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The Lords

20th June 1947, Page 33
20th June 1947
Page 33
Page 33, 20th June 1947 — The Lords
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

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By Our Legal Adviser

entitled to ask the National Coal Board about what are, in effect, staff appointments.

The provision under discussion in the Transport Bill (it appears similarly in the Electricity Bill) will

THE House of Lords, sitting until 11 p.m., considered the Transport Bill at three out of four sittings last week and reached Clause 16. Earlier proceedings were reported in 'The Commercial Motor "on June 13.

The second day's debate was the most exciting. On the first day matters went smoothly enough, but 1 on the second the House divided three times, each time registering a Government defeat. About 100 peers voted on each occasion; on the third, some Liberals joined the Government voters, but even then the Opposition had a majority of 71 to 29.

Having shown their teeth on the second day, the Lords remained quiet on the third.

The first. division arose on an amendment to make it clear that the Minister's powers of giving directions to the Commission should not be exercised so as to prevent the Commission from fulfilling its obligation to balance its accounts, except in cases where the interests of national security required. The Government spokesmen said that it was clear: already and agreed with the principle of the amendment.

Government Out-voted Very well, said the Opposition, let us put it in now and if the Government satisfies us that it is unnecessary we can take it out later. So, in spite of Lord Addison's undertaking to consider the matter and saying that he thought the Opposition unreasonable, the amendment was voted into the Bill.

The second amendment--of a much more substantial character— was to transfer from the Minister to the Commission the power of appointing the Executives. They are to be agents of the Commission and do the work, and the Opposition accordingly considered that they should be appointed by the Commission.

The Government's answer, given by Lord Addison, was that the Minister was responsible to Parliament for the work of the Executives, and must, therefore, be able to choose the people for whom he was In be responsible:

Tactfully, the Coal Act situation was mentioned only in passing.

There the Minister of Fuel and Power has refused to be responsible for the activities of the Coal Regional Boards, and to answer questions about them, on the grounds 'that he did not appoint them, and he is not beyond doubt make the Minister liable to questioning as to appointments of Executives.

There was, therefore, a direct conflict between Government and Opposition on the desirability of the amendment. The question is of fundamental importance to the structure of the nationalized industry, and it is hardly likely that the Government will accept the Lords' decision.

Things to Come

The third amendment was in itself of minor. importance, but foreshadow^reater things. The initial list of Executives is set out in Clause 5 of the Bill and includes a Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. Lord Swinton wished to put Inland Waterways under the Railways Executive and not constitute a Docks Executive at all; there will be an obligation on the Commission to review port systems and prepare schemes, but management of docks should be kept away from the Commission. It was decided by a division that an Inland Waterways Executive should be set up, but that docks were to be left without an Executive.

On this third division, however, there was a passage of arms between the Marquis of Salisbury and Lord Addison. The former set out forcibly the position in which the Lords find themselves, in present circumstances. They have a right and a duty to take whatever action they think fit with regard to amendments before the House; and it was "veiled menace" -to suggest that they should be deterred from trying to improve Bills in accordance with ,their beliefs for fear of any result .which might accrue. The Lords have a right to amend and the Commons have a right to take what action they think fit with regard to the Lords' amendments.

Lord Addison conceded that the previous amendment on the appointment of the Executives involved a big question of principle, but the present one was simply destructive of the machinery of the Bill. He counselled prudence in altering proposals that have received a large majority of support in the representative Chamber.

It is evident that both sides are anxious to avoid a constitutional clash between the two Houses. At the same time, the Opposition may well carry substantial amendments into the Bill and leave to the Government the awkward task of deciding bow much to accede and how much to resist.

The " Beveridge Plan" It was immediately following the episode just referred to that the amendment of most vital importance to road interests was moved by Lord Beveridge. The amendment was simply to leave out the Road Traffic Executive, but was the key to a series which would have left out all the provisions of the Bill dealing with road transport, and inserted instead a proposal to have an inquiry into road and rail transport.

Lord Beveridge's speech was a long one, but was, in fact, a most logical and concise argument in support of the proposals. His main theme was the freeing of road transport from restrictions.

C-licence vehicles, he said, are already prevented from carrying other people's goods and so are coml.pelted by statute to run inefficiently without return loads. A and B vehicles are to be compelled to run in circles. He thought that the railways must be ruined by fair competition; but it was the worst possible way of defending an old system to make the new system inefficient.

Railways, if they must be maintained for reasons of security, must therefore be subsidized; but that should be done by money—not by making the competing system deliberately inefficient.• Instead, therefore, of enacting inefficiency, he proposed an inquiry


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