House Of Commons
Monday, 28th June, 1965
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Seven Hundredth Anniversary Of Parliament
I have to acquaint the House that I have received a telegram of good wishes and congratulations on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Parliament of Simon de Montfort from the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Argentine Parliament. I will have the text placed in the Library where it can be seen by hon. Members.
Oral Answers To Questions
Land And Natural Resources
Ground Rents (Collection)
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he will introduce legislation to remove the obligation on certain leaseholders to collect ground rents from their neighbours on behalf of the ground landlord.
I am very conscious of the trouble, and even hardship, that this duty to collect ground-rents on neighbouring properties can cause, but I already have powers—under Section 20 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, and earlier legislation—that enable me to deal with the difficulty in the great majority of cases that come to my notice.Because the existing powers to apportion these rents by Ministerial Order were too little known, I have issued a simple explanatory leaflet, and have sent copies to the Citizens Advice Bureaux around Manchester, where most of these cases occur.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that this simplified explanation of the powers he already has is only just becoming known in an area which I have the honour to represent, where this problem is acute, bearing particularly heavily on older people? I trust that where problems arise due to interpretations of the powers already held we shall have every assistance from his Ministry in trying to help those who are burdened with this problem.
Yes. The steps we have taken have had considerable effect. Previously we were dealing with these cases at the rate of about 130 a year. We are now dealing with these cases at the rate of about 150 a month. If my hon. Friend has cases to which he wishes to call my attention, I will certainly look at them.
Does the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has answered this Question, and indeed the substance of his Answer, indicate that he has taken over from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government responsibility for landlord and tenant questions; and, if so, when did this transfer of responsibility take place?
No. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, if he reflects, that it is a specific responsibility that I have undertaken.
Home Timber Advisory Committee (Recommendations)
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what recommendations he has received from the Home Timber Advisory Committee; and what action he proposes to take on them.
On 26th May the Forestry Commission passed to my right hon. Friend a submission from the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee making recommendations on the future size of the forestry programme and on related problems such as land acquisition. As my right hon. Friend stated in the course of the debate on forestry on 14th June, this submission will be taken into account in the course of the Government's current review of the forestry programme.
Would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary place a copy of this submission in the Library, or is it regarded as confidential?
I will make inquiries to see whether we can meet the hon. Gentleman's request.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources how many acres of forestry have been planted by the Forestry Commission in the year 1964 and in the first half of 1965 in the County of Devon.
The figures available relate to the planting season, which ends in May. In the season which has just ended the Forestry Commission planted 534 acres in Devon. In the previous season it planted 537 acres.
Is this enough? In my view, nothing like enough acres are being planted in the West Country. Would the Minister consider encouraging the Commission to do more than this and, indeed, to consult the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see if some of the poorer land could be turned to use for forestry?
The question whether it is enough must be related to the Commission's commitments in other parts of the country. There are 3,300 acres more to be planted in the county, and it is hoped to accomplish that within the next 6 or 7 years.
Is the Minister having a survey of the West Country carried out, particularly of Devon and Cornwall, to see what extra land would be suitable for afforestation?
Private studies are being made, to which we hope to have access. If they are insufficient, we may have to supplement them.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he will make a further statement on the reorganisation of the work of the Forestry Commission; and whether it has been given new terms of reference.
The Forestry Commission has not been given new terms of reference, and I have nothing to add to the statements I made in reply to the hon. Member's Question on 10th May and in the debate on the Seventh Report from the Estimates Committee on 14th June.
When the new Commission is complete, will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing a new directive making clear the position of the Government in support of forestry policy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are reviewing the planting programme and, pursuant to that, we will be making a statement.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources when he proposes to introduce legislation to set up a Land Commission.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources when legislation setting up a Land Commission will be introduced.
The hon. Members must be patient a little longer.
While seeking to exercise that admirable quality, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that very precise proposals on this matter were advocated by himself and his right hon. Friends at the General Election nine months ago, and that great uncertainty and confusion are being caused by the fact that these proposals have not been followed either by legislation or even so far by the promised White Paper? If a Bill is not coming forward this Session, would it not be in the interests of all concerned to say so?
As to the first part of that supplementary question, yes, I am so aware. As to the second part, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a question of Parliamentary time, and if he will give me assistance through the usual channels I shall be much obliged.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a little difficult to give even as agreeable a Minister as himself such assistance until one knows what he has in mind? Is he further aware that the fact that the various leaks from his Department completely contradict the specific election pledges made last October only adds to the confusion, with its very serious effect on the bringing forward of land for development, which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for creating?
I have in mind legislation to implement the election manifesto. I need Parliamentary time to implement that and, as I say, I shall be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he can help me in that regard.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in respect of how many individual planning appeals he has been consulted since his appointment.
It is not in accordance with normal practice to give particulars of discussions between Ministers.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for general supervision of the use of land? One of the major methods by which the Government make their decision effective is through the decisions on planning appeals. If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to assure the House that he has even been consulted on one of these, he must leave the House and the country very much in doubt as to whether his planning responsibilities exist.
If the House accepts the assumption of the right hon. Gentleman it will be misinformed.
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge my assumption, is it not extremely easy for him to give the figures?
No, the right hon. Gentleman knows—he has held office—that it is not the convention to disclose discussions between Ministers.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many' times he has been consulted concerning agricultural land which is liable to go out of production and into other use?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on that point.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that had there been a Minister of Land and Natural Resources years ago we would not have problems such as urban overspill and encroachment into the Green Belt? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he is consulted and that those consultations bear some fruit?
I can assure the House that I am consulted in accordance with the functions which have been given to me.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the past where planning decisions have been turned down or accepted on the advice of the Minister of Agriculture, or the Minister of Transport, this has always been perfectly well known? Is it not just as easy for him to make it known when he intervenes in any way in planning decisions?
If the hon. Gentleman has in mind any specific case perhaps he will put down a Question.
Tree Preservation Orders
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, whether, in arranging the review of the procedure for making tree preservation orders, he will ensure that representatives of the woodland owners concerned will be consulted from the outset and throughout the review, as recommended by the Estimates Committee in its Eighth Special Report.
I would draw the hon. Member's attention to the final observation of my right hon. Friends recently published in the Eighth Special Report from the Estimates Committee. In this they stated that the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, which represents the interests of private woodland owners in England, Scotland and Wales, would be fully consulted in the review of the arrangements for tree preservation orders on land suitable for forestry.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in that observation he said that he would consult the woodland owners at the appropriate time and that the implication was that the inquiry was already in being? Would it not be much more satisfactory to have the woodland owners concerned in at the beginning?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention of going back on the observation. We are only too anxious to get their views when we are ready to receive them.
Local Authorities (Purchase Of Property)
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he will take steps to require local authorities to apply similar provisions of purchase at market value to property threatened by possible development, as applies to property in areas which are designated for development.
Local authorities are required to buy certain classes of property when its value is depreciated by designation for development under the "blight" provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. It would put an impossible burden on authorities to extend these provisions so as to require them to buy any property whose value was affected by possible development.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very real problem here in that there are often vast areas which will be possible areas of redevelopment? Is he aware that in the City of Newcastle, for instance, there are three possible schemes for the Jesmond Road-Stephenson Road Motorway? Does he realise that this is having a frightful effect on the value of properties in all three possible areas? Will he look at this to see if he can do something about the protection of house-owners who wish to sell in such circumstances?
I am aware of the problem. I think the 1962 Act struck a balance. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to look at the cases to which he has referred me I will do so.
Will the Minister bear in mind that local authorities have powers to purchase in advance of requirements, even though the case does not actually fall within the definition in the Act to which he has referred? Will he encourage them to do so where hardship arises, and pay the same value which they would do if the "blight" provisions were in operation?
This is a case where one has to strike a balance and not impose too heavy a financial load on the local authorities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to call attention to a case in which he thinks there is hardship I will look at it.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what estimates are being made of the use of the Pennine Way since it was opened along its full extent earlier this year.
No estimate of the use of the Pennine Way has yet been made, but the National Parks Commission has the point under consideration.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether he is willing to carry out some further investigation into this matter? It would be of great interest to know how many people are using the Pennine Way.
I share my hon. Friend's interest. I believe that the National Parks Commission is discussing this with the officers of the parks planning authorities tomorrow, and I shall be anxious to learn the result of their discussions.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he will make a statement on the progress made in establishing long-distance footpaths, other than the Pennine Way.
Nine long-distance routes, other than the Pennine Way, have been approved and are in course of negotiation. The nine routes involve a total of 1,023 miles and 134 local authorities. New rights of way for which negotiations are not yet completed total 135 miles; they vary from a few yards to 15 miles of pathway.The National Parks Commission is also considering proposals for two new long-distance routes.
While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask whether he is aware that while the routes have been generally approved, the negotiations take an appalling length of time? Has he any suggestion to make as to how these negotiations can be speeded up?
I am aware of the recommendations made in the Reports of the National Parks Commission. These we are considering in the light of our review of the 1949 Act.
As these long-distance paths—this applies also to part of the Pennine Way—may often go along disused railway tracks where the lines have been pulled up, could the right hon. Gentleman liaise with the railway authorities and the Minister of Transport and try to see that the bridges are not always destroyed when the lines are pulled up? These tracks often have amenity possibilities and the bridges are necessary.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for calling my attention to this matter. I have been considering the use of disused railways as green paths, and certainly the point that he has made is one that we shall consider.
Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland, and are there plans for these paths in Scotland?
This does not affect Scotland.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether he protects rights of way where there is possible development along a portion of long-distance paths—say, forestry development?
That is certainly a matter which I will consider.
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources how many acres of forest have been planted and replanted in Hampshire by the Forestry Commission since the beginning of 1964.
The figures available relate to the planting season, which ends in May. In the 1963–64 season, the Commission planted 297 acres and replanted 537 acres in Hampshire. In 1964–65, the figures were 203 acres and 699 acres respectively.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he bear in mind, in the interests of better farming, that a lot of small woodlands which have been done away with and hedgerow trees must be replanted if the acreage is to be maintained? Can the hon. Gentleman say what scheme he has in mind to replant and to further the interests of afforestation in Hampshire? The figures quoted were good, but they are not good enough.
There are about 5,000 acres remaining to the Commission in Hampshire which it is proposed to replant in the next five or six years. In addition, further planting will take place in the New Forest itself. In the previous season, ending in May, 142 acres were planted in the New Forest area and 304 acres replanted. The work going on in the county is up to the estimates of expenditure which we have been able to make for individual counties but if we can further increase it we shall do so.
Dartmoor National Park
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he has considered the memorandum on National Land Use and the Dartmoor National Park submitted by the Standing Committee on National Parks of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England; and what reply he has sent.
The memorandum which was submitted on 19th June has been acknowledged and is receiving consideration by my right hon. Friends and myself.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that arguments in the memorandum for the removal of damaging military training from Dartmoor are most convincing? Is it accepted that National Park amenity considerations will have priority in future?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on a document which I have just received, but we will consider it expeditiously and make a statement.
Will the Minister give an assurance that proposals will not be accepted which will preserve rural England at the expense of rural Scotland? Although the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility for Scotland, will he give an undertaking that before any of these movements are transferred to the Highlands he will consult the Secretary of State for Scotland?
I can assure the hon. Member that there will be full consultations and that all factors affecting this question will be considered.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the points made in this memorandum when he considers amending the National Parks Act?
Yes, Sir, certainly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that what is needed is a happy balance and that the military are very profitable to some of our smaller towns around Dartmoor? Will he maintain a happy balance between the National Parks, the military and the small farmers?
I assure the hon. Member that I am a happy balancer.
Will my right hon. Friend say that he will try to do a little more to rehabilitate Dartmoor National Park than the party opposite did during the 13 years it was in power?
Public Building And Works
Cement Supplies (Norfolk)
asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he is aware that there is currently a shortage of cement in Norfolk; and what steps he is taking to maintain supplies.
A marginal gap between supply and demand is affecting cement supplies in most parts of the country. I have no evidence to suggest that the situation in Norfolk is exceptional.My right hon. Friend has met the producers and they are increasing supplies from home capacity and will also continue to import cement until home supplies match demand.
As the cement industry has a brilliant record of expansion and is ahead of its E.D.C. target, and as imports of cement now seem to be becoming scarce, what is the right hon. Gentleman doing to provide for more economical use by revising building regulations so as to secure a more efficient use of cement?
The reviewed building regulations are to come shortly. Deliveries of cement in 1964 were 22 per cent. higher than before and 5 per cent. higher in the first part of 1965 than in the corresponding period of 1964. New production is coming during the course of this year and in 1966 and very large orders are being placed abroad and are being brought in gradually this year.
Will my hon. Friend keep in mind that there is a serious shortage of cement in the southwest of Scotland? Will he give that problem his attention? It is holding up housing schemes to a considerable extent.
It has not only my attention but the attention of my right hon. Friend, of cement makers, and of a considerable number of Members of Parliament. We are doing all we can to see that supplies are kept up.
Can the hon. Gentleman give the quantities imported and tell us where they were imported from?
This year 600,000 tons are being imported at more than twice the cost of British cement. The difficulty at the moment is shipping.
In view of the investments now taking place and estimated to take place in the next few years, how long will it be before the shortage is overcome?
We hope that it will be overcome very soon but I cannot be a prophet in this matter. The cement people themselves have given estimates and things have not turned out according to their estimation.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a meeting with the cement manufacturers. What steps are being taken to ensure that supplies which are agreed should be maintained for local authority housing are being so maintained? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I had two letters this morning from building firms in my constituency which are having to lay off men in local authority housing because of the shortage?
The manufacturers gave an undertaking that they would give priority to housing and public building generally. They are trying, but the position at the moment is not as easy as it might be.
Trooping The Colour (Cushions)
asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he is aware that the cushions provided for the use of guests viewing the Trooping the Colour ceremony stained the clothing of guests; and what action he proposes to take.
Yes, Sir. I am prepared to consider making exgratia payments to those whose clothing was stained by the cushions; I am very sorry about this.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give me a further explanation why these cushions were used? Is he aware that a private supplier of green cushions has had his trade diminished because of this scare? Will the right hon. Gentleman give some assurance that the private enterprise cushions did not stain? It was the Minister's party-coloured cushions that offended.
I can assure the hon. Member that the red cushions which were the offending ones—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there was no political significance in this—were bought during the term when the hon. Member was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister. I hope that what I have said completely exonerates the private contractors. All these cushions were cushions which belonged to the Ministry itself. In the compass of a Parliamentary Answer I cannot go into the long document and the inquiries which I had made arising out of this matter, but if any claims are to be made against my Ministry they should be submitted in the first instance to Room 133, Lambeth Bridge House, S.E.1.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the duty of a Parliamentary Private Secretary is to cushion the Minister and not take an interest in cushions supplied by the Ministry?
Canadian-Type Timber Houses
asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many Canadian-type timber houses have been erected by his Department in this country in the last 12 months; and how many have been ordered by local authorities.
A new town corporation is in negotiation for 170 houses and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has approved 6 houses to be erected by a local authority.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with this number of orders? In considering this system, will he bear in mind that it uses a large amount of plaster board which is in short supply? Will he consider how the use of plaster board in this type of construction can be avoided?
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what these timber houses cost? Does not he think that they are too expensive for the local authorities? Could not the houses be made here and the materials imported from rouble areas and not from more expensive dollar areas?
I do not at the moment know the answer to my hon. Friend's Question. If she will put a Question down I will try to answer it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that nothing will be done to discourage the use of timber-framed houses as a method of construction? Is he aware that they have proved satisfactory in other countries and that it should assist us in our trade relations with Canada?
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are several firms in this country manufacturing timber houses which could be used, perhaps, to better advantage economically than imported Canadian houses? Second, is he satisfied, in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, about the fire risks which prevail in timber construction?
There has been a great deal of experience in timber-construction houses in other parts of the world. I do not know so much about the fire risk. We are prepared to consider on its merits any firm which builds houses, but I think that it would be rather wrong, after having sent a mission to Canada, if we were to attempt to disparage something on which the Canadians have co-operated greatly with this country.
If the Minister is not at the moment aware of the cost of these houses, will he be good enough to inform himself and let the House know what the cost comparison is with traditional houses? [An HON. MEMBER: "He said so."] I am asking the Minister himself, not a twerp of a back bencher. Will the Minister also say what is the expected life of these houses compared with traditional houses?
If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me on that, I shall attempt to set the matters out in great detail. When we first had the Question from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) we were rather expecting another angle of questioning—I shall not say of attack—on it.
Liverpool Stanley Hospital
asked the Minister of Health if he will state the weekly cost, in expenditure and depreciation of equipment, of Liverpool Stanley Hospital standing idle; if he will state the aggregate cost since the hospital closed; from which funds the cost is being borne; and for how long he proposes this state of affairs should continue.
Excluding depreciation of equipment, which cannot readily be assessed but is small, about £300 per week; £5,367 up to the end of May; from Exchequer funds allocated to the board of governors for running the United Liverpool Hospitals; so long as the possible need to re-open this hospital remains.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but is he not aware that this is still a subject of much concern in the Kirkdale constituency and constituencies geographically allied to mine? Will he take the necessary steps to bring to the notice of the regional hospital board the cost involved in depreciation and idle equipment, and, at the same time, ask that immediate action be taken to bring forward proposals for the use of this building and the idle equipment now standing there?
As my hon. Friend knows, this hospital is being retained on a care and maintenance basis in the period before the new department at Walton Hospital comes into service in, possibly, May, 1966, in case the other hospitals in the area cannot cope with the work previously done there. On the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I now have under consideration a proposal that the regional hospital board should reopen the hospital as one in a series of consequential moves arising from the impending closure of a hospital accommodating geriatric patients.
Has my right hon. Friend any information about pressure by the previous Government to close this hospital as soon as possible? Is he aware that the board of governors was under very great pressure to close it, and had to close it, because of decisions taken by the previous Minister of Health?
Since I came into office, the matter has come before me also; but it was generally considered that the right answer was to close it and to keep it on a care and maintenance basis during the interim period. It may well be that a different use will now he found for the hospital.
Is it not a great pity that this hospital is not used in any way, whereas the chest hospital, also closed recently, has been taken over by the education authority and its use as an overseas students' hostel refused? Is there any chance of one being used temporarily for this purpose?
I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that the present use of this hospital is that determined by the hospital board, and, on the whole, I think it came to the right decision.
Hospitals, North Liverpool (Casualty And Out-Patient Departments)
asked the Minister of Health, in view of the anxiety of doctors in the area, if he will make inquiries to find out to what extent the pressure on the casualty and out-patient departments at Bootle Hospital and others is due to the closure of Liverpool Stanley Hospital; and if he will make a statement.
New accident and emergency cases at Bootle and the four other North Liverpool hospitals increased by 11 per cent. in the first five months of this year compared with the corresponding period in 1964. But this 1964 figure was 7½ per cent. up on 1963, and I cannot, therefore, say how far the continued increase in 1965 was due to the closure of the Stanley Hospital. The number of out-patients attending the Stanley Hospital was not large enough to increase significantly the pressure on other out-patient departments.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep concern which is being expressed by doctors in the locality about the delays in the treatment of casualties in this area due to the severe increase in the other four hospitals in the area?
I am not aware of that, and the figures I have do not suggest a severe increase. At Bootle Hospital the number of new accident and emergency attendances in the first five months of the year actually increased by a lesser percentage this year than in the previous year. The total out-patient load at the Stanley Hospital represented no more than 7 per cent. of the total load of the other five hospitals which have now assumed it.
asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that, since the closure of Liverpool Stanley Hospital, patients in urgent need of hospital medical treatment have had to be sent to Southport, Ormskirk and Birkenhead because there were no beds available in the North Liverpool-Bootle area; and what action he will take in this matter.
My information is that there has been no increase in the number of admissions of Liverpool residents to hospitals outside the city.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are receiving growing complaints on this matter, and will he agree that, if the regional hospital board it not aware of the facts, it is not in a position to indicate where new hospitals should be located because its information must be inaccurate?
I have no reason to believe that the information which has been given to me is inaccurate. I am told that the total of admissions arranged by the emergency bed bureau to hospitals outside the city during the first five months of 1965 was less, in fact, than during the corresponding period of 1964.
asked the Minister of Health if, in the planning of hospital arrangements for the North Liverpool-Bootle-Crosby region, he will take account of the proposal of Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to build a new £65 million deep-water dock, the size of a new port, north of Gladstone Dock.
Yes, Sir. The new accident and emergency centre now being built at Walton Hospital will have sufficient capacity to deal with the accident cases likely to arise from a dock of this size.
In view of what my hon. Friend has just said, may we have an undertaking that the Stanley Hospital may be reopened and the Bootle Hospital casualty department not closed until these other arrangements have been made? Second, may we be assured that there will be consultation with the local authorities before any further closures take place, and will my hon. Friend give a definitive statement about the future of Bootle Hospital?
As my hon. Friend is aware, there always are consultations with local authorities before closures take place. We feel that this new unit, which will be completed in April, 1966, will be able to deal with the situation. So far, there has not been a definite decision to build the new dock. We think that it will be done, but the new unit will be there in time.
asked the Minister of Health what improvements he plans in the machinery through which the conditions of service of registration officers is negotiated; what has been the reason for the delay in announcing the new salary scales; and how he proposes to ante-date the new awards.
I have no locus in the National Joint Council which negotiates the salaries and conditions of service of registration officers but I am exploring the possibilities of setting in train some form of inquiry into their pay structure with the co-operation of the Council. I am informed that there is at present no salary claim on behalf of registration officers before them.
Does not the Minister of Health feel that there is something seriously wrong when such a public-spirited and highly representative body as this feels so very much frustrated, as he knows it does, following discussions with its representatives recently? Will he use his good offices to speed up the negotiations?
I am using my good offices in rather difficult circumstances, because I have no locus. The difficulty is that registration officers are not employed by local authorities but they are paid by them, and it is, therefore, by agreement that their conditions and pay are negotiated on the National Joint Council. I am very anxious to make progress, and I am moving as fast as I can in this matter.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is probably a quite strong case for an independent inquiry covering the whole range of Health Service negotiating machinery, because not only are there these quite serious delays but about 130 cases have been referred to arbitration since 1948, which would surely indicate that there is a lack of confidence to some degree in the existing machinery?
I think that there was a lack of confidence, but if the hon. Gentleman will look at the records since last October he will see that the situation is very much better now than it was in the time before the General Election.
Ministry Of Health
General Practitioners (Resignations)
asked the Minister of Health if he will introduce regulations to ensure that doctors wishing to resign from the local executive council's list shall submit such resignations personally in order to avoid the possibility of the resignations which were signed six months ago in one set of circumstances now being sent in when circumstances have changed.
I have noted my hon. Friend's suggestion, but I doubt if such a change is necessary.In the circumstances envisaged by my hon. Friend, it would be open to any doctor to request the executive council to disregard a notice sent in on his behalf.
The safeguard which the Minister has announced in his Answer will be welcomed, but is he aware that, during the time when the pressure was on, quite a number of doctors were almost intimidated into putting their notices in and it is, therefore, most desirable, now that temperatures have cooled a little, that there should be a breathing space before they are actually applied?
I had a certain amount of information about alleged intimidation, but I think that, as my hon. Friend's question implies, these resignations are very much out of date now, having been collected for the most part during February and March.
There is confusion in the public mind at the moment about the exact position of the doctors vis-à-vis the Minister of Health. Will the Minister be in a position at an early date to make a clear statement to the country as a whole of what the real position is?
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I may make a clear statement now. The fact is that the conference of local medical committees on 16th June and the special representative meeting of the B.M.A. on 23rd June voted against submitting the resignations, and therefore the question of resignation does not now arise. The negotiators are empowered to continue negotiating with me, and I have no reason to believe that these negotiations will not be brought to a successful conclusion in time for implementation by April next.
In view of what my right hon. Friend has just said about the decision of the doctors' representatives recently about withdrawing their notices, may I ask whether he would regard the notices given some months ago as valid if they were to be used in the future?
I think that the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths) is hypothetical for the reasons that I have just given. I can only repeat that if any doctor felt that his resignation was no longer valid and it was sent in, it would be a simple matter for him to write to the executive council saying, "Please disregard my notice."
General Practitioners (Negotiations)
asked the Minister of Health if he will review the machinery he now uses for maintaining contact with general practitioners within the National Health Service with a view to recognising one national assembly only with the right to represent all doctors, and that to be based on local medical committees which shall have an increased democratic function to fulfil.
I share my hon. Friend's wish that I should maintain contact with the whole body of general practitioners and there is already machinery, based on local medical committees, whereby I can do this.It is primarily for the profession to decide how they wish to be represented in negotiations with me.
While I do not wish to interfere with the profession's right to decide its own negotiating machinery, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend does not agree that it is very confusing to have these three national conferences, which have recently met, talking about resignations? Would it not facilitate the negotiations if the profession had only one conference? Would my right hon. Friend look again at the powers which he gives to local medical committees? They have conducted a ballot about resignation. I understand that that is not my right hon. Friend's responsibility. Is it, therefore, admissible that this kind of undemocratic machinery should exist as part of the framework?
It is a fact that what local medical committees do in that connection is a matter not for me but for the profession. I agree with my hon. Friend that the position, with these various bodies taking decisions, is confusing, but it arises out of the structure of the medical profession, which I am always assured is completely democratic. Perhaps that is why it is rather complicated. However, I am not at all sure that the matter would be simplified if all doctors were represented by a single negotiating body in their discussions with me.
Will the right hon. Gentleman resist the suggestion by his hon. Friend that he should restrict the freedom of doctors to band together in any association that they want? We believe with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a matter rightly left to the doctors, and I hope that he will confirm that that is his view.
I am certainly very willing to leave it to the doctors. I do not accept the suggestion by the right hon. Gentleman that that was what my hon. Friend was putting forward. I think that what my hon. Friend wanted to do was to see whether there was some way of simplifying the machinery. If there is to be simplification, I think that it must come through the initiative of the profession itself.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider some action in regard to the Chairman of the Birmingham Executive Council, Mr. Rhydderch, who, in a very tense situation in relation to general practitioners in Birmingham, is issuing inflammatory political statements?
I do not accept for a moment the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the action of the Chairman of the Executive Council in Birmingham, who is faced with a difficult situation. If the hon. Gentleman has any questions to ask about the situation in Birmingham, I should be glad if he would put them on the Order Paper.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I was not seeking to interfere with the right of doctors to have their own machinery, but my hope is that in the negotiations it might be in their own interests if he would seek to persuade them to have a more streamlined and effective method, which would be for their own good and the good of the country?
House Of Commons Catering
asked the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, what progress has been made during the past three months with regard to the Special Report of the Committee's conclusions, based on the general review of the administration of Refreshment Department; and if she will present an interim report to the House containing recommendations for increasing the wages of the catering staff and improving conditions for them.
The general review by the Kitchen Committee of the administration of the Refreshment Department is still in progress. I hope, however, that the Committee will be in a position to make an interim Special Report before the House rises for the Summer Adjournment, which will deal, among other matters, with the wages and conditions of staff.I should like to take the opportunity to place on record on behalf of the Kitchen Committee and, I hope, of all Members our thanks for the attention given to us by the staff during the recent all-night sittings, and this applies to the Manager and every individual member of the staff.
While I appreciate that reply from the hon. Lady, may I ask whether she would, in view of the recent increase in the price of meals and of salaries of Members, think of recommending an immediate increase in the remuneration of the staff, who give very excellent service to the House?
I did not want to have to say this, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is a little behind the times. This matter has already been dealt with to a very large extent and will be recorded so that it can be discussed by the House when our Special Report is submitted.
Might I heartily associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself with what the hon. Lady has said about the splendid service given to us during the all-night sittings? Is the hon. Lady aware that there are some part-time staff who are not paid extra for additional hours of service? Will she look into this immediately?
The Committee is looking into the whole question of payment of staff, and it has already dealt with a great many of the staff. There may be one or two more still to be dealt with. All these matters will be included in the Report which we hope to have ready for the House before it rises for the Summer Recess.
I appreciate the recent increase, of course, but would not the hon. Lady consider making a proper and substantial review of the remuneration, and making it even before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
The Committee has already dealt with this position, and I do not think there is any member of the Refreshment Department staff who has not received an increase in salary already. The Kitchen Committee will be meeting today, and it will deal with any matters which are outstanding and consider its Report for submission to the House, which we hope will be before the House rises for the Summer Recess.
River Authorities (Form Wr5)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will take steps to ensure that river authorities replace Form W.R.5, being the application for a licence of right, with a simplified version capable of easy interpretation.
The information asked for in this form is essential to enable river authorities to carry out their licensing duties under the Water Resources Act, 1963. There will be no occasion to use the form after 30th June.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the complexity of this form is such that many farmers are unable to complete it without professional assistance? Furthermore, it is therefore impossible for these farmers to submit their returns by 30th June. Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that only about 500 out of 1,000 of these forms have been received in Cornwall? Will he instruct the water boards to extend the time limit?
I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. There have been complaints about the form but the information was required and, indeed, the need for it has been debated twice in this House already. If there is anything we can do, we shall do it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in my years as a farmer, I have filled in some pretty bad forms but that this form is the limit? Should it not be withdrawn and a simpler form put in its place?
The form is a consequence of the Water Resources Act, 1963, passed by the party opposite.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that "taking note" is not good enough? The time limit expires on 30th June. Will he now take action and give us an assurance that those farmers who, through no fault of their own, fail to send forms in by then, will be given extra time? This is very important to them, because, if they miss the date, they will not get a licence of right.
I can give that assurance to the House. My Department will help those people who are unable to fill in the form and we shall have consultations with the water authorities.
Nationalised Industries (Land)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government to what extent he proposes to allow local authorities to acquire redundant land at present within the ownership of the nationalised industries, and what conditions will be attached to such acquisition.
My right hon. Friend is prepared to issue loan sanction to local authorities for the acquisition of land by agreement from nationalised industries wherever he is satisfied that they have a good case for buying the land.
I thank my hon. Friend for that satisfactory reply. I hope that, in areas where there are fairly large tracts of land redundant because of rail closures, the conditions of transfer will at least be favourable to local authorities, which are the appropriate bodies to carry out developments within their districts.
My right hon. Friend's policy is to encourage local authorities to purchase land for housing as an essential part of their function. We shall do all we can to help.
The hon. Gentleman, in his reply, used the words "by agreement". Does that rule out the possibility of local authorities acquiring land where nationalised industries have control? If it does, then that is a retrograde step.
If a local authority reports difficulties with a nationalised industry we shall gladly intervene and help it acquire the land.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the past, some of the nationalised industries have given preferential treatment to private enterprise in selling land that local authorities have also wanted? Will he ensure that, in future, preferential treatment is given to local authorities to purchase land needed for housing and other building from nationalised industries?
I again make it clear that it is the Minister's policy, in conjunction with the nationalised industries, to get all the land possible for local authorities to carry out their housing programmes. If there are individual difficulties in obtaining land from any bodies, either Ministries or nationalised industries, my Department will be glad to intervene and do what it can to help.
May we take it that similar facilities will be given for War Office land that becomes redundant? Will the hon. Gentleman make special representations to the War Department to make certain that it has not available land which is not at present being properly used?
Whereas the procedure was that, as land became available, it went for private auction, today it has to be considered for public use.
Railway Accident (Isle Of Sheppey)
(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement about the accident on the railway line between West Minster and Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey on Friday 25th June, 1965, in which two young children were killed.
I understand that three children, one aged four and the others three, climbed from marshland on to the railway embankment through a 10-strand wire fence, and the two younger ones were electrocuted. The older one stayed away from the rails and was unharmed. Police on the road nearby saw the children and tried to stop an approaching train from Sheerness in order to pull the children away from the live rail but the train driver was not able to stop his train before passing over the bodies. I should like to express my very sincere regrets and those of my right hon. Friend that this tragic accident should have happened.
Will my hon. Friend allow me to be associated with him in his message of sympathy to the families involved in this tragic accident? Can he say whether the West Minster unmanned level crossing was in any way involved in the accident? Is he aware that there is a long history of attempts to get something safer—for instance, a footbridge—where this unmanned level crossing is? Even if it was not involved, will he look at the matter? Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the safety precautions and the wire fencing in the area where the accident occurred?
The crossing was not involved in the accident. It is about half a mile away from where the children unfortunately penetrated the wire fence and managed to get on the railway line. Nevertheless, I shall, of course, have the additional matter to which my hon. Friend referred investigated. I think that I should say no more about the other matters, which will be the subject of an immediate investigation by the chief inspecting officer and a report will be made and published.
The Opposition would like to be associated with the expression of sympathy made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
National Board For Prices And Incomes (Report On Road Haulage Rates)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement.The House will wish to know that the first Report to be issued by the National Board for Prices and Incomes is being published this afternoon and copies are available in the Vote Office. This is an interim Report on road haulage rates, a case which I referred to the Board on 6th May. The principal recommendation of the Report is that the practice of general rate recommendations by the Road Haulage Association is not in the interests of the industry or its customers and should be abandoned; and that in consequence the latest recommendation for a general 5 per cent. increase should be withdrawn, and in any case should not be accepted by the industry's customers. The Report further recommends that it is for each haulier to judge, in the light of his own circumstances, the extent to which he can absorb increases in costs instead of passing them on to the customer. Other recommendations relate to the development of voluntary wage-negotiating machinery, to ways of achieving higher productivity and a number of other matters. I and my colleagues will be discussing the main recommendations with the Road Haulage Association tomorrow, and the other recommendations in the Report will be discussed with the Association and the trade unions by the responsible Government Departments. This first Report by the Board is valuable and encouraging, not only for the substance of its recommendations, which are, in my judgment, fully in line with the agreed principles on which the prices and incomes policy is based, but also because it clearly illustrates two points: First, fiat this is not a negative policy designed merely to secure restraint but is a constructive policy concerned to foster productivity, economic growth and general prosperity. Second, that even in a complicated issue of this sort, it is possible for a detailed investigation to be carried out in a relatively short time. Both by the quality of its first Report and by the speed with which it has been prepared, I think that the National Board for Prices and Incomes has launched itself into the public life of this country in a way which augurs well for the future.
The Secretary of State will be aware that we shall want to study the Report with care; in particular, the detailed matters which he has not described, obviously because there is not time in a statement of this kind. He has not said whether the Government endorse the Report or not, unless he means by his statement that the Report is
—these principles have never yet been made very clear—that the Government do endorse it. If the Government do endorse the Report, do they also endorse the passage stating that the industry's customers should not accept the 5 per cent. increase? If the Board recommends that it is up to the haulier to decide what his increases should be, surely it is also for the customer to decide which increases he is prepared to accept and no general rule can be laid down. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, whether recommendations are made or not, costs still increase so long as the Government force them up by taxation and inflation, with consequences for the road haulage industry? As the Government are apparently prepared to agree with the recommendations, is this not in complete contradiction of their attitude when we were dealing with the Resale Prices Act? Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that road haulage is a competitive industry if only because hauliers can carry their own goods under C licences? If the Government's policy is now to support competition, why has the Geddes Report been shelved and why did the Minister of Transport state less than a fortnight ago that his policy is not one of competition in the industry?"… fully in line with the agreed principles on which the prices and incomes policy is based …"
No doubt the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) will be asking my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport about that.I understand that one of the difficulties in this industry—and it is one of the things which obviously has to be taken into account—is that the practice of trying to enforce a general increase right across the board reduces and does not increase competition. As to whether the Government accept the Report, when I said that in my judgment it was fully in line with the agreed principles on which the policy is based, that is exactly what I meant, because not all of the recommendations are for the Government to put into effect. They also affect many other people. I have asked the Association, and it has agreed, to come to see me, and I thought that it would be more courteous to await that meeting before announcing our own views in too much detail. As to the customer's view, the Report has clearly shown that if there is an attempt at this time to enforce a general increase which is not related to the curcumstances of any individual haulier, then the customer should use his power by making his own selection of haulier. If we are to bring an end to these inflationary tendencies throughout industry, one of the things which has to happen is that the power of the customer to shop around and to decide where to buy must be invoked. On the Government's policy, the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly why the increases in taxes have to be made. One of the reasons why we are pressing ahead so hard with the prices and incomes policy is to get rid of the inflationary spiral which was such a distinguishing feature of the tenure of office of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Has the right hon. Gentleman asked the Transport and General Workers' Union whether it will refrain from asking for an overall increase in wages?
It is not part of the prices and incomes policy to stop people from asking for overall increases in wages. As I have repeatedly pointed out to the House—and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is falling into the bad habits of the Official Opposition—it is not part of the policy to enforce restraint of wages. What we want is any overall increase in all personal incomes to be in line with the overall rise in production and productivity in the nation.
May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his defence of free enterprise and competition in the road haulage industry? Can he say more about the ways of increasing production and achieving higher productivity which he mentioned in the statement? Secondly, can he give the House an assurance that other Reports by the National Board for Prices and Incomes will be produced with equal expedition, particularly that concerning electricity prices?
I have said repeatedly that there is a place for both public and private enterprise and that both must be enterprising and allowed to earn their due reward, but that neither must try to impose on the customer charges which are not justified.On the subject of the recommendations for higher productivity, it would probably be better for the Report to be read, when I shall be readily available to the House for further questions after the House has had a chance to read the recommendations and I have had a chance to discuss them with the bodies concerned. I am sure that the Board will act with equal expedition on all its other Reports. It has a full volume of work at the moment and is working very hard on it. I expect to have the next Reports within a few weeks from now.
As collective resale price maintenance in respect of goods is already virtually illegal under the 1956 legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman consider extending the provisions of that legislation to services now that services and goods are regarded in the same light?
It does not look as though that is necessary, although I will think about it. It is obvious that we are able to deal with that matter with this machinery just as well.
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's touching faith in competition and more competition and consumer choice, am I completely correct in thinking that the nationalisation of long-distance road haulage has been dropped from the Socialist programme?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman may be reading more into my statement than I said. What I said was that where industry purported to operate as a free enterprise industry it had better be freely enterprising.
Ballot For Notices Of Motion
Relations With Europe
I beg to give notice that on Tuesday, 13th July, I shall call attention to relations with Europe, and move a Resolution.
Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament
I beg to give notice that on Tuesday, 13th July, I shall call attention to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and move a Resolution.
Select Committee On Procedure (Reports)
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), I beg to give notice that on Tuesday, 13th July, he will call attention to the two recent Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure, and move a Resolution.
Monopolies And Mergers Bill
As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause—(Presentation Of Reports Of Commission To Parliament)
If a report of the Commission is, with or without omissions, presented by command of Her Majesty to either House of Parliament otherwise than at or during the time of a sitting of that House, the presentation of the report shall, for the purposes of the principal Act and this Act, be treated as the laying by the Board of Trade of that report before that House.—[ Mr. Jay.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.The Clause has the laudable objective of speeding up the procedure under the Bill, especially in the case of reports on mergers or proposed mergers. The difficulty arises because under the original Monopolies Act, 1948, any report of the Monopolies Commission had to be laid before Parliament before it could be published, or the Board of Trade could take any action and make an order arising out of the report. However, as hon. Members know, reports cannot be laid before Parliament if Parliament is in Recess. Therefore, if a report of this kind were to be received by the Board of Trade during the Summer Recess, the Board would be debarred from publishing it or making any order arising out of it. That has not greatly mattered hitherto, although no doubt it has caused delay, with outright monopolies with which the legislation was previously concerned. But we are now concerned also with mergers and the difficulty might cause a much more serious hold-up. For instance, if the Commision were to report in favour of permitting a merger, which had been under examination, to go forward only on certain conditions, and if the Board of Trade could not act throughout the whole of the period of the Summer Recess, no order could be made and nothing could be done and the firm or firms concerned would be left in an undesirable state of uncertainty. It is therefore quite clear that we have to add this power to enable the procedure to work more rapidly. I should like to reassure the House that it will not mean that the Board of Trade will be able to make orders breaking up a monopoly or merger—the last resort powers which are included in the Bill. That process requires a full affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament and such approval could not be obtained when the House was not sitting. Short of the rather extreme action which we only expect to take in the last resort, this will permit the delay to be overcome and the necessary action to be taken without requiring Parliament to resume.
We on this side of the House welcome this improvement to the Bill. Throughout the Second Reading, as the hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade knows, one of the points emphasised from both sides of the Committee was the need for speed in making many of these decisions, and particularly in relation to mergers. As was mentioned on many occasions during the debates during the Committee stage, delay could impose considerable hardship and damage on companies which might be proposing mergers, and we believe that the power which the Government are seeking to take by the inclusion of this Clause is an improvement and helps matters. Therefore we welcome it.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.
New Clause—(Extension Of The Principal Act)
Subsection (1) of section 2 of the principal Act (which authorises references to the Commission in respect of the prevalence of conditions to which that Act applies) as extended by section 2 of this Act shall be read and have effect as if the proviso to the said subsection were omitted therefrom.—[ Mr. van Straubenzee.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move. That the Clause be read a Second time.
I suggest that with this Clause we might discuss new Clause 3 No. 3—"Further extension of principal Act".
I think I should make it plain at the very outset, in case the slightly obtuse legal language should mislead some Members, though I feel sure not the Treasury Bench, that there is a simple non-controversial object to this new Clause, namely, to bring within the ambit of the Monopolies and Mergers Act, as I trust it will become, the nationalised industries of the country. I am encouraged in making this argument to the House by the interesting report to which the House has just listened from the First Secretary of State, which is very germane to my argument, and to which I shall return later.The Bill, as it has emerged from careful, detailed, and, I hope, constructive examination upstairs extending over a reasonable period of time, has significantly extended the powers of the Board of Trade in relation to monopolies and given it new powers in relation to mergers. But because of the provisions of what is defined in the Bill as the principal Act, the 1948 Act, the nationalised industries are effectively excluded from any of the existing powers and from any of the new powers which would come into being when this Bill becomes an Act. There have been in recent months significant advances in expressions of view from the Government Front Bench on the general subject of the necessity to inject a competitive spirit into the economy and an encouraging advance in the Treasury's view that this should include the nationalised industries. We recall that the First Secretary of State has acted in this particular field in relation to the Prices and Incomes Board. While I realise that I must not stray too far into that field, it is worth recording that only a few minutes ago we heard the First Secretary of State say that the conditions which he wanted to create were to add to and encourage the power of the customer "to shop around". That was his phrase, as near as I can paraphrase it, and it found a warm echo on these benches. There are increasing numbers of people who are doubtful whether that particular aspect of economic policy will, by itself, be sufficient. There are increasing numbers of people who believe that an increasingly sharpened edge to competition is necessary both in the private and in the public sector. It is here that this Bill in general, and this new Clause and the associated new Clause in particular, become so very important. We on this side regard it as quixotic, to put it at the least, that these gigantic enterprises are still carefully protected from the searching powers of existing legislation and the still more searching powers which this Bill will give if it comes on to the Statute Book. 3.45 p.m. I do not want to take the time of the House, but I would like to give three short examples of the sort of situation I have in mind, which will show that it might well be to the benefit of the nation as a whole and to the Government's economic policy if these new Clauses were accepted. We all know that the mining of coal is virtually exclusively in the hands of the State. That is the present state of the law. There is throughout the country a natural movement away from coal as a form of energy and that natural movement is being unnaturally resisted by the State. The principal competitor of coal is oil. Here, I declare an interest as one who is professionally connected with one of the oil companies. Sales of coal to industry generally in the last three years have fallen by 2½ million tons in spite of the action of the State in protecting coal to the tune of £60 million a year from the fuel oil tax. It is equally accepted that one of the reasons why coal is up against this sharp edge of competition is the oil industry, which is itself intensely competitive. I do not need to give any examples of the competition between individual oil companies operating in this country. We on this side of the House firmly believe that the intensive competition within the oil industry is healthy and leads to efficiency. It does not need to be ruthless, and I have only to give the example of the remarkable agreements which have come out of Fawley, from the Esso Company, to illustrate how far ahead the oil industry can be, or at any rate, some parts of the industry can be, in labour relations. The quixotic position is that the oil companies operating here are potentially within the ambit of this Bill while their competitor, coal, is not. That is a situation which will be put right by the acceptance of this new Clause. The second example is also very much in the news. We are assured by the Prime Minister that a Bill to nationalise steel will be presented to this House in the present session, in spite of careful questioning and an opportunity to get out of that undertaking, which he did not take, last week. One assumes this assurance still stands. In parenthesis I would like to say this, and perhaps the President of the Board of Trade would care to transmit it—I noticed a certain kindly consideration for the Opposition in the Prime Minister's statement on that matter, as though he might be anxious that we should not be prepared to sit throughout August to debate a steel nationalisation Bill. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will tell the Prime Minister that we are quite prepared to do without any Summer Recess at all if necessary. There is no reticence on this side of the House to do the necessary duty on that score. To return to the strict letter of this new Clause, the steel industry uses electricity extensively and I am told by the British Steel Founders Association that it has carried out substantial trial tests on a number of its own members which shows that over the last three years the average cost of electricity per unit consumed in that industry has increased by 24·96 per cent., whereas all other costs of their production, taken together, have risen by 4·24 per cent. When the House considers that electricity charges in this massive industry, which is under the direct threat of public ownership, account for 5 per cent. of the total cost of steel production, it will realise how vitally important a constituent factor is the price of electricity. I am told that the rise is the equivalent of £2 8s. a ton. I have no doubt that the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of State, in reply, will refer to the plethora of consumer councils, advisory committees, and the like, which are certainly available in the nationalised electricity undertaking. But the real difficulty about making representations is that the tariff increases vary, not only from area to area, but even from customer to customer, and this makes it extremely difficult, particularly for the small consumer, to make effective representations. If the Government had the power in Clause 3(3) in relation to the electricity industry, how much stronger would be the case of the small consumer on price increases proposed by the natonalised electricity industry. Ministers would be very out of touch if they were to suggest later in the debate that there was not at this moment a wave of indignation at the way in which small consumers must, willy nilly, accept the price increases for electricity recently imposed on them yet again. The third of my three short examples is transport by road. My belief is that in the private sector of road transport—and I mean by this bus services and the like—as in the nationalised sector, such as in the London passenger area, we shall have to be a deal more adventurous in introducing new methods of transport. The time will come when we shall look afresh at the licensing system, which was designed for an inter-war period in totally different conditions. The contrast which I draw is that, whereas the private firms are potentially subject to examination under the Bill the great nationalised undertakings, such as the London Transport Board, are not. In some places transport is at crisis point. I know that my constituency is not the only constituency where country bus services are closing down because, in part, of the restrictive licensing provisions. But in London, whatever examination the State might wish to make of the problem, they are outside the terms of the Bill because they are a nationalised undertaking and are expressly excluded by the principal Act. I should have thought that for a Government, who were trying, as I think is the case at times, courageously to introduce new methods in this field, it would be positively to their advantage to have the power of this Act behind them. Let me give one example. The First Secretary of State has been prepared, typically, to have the courage to take and defend the decision about liner trains. I should like to see that extended into such things as labour-saving buses in London. However, both are being blocked by the intense conservatism of the last residue of high priesthood conservatism which is to be found in the trade unions. It would be positively to the advantage of a modernising Government to have the potential power of the Bill behind them when it becomes an Act to induce a sense of urgency into the modernisation of the country, which we all agree is necessary. Finally, there is a new reason why, in spite of the fact that previous Governments may not have acted in this sense, it is more timely than ever that this power should be given. The Government have removed extensively the restrictions on nationalised industries to manufacture. I do not argue about that; I should not be in order if I did. But that is the fact. This creates a new situation of which hon. Members opposite clearly approve. But, if they approve of it, they must face the consequences of it. They are not putting monopoly, whether it be State monopoly or private monopoly, on an equal footing. Take, for example, the railway workshops and their new freedom to manufacture commercially. The only customer in this country for the type of equipment which they manufacture is itself a nationalised industry. Whereas their competitors are potentially within the ambit of the Bill, the nationalised railway workshops are not. I want to make it plain that what I am seeking to continue is the attack on monopoly. The new Clauses are not an attack on nationalised industries; they are an attack on monopoly. I believe them to be timely and consistent. For these reasons, I commend them to the House.
I wish to say a few words on what the new Clause is not about because whenever an attempt has been made in the past to bring the nationalised industries within the orbit of the Monopolies Commission the same argument is always put forward, namely, that Parliament has willed a monopoly and that it would therefore be foolish and otiose to ask the Commission to inquire into whether there was a monopoly or not. Of course, that is so, and we do not seek to reverse that position by these new Clauses. We do not seek to give the Commission power to investigate whether there is a monopoly in the nationalised industries. That would be ridiculous.The purpose of the new Clauses is limited. It is to inquire whether, given a monopoly, things are being done by the monopoly which are against the public interest. In other words, it is only the second of the two tasks which the Commission may usually undertake which we seek to introduce. It will not be good enough, therefore, for the Treasury spokesman to advance the usual argument, which is that Parliament has willed a monopoly and that, in these circumstances, there is no more to be said. For that reason I hope that we shall have from the Government spokesman a reasoned explanation about what is wrong with the suggestion that we should see how these monopolies use their powers. A great many of the nationalised industries are not monopolist in the strict sense of the word, although almost all of them, I should say, are monopolist in the sense of the word as it is used in the Bill. I cannot see why the things which a State monopolist, or near-monopolist, does should not be inquired into in the same way as private monopolists and a judgment made as to whether those things are or are not in the public interest. Nor is it good enough to say that the Minister is a sponsoring Minister or a responsible Minister and that he has power to give directions. No doubt, as a result of the adverse report of the kind which we suggest, the Minister would give directions and that would be enough; it would not be necessary to lay the formal order as in the case of private enterprise. But I do not see what is objectionable, in principle or in machinery, in giving the Commission the limited power suggested by these new Clauses, and I therefore support them.
I do not think that there is any difference between us in desiring, apropos this Clause as in other Clauses, to promote competition and to promote the greatest efficiency of these enterprises whether public or private. The only disagreement on the new Clause is about the legislative and the administrative method and machine by which we do it.I entirely recognise that in the new Clause the Opposition are not seeking to give power to the Commission to inquire whether there should be a monopoly when Parliament has decided that there should be one; the Opposition recognise that that would be patently absurd. What is suggested is that Parliament having set up the monopoly, and having given it power to do certain things and having given a Government Department certain powers over it, the things that it does should be inquired into by the Monopolies Commission. I am not satisfied that even that would be a sensible procedure, for this reason. The fact is that Parliament, when it set up these organisations, did not merely decide that there should be a monopoly or a near-monopoly, however one defines it. It also decided to lay down a whole number of safeguards. It has given to the Government Department concerned—the Ministry of Power in the case of coal, gas and electricity—power of direction over the public enterprise in a number of specified ways. It has also set up consumers' councils, which may, perhaps, have limited powers but which are, nevertheless, additional to the other safeguards. When the policies of these enterprises come to be scrutinised, there is also a Select Committee of this House which can inquire precisely into the things done and can make recommendations to the House and to the Minister about how they should be set right. Therefore, Parliament having made all these provisions, having decided that this should be the way in which these organisations should be controlled and having set up fairly elaborate safeguards, it would not be sensible for Parliament then to ask another public authority, in the shape of the Monopolies Commission, to take a view about precisely the general practices and policies of these enterprises which were already being supervised and regulated by an existing public authority. The difference between the two sides of the House is not in any way as to whether there should be public regulation and supervision of the policies of the public monopoly. It is simply whether it is really sensible, when Parliament has set up a system by Statute, then to ask another authority to take a view as to whether those powers are being properly exercised by Parliament and the Minister concerned. That does not seem to me to be a sensible procedure. If we think that the powers which Parliament has given for the supervision of these organisations are inadequate, the right course would clearly be to amend the legislation setting out those powers and to ensure that they are such as Parliament thinks they ought to be and not to say, "We think that the legislation is inadequate, so we will ask somebody else to do the job." I remind hon. Members opposite that that is the view which has been taken by Governments in all previous Parliaments in enacting legislation on monopolies and restrictive practices. Indeed, it was the view of the White Paper issued by the previous Government of the party opposite only in March, 1964, which proposed many of the changes which we are making in the Bill but in which there is no reference to any proposal to bring the nationalised industries within the ambit of this legislation. I am, therefore, following today precisely the doctrine adopted by my predecessor 18 months ago. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who introduced the new Clause, said that there was an anomaly because the oil industry—which, I agree, is in competition with coal—would come under the jurisdiction of the Monopolies Commission whereas the coal industry would not. I should have thought that the anomaly was that at present the prices and policy of the coal industry are, within certain limits, subject to the supervision of a Minister and that the practices and prices of the oil industry are entirely free of control. The Bill will restore something more like equity in that it will make it possible, as the hon. Member said, conceivably for the oil industry to be examined by the Commission; and that will bring it into line with the coal industry, which is already subject to control by a Minister. The hon. Member made a good point in saying that we now have the spectacle of the Prices and Incomes Board inquiring into some of the prices which are charged by public bodies such as the London Electricity Board and that this perhaps alters the argument. At first sight it may seem that it does, but when one looks into it a little more closely, it is apparent that it does not. In the first place, the Prices and Incomes Board has jurisdiction over wages and salaries as well as over prices and the powers given to Ministers by legislation setting up public enterprises have never included any control over wages and salaries. Therefore, it could not be argued, as I have been arguing, that the powers already exist and that nothing further is required. The real point, however, seems to me to be that the day-to-day management of a public enterprise has always been excluded from the authority of the relevant Minister. By and large, over the range of nationalised industries, Parliament has given the Minister considerable power over general policies and over the general conduct of operation of the boards of those industries. It has not, however, normally given him power over day-to-day decisions, for instance, on prices. What the Prices and Incomes Board inquires into is not the general policy, the general constitution or the general set-up of an electricity, gas, coal or other authority. In the case of public enterprises as well as private firms, it will inquire into a particular suggested rise in prices or charges at a certain date. That would be something which is not normally within the power of the Minister. Therefore, it seems to us that there is no such overlap here as there would be if we were to bring nationalised industries within the scope of the Bill and give the Commission power to inquire into the very same issues as those on which Parliament has already given authority to the Minister.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this point a little further? He is causing doubt, at least to some hon. Members. Surely, the very fact that there has been a reference to the new Prices and Incomes Board of an increase in a nationalised industry means that Parliament has intervened in the day-to-day administration of the nationalised industry. That could hardly be anything more day-to-day than the very facts that the Board is looking into.
That is precisely my argument; I am sorry that I did not make it clear. It is just because the interventions of the Prices and Incomes Board must in practice relate to day-to-day management—that is to say, individual changes in price—and since those questions of day-to-day management are not within the jurisdiction of the Minister that no overlap is caused by the policy of permitting the Prices and Incomes Board to intervene in such cases, even in the case of nationalised industries.Therefore, I do not think that the intervention of the Prices and Incomes Board in these cases alters the basic argument that as regards the general practices and policies of these enterprises, Parliament has given control over them to a Minister supplemented by consumers' councils and by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and that, therefore, it would be illogical and inefficient in administration and legislation to give power to another public body to intervene. That principle still stands. Therefore, while I entirely accept the wish of hon. Members opposite to see that there is proper supervision and control of these enterprises, as well as the possible control of the Monopolies Commission over private firms, it would be a clumsy and inefficient way of doing it to add a second public body to those which already have the necessary power.
In order to help us to consider these new Clauses more clearly, would the right hon. Gentleman say how often the recommendations of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries have been debated in the House and how often its recommendations have been accepted by the industries concerned? He made reference to the Select Committee as being one way of dealing with the point we have in mind. It would be interesting, therefore, to see exactly how much power Parliament has over these industries, and what has resulted from its deliberations.
I did not rest my argument solely on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Nor do I regard it as an unimportant body. As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, the practice is that three days in a year should be given, normally, to debating Reports of the Select Committee, and it certainly has had a considerable influence on the policy of the Departments responsible, and, indeed, on the nationalised industries themselves. If the hon. Gentleman wants detailed chapter and verse for that I shall be very glad to give it him, but I think that he will agree with me that these Reports have been valuable and have been influential.
I must say I find the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman rather extraordinary, because surely we are at a time when the attitude towards the nationalised industries in this country is changing, and this is, indeed, reflected in the fact that we are now proposing possibly to submit the trade operations of the nationalised industries to the prices review body. I think the point when my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is trying to make is that it really is not true at the moment that the scrutiny, and the time devoted in this House is detailed examination of the policies which the nationalised industries are carrying on, is really sufficient.What we are really suggesting, I am sure both sides of the House will agree, is that one should have a consistent attitude towards pricing problems whether they be of a nationalised industry or whether they be of a private enterprise industry, and the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has put forward this new Clause, and why we on this side of the House are supporting it, is that we believe that the expertise which the Monopolies Commission has, and the increased scope for operation which it will have as a result of its being enlarged by this Bill, means it should adopt a comparative basis, comparing the private sector and the public sector. The example which was given of the fuel industry is important because we do have at the present time a system, in the National Coal Board, for example, where pricing policy is either a regional pricing policy or a basing-point pricing policy, not similar to the pricing policy adopted by the oil industry. Some of us would feel that in both instances these policies should be challenged, and examined by some impartial body, but we feel it would be quite wrong if the policy of the oil industry were to be examined for pricing policy while at the same time the Coal Board's policy, possibly open to the same objections, were to be excluded from reference. What is clear is that though a Report from the Select Committee comes to this House it is most unlikely that it will have had the opportunity to examine in detail the underlying policy in pricing which the body concerned has, because it will have looked at every industry in isolation, whereas the Commission will have a comparative basis, and be able to look at the overall policy. We on this side feel that it is essential that where private and public industry are competing, then, if their practices are to be investigated, they should be investigated by an impartial body, and it is for this reason we are putting forward the new Clause, and it is for this reason that I hope we shall support it.
The President of the Board of Trade perhaps did less than justice to one argument my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) put forward, and I hope that he will think again about this matter, because I do not think that there is by any means a wide gulf between the thinking on this side of the House and the right hon. Gentleman's own thinking on this point. I think that if he were to accept this new Clause he would save himself considerable future trouble and would also create an even-tempered climate of opinion in industry, particularly industry which is competing aloneside—shall I say?—some of our big public monopolies.It has been said that the attitude is changing towards this problem. The President of the Board of Trade referred to the White Paper of a year ago saying that it made no reference to this point. I would go so far as to say that there has been a very substantial development of public opinion and thinking both as to what our attitude to monopolies should be and what we should do to encourage competition. In the last twelve months there has certainly been a change in policy. We have had a change of Government in the last twelve months and, therefore, we are now considering the situation against a different background from the expected development of policy over the last thirteen years. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that the powers of the nationalised industries in trade and manufacture have been extended. I think that this is a very material point in discussing this new Clause, because I think it is quite possible that where the producing industries are nationalised industries, and their sole customer may well be another nationalised corporation, the situation could arise where industries which are now in competition with one another in the private enterprise sector of industry could be driven out of business by the extension of the trading of nationalised corporations with one another, and that is the situation where now a nationalised corporation is able to enjoy the benefit of—I think the phrase is—shopping around. Monopolies may yet be created without Parliamentary sanction at all, and they may be created by the extension of the activities of nationalised corporations, and as the result of this extension of competition, private enterprise, and the ability of firms to compete, may be eliminated completely from our industrial field. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to reflect upon this point again. I refer briefly to a fact which as been mentioned, that these Acts can be dealt with by amending them, as it were, one by one, if it is thought necessary, if it is thought that a change in the situation is necessary, but I do not think any of us would expect to amend them without disturbing the Parliamentary timetable. I imagine that such legislation cannot be put in hand in the Parliamentary timetable this decade, at any rate. So I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman takes the opportunity of putting into the Bill powers allowing public monopolies to be viewed in the same light as private industry. To return to the point I made at the beginning, he might have encouraged the public sector of industry to be competitive. I could take a long time on this, and no one on the right hon. Gentleman's side has stronger views on the subject than I, about giving encouragement to industry to be truly competitive, but if we are to encourage industry to be truly competitive we have to give it confidence that it is operating in fair conditions. I make this almost a matter of principle and that we need to put industry in each sector on the same footing, and I see no reason why not. Why should not public industry be on the same basis as the private sector? That is why I welcome so much the attitude of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs on some of these matters. Almost drawing a bow at a venture, I myself, when we were in Committee on the Bill, drew attention to this question of a national incomes policy. I certainly think it is a very serious consideration in accepting this new Clause that wherever possible public enterprise and private enterprise should be subject to the same type of supervision and control. So I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will think again, because we on this side of the House as well have tried very hard to make this a lively and vigorous Bill, and if he were to accept the new Clause, not only would that be beneficial to the country, but we should feel that he accepted our attitude on this question.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question arising out of something which he said this afternoon, bearing on the statement by the First Secretary. As I understood it, the President of the Board of Trade said that the reference of a nationalised industry to the Prices and Incomes Board was not relevant because matters such as wages and prices were matters of day to day administration and were not under the direct authority of any Minister, whereas the sort of matters into which the Monopolies Commission would be inquiring were matters over which the Minister had power. This argument holds water only if the inquiry of the Prices and Incomes Board is limited to matters over which Ministers have no direct authority. In other words, it is limited to matters of day to day administration.From what Mr. Aubrey Jones said, I had thought that that was not so, and before we reach a decision on the new Clause it would be helpful to know whether it is the right hon. Gentleman's view that the Prices and Incomes Board will be permitted to inquire only into those matters of day-to-day administration over which Ministers have no control.
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I suppose I must accept that the new Clause has been put down in good faith, but it is somewhat remarkable to me, and I think it is worth drawing attention to it, that although it may have been put forward in good faith, and has been argued so persuasively by a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it was not put forward while the Bill was being discussed in Committee upstairs. We had eleven sittings upstairs, and the Bill has been under consideration since 8th April—that is three months ago. It is therefore remarkable that such a central point of principle as this is now assumed to be, judging by the short speeches to which we have just listened, should have been delayed for so long.I am driven to the conclusion—and I do not wish to be discourteous to anybody—that this is a sort of late spanner thrown into the works. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] One has to draw rational conclusions from the evidence available. If this is so important, why was it not introduced three months ago? We discussed hundreds of Amendments in Committee upstairs, very often with great good humour, but this point, which is now regarded as so important, was not brought out. It has now been trotted out as though it has a fundamental bearing on this Measure. I do not think this is playing fair with the House.
A matter of principle of such importance as this ought to be discussed in a forum which enables all Members of the House to take part if they wish to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to take that view, but my experience of Standing Committees extend over many years. I have served on various Committees, discussing a variety of subjects, and it is my experience that important matters are usually introduced at an early stage of the Bill, and all this temerity about everybody having a chance to take part in the discussion does not sound convincing when we hear arguments against the Finance Bill being taken on the Floor of the House. One often hears it said that that Bill should go to a Committee upstairs.
Only by hon. Members on that side of the House.
I do not want to make much of the point, because I do not wish to waste time. Nevertheless, it is valid to point out that if this is such an important point of principle we ought to have heard about it some time ago.I am sorry that I was not present at the beginning of this discussion. When I came in a little while ago, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who has shown great diligence during the discussions on the Bill, was on his feet, and I believe that I heard him make some reference to the nationalised industries, and particularly to railway workshops. I did not, unfortunately, get the complete drift of his argument, but perhaps I might point out that the railway workshops, which are part of a great nationalised industry, have been supported by this house in all its manifestations. They have been supported by the Labour Government and by a succession of Conservative Governments, but they have aways been restricted in their competition with private industry. I have had quite a few differences of opinion with my right hon. Friends on this matter. I want to restore freedom to the nationalised industries. I want to give them freedom to compete on equal terms with private enterprise. They are unable to do this at present, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will take particular note of what I am saying. I want to restore complete freedom to the railway workshops, which are part of a nationalised industry. I know that there are bound to be differences between the two sides of the House, because this is what politics is about, but perhaps I might point out that the hon. and learned Member for Dar-wen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who has been so eloquent on this issue, did not have these inhibitions in a previous incarnation, when he was a Member of my party before he joined the party opposite.
Oh, yes, he did.
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be reminded of that.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read my 1945 election address. If he has, he will find there something similar to what I have said here.
That will not do. I am a little bit too long in the tooth to accept that. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had these doubts in 1945, he would never have been endorsed as a Labour candidate.
Order. I think that we have pursued the previous political history of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) for long enough. We must get back to the debate on the new Clause.
Obviously I am a little out of order in being deflected from my purpose and drawing attention to other matters by the reply which I received from the benches opposite, though I might have been a little provocative.Having reached this stage of the Bill, we are to a large extent agreed about its general objectives. I think that there is a large measure of agreement between the two sides on the principle of the Bill, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not, for purely technical purposes, or for publicity in the Press, which is obviously a factor in these matters, seek to obstruct the main purpose of the Bill by introducing red herrings at this late stage.
With the leave of the House, may I say that I take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) has said, though I shall not pursue the argument back to anybody's election address in 1945.I assume that the new Clause has been put down in good faith, even though I cannot claim to have attended all the meetings of the Committee. I also agree that there is no great gulf between us. All that we are discussing is whether, in addition to a number of admitted safeguards which the nationalised industries have imposed on them, we should add this extra one. In reply to the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber), may I say that as far as the Prices and Incomes Board goes the situation as I understand it is that it is legally possible for the Government to refer a great range of projects to it, but it is for the decision of the Government, and it will normally not be the policy of the Government to refer to that Board issues which, clearly, come under the control of any individual Minister. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) said that if I wished to amend in various ways, the Statute setting up the nationalised industries, since that might take a number of years, it would be more expeditious to do it in this Bill. I did not say that I wished to introduce any such Amendments, or that they were necessary. I merely said that if one believes that, which, by and large I do not, that would be a more orderly way of doing it than introducing it in the Bill. The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was a little unfair to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. He suggested that it did not really go very thoroughly, or at any rate deeply, into the policies and conduct of these industries, and that it would not be able to take into account, for instance, the competition that there might be between some fuel which was under national control and ownership, and some other fuel such as oil which was not, and therefore he thought that it should be referred to the Commission. But this is not true. It is within the competence and normal practice of the Select Committee to carry out very thorough investigations and to do it, if it wishes, annually and not just once-for-all as would happen in the case of the Monopolies Commission. I therefore do not think that that argument has any great force. 4.30 p.m. The situation is that we have very little supervision in these matters over private monopolies or semi-monopolies. We are suggesting that further powers should be taken in the Bill. On the other hand, we already have a great number of often very onerous safeguards on the conduct of the nationalised industries. I therefore do not think it reasonable to add to the nationalised industries further safeguards and further limitations on top of those which already exist just because we are introducing some safeguards in the case of private industry. If it were argued that the nationalised industries ought to be referred to the Monopolies Commission, it might as well be argued that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries should in future inquire into private industry. Nobody seems to have argued that. It therefore seems to me more sensible to leave the position as the Bill proposes and as the White Paper of the Conservative Party proposed only a year ago. This would ensure a due measure of supervision and control over both the private and the public sector.
But the point which I made was somewhat different. I agree that no one has suggested that the Select Committee on Estimates should investigate the private sector. Nevertheless there is some case for uniformity of approach. The criteria which the Select Committee might adopt to see whether an industry was working in the best interests of the country might be somewhat different from that which the Monopolies Commission would use. For example—
Order. The hon. Member may intervene briefly, but he has exhausted his right to speak in the debate.
I was merely seeking to give an example in which consumers at a distance from the source of supply are subsidised at the expense of those who are near to it. This could be investigated on a uniform basis between private and public industry.
The President of the Board of Trade made a strong reference to safeguards. This House is the sacred spot for safeguarding the public and private interest.I enter into the debate only because of the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), in which he referred to the railway workshops. He not only said that the existing railway workshops should be competitive but implied that they could well be extended. I am worried by the fact that we could find ourselves in a position not only of creating a monopoly but of creating the worst kind of monopoly conceivable—the crushing out of existence of all competition for ever. I will explain briefly and quickly what I have in mind. At present the railways industry puts out inquiries for certain machinery to be supplied by private enterprise. It will be in a position also to manufacture within its own workshops. The industry could put out the inquiries, establish all the competitive prices, place no orders whatever outside and then arrange the prices and costs within its own organisation in order to say, "We are the cheapest and therefore we need not buy outside". The net result could be that over a period outside firms could conscientiously and sincerely compete, quote and reduce quotations and still be frozen out—and in the end be wiped out.
The hon. Member is making a point of theory. In practice this does not happen at all. The railway workshops have to secure work for their own machinery and workers in competition with private industry. One of the great railway workshops in my constituency in Lancashire recently lost a major contract because a private firm undercut its estimate for the job. I am asking only for equality to be restored. They should have freedom to compete for work in private industry as well as entering into railways manufacturing and obtaining contracts for their own nationalised workshops. That is all I am asking.
I was interested in the intervention, but it does not relieve my anxieties one bit. The hon. Member merely goes one stage further; he says that not only should they have all their own work, but they ought to compete in the outside world, too. This goes from bad to worse.I made this intervention because I wanted to hear what the President of the Board of Trade said about this matter and what is his view on what I have described as the most serious of all monopolies—perpetual monopoly by the crushing out of all private competition.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) on moving the new Clause without any party rancour and on setting the trend for the short debate which we have had about the nationalised industries and the Monopolies Commission.The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) went further than we normally expect him to go. There can be little doubt, surely, that we are moving the new Clause in good faith. In view of the fact that the debate has taken only 45 minutes and in view of the manner in which it has been conducted, it is a little unfair to suggest that there are ulterior motives behind our decision to move the new Clause. This subject was mentioned on Second Reading by hon. Members on both sides of the House and in Committee on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. It may be that the Opposition found that we had passed in Committee the right stage for moving such a provision and that the better place for moving it was earlier in the Bill. It was felt that rather than find artificial means of bringing it into the Committee stage it was better to move the new Clause in its proper place on Report.