendment to give the Minister an opportunity of clarifying his position, and we hoped also to see the Attorney-General, whose interpretation of the law needs clarifying perhaps even more than that of the Minister. Shortly, the point is this. On 10th December, the Attorney-General said that the wording of the Bill meant that the first thing that was considered when a licence was to be granted was persons requiring facilities of transport

and, later, the Minister said: In my view, and I speak with some knowledge in this matter"—

I thought it was a little unkind of him to give a dig at his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in that way— , though, I admit, no legal knowledge having regard to the interest of the public primarily' … means that if, in the view of the licensing authority, there was too much traffic operating on a road, they would take that into account first…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 531–547.] In other words, he was saying that the public interest would, in certain instances, come ahead of that of those requiring transport. The Attorney-General had by that time left the debate; and I do not blame him.

We do not wish to spend any more time on this matter. We believe that the modification of the words, in so far as they have any meaning at all, is a weakening of the public interest. We believe that they will place the public interest rather lower in the scale than it was, and place private interests in a relatively higher position than it was before. We are opposed to that, and I therefore ask my hon. Friends, without further ado. to divide the House.

Question put, "That the words proposed be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 233; Noes, 210.

Division No. 78.] AYES [6.36 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Baker, P. A. D. Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)
Alport, C. J. M. Baldook, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Baldwin, A. E. Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Banks, Col. C. Birch, Nigel
Arbuthnot, John Barber, Anthony Bishop, F. P.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Baxter, A. B Bossom, A. C.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R (Blackburn, W.) Beach, Maj. Hicks Bowen, E. R.
Astor, Hon. J. J Beamish, Maj. Tufton Boyd.Carpenter, J. A.
Boyle, Sir Edward Heald, Sir Lionel Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Heath, Edward Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.) Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (H[...]ndon, N)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Osborne, C.
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Browne, Jack (Govan) Hirst, Geoffrey Peyton, J. W. W.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Holland-Martin, C. J. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Bullard, D. G. Hollis, M. C. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Bullock, Capt. M. Holt, A. F. Pitman, I. J.
Bollus, Wing Commander E. E. Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Powell, J. Enoch
Burden, F. F. A. Horobin, I. M. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Campbell, Sir David Howard, Greville (St. Ives) Profumo, J. D.
Carr, Robert Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Raikes, Sir Victor
Carson, Hon. E. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Remnant, Hon. P
Cary, Sir Robert Hurd, A. R. Renton, D. L. M.
Channon, H. Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Robertson, Sir David
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Cole, Norman Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Roper, Sir Harold
Colegate, W. A. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Russell, R. S.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Jones, A. (Hall Green) Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Cranberne, Viscount Kaberry, D. Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Keeling, Sir Edward Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Ro[...]hdale)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerr, H. W. Scott, R. Donald
Crouch, R. F. Lambert, Hon. G. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Shepherd, William
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Langford-Holt, J. A. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Davidson, Viscountess Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Leather, E. H. C. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Deedes, W. F. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Soames, Capt. C.
Digby, S. Wingfield Legh, P. R. (Petersfield) Spearman, A. C. M.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T Speir, R. M.
Donaldson, Comdr. C. E. McA. Linstead, H. N. Spent, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Donner, P. W. Llewellyn, D. T. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton) Stevens, G. P.
Drayson, G. B. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Drewe, C. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Storey, S.
Dunoan, Capt. J. A. L Low, A. R. W. Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Duthie, W. S. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (M[...]ray)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Summers, G. S.
Fell, A. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Teeling, W.
Finlay, Graeme Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Fisher, Nigel McAdden, S. J. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Macdonald, Sir Peter Tilney, John
Fletcher-Cooke, C. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Touche, Sir Gordon
Fort, R. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Turner H. F. L.
Foster, John Maclean, Fitzroy Turton, R. H.
Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Vosper, D. F.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries) Wade, D. W.
Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (PoIlok) Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Markham, Major S. F. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Marlowe, A. A. H. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Godber, J. B. Marples, A. E. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Maude, Angus Watkinson, H. A.
Gower, H. R. Medlicott, Brig. F. Wellwood, W.
Graham, Sir Fergus Mellor, Sir John Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Gridley, Sir Arnold Molson, A. H. E. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mott-Radolvffe, C. E. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hare, Hon. J. H. Nabarro, G. D. N. Wills, G.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Nicholls, Harmer Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Harris, Reader (Heston) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Wood, Hon. R.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Nield, Basil (Chester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Mr. Redmayne and
Harvie-Watt, Sir George Nutting, Anthony Mr. Richard Thompson
Hay, John Odey, G. W.
Acland, Sir Richard Benson, G. Brown, Thomas (Ince)
Albu, A. H. Beswick, F. Burton, Miss F. E.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Blackburn, F. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)
Allen, Scholfield (Crewe) Blenkinsop, A. Callaghan, L. J.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Blyton, W. R. Carmichael, J
Awbery, S. S. Boardman, H. Castle, Mrs. B. A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Bowles, F. G. Champion, A. J
Balfour, A. Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Chapman, W. D.
Bartly, P. Brockway, A. F. Chetwynd, G. R.
Bence, C. R. Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Clunie, J.
Benn, Wedgwood Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Collick, P. H
Corbel, Mrs. Freda Hynd, H. (Accrington) Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Cove, W. G Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Reid, William (Camlachie)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Rhodes, H.
Crosland, C. A. R. Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Richards, R.
Grossman, R. H. S. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Janner, B. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Daines, P. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Ross, William
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Jeger, George (Goole) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Johnson, James (Rugby) Short, E. W.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Jones, David (Hartlepool) Shurmer, P. L. E
Deer, G. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Delargy, H. J. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Dodds, N. N. Keenan, W. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Donnelly, D. L. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Slater, J.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) King, Dr. H. M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Kinley. J. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Edelman, M. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Snow, J. W.
Edwards, John (Brighouse) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Sorensen, R. W.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) MacColl, J. E. Sparks, J. A.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) McGovern, J. Steele, T.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) McInnes, J. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Fernyhough, E. McLeavy, F. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Fienburgh, W. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Finch, H. J. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Swingler, S. T
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.) Mainwaring, W. H. Sylvester, G. O.
Follick, M. Mallalieu, E. L. (Bragg) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Foot, M. M. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Forman, J. C. Manuel, A. C. Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mayhew, C. P. Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Freeman, John (Watford) Mellish, R. J. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Messer, F. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Gibson, C. W. Mikardo, Ian Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Glanville, James Mitchison, G. R. Tomney, F.
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Monslow, W. Turner-Samuels, M.
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Moody, A. S. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield) Morley, R. Viant, S. P.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Weitzman, D.
Griffiths, David (Rather Valley) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Griffiths, Rt Hon. James (Llanelly) Moyle, A. Wells, William (Walsall)
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Nally, W. West, D. G.
Hale, Leslie Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Wheeldon, W. E.
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (CoIna Valley) Oliver, G. H. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Orbach, M. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Hannan, W. Oswald, T. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Hardy, E. A. Padley, W. E. Wigg, George
Hargreaves, A. Paling, Rt. Hen. W. (Dearne Valley) Wilkins, W. A.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Williams, David (Neath)
Hastings, S. Pannell, Charles Williams, Rev. Ltywelyn (Abertillery)
Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Paton, J. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Herbison, Miss M. Pearson, A. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Plummer, Sir Leslie Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Hobson, C. R Popplewell, E. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Holman, P. Porter, G. Wyatt, W. L.
Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth) Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton) Yates, V. F.
Houghton, Douglas Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Proctor, W. T.
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pursey, Cmdr. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Reeves, J. Mr. Bowden and
Mr. Kenneth Robinson.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Holt

I beg to move, in page 10, line 46, at the end, to insert: "and (c) if, in the opinion of the licensing authority, the facilities to be provided are likely to be those preferred by those requiring transport facilities, the application shall be granted. I feel that, in arguing the case for the Amendment, I should develop some general arguments against the A, B and C licensing system as it will be even under the Bill, but I shall endeavour to keep them pertinent to the Amendment, and I hope to remain within the rules of order.

The purpose of the Amendment is to give some positive instruction to the licensing authorities that they shall grant a licence in certain circumstances. At present there is no such positive instruction; they can take various matters into consideration and they can still refuse to grant a licence. If the Amendment were accepted, then: if, in the opinion of the licensing authority, the facilities to be provided are likely to be those preferred by those requiring transport facilities, the application shall be granted. Whatever other considerations may influence the licensing authority, if that condition is fulfilled, the licence shall be granted.

This will considerably alter the provisions by which licences are granted. Those provisions have already been considerably altered by the Amendments made by Clause 8 to the 1933 Act. As will be seen from a later Amendment, my party would like the discriminatory provisions of the licensing system altered, but not the provision about the fair wages Clause, safety regulations, hours of work and the filling in of forms. We want the first hurdle made equal for everybody, which is not the case under the present licensing system. There seems to be little chance of incorporating that in the Bill, but we believe that our Amendment would go a long way towards meeting the objections to the present system of people like ourselves.

Surely the purpose of the Amendments to the 1933 Act which the Government have inserted in Clause 8 is that there shall be a better transport system for the consumers of transport and that less regard shall be paid to general public considerations as various licensing authorities have chosen to interpret them, such as protection of the railways and so-called overcrowding of the roads. Those two matters, for instance, can no longer be considerations in the minds of the licensing authorities.

The railways are to be given freedom to compete, so that the licensing authorities, when deciding whether they can grant a licence or not, cannot possibly consider whether that new licence holder will in any way damage the turnover of the local railway system. From the point of view of vehicles overcrowding the roads, the 1933 Act has been a noticeable failure. I regret that that simple fact does not seem to be generally recognised on either side of the House. When the 1933 Act was passed there were something like two and a quarter million vehicles of all kinds on the roads. Now there are double that number, and if one group of vehicles is restricted, under the competitive system it will mean an expansion in another group.

The figure for A licensed vehicles for 1936—this is the earliest figure I could obtain from the Library—was 85,000, and in 1947 just before nationalisation the figure was very similar. Over those 10 or 11 years the licensing authorities did, in fact, succeed in restricting A licences. If we examine the figures for B licences it will be seen that there is also a similar restriction. But the licensing authorities have no control over C licences or many other vehicles, like private cars, which have increased and clutter up the roads of the country. Thus, from the point of view of overcrowding the roads, the 1933 Act has been a complete and utter failure, and there can be no suggestion that it should be kept because of that consideration. There is no need either to keep it in existence to protect the railways, because the railways are going to be put on a commercial basis.

What is the reason for keeping it in existence? These words "the general public interest" are rather widely and loosely used, but very few people try to go into details. One instance that is given from time to time is that, if there were no licensing system, a man could bring a road vehicle into a country district and compete with a railway, so that the line would have to be closed because it would not pay, and that then the haulier might leave the district. I suggest that that kind of imaginative situation is quite fantastic and completely unreal, and if anyone ponders over it for a minute I think he will agree. I need not waste the time of the House going into it now.

Is the idea to work the licensing system in the interests of the present road hauliers? Is it the intention of the Conservative Party to protect the present possessors of A and B licences from full competition by young men who want to enter the haulage industry? Is there not to be any competition? I am afraid that when we examine such points we must come to the conclusion there is no idea of protection for anyone, and that in fact, if the licensing authorities are to carry out what appears to be the intention of the Government about licences, then all they have to provide is that subtle balance between supply and demand which would be achieved in a free market.

To ask licensing authorities all over the country to interpret arbitrarily whether a vehicle is needed by someone who wants to move some goods, and whether he should have it or should not have it—with the idea of trying to get a balance between supply and demand in that area is demanding the impossible. It is in order to help the licensing authorities and make it simpler for them that we put down this Amendment. If they can see that the person who applies for a licence would meet a demand in that area, then that licence should be granted.

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Braithwaite

It will be agreed on whatever benches we sit that the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) and his friends have subjected the licensing system to the heaviest fire which it has experienced during the course of this Bill and, indeed, for many years past. The hon. Gentleman was refreshingly candid in what his objective was. A few minutes ago we were discussing the application of the licensing system, and I gathered from hon. Members opposite that the Government were accused of undue relaxation which was going to the contrary to the public interest. I would not agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, West that "the public interest" is something which is not understood. At any rate in this House it is something which we take into account when we legislate about anything at all, whatever Government may do it.

Mr. Holt

I am sorry if I gave that impression to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think this is the place where "the public interest" is understood, but it is quite wrong to allot some other authority outside the right to decide what is the public interest. That is a thing which should remain in this House.

Mr. Braithwaite

This House has over a period delegated machinery in these matters of licensing and one thing and another to outside bodies, and it has been done by both sides of the House and under Governments of many kinds. What the hon. Member has in mind is to make it mandatory upon the licensing authorities to grant licences of this kind in all cases where the services which the applicant seeks to provide are likely to be preferred for any reason at all by persons who require transport facilities. I would put it to the House that this would mean in a very large number of cases debarring the licensing authorities from exercising their discretion in granting or revising licences, and from considering the question of the need for the service; and precluding consideration of the public interest even in cases where wasteful competition would arise if the licences were granted.

Some of us here tonight were present in 1933 when the Act of that year went through the House, and hon. Members who were here then will recall the very lengthy debates we had on this subject of the provision of transport facilities in what might otherwise be unprofitable areas and the overcrowding of transport facilities in areas which were profitable. I am not going to repeat those arguments now.

7.0 p.m.

In the event of the Amendment being accepted, the overriding criterion would become the existence of a demand, or even of a mere desire, by some prospective user for the proposed services. This proposal goes much further in the direction of relaxation than the Government contemplate. Indeed, I suggest in all good humour to the hon. Gentleman that to place this duty on the licensing authorities would be likely—I think he faced this issue clearly in his speech—to undermine the licensing system as it now exists and to lead to a return to the conditions which existed before the passing of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933.

Mr. Wade

That was not a period of full employment.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

No, but we have a Tory Government now.

Mr. Braithwaite

The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) knows as well as we do that there are such things as trade booms and recessions. We cannot legislate in 1953 on the assumption that everything will be ever more as it is today. Even Socialist Governments have been struck by recessions before now, notably between the years 1929 and 1931.

Whatever may be the view about the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, to accept the Amendment would put us back in the situation which existed before that Act was passed. I do not think that that statement is open to contradiction. I suggest, moreover, that the Amendment is misconceived. Subsection (3) of the Clause does not deal directly with the granting or refusal of licences but with the factors which licensing authorities are to take into account when considering objections to applications for licences. The authority are bound to take into account objections made on the ground that existing facilities for transport suitable for trade and industry are already in excess of the need, or would be if the application were granted.

The exact effect of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment is not clear, but owing to that wording it might be, and I have a suspicion that it is intended to be, that even if no objection on those grounds were to be proved, if on other evidence the licensing authority were satisfied that prospective customers of the applicant would approve of the services which it was proposed to provide, they would have to agree to the application. The question of charges, instead of being only one of many which the licensing authority has to take into account in deciding whether sufficient suitable facilities already exist, would necessarily become over a very wide field the deciding factor in these applications.

I think the Government have made it clear that they are in favour of some relaxation in the licensing system, but we do not intend and have never intended that this should go as far as to prevent the effective control of the general supply of road transport. In our view, the provisions of Clause 8 go as far in that direction as is necessary or desirable in order to allow a fuller and more convenient service to be provided. We think that the Clause tilts the balance in favour of the consumer as far as it ought to go. The Amendment would mean that any degree of preference by the consumer is to be conclusive, however small, and great disturbance would be caused to road transport and the persons providing it. It would deprive the licensing authorities, and on appeal from them the tribunal, of all powers to use ordinary common sense in these matters.

If the licensing authority and the tribunal cannot be trusted to exercise discretion left to them under the Bill, surely the logical conclusion must be that the licensing system must be swept away. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We do not hold that view. The opinions of some of my hon. Friends might be even more strongly expressed on an Amendment later on the Paper, which I understand has not been selected for debate. I can only ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

I rise to support the Amendment. I find it difficult to reconcile what the Parliamentary Secretary has said with the clarion cry, "Set the people free." The Amendment would do a great deal to undermine the present-day A and B licensing system. I must declare my interest in the matter, since I have on many occasions had something to do with the tribunals when applications for A and B licences have been heard. The bickering that takes place on those occasions is totally un-British. Many applications are made by people who want to enter the industry. We get the Railway Executive objecting automatically to all applications, whether or not the railway supplies an alternative service.

Mr. J. Hynd

The hon. Gentleman said that he had something to do with the tribunals hearing appeals. Can he tell the House what he has to do with them? Was he objecting to the applications?

Mr. Bowen

I have appeared on behalf of men wanting to enter the industry or wanting to increase the number of their lorries, and for other people who have objected. I do not think there is anything inconsistent in doing that.

The atmosphere there is something one does not get in a normal court. A man who works 10 lorries might be raising an objection to a man who wanted to enter the industry for a time or to a man with one lorry who wanted to get a bigger lorry. There is a whole lot of bickering and squabbling among neighbours as to whether one man should have a little more or less work than another. It is a really repulsive atmosphere for a healthy business community. Anything that can be done to undermine that state of affairs is good and is a development in a healthy direction.

The system is one which, when there are applications for A and B licences, is bound to work to the prejudice of the small man. Inevitably the holders of A and B licences tend to fall into the hands of groups and combines and it becomes almost impossible for a small man, if he has a small business to develop, to enter the haulage industry. Looked at from the point of a healthy competitive industrial system, or from the most important view of the other users of transport, this state of affairs is anything but healthy.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the subject matter of the next two Amendments in page 11, lines 5 and 11, could be more conveniently raised on an Amendment which stands later on the Order Paper in the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) in Clause 29, page 38, line 8. The next Amendment I shall select is in Clause 10, page 12, line 12. I suggest to the House that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) and that standing in the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), both in page 12, line 19, might be discussed together, as they all seem to cover the same subject matter.