HC Deb 25 May 1894 vol 24 cc1298-310

I have put down a reduction of £10. I have not yet said anything about it. If I am not in Order, I can soon put myself in Order. However, I do not wish to delay the Committee. At the same time, I do not wish to be snuffed out by the Treasury.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said, that the next Vote was for the Home Office, and on that he wanted to call attention to the cab strike. The control of the Loudon cabs was entirely in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. After the very unsatisfactory answer of the right hon. Gentleman that afternoon with reference to the strike which was now proceeding in the Metropolis, he would move to reduce the salary of the right hon. Gentleman by £500 in order to claim his sympathy for the men who were struggling with such great difficulties. The control of the cab industry in London was in the hands of a Government Department, and all in terested in it thought that it had been very badly controlled. He appealed, therefore, to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to use their influence with the Home Office in order to get that Department to take a just and favourable view of the present strike and the difficulties connected with it. This strike differed from most labour contests of which they had had experience. It was not a case of working men struggling; to get a higher wage, or for employment, but it was a case of a number of people trying to buy something more cheaply than they were able to do at present. For some reason, there did not appear to be much sympathy with the men, but he thought that if hon. Members would give a little consideration to the matter they would take a more generous view of their difficulties. There was no ill-feeling between the drivers and the cab proprietors, notwithstanding the strike, one reason being that one-half the cabs in London were owned by small proprietors, for 5,000 belonged to 3,000 owners; and the other half were in the hands of larger owners.


said, the hon. Gentleman would not be in Order in discussing a proposal to alter the law. He could, however, refer to the conduct of the Home Secretary.


said, the whole thing that was wrong was the control of this important industry by the Home Office. If the representatives of that Department took a wise and broad view of their responsibility in this matter there would be an end to the strike, and to all the difficulties that arose with respect to the management of the cab business of London. He would point out that the present control was an antiquated one, inasmuch as the Rules were framed 30 years ago, when there were no tramways, no penny fares on omnibuses, and no underground railways. The conditions under which the cab industry was carried on had been altered to the detriment of 10,000 cabmen, representing probably a population of 100,000. All these changes had taken place, but there had been no alteration in the conditions under which the men worked, and the Home Secretary ought to give the matter his consideration in order to see whether new and better arrangements could not be made. The industry at present laboured under three heavy taxes. There were taxes of 5s., 15s., and 40s. on each cab, and these amounted to 1s. 2d. a week. This was the first charge that must be met; it was an unjust one, which made a serious difference to the drivers; and it could not be dealt with except by an alteration of the law. The £2 plates produced £35,000 a year, and that was paid into the Police Fund, which was completely under the control of the Home Office. Last year that fund went up from £358,000 to"£387,000, an increment of £30,000, almost equal to the amount of the cab licences. The money was not required by the Police Fund, because the rate supplied all that was necessary. Then, the freedom with which licences were granted created another great difficulty in the trade. The Home Office granted a driver's licence to every applicant who paid 5s. and fulfilled certain conditions; and there were 15,000 holders of these licences, which showed that the trade was overcrowded. There were only 4,000 cabs working now, and the experience of that state of things indicated that 15,000 cabs was twice too many, and suggested that the issue of licences should stop when the total number reached 10,000 or 11,000. The Home Secretary issued a Schedule of fares which the cabmen had to charge the public, and made other Regulations controlling the drivers, but he did not provide any protection for the cabman in respect of the price which he might have to pay for his vehicle. As to the admission of cabs to railway stations, it would be satisfactory if some impartial authority was invited to discuss the matter with the Railway Companies and the drivers, to see if some arrangement satisfactory to both could not be arrived at. The worst grievance which the cabmen had to labour under was the very unsatisfactory Criminal Code to which they were subjected. The cabmen were placed entirely under the power of the police, and the existing law was entirely against the driver and in favour of the public. If one of the public made a bargain with a cabman to drive him under the legal fare he could enforce that bargain against the cabman, but if a cabman made a bargain to charge more than the legal fare he could not enforce it. The chief evil under which the men laboured was the absolute tyranny which the police exercised over them, which was carried out in a way detrimental to the interests of the citizens. For example, there were not enough cabstands, and those which existed were too. often an appendage to some public-house. The cab stood on the rank outside while the cabman was inside drinking. He could quote one case where certain benevolent people, at a cost of about £200, provided a cab shelter to be placed in the Cromwell Road; but, though an appeal was made to the police to authorise the placing of the shelter there, no support was given to it, and the objection was urged that it would take away the custom from a public-house which the cabmen were in the habit of using. The police brought charges of every kind against the drivers, and at one police court as many as 20 or 25 were disposed of in a single afternoon. The cases came on on Tuesday and Friday afternoons at 4 o'clock, and as many as 80 had been decided in a day, cabmen being fined 2s. 6d. and 4s. each for loafing, because of the want of stands. The police court was a very unsatisfactory court to which to refer small grievances affecting cabmen, and he submitted that some civil court should be provided to deal with such cases.


said, he must point out that the Home Secretary had nothing to do with the matters with which the hon. Gentleman was dealing.


The Home Secretary controls the Magistrates.


The Magistrates act under the sanction of the law. The Home Secretary is responsible only for his administrative acts, and not for the acts of the Magistrates.


suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should grant an inquiry into the whole subject, either by a Committee of the House or by a Departmental Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had done himself a great deal of credit by the way in which he had dealt with labour struggles all over the country, but example was better than precept, and the position of the 10,000 cabmen who were directly under his control was a disgrace to the Home Office. He moved the reduction of the right hon. Gentleman's salary by £500.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Item of £6,500, for the Home Office, be reduced by £500, in respect of the Salary of the Home Secretary."—(Mr. Lough.")


I cannot complain of the tone of my hon. Friend's remarks as far as they relate to myself, but I must express my regret that he should have made the Vote for my salary the occasion for ventilating a number of grievances affecting the cab industry, with which I have no more to do in my character as Home Secretary than has my hon. Friend himself. Whether or not the law is in a satisfactory state, or whether it should be altered on some of the points to which reference has been made, is a question well worthy of consideration. I should, however, be transgressing the ruling of the Chair, and making unjustifiable demands on the time of the Committee, if I were to take this opportunity to criticise or to comment upon the law. Take only one instance out of a number mentioned by my hon. Friend. The question whether or not the sum charged for the plates affixed to every cab is excessive, and whether the best means of applying the sums so raised is to put it in the Police Fund, is worthy of discussion. But, as the law now stands, the Home Secretary has no more discretion in the matter than has any clerk in the Civil Service. The law requires the plates to be taken out and directs the application of the money. As to licences, my hon. Friend has touched a point on which I agree, that the Home Secretary has a certain amount of administrative control. I have already expressed the opinion that, as far as I have the means of forming a judgment, there is an excess in the number of licences granted to drivers. One, at any rate, of the morals of the unfortunate dispute at present prevailing in the streets of the Metropolis is that we are over supplied with cabs, and still more over supplied with drivers. The House must remember that it is a very great hardship to the individual who has taken out a licence, which only lasts 12 months, to be refused a renewal of that which is practically his working capital; and although we may hold abstractly the opinion that there is an excessive supply of drivers, still, when we come to apply that opinion to concrete cases by refusing to particular individuals the means of continuing to earn their livelihood, the House will perceive that the jurisdiction should he exercised with the greatest delicacy and indulgence. I have already taken steps, and will take steps, to see whether the granting of new licences may not be subjected to greater restrictions. My hon. Friend says that if I regulate the fares to be paid by the public, I ought equally to regulate the price to be paid by the driver to the proprietor of the cab. No such power exists in the law, and I think that the House would think twice, or thrice, before it entrusted any Government Department with the responsibility of saying, as between the persons supplying cabs on the one side and the persons demanding cabs as drivers on the other, what shall regulate the price other than the state of the market. I should be sorry to be intrusted with any such responsibility. The question of the admission of privileged cabs into railway yards is a matter on which I have not been idle. I issued a Circular more than a year ago to the Companies having termini in London asking a number of questions. I received replies from all of them, and the result of my consideration is that I am not prepared to say that a strong case has been made out in favour of the abandonment or of the substantial modification of the existing system. Both systems have prevailed. At some railway termini—I think Waterloo, for example—the Railway Company admit unprivileged cabs on payment of 1d. or some other small sum. The other Railway Companies have the cabs more or less under their own control, because they think that in that way they can better meet the necessities and convenience of those who travel by their trains. This is one of the matters on which experience is the best guide. The convenience of the public is, after all, the main thing we have to consider, and so far as the public are concerned I have never heard any complaint from any quarter as to the system that prevails. I am sorry that my hon. Friend should have spoken of the tyranny of the police in the regulation of cabmen and the regulation of traffic. I must, as the person responsible for the regulation of traffic, enter my strong protest.


I did not say the regulation of traffic. I said that the conduct of the police towards the cabbies was tyrannous.


That is a charge that ought not to be made without some attempt to substantiate it. It is the first time I have ever heard such a charge inside or outside the House levelled against the police. Members of the House have an intimate knowledge of the cabmen of London, and are as good judges as anyone of the conduct of the police in the regulation of traffic. They will agree with me that the conduct of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with the cab and omnibus drivers is a model to the police of any country. I very much regret that my hon. Friend should have made such a grave and ill-considered charge. The question whether or not there is a sufficient number of cab-stands is one of a difficult character. I do not think it is fair to say that those cab-stands in existence are appendages to public-houses. In this part of the town, at any rate, that is not the case. With regard to the subject as a whole, the Committee will agree with me that this is a very difficult and delicate industry to regulate, and that it is very difficult to draw a line as to what the State may or may not do in this matter. I deeply regret the unfortunate dispute, and cannot help hoping that by reasonable counsels the comparatively small points of difference may be accommodated. At the same time, as far as I am able to judge—and my opinion is not worth more than that of any intelligent observer—the root of the difficulty is that we have an over-supply of cabs and of drivers, and that the economic conditions correspond with what, in other instances, we would call over-production. It is probably only by a reduction in the number of cabs and of drivers that demand and supply will be equalised, and reasonable terms as regards a livelihood of those engaged in the industry can be secured. Whatever efforts can reasonably be made by the Home Office, or those under its control, for the purpose of bringing about a better understanding between the cabdrivers and their employers shall certainly be made, and so far as the point raised by my hon. Friend — which represented the real grievance—can be dealt with, I can assure him that I shall not relax my attention, but will endeavour so far as I can to bring about a more satisfactory state of things. I think that I cannot usefully occupy the time of the House longer, for, after all, the main ground of the hon. Member's contention was, that the law as it stands is defective, and not the administration of the law.


said, that he could not withdraw his Amendment unless the Home Secretary promised something more. Would he appoint a Committee to consider the subject? Cab strikes were occurring every three years, and some means ought to be taken to prevent their recurrence. The promises of the right hon. Gentleman, as far as related to licences, were so far satisfactory, but he thought that some method of dealing with the whole subject in a humane and generous way as between employers and employed might be arrived at. Unless some more satisfactory statement 'were made on behalf of the Goverment, he should feel bound to press the Motion to a Division.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, that he was exceedingly sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that he was not disposed to grant an inquiry into the incidents of the cab-driving trade by a Committee of that House. But if the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to the appointment of such Committee, he ought to consider seriously whether he could not concede to the fully unanimous request of the men that the control of the vehicular traffic of the streets should be transferred from the Home Office to some more Representative Body. It required greater care than the Home Secretary or the police could possibly hope to give it. The Home Secretary started by saying that it was exceedingly difficult to exercise control in such a way as to minimise to any appreciable extent the over-supply of cabs. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would exercise his control in such a manner as to prevent the indiscriminate granting of licences to youths —inexperienced drivers. One saw inexperienced men every day in charge of hansom cabs, and occasionally four-wheelers. On this subject he did not take the altogether narrow view of the cabman themselves, but asked the House to view the question from the point of view of the ordinary foot passenger. Some means ought to be devised of preventing the difficulties and dangers which were caused by this excess of vehicles. The excessive number of cabmen plying for hire was a danger not only to the public generally, but to the fares whom they all rushed to secure, and steps ought to be taken to abate the nuisance. The present strike proved that there were 15,000 licences issued to cabdrivers, many of whom had to be in the streets from 14 to 18 hours a day, and sometimes cruelly overworked their horses in search of fares that never came, in consequence of their being too many cabs on the stands. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was some difficulty in interfering with the freedom of contract between cabdrivers and their employers; but in the case of omnibuses, where the employed were paid a fixed daily or weekly wage, the matter settled itself, because both parties were equally interested in preventing too many omnibuses being sent out. In the case of cabs, however, it was different, because the cabowner let his cab out for a fixed sum, and the cabdriver had to remain in the streets many hours in order to pay his employer's charge and to make a living for himself. Why should not the cabdriver have some immunity from Imposition by the cabowner, which the law afforded to the public against a cabdriver or an omnibus driver? The present precarious system of remuneration to the cabdrivers was unfair, and he did not see why, as the outcome of the Committee of Inquiry, there should not be some daily fixed wage, as in Berlin and other places on the Continent.


The Home Secretary is only responsible on this Vote for his own acts. The hon. Member is now digressing.


said, he was surprised that the Home Secretary had not received complaints as to the question of privileged cabs in railway stations. The Home Secretary affected a simplicity as to the treatment of cabmen by the London police that some Judges affected in relation to horses which they frequently backed and ballet dancers whom they frequently went to see. [Cries of "Oh, oh !"] It was a standing joke at Marlborough Street, Bow Street, and every other London Police Court that if there were 40 cabmen charged with obstruction or—


I must point out again that the Home Secretary is not responsible for that, but only for his own administration.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman was certainly reponsible for the conduct of the police, and if he were to visit a police court in which 40 cases against cabmen were heard he would find that not one of them escaped fine or imprisonment. The policemen were always listened to, and the poor cabman was always put away. Cabmen ought to be taken, not before a Criminal Court, where the cabmen and the police were continually at loggerheads, but should be subject to a Civil Court. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman appoint a Committee of Inquiry, which might bring about such a result? The Home Secretary was quite aware that there existed in Loudon a body which ought to undertake the settlement and satisfactory management not only of the vehicular traffic of the streets of London, but could be constituted a Civil Court of Appeal, by means of which cabmen and the police would be prevented from being at loggerheads. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman grant the request of the cabmen, and put the whole of the vehicular traffic under the management of the London County Council? [Cries of "Oh!"] If the London County Council had the management of more public vehicles they would cease to be centres of contagion, and the perfunctory way in which they were now controlled would be brought to an end. He appealed to the Home Secretary to grant a Committee of Inquiry so that, among other things, the London streets might be saved from overcrowding by cabs, which were one-third toe many in number; and from a system by which cabmen were starved and had to resort to intimidation because their earnings did not average all the year round the wages of a scavenger. There were one-third more cabs in London than could earn a living for masters and men; and when an appeal was made to Parliament for assistance in the matter it seemed like the very essence of incompetence, not to say ignorance, helplessness, and hopelessness, for a public official to admit that he had no power to do anything for cabby in his distress. If that was the only answer the Home Secretary had to give the cabmen who appealed to him, the sooner he got rid of a difficulty he would not attempt to grapple with, and letLondon's Municipal Council do what every other Municipality was doing, the better it would be for the cabman and the public he served.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, he thought that the present system connected with cabs in London was thoroughly bad, and the House was clearly responsible for it. Considering the strike that was going on, his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Lough) was justified in asking for the appointment of a Committee. But why were they called upon to take up the time of the House in a discussion on the question of cabs? In Northampton the cabs were managed under the supervision of the inhabitants of the town.[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laughed; but was it, or was it not, a local matter, this question of cabs in London? If it was, surely the Imperial Parliament ought not to be occupied with a subject which should be relegated to the Count}' Council. He trusted that his hon. Friend would go to a Division if the Home Secretary would not consent to send the matter to a Committee.

MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

said, he thought that the subject did not require a Committee, but that the Home Secretary was competent to deal with it. If a Division were taken, there ought to be a very distinct understanding as to what the functions of the proposed Committee were to be. He gathered that the Home Secretary was quite willing to deal with the matter of regulating the number of cabstands and shelters in London; but the question of licences stood in a totally different position. He, for one, was strongly opposed to the creation of monopolies either in the interests of the workmen or employers, and he should protest against any attempt on the part of the Home Secretary or any private Member to create a monopoly for the benefit of one class or another. It might be a very fair question for the Home Secretary to consider whether any new licences should be granted for some time or otherwise, but he did not see how, when a workman had passed his examination, so to speak, and had proved his competency to manage a cab in the streets of London, the Home Secretary could in justice refuse the renewal of his licence. He hoped that if they divided on the question some clear statement would be made as to the issue upon which the Division was to take place. If it was to be a Division on the appointment of a Committee to have the power of considering the points in dispute between the cabdriver and the cabowner in the present strike, then he protested against it. He was wholly opposed to Parliament interfering in any way in industrial disputes between employers and employed. He as a workman thought that the workmen were quite competent to protect themselves. If they were permitted the freedom of combination, if no restrictions were placed in the way of their fairly combining and organising for the protection of their labour, he strongly reprobated any interference on the part of Parliament between capital and labour in any industrial conflicts. Therefore, he said that, if the Committee was going to a Division on the point, there ought to be a clear understanding as to the issue on which such a Division was to be taken.


said, he did not think it would be necessary to go to a Division. His hon. Friend (Mr. Fenwick) had made very clear to the House the difficulties that might arise from a too wide extension of the scope of an inquiry on the subject; but if those hon. Members who were interested in the subject would be satisfied with an inquiry by a small Departmental Committee to be presided over by himself—as this was a subject in which he took some interest—and containing one or two advisers from outside, he thought such a Committee might come to a decision on many of the points which had been referred to.


said, he would be happy to accept his hon. Friend's proposal, provided that the proposed Committee was strengthened as much as possible from outside.


said, the Committee would not be confined to members of the Home Office.

MR. WEBSTER (St. Paucras, E.)

said, it was not the cabdrivers and the cabowners who were alone interested in this matter. The public were very much interested in it also. It was a great inconvenience to the public to have too many cabs, as they restricted other traffic, and wore the roads unnecessarily. He desired to see the drivers have a living wage. They were a very hard-working and a very honest class of men. Those who happened to leave things in cabs were pretty safe if they went to Scotland Yard next morning to find the lost article deposited there. He thought that in the interest of the public it was desirable that an inquiry should take place. He did not wish to see licences taken away from any of the existing drivers, but he thought it would be wise that when licences were issued the authorities should take into account the interests of the public.

CAPTAIN BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

said, he hoped that the Committee of Inquiry would consider the interests of the large area outside the Loudon County Council district as well as the area within the district.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

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