HC Deb 19 May 1853 vol 127 cc422-9

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That Mr. Speaker do now Chair."


said, he regretted that he should have to detain the House a few minutes on this question. The subject was one so new and important that he hoped hon. Members were in a better condition to judge of it than he was when the Bill was first introduced. By this Bill they were about to deal with property of one class, that in hackney carriages, of more than 1,700,000l.; and of another class, in cabs, of little less than 800,000l. When, in addition to that fact, he informed the House that the livelihood of many thousands of their fellow subjects in the metropolis was involved in this Bill, he was sure that any mere question of pounds, shillings, and pence would be merged by the House in the higher question of personal interests involved in the Bill. His own belief was, that a Bill of this sort was never passed unless it had undergone a previous investigation by a Committee of that House. He might allude to the subject of the Hackney Carriages Bill in 1835, and also to the Building Regulation Act, and to the Smoke Regulation Act, none of which were proceeded with in that House till they had been examined by a Select Committee. Had his hon. Friend (Mr. FitzRoy), he would ask, satisfied the House by any statement which he had made in connexion with the measure under their notice, that he had thoroughly investigated the subject upon which he was about to legislate? The hon. Gentleman sought to induce the House to adopt a specific rate of wages as that which a particular class of their fellow subjects should be entitled to receive; and in carrying that object into effect, did he hope to receive the support of those hon. Members who were the consistent advocates of the principles of free trade? The Bill was in direct violation of the very principle for which his hon. Friend and his Colleagues glorified themselves, namely, that of free trade; for it sought to adopt a maximum and minimum of wages, prices, and profits, which a particular class of the community should be entitled to receive. Again, the power given to the magistrate by the Bill was most arbitrary. The question was one which in his (Sir R. H. Inglis's) opinion, assailed the liberty of the subject; and there were provisions in the measure before them which would prove hazardous to that liberty. Under Clause 14 were enumerated a large number of offences; and those who were convicted of having committed any one of those offences would be liable, at the discretion of a single magistrate, to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or to be imprisoned for a period not extending beyond one month. Now, in his opinion, that was a discretion which that House ought not, without due consideration, to vest in any single individual. He should, therefore, propose that in all cases of summary conviction before a magistrate, there should be a power of appeal to another and a higher tribunal; and he made this suggestion the more confidently, because he was aware that in many instances in which an appeal from the decision of a magistrate had been made, that decision had been unhesitatingly reversed. He hoped that his hon. Friend would have no objection to refer his Bill to the consideration of a Select Committee, in order that the subject to which it related might be more thoroughly investigated than it had been up to the present moment. When an analogous Bill was brought before Parliament in 1835 by the Government of that day, it was not thought unbecoming to submit it to the previous consideration of a Select Committee. His hon. Friend either knew of that fact, or he did not. If he did not, then he had entered upon a subject without inquiring into what was now termed its antecedents; if he did know it, then he had taken upon himself to depart from the practice and precedent of those who had previously legislated upon similar subjects with all the responsibilities which attached to Government measures. He was quite willing to admit that his hon. Friend had given the supreme direction in this matter to a very competent person. Still it was to be doubted whether even Sir Richard Mayne was entitled to such absolute power over the property and persons of any portion of his fellow subjects. He held in his hand one of the orders issued by Sir Richard Mayne; and he would ask any Member of the House whether he would be willing to put his name to the grammar of such a document. It ran thus—"No driver or licensed waterman are to prevent so and so." He should be ashamed if any servant of his household could be guilty of putting forth such a composition. But he did not accuse Sir Richard Mayne of this. He had not leisure to correct the grammar of those who prepared his general orders. If, however, that was the case, how was it to be expected that he could take personal cognisance of all the offences which would be created by this Bill? The House would, in fact, be leaving to the shadow of the name of Sir Richard Mayne a subject that was too important for any one individual, even for one who could give his whole mind and time to it. Before he concluded, he would just state to the House the amount of property concerning the management of which they were now called upon to decide. Before a single journey was made by the omnibuses, a capital of 414,000l. was sunk in horses, and 436,800l. in the construction of omnibuses; and, including the keep of the horses, the repairs of the omnibuses, and the licence duty, there was no less a capital involved than 1,709,600l. With respect to hackney cabs the case was similar. There were 3,500 cabs, and the amount of capital employed in them and in horses was 332,500l.; and, including the annual cost of the keep of the horses, the repairs of the cabs, and the charge of licences, the amount of capital involved 745,000l. The aggregate capital of the trade in both approached the sum of 2,500,000l. There was one fact which he wished particularly! to point out. The duty paid by the proprietors of omnibuses and cabs was little less than 300,000l., while the whole amount of duty paid by all the railways was not more than 252,000l. He thought he had made out a case which justified him in asking the House to consent to his Motion, by way of Amendment—namely, that the Bill now on the table should be referred to a Select Committee.


seconded the Amendment. He hoped they would give the subject a calm consideration. He knew that there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction towards persons connected with hackney carriages, because there was hardly any gentleman who had not at some time of his life been in altercation with some of these persons. Still, they ought to look carefully into this Bill, and take such steps as would give an opportunity for all its provisions to be thoroughly sifted. That could not be done so well in the House as in a Select Committee. He was not opposed to the principle of the Bill; he wished to see the public carriages of the metropolis made better, cheaper, and more convenient; but he wished to do justice, at the same time, to the drivers and owners of the carriages. The Bill concerned cabs and metropolitan stage carriages. His hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, made a long speech in which he spoke of cabs only, and did not mention the metropolitan stage carriages, so that those concerned in those vehicles had no knowledge at first that the Bill would extend to them, nor could they have discovered it from the title of the Bill. The first objection he had to the Bill was, that it gave no power of appeal, but it gave to the Chief Commissioner of Police power to grant licences and take them away. He might be told that to send the Bill before a Select Committee would occasion delay; but the old adage was true—"most haste, worst speed," If the hon. Gentleman had adopted his advice, and had consented to the Select Committee when he first suggested it, they would already have had the Report on the table, or at least the Committee would have made considerable progress with its inquiries. There could, however, be no pretence for saying that the proposal would lead to delay, for the Bill was not to come into operation until the 1st of October, and, therefore, there was plenty of time. For Sir Richard Mayne he had the highest esteem, but they might not always have such a chief commissioner, and, at all events, the power was too much for one man. He could not conceive what objection there could be to refer the Bill as proposed.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the Bill be committed to a Select Committee,' instead thereof.


said, that he hoped the House would agree with him in thinking that the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir R, H. Inglis) had not adduced reasons sufficiently strong to justify him in acceding to the proposition for referring the measure before them to a Select Committee. The hon. Baronet and the noble Lord who had seconded his Motion, stated, that they wished to have certain Amendments introduced in the Bill. Now he had no hesitation whatever in saying that those Amendments should meet with his most respectful consideration, and should—if such a proceeding were not inconsistent with his duty—be readily adopted. If the Bill were referred to a Select Committee, the evidence which would be laid before that Committee would be the testimony of the omnibus and the cab proprietors themselves, while the public would be almost altogether excluded from placing their views and opinions before the Members who would compose that tribunal. On the contrary, the course which he (Mr. Fitzroy) proposed to take would enable hon. Members in a Committee of the whole House to consider impartially the measure before them, to bring their experience to bear upon it, and to suggest such Amendments as they deemed desirable for the advantage of the public, and the proper regulation of those conveyances with which the Bill proposed to deal. The hon. Baronet was not quite correct in stating that the last Act on the subject was passed eighteen or nineteen years ago. He had forgotten that the 6th & 7th of Victoria, by which the licensing of cabs and stage-carriages was at present regulated, had been passed long since the 1st & 2nd of William IV. As to the arbitrary powers conferred on the Chief Commissioner of Police by the Bill, the only addition to those he already possessed was, that of inspecting carriages and horses, and granting the owners a certificate, or giving them notice, in case they were unfit for public use, and then suspending their licences. He considered that power essential to the working of the Bill. If appeal was given against his decision, was it not plain that the Bill must be useless? for, when the Chief Commissioner decided that a cab or horse was unfit for use, and the owner appealed, the public might have to go on for three months using it till the appeal was heard. He was perfectly ready to admit that there was an immense amount of property at stake; but on the other hand, there ought to be some consideration for the large number of persons travelling by the metropolitan conveyances. Perhaps it would hardly be credited that, calculating that each omnibus in London bad 250 passengers per day, no fewer than 300,000,000 persons would be annually conveyed by them. At present many of those vehicles were perfectly unfit for use; they were narrow, ill-ventilated, deprived of light and air by the advertisements pasted over the windows; and was it not necessary, both for public use and for public credit, that those omnibuses should be put into an efficient state? If the House gave their assent to go into Committee, no injury whatever would be inflicted upon the interests of the proprietors; but, he believed that, on the contrary, this Bill would be for their pecuniary advantage. Under these circumstances, therefore, believing that a Committee of that House was perfectly competent to dispose of the Bill, he should certainly resist the Motion of the hon. Baronet.


said, he was of opinion that the Bill ought to be sent before a Select Committee. If that course were not adopted, the proprietors of stage and hackney coaches would not have an opportunity of stating their case; and, with all respect to the House, he thought it was not a competent tribunal to decide upon this matter without bearing the other side of the question.


begged to return his thanks to the hon. Gentleman who bad brought forward this Bill. He had come to the conclusion that, in the long run, the effect of the reduction in the fares would be very beneficial to the cab proprietors themselves. Hon. Members had alluded to the property invested in cabs and omnibuses; but he appealed to the House whether there was a large town either in England or on the Continent, where the public vehicles were of so wretched a character. As an instance of the good that would result from the Bill, he might mention a circumstance which had recently occurred to himself. Some days ago he had accidentally left a largo bundle of papers distinctly marked with his name in a cab, and it was only that very day that the Hansom cabdriver had brought them to his house, in the hope of obtaining a reward. If the Bill had been law, he should have been furnished with a ticket specifying the number of the cab, and should have been able to find the driver in an hour or two. The only fair ground for argument was the question of appeal; but he could not think that a Committee of that House was not as good a tribunal before which to argue that point as a Select Committee upstairs. Believing, therefore, that ample justice might be done to those who had invested their capital in those trades by a Committee of that House— believing also that the general convenience of the public required some important alteration—he should certainly support the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fitzroy) in the course proposed by him.


said, he should support the proposal for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. They ought to afford a hearing to the parties most interested in the question, before they determined on requiring a better description of vehicles than those at present in use, and on effecting, at the same time, a considerable reduction of fares.


said, it was a desecration of the name to speak of the four-wheeled things that went about London as "property." Those nailed-together boards which were called cabs, and in which ladies and gentlemen were put to be driven about, were a disgrace to the metropolis. As to springs, there were no springs at all, and you were shaken to death in them. Then, again, the drivers were the most ignorant men in the world, and frequently did not know the difference between the east and the west end of town—the north and the south side of a square; so that, he thought, there ought to be an examination into the qualification of the cab driver before he was appointed. He differed from his hon. Friends around him, in approving most cordially of the principle of this Bill, and in thinking there was no need of referring it to a Committee upstairs.


said, if he had not heard from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fitzroy) an expression of great willingness to receive suggestions upon points of detail from both sides of the House, he would have rather seen the Bill referred to a Select Committee. He thought that, as most hon. Members were great cab riders, and experienced personally, therefore, the inconveniences of the present system, they ought to be careful not to allow their individual annoyances to influence them in legislating upon this subject. In his opinion, the unfortunate condition of cabs in the metropolis was to be attributed very much to the want of a proper municipal government in London. At present the drivers were exposed in our streets to all the vicissitudes of our often most inclement weather; whereas, under proper municipal government, the cabstands would have been placed in wide streets, under a glass roof, whore the men would have been sheltered from the weather. By this, and similar arrangements, a great improvement would have been effected in the character of the drivers and of their vehicles.


said, he also would refer to the privations to which the cabmen were subject, and the temptations to which they were exposed. They admitted that many improvements were capable of being effected by legislation; and those who had good cabs would readily submit to the inspection. He was in favour of the Bill being referred to a Select Committee.


said, the cab owners ought not to be precluded from a hearing before a Select Committee. Had such a course been proposed with reference to any larger interest, it would at once have been acceded to as a matter of justice. While much improvement was required in the cabs, and a Bill for that purpose might be necessary, they ought not at the same time to insist on a reduction of the fares, which would be an interference with the rights of property and commercial enterprise.

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

The House divided;—Ayes 107; Noes 23: Majority 84.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

The House resumed. Committee report progress.

The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock.