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Clause 12—(Vesting Of Undertakings)

Volume 436: debated on Wednesday 30 April 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 12, line 20, to leave out from "the," to the end of the line, and to insert "appointed day."

Happily, this Amendment is not as technical as many we have had to consider recently. Its object must be obvious to all. The Bill, as it stands, provides for the vesting in the British Transport Commission on 1st January next of all the undertakings set out in the Third Schedule to this Bill. The Third Schedule is a very long one, and it does not look as if we shall reach it today; it looks as if it will be one of those numerous things which will be undiscussed. It is clear that the Bill may not receive the Royal Assent for some time yet. Whether or not it will ever receive it, I cannot say. At the very best, a very short time, indeed, will be left for the appointment of the British Transport Commission and of all the Executives, and for the setting-up of the huge new organisation proposed under this Bill. Last year, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill received the Royal Assent on 12th July, and the appointed day was 1st January, 1947. That interval of time certainly proved inadequate to enable the National Coal Board and the regional coal boards to be in a position to function successfully and satisfactorily. Even up to the present time, that is very much the position, and I understand that we are likely to hear more of it before long.

This Amendment merely gives the Minister power to postpone the date of transfer until he is satisfied that some sort of workable organisation has been set up. It seems to me a very sensible proposition for the Minister to accept. We are merely giving him the option of postponing the appointed day, if he thinks it necessary and desirable so to do. We do not want to have a transport crisis next year, as we had a coal crisis this year. That, if I may say so, is the main point of this Amendment. I believe that the Minister of Transport has a great deal more sense of responsibility than have some of his colleagues, and I shall be very disappointed if he does not accept this Amendment. When we discussed it upstairs in Committee, the Minister said that, for the sake of the taxpayer, it was important to bring the Bill into effect at the earliest possible moment. Of course, what he meant was that, when the Bill comes into operation, the shareholders are going to be robbed of a lot of money, and that the Commission is going to benefit by it. He wants to bring about that position as soon as he can. That is not an argument which appeals to us on this side of the House. In any case, it would be cheaper for the Government, and for the Commission, to put up with that a little longer, than to land the country in a great transport crisis.

Then the right hon. Gentleman said that it would introduce an element of uncertainty. Of course, it introduces a certain element of uncertainty, but, there again, the certainty of not being ready by 1st January is a much more fearful prospect, to my way of thinking, than any prospect engendered by this proposal. I suggest, therefore, that it would be a sensible thing to give the Minister the option of postponing the date if he so wishes. This Amendment does not compel him to do so; it merely gives him the power to do so if he thinks fit.

4.15 p.m.

I wish to emphasise what my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) said, that this is neither a very technical nor a very controversial Amendment. I realise that, if the Minister liked, he could make great play with certain aspects of it, but I think that he understands perfectly the real purpose behind it. There is, in fact, only one purpose. We realise that, if this Bill becomes an Act, the Minister will wish to get the vesting date as early as possible. There is no controversy on that point. The point with which this Amendment is concerned is the earliest date on which it will be practicable for the Minister to have the vesting day. We think it much better to postpone the vesting date until the organisation has been properly set up, than to rush it through before the Minister and the Commission are ready to take over. That is the sole purpose of the Amendment.

One of the things to which the Government should give careful consideration, particularly in the light of their experience so far, is that, although they may be taking over organisations like the railways, or, to a lesser extent, the coalmines, which are going concerns, the actual machinery will take a long time to set up. Although it is not quite an analogous situation, some of us had experience of that sort of thing during the war. It happens that I was one of the original members of Eighth Army Headquarters when it was formed, one of the original members of the 18th Army Corps when that came into being, and one of the original officers of the Allied Headquarters staff in Italy. I know that it took a long time to get those headquarters working in any sort of way, even though the people in them were comparatively experienced, and even though they took over formations which had been fighting in those areas for a considerable time. There was no apparent reason why they should not have worked, but the fact was that they did not work, for a long time. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that Eighth Army Headquarters, which, I think, everybody will agree was a successful venture, took a long time to settle down before it worked at all. I believe that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) will remember those early days, and will bear me out.

I do not think it reasonable, when the provisions of this Bill cannot, in any case, come into force before the autumn, to expect the Commission to function as a going concern by 1st January next. We think that it is a physical impossibility for it to do so. This Amendment merely says that, supposing we are right, the Minister can, if he wishes, postpone the vesting date. There is no obligation on him to do so, and if the right hon. Gentleman can, by some remarkable set of circumstances, get this vast Commission going, and can get the people he wants, and his communications set up within two or three months, nothing in this Amendment stops him bringing in the vesting date then. We only ask him to consider that it may be possible that we are right, and that there may be great difficulties, mechanical and psychological, in getting the concern going. I ask him to accept this Amendment, and, at all costs, to postpone the vesting date until the Commission is ready.

We are discussing once more an Amendment which has been discussed thoroughly upstairs. I would like to draw the attention of the House to that fact, because the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) that we are not able to discuss many Clauses does not hold water when speeches which were made upstairs are repeated in this House.

Would the hon. Member allow me to remind the House and him, as he has not been here as long as I have, that one of the objects of the Report stage is to enable hon. Members who were not in the Committee to understand the principle of some of the matters that have been discussed?

I wonder where those Members are at present. When an Amendment such as this is put down and discussed with such reasonableness, being suspicious minded, I look to see what is its real purpose. It is quite clear that the reason why hon. Members opposite are trying to eliminate from the Bill 1st January, 1948, as the date of transfer, is because they want to use the argument, possibly in another place, that the Minister has the power to change the date and it, therefore, gives them an opportunity to delay the enactment of this Bill. There are many reasons why we should fix this target of 1st January, 1948, for the transfer of the railway and canal undertakings to the Commission. The first is that this country cannot afford to delay the transfer, because at present the taxpayer is subsidising the railways to the extent of £11,500,000 a year. The control agreement figures for 1946 were published only a few weeks ago, and they showed that for that year £11,500,000 came out of the taxpayers' pockets to subsidise railway shareholders. If the date of transfer is delayed 12 months, it means that the deficit between the amount payable under the control agreement and the earnings of the railways has to be made up out of public funds.

It is no use the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) shaking his head, because it is a fact that the railway control agreement provides for the payment to the railways of £43 million a year, and, as long as that agreement remains in force, that £43 million has to be paid to the railway companies, whether it is earned or not. At present it is not being earned, and the taxpayer is making up the deficit. Until the railways are transferred, that deficit will have to be paid unless the charges are put up sufficiently to bring in enough revenue to meet the deficit. The longer we delay the transfer, the more likely it is that the Minister will be driven to ask for increased fares and charges in order to make up that deficit, whereas once the transfer takes place there will be a saving of £17,250,000 in the amount of money that is to be paid out in interest Charges by the transferred undertaking. The £17,250,000 which is saved, on the basis of present earnings, is enough to meet and more than meet the deficit which at present is not being met out of earnings but out of taxes. On that ground alone, it is important that we effect the transfer of the railway and canal undertakings at the earnest possible time, and, in the view of the Minister, the date fixed in the Bill is obviously the practical and the earliest date at which that can be done.

The right hon. Member for the City of London drew an analogy with the National Coal Board. That is not a valid analogy, because in the case of the collieries a large number of companies were unrelated and were not under Government control in the same way as the railways are under Government control today. The railway companies today are administered by the Railway Executive Committee as grouped railway undertakings, whereas when the colliery companies were transferred to the National Coal Board there were still many separate units. Be that as it may, we on this side of the House are satisfied that the transfer of the coalmines on the appointed day has proved successful, and the results of the transfer are being shown in the improved conditions in the mining industry.

A further reason that I would put forward is this. Until the railways have been transferred and the Transport Commission is set up, we cannot proceed with that co-ordination of road and rail transport which is essential to the reorganisation of the transport industry. The right hon. Member for the City of London suggested that it would be cheaper to delay the transfer, and that we would encounter a transport crisis next year if we attempted to transfer the railways to the Commission on 1st January, 1948. I maintain that a transport crisis is far more likely to arise if we do not effect that transfer, because we will not be in a position to bring about that greater measure of co-ordination which is essential to the increased efficiency of the transport industry. During the recent crisis we had to call upon the Army to transport coal, whereas if the transfer had already taken place there might have been available the nationalised road haulage to step in to meet that emergency. Therefore, I urge the Minister not to take notice of this Amendment, but to adhere to the appointed day, because only by so doing will he be able to bring about that urgently needed saving in the taxpayers' money on the one hand, and the much more urgently needed reorganisation of the transport industry on the other.

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies), but I suggest that he has got the wrong idea of this Amendment, at least, that there is some difference between us in the way in which we look at it. I was, and still am, a supporter of the nationalisation of the coalmines, and I think we should not be in as good a position as we are in today, without the different atmosphere which has been created in that industry. Similarly, I believe and have believed for many years in the nationalisation of the railways, but I suggest that the hon. Member is really arguing against the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), that the vesting date should be postponed. The Amendment, of course, merely gives the Minister the ability to change the date, earlier or later as he wishes. I was impressed by the arguments which the hon. Member put forward about the possible saving to the Exchequer by bringing in the nationalisation of the railways on 1st January, instead of, say, next March. That being so, surely, if the Minister foresaw that he could nationalise the railways on 1st December, we should have a further saving to the Exchequer.

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London correctly, he was arguing, on the analogy of the Coal Board, that it was impossible to transfer the railways on 1st January, If it was impossible to transfer them by then, surely he was suggesting a postponement, and not bringing the date forward.

That is just what I am suggesting—that the hon. Member has been taken in by the argument of the right hon. Member for the City of London, instead of addressing himself to the Amendment.

It was the right hon. Member for the City of London who moved the Amendment.

Yes, but this has to go into the Bill, and I suggest that, on administrative grounds, there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Poole) said about inability to foresee these things a long way ahead. On some occasions more time is required; on other occasions things can be done quicker than was foreseen four months earlier. This is just the sort of Amend- ment which the Minister should accept in order to give the scheme flexibility. At present the scheme is too rigid. I do not believe that, in April, 1947, we have the right to say that, come what may, on 1st January next year we will launch this scheme. I believe it is right to say that on a date to be appointed by the Minister, when we know what the circumstances and the industrial situation are likely to be, we will announce that it shall be 1st December, 1st January or 30th March; the test being what will be the most efficient way of launching this scheme. I do not agree with the arguments put forward for postponing the vesting date, but I do suggest that the flexibility which this Amendment requires should be included in the Bill, and I ask the Minister to consider this seriously. I feel that I must vote for the Amendment.

4.30 p.m.

I am not convinced of the soundness of the arguments of hon. Members opposite for delaying the vesting date for the taking over of railway and canal undertakings. Also, I am not very convinced by the alarmist remarks of the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton). He and other hon. Members opposite who spoke were very careful not to mention the fact that a great deal of the preparatory work had already been undertaken in regard to railway undertakings. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) has also mentioned the fact that the railways have for several years, during the war period, been rented and controlled by the Government. That, in itself, has effected a certain amount of preparatory work, in the change-over from four separate railway companies to one unified national undertaking. There is in existence the Railway Executive Committee which co-ordinates the whole of the railways in this country on the basis of a national policy. Therefore, having regard to the facts that the ground has already been prepared over a number of years, and that the transfer of the undertakings on 1st January, 1948, is a matter' of great urgency, this is not a matter that needs to be postponed.

In that case, will the hon. Member tell us why he objects to this Amendment, which would allow the Minister to make 1st December the vesting date?

After all is said and done, there must be an objective, an aim, and 1st January, 1948, is the date, and preparations can be made for that particular date.

We were told by the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) that it would make a lot of difference, because the Government are paying something like £4 million a month.

Probably there are financial considerations, but I am not dealing with them at the moment. I am concerned, not with the financial implications of the proposal but with the feasibility, from the point of view of organisa tion, of taking over the enterprises on 1st January, 1948. The right hon. Member for the City of London did not advance any financial reasons in support of the Amendment. I re-emphasise, that much of what has been said by hon Members opposite is quite redundant, having regard to the issue involved. There is no uncertainty or unreadiness in regard to organisation for the change over of the railways from their present status Government control to their future status of Government control. The change over will be quite easy and effective. As I said before, much groundwork has already been done, and it will not be so complicated a matter as hon. Members opposite envisage.

The right hon. Member for the City of London said that if this Amendment was not accepted there would be the prospect of a transport crisis next year. I emphasise the fact that there is a danger of a transport crisis unless we very quickly change over to the new form of organisation. Many things, which cannot be done under the existing form of Government control, require to be done. The organisation which would be responsible for the operation of the railways needs to be agreed as soon as possible, in order to push ahead with the necessary proposals for the proper organisation of the industry. We have heard a great deal from hon. Members opposite about the uncertainty in matters of this kind, and the consequences which arise from uncertainty whether an industry is being taken over or not. We should end any question of uncertainty in regard to the railway industry by making It clear that 1st January, 1948, is the date upon which we have decided, so that all concerned will known quite clearly that that is the date Then, the necessary arrangements can be made in the mean time in order to prepare for the changeover. I was not certain what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he said that the Bill might never go on to the Statute -Book, that it may never become an Act I do not know how he arrives at that decision, I am sure.

Life is very uncertain. I imagine that if the Government are still in power later on, this Bill might find its way on to the Statute Book. But it is possible that the Government will not be in power.

The right hon. Member is making a prophecy which I do not doubt will not materialise. Short of some act of God unknown to us at the moment, I believe this Government will he here on 1st January, 1948, and for a good many years after that. I hope the right hon. Member was not hinting at what is likely to happen elsewhere. After all, we on this side of the House have come here with a definite and clear mandate to proceed to nationalise the railway and transport undertakings. Obviously I cannot go over the wider field on this Amendment, but it is admitted on all sides that the time has come for this change-over. Therefore, I ask hon. Members opposite not to adopt that attitude—although, of course, they are entitled to oppose the Bill and to advance Amendments to it -but to accept the fact that the people have expressed themselves on this mattes, and have been heard. We should be allowed to proceed with this Bill, because it is necessary in the interests of the country.

I rise to recall, in a very few words, an experience which I think is most relevant, and not discouraging to the Government. I was an official working under the National Insurance Act, 191I. At that time the Government, conscious that they had a supremely difficult and complicated task immediately ahead of them, took the precaution of securing in the Act that they should have an option between bringing the Act into operation at a certain date or at a date six months later. I was in the office during the subsequent work of preparation in the administration, and we ran into great difficulties which, for a time, looked to be insuperable before the earlier date. The provision of that option was a very great relief to the anxiety of those concerned with bringing the Act into operation. In fact, those difficulties were overcome more quickly than had at 'first seemed possible. and the Act was brought into operation on the earlier of the two dates contemplated. Nothing was lost by that option, and a great deal of anxiety was avoided. For a period it seemed likely that the option would mean the difference between administrative chaos and disaster and the successful inauguration of a great Measure of social insurance.

I need not draw any further moral from that. I emphasise again that this Amendment does not ask the Minister to postpone the date, and I am certainly not now arguing for any postponement. It only suggests that he may give himself the facility to postpone if he should find, in the course of his preparatory work in the next few weeks and months, that difficulties arise of such a character as to make the date at present appointed impracticable. Surely, that is reasonable.

The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole), who has contributed to the discussions on this Bill from time to time with such skill, said that I might agree with him about the lack of organisation in the Eighth Army. I agree with that. In the early days, there was so little of it that I and many others were lost to that Army altogether, and did not recover our freedom for a considerable period. Had I known that he was responsible, or partly responsible, for that lack of organisation I might have had many things to say to him before now. But I would remind him that he was organising transport in the desert, and had to improvise as he went along. We are taking over a series of very well-established concerns, and I should have thought that the one thing absolutely certain in any old-fashioned concern is, that a period of suspended responsibility is the worst possible thing. Any transitional stage is always difficult, and it is suspended responsibility that is the most difficult element in it. The one essential to getting out of the transitional stage quickly, is to establish the earliest possible date for the change of responsibility. Therefore, I urge that we should not give the Minister the licence which hon. Members opposite are suggesting, but should make it necessary for him on a given date to assume this responsibility, so that we may know where responsibility for this great concern does lie.

As he usually does in his speeches, the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) produced one or two rather remarkable suggestions when he was resisting this Amendment. I think that anybody who studies the remarks made on the Government side of the House will see that they are covered by the Amendment as it stands on the Order Paper. It is perfectly possible, for the Minister, as he approaches the appointed day, to name 1st January, 1948, as the appointed day. The only reason, I understand, why the Amendment should not be accepted, and the vesting date made not later than this year, is that put forward by the hon. Member for Enfield—that the taxpayer is paying money to the shareholders. I put it to him that the shareholders are all taxpayers. I would also point out to him that these great railways are not being kept away from the community by a group of shareholders; and that their origin was due to the fact that people did, in the nineteenth century, put up money by free enterprise to build the great railway systems of the world. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. 'Evans) spoke a month ago about the Argentine railways, paying a tremendous tribute to their enterprise and thrift.

The hon. Member is travelling very far from the Amendment.

I am sorry that my argument was diverted. But I put it to the hon. Member for Enfield that his point is not a valid one, that the other arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite are covered by the Amendment as it stands, and that it is perfectly possible, when we get to October, November, or December, for the Minister to say, "I think 1st January is all right." But if he wished to put the date back to February or March he would be free to do so.

4.45 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment stated that he would be disappointed if I refused it. I propose to disappoint him immediately by stating that I see no reason at all for changing the view that I expressed in the Committee. What, in fact, does this Amendment propose? If we examine Clause 12 we see that the matter under discussion is as follows:

"Subject to the provisions of this Act, the whole of the undertakings of the bodies of persons specified in the Third Schedule to this Act … shall, on the first day of January, 1948… vest by virtue of this Act in the Commission."
Now, the bodies and undertakings referred to in that Clause are the controlled undertakings. The railways, the canals, and the London Passenger Transport Board are all covered by the wartime agreement. These undertakings are already under the control of the Minister. They are under the control of the Minister now. In the normal way, that control would come to an end at the end of this year. The proposal in the Bill is that when that date arrives, they should pass automatically under the control of the Commission. We hear hon. Members talk about the problem that confronts the Minister, the necessity for time in which to prepare his plans and his schemes. One would imagine that what is involved here is that the whole organisation, operation and co-ordination of the whole transport system, as visualised in this scheme, is to be carried out on the vesting date, namely, 1st January.

Let me bring this discussion to an issue by dealing with the view expressed by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers). After all, what does the Amendment propose? It would only offer to the Minister the opportunity, either to postpone the date, if it suits his convenience or meets his judgment, or, if the Minister so desires, to advance the date. So that it is not in dispute that it is left entirely to the discretion of the Minister. If that is the case, can anyone complain if I make up my mind now?

I had hoped that I had made the point, and that the Minister had appreciated it. I did say specifically that it would be wrong to say that in April we can decide what the prevailing conditions are going to be on 1st January next year, when we have a very difficult winter in front of us. My argu- ment is that we should not make up on: minds now.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that General Eisenhower had to put off D-Day for a certain amount of time, for reasons of organisation?

Yes, but this is not D-Day. This is victory day. What I desire to stress is that it is not a question of trying to foresee now the situation that will prevail at the end of the year. From the beginning of the preparation of this Bill, we have had to determine the dates when the Bill would be ready for Parliament, and the arrangements of the Parliamentary time table, which made the Guillotine necessary. I say it with regret, and I shall explain that later, when the proper opportunity to do so arises. Nevertheless there was the necessity of a Parliamentary time table being fixed so that the Bill could pass to another place in plenty of time for consideration, and so that mature consideration could be given to the fixing of a vesting date, as a definite target day, on which the property would be transferred. That is all we are determining at the present time. On that date the property will be transferred from private to public ownership.

There is every advantage to the Minister, and to the scheme, in being able to appoint the Commission and to get the Executives ready so that they can take over the responsibility for the process of co-ordination commencing from 1st January. I speak now with some experience as the Minister who exercised a measure of Parliamentary control over this group of undertakings under wartime conditions, and I can state without any hesitation that the present arrangement, which was necessary in wartime, becomes, increasingly undesirable in peace conditions. The Minister of Transport, surrounded by his Departmental organisation, has no organisation effectively to exercise control over the management and direction of railway operations, canals, and the London Passenger Transport Board.

In peacetime conditions a transitional period is always undesirable. At a time when the nation is involved in all the serious matters of the readjustment of our national economy to peace conditions, I see no advantage in maintaining these transitional arrangements which exist at present. The Railway Executive—that is, the four general managers of the railway companies—under the Control Agreement, is ostensibly under the control of the Minister, but that form of control is exercised only in a general way to deal with emergencies such as the fuel crisis, through which we have recently passed. The Minister is not surrounded with either the staff or the machinery to make effective an administration of that character. Therefore, it seems to me there is everything to be said for bringing into being as quickly as possible the Commission which is to be charged by Parliament with the task of the co-ordination and creation of an efficient and adequate transport system. I cannot see that there would be any advantage in the Minister's delaying the appointment of the Commission when the Bill receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament. The Parliamentary timetable has been made on the assumption that in the normal way the Bill will be able to receive the Royal Assent in July.

I would emphasise the important and vital part which the efficiency of our transport system, its cost, its capacity to discharge its job for the industries of this country, will play in the efficiency of British industry. During the last 12 months, we have seen the results of the ravages of war on British railways and British transport as a whole. To say that is to make no reflection on those who have been responsible for the conduct of the railways, or on any aspect of the Control Agreement. It is because, during the war, practically the whole of the weight of the transport of this country was channelled through the railways. It is not, and cannot be, the Minister's responsibility to initiate the necessary decisions to remedy that state of affairs. Will any hon. or right hon. Gentleman, whether he favours the principle of this Bill or opposes it, tell me that in a transitional period of this sort the railway directors can make decisions incurring large expenditure of capital? Of course, they cannot do so, because they foresee the position that the property is to pass out of their control. As a matter of fact, by the provisions of the Bill, they are precluded, except with the consent of the Minister, from undertaking certain capital expenditure. On the other hand, until we know the decision of Parliament, and until the Bill receives the Royal Assent, it would be difficult to pledge public credit for any considerable expenditure that may be necessary.

Therefore, I say that the Minister would be shirking his responsibility if he did not definitely fix a vesting date and if he did not fix the shortest possible time, with the knowledge in his mind that it could be carried through within that period. The desirability of appointing the Commission and the Executives so that the preparatory work can be undertaken, and they can familiarise themselves with the responsibilities they will take over from the railway directors, is all on the side of definitely fixing the date. As the date has been fixed after very serious consideration, and as nothing has arisen in the preparation of the Bill or in the Parliamentary timetable so far which suggests that the date is wrong, I regret to say that I must refuse to accept the Amendment, and must ask the Committee to support me in going forward steadily and definitely to accomplish this change by 1st January, and to remove all further uncertainty, so that everybody concerned in the job will know exactly what he has to do and will gut on with doing it.

This is one of the most important Amendments we have had an opportunity of discussing since the Bill returned from Committee. The. Minister was good enough to say that he regretted that these discussions were so curtailed. He reminded me a little of the Walrus and the Carpenter, but still, whether his regret is genuine or not, I share with him the regret that we have had so little opportunity of discussing such vital matters. This is a very important Amendment and a very important issue, and I was rather sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not meet it with a rather wider point of view.

The earlier part of the Debate was, I think, carried on partly under some misunderstanding of the purport, or, at any rate, the effect, of the Amendment. The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) told us he had a naturally suspicious mind. I accept that. But he is also very inaccurate in many of his statements. He told us that the purpose of this Amendment was to continue the period when the shareholders of these undertakings might enjoy, for a month or two longer, the revenues which were guaranteed under the wartime agreement. That remark was really not worthy of the hon. Member, although, indeed, it would not be a bad thing for these poor people, who, after all, are very deserving members of the community, and of whom I think the hon. Gentleman will hear something more in the future. But that is not the purpose of the Amendment.

5.0 p.m.

Nor is he very generous about the result of the wartime agreement. He tells us that at the present moment there is a loss of earnings under the rental agreement. That is true, but it is partly because the Minister has spent four months trying to make up his mind whether or not the fares should be raised to meet the enormously increased costs of railway undertakings. He will have to take that into consideration sometime, but so long as the directors are in charge he hedges, and puts the responsibility back on the railways. I would like to see him deal with that point as soon as possible. He studies and considers and goes into it, but he makes no decision; he knows that all railway costs, such as coal, steel and labour, have risen to an enormous extent, but he has never taken the responsibility of allowing the railway charges to rise in anything like the same proportion.

The right hon. Gentleman is surely going far beyond the Amendment.

I was only answering the Minister and pointing out that it is not quite fair to say that the purpose of the Amendment is to continue the rental system at a period when it is unprofitable. I think the hon. Member for Enfield would be the first to admit that during the period of the rental agreement £200 million have been paid to the Treasury by the railways during the period when that agreement was profit-able. One must consider it by and large, and by and large I think the Minister would admit that the revenue has gained by the rental system.

Of course the right hon. Gentleman realises that the 200 million was also paid by the taxpayer, because it was Government traffic which made it possible for the railways to earn these very large figures during the war.

Certainly; I quite agree. The truth is that we are all both taxpayers and users; one cannot separate the people of this country into particular lots or interests. If, however, it is said that at the present time the rental arrangement is costing the Treasury something, it must be remembered that the Treasury gained during another period. I say it is ungenerous of him to suggest that the purpose of this Amendment is merely to go on for a few weeks or months longer, giving the benefit of the rental system to the existing shareholders of the undertakings. That is not the purpose of this Amendment, and he knows it.

It is true that, as soon as the vesting date comes about, £20 million will be taken by an act of robbery and confiscation by the Government, but whether it takes place three weeks earlier or three weeks later is not important; the important thing, since we have embarked upon this system, is to make it work. After all, when we have passed the Second Reading we try and make it work; the thing is to happen when the Second Reading goes through, assuming that it goes through both Houses of Parliament and receives the Royal Assent, and assuming that the Minister survives. All these things are uncertain, all sorts of things may happen, but our object is to try and make the thing work in the best way we can Now the Minister tells us that he makes this decision now, and that it is, therefore, not necessary to give him this permissive right to put the date forward or back. He makes the decision now, today, 28th April—[HON. MEMBERS: "Thirtieth."]—whatever it may be.. [Laughter.] Hon. Members are very easily amused. The Minister may not be there on 1st January; other Ministers have passed on; Sir Ben Smith has gone his way, and the present Minister may go the same way; how do we know? Why should he say today that he makes that decision? By what right does he make it? We only want to give him the opportunity of having a certain scope within which he may make the decision when he knows more about it.

I am not saying that he may not then make the decision that it will be 1st January. It may easily come to that, but in this House we are fortunate enough to have a number of hon. Members with great administrative experience, and I do not think there is anyone who has greater experience over a long period of service in the highest offices of the nation than the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). From his very long experience, the right hon. Gentleman tells us of the value to a Minister of feeling that he has this amount of play and flexibility in his hands. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has not considered that in his reply, but it is quite an important point, and I should have thought he might have mentioned it. The right hon. Member for Acton—[HON. MEMBERS: "Honourable."] The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks)—[Laughter.]—this extraordinary cachinnation on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite must mark some great degree of nervosity on their part—told us that we had advanced a very long way because, under the control system, there had been so great an approach towards total co-ordination that there was not really very much more to be done. I do not think that is really true.

So far as I understand the control system, and I have seen something of it both from inside and outside the Government, the main structure of the railway system has not been changed at all. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister mentioned that in defending the importance of keeping the general structure—the general managers, the boards and so on. They have carried on the ordinary business of their undertakings, and all that has happened is that the Minister has been able to give broad general decisions. The daily management of the details of the work of the organisation, staff problems and all the enormous questions that form part of the management of such an undertaking, have not been in the hands of the Minister of Transport but in those of the managers of the separate railway companies and the London Passenger Transport Board. Therefore, very little has in fact been done, and a great deal remains to be done. The control has been general executive control, the Minister had the right to give orders to the general managers, but he had in no way interfered with or attempted to take on the actual management of the undertakings themselves. I think that would be a fair statement.

Therefore, there is this problem of creating a new system and first setting up the Commission itself—about which the Minister has told us on various occasions that he has not yet even begun to think about the immense problem of choosing the right people. And we must have some efficient people, with all the duds there will have to be put in for party reasons. Then he comes along and tells us that he cannot postpone the programme which he has laid out because there is so much to do, while the hon. Member for Acton and the hon. Member for Enfield have told us that it could easily be carried through because there was so little that remained to be done. I think the Minister has given a much more correct account of the working of the system in the control period than the hon. Gentlemen behind him. Then the Minister give his little piece about "victory day:" Victory for what? [HON. MEMBERS: "Socialists."] For whom? For the Socialist Party? Victory followed by spoils, I suppose. If this is the mood in which he is to approach this immense undertaking, I am sorry for the nation which will have to suffer.

Finally, he brought forward the argument which I am bound to say weighed a great deal with me and made me almost feel that perhaps on balance he was right. We simply asked for a permissive Amendment which would have given him flexibility to fix the date as might have suited him. The right hon. Gentleman rejected the proposal. There is a great deal to be said, if one is in high command, for not tying oneself down too rigidly. Most people in such positions would have followed the advice which was given from below the Gangway and would have taken a little bit of play These things are rather difficult to carry out exactly as one wants them. There is a great argument in favour of so doing. The right hon. Gentleman rejected it. His reasons were rather interesting. He said that the present state of uncertainty was bad for the industry. As he said, directors cannot embark upon any great capital reconstruction or make any big scheme. They cannot set about the solution of any big problem. Therefore, said the right hon. Gentleman, it was vital to bring the uncertainty to an end in order that the great new work which we all knew had to be done in reconstruction might take place as soon as possible. No more damning condemnation of all that the right hon. Gentleman's Government is doing in regard to gas, electricity and steel, as well as other things, can be conceived.

I did not try to intervene in this Debate because I thought the Minister might in his closing remarks cover the point in which I was interested. I think it is relevant to remind the House that the Minister said that after the vesting date the railway ports would come under the control of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. Can we not now get this point absolutely clear? It seems incredible that that transfer should happen as early as 1st January. Could the Minister possibly say on what date actual executive responsibility for handling the railway ports will be transferred? If one wishes to write at the present time to the authority responsible for a Great Western Railway port, for example, one writes to the office of the Great Western Railway. On 1st January, will that procedure be changed? Will one then have to write to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive? We had what appears now to be a vain hope that the Minister would say that he ought to have more time in this matter. Another difficulty is whether, under the Bill as now drafted, a scheme will be made under Clause 64 to enable the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive to handle the ports. That is a technical point which the Minister should consider.

If the hon. Member had listened to what I said, he would know that I tried to define exactly what we are discussing in the Amendment. We are discussing merely the transfer of the property of these controlled undertakings to the Commissions on 1st January. It does not relate to schemes and matters of that description. The Amendment deals with the date at which the property of the undertakings will be transferred from private ownership to public ownership.

I am sorry. I thought the Minister indicated last night that on that date effective control of railway ports would pass to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. It is not merely a matter of ownership but of effective control.

5.15 p.m.

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman would have been well advised to accept the Amendment, in his own interests. The Amendment was put down to make the Bill, bad though it is, a little more neat and tidy. In what was said by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) I detected a spirit of uneasiness. He made a great point out of what was said by a right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House, with regard to the uncertainty of the lifetime of the Government and of this Parliament. I think I am entitled to reply to those remarks of the hon. Gentleman, so far as the limits of Order allow. The hon. Gentleman said he hoped that my right hon. Friend did not mean that there should be protracted discussion in another place which might prevent the Measure reaching the Statute Book before the end of the Session. The time table has been put on. It is unprecedented to have a time-table for the Report stage—

Division No. 160.]


[5.17 p.m

Adams, Richard (Balham)Cocks, F. S.Goodrich, H. E.
Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South)Coldrick, W.Gordon-Walker, P. C.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Collindridge, F.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Collins, V. J.Grey, C F.
Alpass, J. H.Colman, Miss G. MGrierson, E.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Comyns, Dr. L.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)
Attewell, H. C.Corlett, Dr. J.Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)
Austin, H. LewisCove, W. G.Guest, Dr. L. Haden
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. BCrawley, A.Gunter, R. J.
Bacon, Miss A.Grossman, R. H. SGuy, W. H.
Baird, J.Daggar, GHaire, John E. (Wycombe)
Balfour, A.Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Hall, W. G.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Davies, Harold (Leek)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R
Barstow, P. G.Davies, Hadyn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Hannan, W (Maryhill)
Barton, C.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Hardy, E. A
Battley, J. R.Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Harrison, J
Bechervaise, A. E.Deer, G.Haworth, J.
Benson, G.Delargy, H. JHenderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Beswick, F.Diamond, JHewitson, Capt. M.
Bing, G. H. CDobbie, W.Hobson, C. R.
Binns, J.Dodds, N. N.Holman, P.
Blackburn, A. RDriberg, T. E. N.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Blenkinsop, A.Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)House, G.
Blyton, W. R.Dumpleton, C. W.Hoy, J.
Bottomley, A. G.Durbin, E. F. M.Hubbard, T.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. WDye, S.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Edelman, M.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton. W.)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Bramall, Major E. A.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Irving, W. J.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Evans, John (Ogmore)Janner, B.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Jay, D. P. T.
Brown, George (Belper)Ewart, R.Jager, G. (Winchester)
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Fairhurst, F.Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S.E.)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. TFarthing, W. JJohn, W.
Buchanan, GField, Capt. W JJones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)
Burden, T. WFollick, M.Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)
Burke, W. AFoot, M. MJones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Forman, J. C.Jones, J. H. (Bolton)
Callaghan, JamesFoster, W (Wigan)Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Carmichael, JamesFreeman, Maj. J. (Watford)Keenan, W.
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Freeman, Peter (Newport)King, E. M.
Chamberlain, R. AGallacher, W.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E
Champion, A. JGanley, Mrs. C. SKinley, J
Chater, D.Gibbins, J.Kirkwood, D
Chetwynd, C. RGibson, C. WLavers, S.
Clitherow, Dr. RGilzean, ALawson, Rt. Hon. J. J

That question has been disposed of long ago. The matter before the House is the Amendment. If the hon. Member will forgive my saying so, he has not so far addressed one word of his speech to that Amendment

In opening my speech I did say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been well advised to accept the Amendment, and I went on to say a word or two arising out of the speech of the hon. Member for Acton. As a time-table has been put on, I thought it would be perfectly permissible for Amendments which have not been discussed in this House to be discussed in another place.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 289; Noes, 135.

Lee, F. (Hulme)Parkin, B. TTaylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Leslie, J. R.Paton, J. (Norwich)Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Levy, B. W.Peart, Capt. T. F.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Piratin, P.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Lewis, J (Bolton)Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Lewis, T. (Southampton)Popplewell, E.Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. MPorter, E. (Warrington)Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Logan, D. G.Porter, G. (Leeds)Thurtle, E.
Longden, F.Price, M. PhilipsTiffany, S.
Lyne, A. W.Pritt, D. N.Timmons, J.
McAdam, W.Proctor, W. TTitterington, M. F
McEntee, V. La T.Pryde, D. J.Tolley, L.
McGhee, H. G.Pursey, Cmdr. HTomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
McKay, J. (Wallsend)Randall, H. ETurner-Samuels, M.
Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)Ranger, J.Vernon, Maj. W. F.
McKinlay, A. S.Rankin, JViant, S. P.
McLeavy, F.Reeves, J.Walker, G. H.
Macpherson, T. (Romford)Rhodes, HWallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Mallalieu, J. P. W.Richards, R.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Mann, Mrs. J.Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Warbey, W. N.
Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)Robens, AWatkins, T. E.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Watson, W. M.
Marquand, H. A.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Sargood, R.Weitzman, D.
Marshall, F. (Brightside)Scollan, T.Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Martin, J. H.Scott-Elliot, W.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Mathers, G.Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A.West, D. G.
Mellish, R. J.Sharp, GranvilleWestwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Messer, F.Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Mitchison, G. RShurmer, P.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Monslow, W.Silverman, S. S (Nelson)Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Montague, F.Simmons, C. J.Wilkes, L.
Moody, A. S.Skeffington-Lodge, T CWilkins, W. A.
Morley, R.Skinnard, F. W.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)Smith, C. (Colchester)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Mort, D LSmith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Moyle, A.Snow, Capt. J. W.Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Murray, J. DSorensen, R. W.Williamson, T.
Nally, W.Soskice, Maj. Sir F.Willis, E.
Naylor, T. E.Sparks, J. A.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Neal, H. (Claycross)Stamford, W.Wise, Major F. J
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Steele, T.Wyatt, W.
Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)Stephen, C.Yates, V. F.
Noel-Buxton, LadyStewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Oldfield, W. H.Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth)Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Paget, R. T.Stubbs, A. E.
Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Swingler, S.


Palmer, A. M F.Sylvester, G. O.Mr. Pearson and Mr. Daines.
Parker, JSymonds, A. L


Aitken, Hon. MaxDodds-Parker, A. D.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)
Amory, D. HeathcoatDonner, Sqn.-Ldr. P. W.Jeffreys, General Sir G.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. RDower, E. L. G. (Caithness)Jennings, R.
Astor, Hon. M.Drayson, G. B.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W
Baldwin, A. E.Duthie, W. S.Lambert, Hon. G.
Barlow, Sir J.Eccles, D. M.Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Baxter, A. B.Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H
Beamish, Maj. T. V. HElliot, Rt. Hon. WalterLindsay, M. (Solihull)
Beechman, N. AErroll, F. J.Linstead, H. N.
Birch, NigelFoster, J. G. (Northwich)Lipson, D. L.
Boothby, R.Fox, Sir G.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)
Bowen, R.Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Low, Brig. A. R. W.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. MLyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. WGalbraith, Cmdr. T. DMacAndrew, Col. Sir C.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Glyn, Sir R.McCallum, Maj. D.
Bullock, Capt M.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. GMacdonald, Sir. P. (I of Wight)
Butcher, H. W.Grant, LadyMackeson, Brig. H. R.
Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)Gridley, Sir A.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)
Byers, FrankGrimston, R. V.Maclay, Hon. J. S.
Clarke, Col. R. S.Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries)
Cole, T. L.Harris, H. WilsonMaitland, Comdr. J. W.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Harvey, Air-Comdre A V.Manningham-Buller, R. E.
Cooper-Key, E. M.Haughton, S. G.Marlowe, A. A. H.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Head, Brig. A. H.Marsden, Capt. A.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)
Crowder, Capt. John EHenderson, John (Cathcart)Maude, J. C.
Cuthbert, W. N.Hollis, M. C.Mellor, Sir J.
Darling, Sir W. Y.Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)
De la Bère, R.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Digby, S. W.Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.

Neven-Spence, Sir BRenton, D.Taylor, Vice-Adm E A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Nicholson, G.Roberts, W (Cumberland, N.)Teeling, William
Nield, B. (Chester)Robinson, Wing-Comdr. RolandThomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Noble, Comdr. A H. PRopner, Col. L.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Orr-Ewing, I. L.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)Thorp, Lt.-Col. R A. F
Peake, Rt. Hon. O.Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. ATouche, G. C
Peto, Brig. C. H. MShephard, S. (Newark)Va, W. M F.
Pickthorn, K.Smith, E. P. (Ashford)Wadsworth, G.
Ponsonby, Col C. ESpearman, A C M.Walker-Smith, D.
Poole, O. B. S (Oswestry)Spence, H. R.Ward, Hon G. R.
Prescott, StanleyStanley, Rt. Hon. O.Wheatley, Colonel M. J
Prior-Palmer, BrigStrauss, H. G. (English Universities)York, C.
Rayner, Brig. R.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)
Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)Studholme, H. G.


Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillheaad)Taylor, C S (Eastbourne)Mr. Drewe and
Commander Agnew