Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this Bill is the long delay which has taken place before its introduction. This Bill is long overdue, so much so, that we have had the anomalous and dangerous situation in that, on the admission of the Minister, the law, which it is being sought to amend in this Bill with regard to the transport of livestock, has been broken for some time. This was due to the fact that the law was archaic and totally out of line with the needs of the present time. Those who broke the law were doing what was only sensible in the economic interests of the country. However, it is to my mind a very bad situation that it should be necessary to break the law in order to do what is best in the economic interests of the country and, in this case, the economic interests of those engaged in agriculture. This situation was engendered because of the great delay on the part of the Government in introducing this amending legislation designed to liberalise the transport of cattle. The Minister himself admitted at column 749 of volume 249 of the Official Report that the law had been broken for some time and that a blind eye had been turned to this fact. I quote from the Minister:
It is apparent indeed apart from these studies that illegal haulage by interests associated with the livestock trade has become firmly established on a widespread basis and that reversal of this situation is impracticable.
This illegal haulage took place on a widespread basis because of the grave delay on the part of the Government in introducing this legislation. It is very unfortunate that people should be driven to what is technically illegal activity because of delay on the part of the Government in introducing necessary and long overdue amending legislation. It is a bad background against which to introduce such legislation.
It is clear that in the recent past the Government have had further pointers to the introduction of this legislation but neverthless it was delayed. In April, 1968, the Store Cattle Study Group recommended and produced a well-documented case for the liberalisation which is, in fact, being introduced in this Bill. Instead of acting on the recommendation of this Store Cattle Study Group and taking a decision there and then, when the facts were put before them, and in order to shelve the taking of a decision and saving themselves the embarrassment of having to admit immediately that they were wrong and should have introduced this long ago, the Government set up yet another inter-departmental study group to make exactly the same recommendations on exactly the same facts with exactly the same data some time later. Meanwhile nothing was done and it is only now that this legislation is being introduced. Why was it necessary, I should like to ask, to have two bodies making exactly the same recommendations on the same data before the Government were prepared to act? Why was it necessary for people to flout the law over a long period before the Government were prepared to amend it?
This culpable delay on the part of the Government should be strongly condemned in this House, because it brings this House into contempt. I believe the liberalisation proposed in this Bill in relation to the haulage of agricultural products is unduly restricted. The only categories of livestock covered are cattle, sheep and pigs. The Minister, in his speech, gives an explanation for the exclusion of horses in this context and I am prepared to accept it but has any consideration been given to the exclusion of other types of livestock, such as poultry and greyhounds? Why, when making liberalisation in this case, have other categories of livestock not been excluded as well?
It is clear to me that the standards of licensing in relation to the road haulage of agricultural products should be different from the standards of licensing in relation to the haulage of non-agricultural products because of the dispersed nature of farmers. They are spread all over the country and in order to get their goods to market they have to rely on a wider variety of different types of transport. As the produce of an individual farmer is in small quantities there are a larger number of individual occasions on which farmers in general require transport for their goods whereas a factory can transport in bulk relatively easily. Licensing arrangements can be easily enforced and accepted in regard to industry but in the case of farmers I think a more liberal approach is necessary.
Another point is that many agricultural products are highly perishable and transport in such cases is required very quickly. Again, goods are produced in rather uncertain quantities from day to day and produce may ripen very quickly. Reliance on licensed transport may be very impractical whereas, in industry, it is easy to predict when goods will be produced since the production line is not affected by uncertain factors, such as weather, and the quantity is also more easily transported and, therefore, transport arrangements with licensed hauliers can be made easily in advance. In the case of agriculture, however, with uncertainty as to quantity, and even as to time, it is not so easy to make transport arrangements in advance with the limited number of licensed hauliers available. There is also the fact that farmers are more dispersed and therefore tend to need transport to a greater extent than does industry. Because of that I suggest that a different standard should be applied to agricultural goods as a whole.
There are commodities which are excluded under this measure. There is milk, for example. Many farmers have to get their milk to creameries. At the moment individual farmers bring their own milk to the creameries. I think it would be a wise step for one farmer to undertake to do a round and bring all the milk of the neighbouring farmers to the creamery, thereby leaving them free to get on with their work; but, if the farmer carrying the milk were to accept any monetary reward for doing so, no matter how small it might be, he would have to have a merchandise haulage licence. It is entirely wrong that, under the present law, this man would be breaking the law for carrying this milk without a merchandise haulage licence. It is very difficult to get such a licence and to expect such a farmer to procure such a licence is quite absurd.
Again, if a farmer has two farms and he hires a contractor to cut silage on one farm and that silage has to be taken by road to the second farm, the contractor would be deemed to be carrying that silage for that farmer for hire and technically he would be breaking the law unless he had a merchandise haulage licence. Sliage and hay should both be excluded, as well as milk. If a contractor were to cut grain for a farmer and if he were to bring that grain along the road to some storage point he would be breaking the law unless he had a merchandise haulage licence. Clearly there is need to revise this legislation so that these circumstances can be taken into account.
In certain cases CIE cannot meet the requirements of agriculture and private lorries are plated by CIE to do the work. This is done in the case of both sugar beet and ground limestone. CIE take 10 per cent of the earnings of these private lorries. They are unable to do the work themselves and it seems to be utterly iniquitous that they should profit out of their own inadequacies. There seems to be no economic justification for giving this extra 10 per cent to CIE. They are doing nothing to earn this money. In fact, plating private hauliers would not be necessary were it not for the inadequacies of CIE.
In the last analysis, it is the farmer who pays the ten per cent to CIE. It is the primary producer who pays because he hires the private haulier to carry his sugar beet or his ground limestone so this 10 per cent surcharge is a 10 per cent surcharge on the farmer. There is no justification for this and it should be removed. Temporary arrangements of this nature tend to destroy the pattern of production. If there is land near a big factory which is unsuitable for the production of beet, the man who owns that land will produce beet because his transport costs will be minimal. On the other hand, a farmer who is far away from the factory, with land which is ideal for the production of beet, will not produce beet because transport costs will make the production of beet uneconomic for him. He would have to engage a private plated haulier and pay a 10 per cent surcharge. The result is there is a disincentive to produce beet on good land whereas the farmer near the factory who can transport his beet in his own tractor and trailer has an economic incentive to produce beet on unsuitable land. This distortion is most unhealthy and very unfortunate.
What will be the effect of this legislation on co-operatives and group farming? I touched earlier on this when dealing with the transport of milk to creameries. If the concept of group farming develops one farmer will do all sorts of haulage of all sorts of goods for other farmers. It seems to me that under present legislation that farmer would have to have a haulage merchandise licence unless he was carrying only cattle, sheep or pigs, which are exempted. The scope of subsection (5) would need to be extended.
There is the question of transporting soft fruits. These can be ripe one day and, if they are not transported very quickly, they can be rotten the next day. Under the present arrangement unless one were to get a licensed haulier, which would be rather difficult particularly as many of the farmers producing soft fruit are producing very small quantities, the carriage of which would not be worthwhile for a licensed haulier, with a big vehicle, one would have to rely perhaps on a neighbour to carry the goods to the jam factory or whatever it is. Unless the neighbour is a licensed haulier he is breaking the law. The list of agricultural products which under the present regulations unless carried by a licensed haulier are carried in breach of the law, is endless and I think the exemption contained here is quite inadequate in the circumstances.
The Minister referred to the fact that the Bill provides for the removal of weight limitations on licensed vehicles. Would the Minister consider imposing a condition for the issue of a licence of this nature that the vehicle be fitted with anti-pollution devices? Perhaps that could not be incorporated at this stage in this Bill as there has not been sufficient preparation but the possibility should be included of imposing such a condition. I gave a long list in the House recently on another Bill of the types of chemical air pollution arising from motor vehicle exhausts and so on. These can be particularly dangerous in confined places and many of the heavy trucks covered by this Bill may pass through narrow streets and there the half-burnt fuel being churned out through exhausts can be a very dangerous source of air pollution. There should be regulations requiring these vehicles to have anti-pollution devices fitted. I do not know much about the details of such devices but I know they are being introduced in the US at present and it would be highly appropriate for the Minister to require, before giving a merchandise haulage licence, that the vehicle should be fitted with an anti-pollution device of a standard approved by him. The introduction of such a condition in this Bill would not allow sufficient notice to those concerned but I hope the Minister will consider doing it some time in the reasonably near future.
It is stated in section 8 subsection (1) (a) that the Minister may grant a licence subject—and this is the important part—"to any conditions which the Minister may see fit to impose and specifies in the licence." The Minister may impose any condition. Under subsection (2) (b) the Minister may, by order, amend or revoke an order under this section. He can impose any conditions he likes without reference to anybody and then he can change these conditions by order without consulting anybody or without any standard being observed.
The conditions envisaged in subsection (1) (a) should be spelled out to the House. What are they? It should be incorporated in the Bill that the Minister would be required to set out objective standards for the conditions he intends to apply in the issue of such licences. There is the danger that one man could get very easy conditions if he were somehow favourably looked on by the Minister while another, with an equally good case, could conceivably get much severer conditions. To give the Minister carte blanche to impose any conditions without any requirement that they should be consistent from one place to the next is giving him too much power. The introduction of legislation like this giving the Minister such wide power is probably the greatest reason why there is such widespread talk of corruption in public life. The Minister's powers are not clearly delineated and there is room for him to exercise discretion in favour of particular supporters of his. I do not suggest the present Minister will do this but it is bad legislation to give such power without reference to the House or to objective standards that can be seen by any member of the public.