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Transport

Volume 477: debated on Monday 17 July 1950

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Articles (Cost)

31.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that the nex taxation on commercial vehicles and petrol will add materially to the cost of any article so carried; and what steps he proposes to take to deal with this difficulty.

The effect of this taxation on the cost of articles depends largely upon the value of the articles in relation to their bulk. As the hon. Member is aware, Parliament has imposed these taxes after full debate.

Does that mean that the Minister is in sympathy with increasing the cost of living?

I do not think it is for me to begin to comment on, or to argue across the Table, a tax which Parliament has fully considered and imposed.

Commission (Report)

35.

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report of the Transport Commission for 1949.

37.

asked the Minister of Transport when he proposes to publish the British Transport Commission's annual report for 1949.

I am informed that the preparation of the report and statement of accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1949 is now almost complete and that the printing of it is well in hand. I hope to make formal arrangements for its presentation to the House before the Summer Recess and to publish it in September.

Do I understand that it will be in the hands of Members before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Not the actual accounts. We very much regret that it has not been possible to put them through and to publish them in time for the Summer Recess.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is putting the House in a really intolerable position? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Certainly. The idea was that these accounts should be debated. If the accounts for 1949 are not available to the House until September of 1950 it puts the House into an impossible position, because we cannot discuss them. Will the right hon. Gentleman convey our displeasure to Lord Hurcomb?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is likely to be again a most voluminous report, requiring a great deal of study, and that if hon. Members are to learn about integration they will require the best part of their Summer holidays in which to make the study? Will he bear that in mind?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many private companies carrying on much smaller businesses are only now publishing their accounts for the calendar year 1947?

Did I understand the Minister to say that the printing is now well in hand, but that the documents will not be printed until September? Is that what he said?

It was desirable that, if possible, we should have had these accounts presented before the House rises for the Summer Recess. That would have been a great convenience for Members. Subsequently, that was found to be impossible. There have been special difficulties just now. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] One factor has been that the principal finance officers have been involved very considerably in the London interim charges scheme. That has altered the date. It is a very voluminous report. The Commission try to give hon. Members and the public full information, and I think they have done their best in very difficult circumstances.

Is the right hon. Gentleman now telling the House that the finance officers of the Commission are so busy asking for even higher charges for 1950 that they have not got time to produce the accounts for 1949?

This is a very awkward situation we have got into. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider if it is possible to separate the report and the accounts and publish them separately? Will that expedite things?

As to whether anything of that description is necessary in the future, at the moment, of course, I should not like to commit myself. I think that this matter has been unduly exaggerated. We could not have discussed the report probably this side of the Summer Recess, and I think it is very essential that these accounts and reports should be completed before they are finally published.

Train Accident, Wansford

38.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware that the 8.10 p.m. train from Peterborough East, on Saturday, 1st July, 1950, crashed through the level crossing gates across the Great North Road at Wansford, when all signals were against the train; and what steps will be taken to avoid such accidents on this and similar level crossings in future.

This accident was of a very unusual type, and was due to the bursting of a gauge glass, which filled the cab of the locomotive with steam, and momentarily distracted the attention of the driver.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was only by a merciful act of Providence that a major calamity did not occur on this occasion, as there was a great deal of traffic on the road, including a number of motor coaches? Will he try his utmost to ensure that no such thing as this ever happens again?

I should have thought that the hon. Member had had sufficient experience of affairs in the world to have known that no precaution can prevent an accident of this type occurring.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when these rare accidents occur, the driver and the fireman are generally momentarily blinded because of the flying glass and steam?

Oil Pollution

asked the Minister of Transport how many prosecutions have been brought by his Department against ships, refineries or other persons for discharging oil fuel or other such substances into the sea within Southampton Harbour and within the waters enclosed by the Isle of Wight, respectively.

As I informed the hon. and gallant Member on 15th May, I have no power to take proceedings under the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1922, for an offence which is committed within a harbour. My Department has investigated a number of complaints of oil pollution in Spithead and the Solent, but in no case has the evidence been sufficient to justify a prosecution.

Would the Minister not agree that, in the absence of any effective deterrent, it is not very surprising that we have had such consistent and repeated fouling of the waters in those areas?

This is a particularly difficult problem in which to fasten any evidence. We are continually warning ship owners and, under various arrangements, bring it to their attention. We cannot prosecute indiscriminately; there must be definite evidence.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether there will be any supervision over the discharging of oil from Fawley refinery and the tankers using it?

If the hon. and gallant Member will put that Question down I will endeavour to answer it, or to communicate with him.