§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The House is always traditionally, and rightly, unwilling to reject Private Bills on Second Reading, but occasionally circumstances occur where Members think that certain Clauses can contain a serious innovation, and feel objection towards them. In this case, when I have announced the changes which the promoters are prepared to make in the Bill, I very much hope that those who have hitherto been opposed to the Bill will feel that there is no question of principle involved which need lead them to oppose the Second Reading any longer. In the first place, the promoters are prepared to forgo that portion of Clause 3 which would have given the Newcastle Corporation permission to run omnibuses for 21 miles in any direction in the county without the consent of the Minister of Transport. Secondly, they are prepared to forgo Clause 5, which deals with extraordinary traffic on roads. Thirdly, they are willing to abandon Clause 11, which would have given the right to the Corporation to let omnibuses for private hire. What remains in the Bill I believe to be entirely innocuous, even from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I feel certain that most of them will feel that any questions which remain can well be left to a Committee. I would only say, in conclusion, that the Bill is supported in Newcastle with practical unanimity. It is not in any sense a party Bill. It is supported quite as strongly by the Conservative elements in the City as it is by the Labour elements. Therefore I hope that, after the concessions which have been made, the House will sec fit to send it to Committee, where the various other points can be discussed.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)
I hope after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan), who has spoken for the promoters of the Bill, that the House will see its way to give it a Second Reading. There were undoubtedly in the Bill as it was introduced many features of an unusual character, to put it at its very lowest, indeed, features to me of an objectionable character, but as those proposals have been withdrawn we need not go into them. Before I sit down may I deal with a personal matter? In the part of the Bill that remains there are four routes as to which Parliament is to be asked to say whether the Corporation shall he allowed to run their omnibuses over those routes. It has always been the custom, and the proper custom, that the consideration of specific routes should always be left for the consideration of the Local Legislation Committee upstairs, who are able to take evidence and go much more deeply into the merits than can the House of Commons. It happens that three out of the four routes specified in the Bill were submitted to me last year as Minister of Transport, and I, in the exercise of the discretion vested in me, refused leave, after a local examination. I am the last person to wish in any way to stand on my dignity. I have made a decision, I may have been wrong, but I want to make it quite clear that I consider the Corporation of Newcastle have a perfect right to come to Parliament to get the opinion of Parliament as to whether the law should be changed, and there is no slur on the Minister who has done his best to carry out his duties as he has seen them. What I would respectfully suggest to the House is that they should give the Bill a Second Reading, and that the question of the four routes should be investigated upstairs. Besides that there only remains in the Bill the very necessary powers in certain circumstances to substitute omnibuses, which we all think may be an excellent provision.
§ Mr. LOOKER
I think the promoters of this Bill have been very wise to withdraw from it the Clauses referred to. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) has said about their being supported by a large majority of Con- 1327 servatives in Newcastle, there is no doubt that to ask a Parliament with a large Conservative majority to swallow three Clauses like that was a very tall order indeed. In view of the fact that those Clauses have been withdrawn and that I am informed that those private interests most affected by the remainder of the Bill have no objection to its going upstairs, and on the distinct understanding, of course, that they are still free to object to any of the provisions remaining in the Bill, particularly as to the powers which are sought to run omnibuses over the routes which they desire to run over, I do not think I shall be justified in persisting in the Motion which I have put down, and I would ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Sir COOPER RAWSON
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain what is proposed with regard to Clause 4, which gives the Corporation the power more or less to run repairing garages, and also to explain Clause 9, which enables the Corporation to take over competitive systems of omnibuses running in the city of Newcastle. After all, the arrangement come to has not been very clearly defined on either of the Front Benches, and there are many of us in the House, who are opposed I think, to any extension of the facilities for municipal trading and would like to have a little more information on those points.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
I think it is desirable that the House should be informed, in view of the arrangement which has been come to, of what was really sought in this Bill. A good deal of misapprehension has arisen, and some quite ridiculous ideas have been spread outside this House, as to the attitude of Members on this side and, indeed, on the other side, on the points that have arisen in connection with this Bill and the Bradford Bill last week. I do not think, after all that has been said, and after all the interest that has been created, that this Bill ought to be disposed of so summarily without some regard being paid as to the nature of the Bill. The Newcastle Corporation, along with many other municipalities which are owners of tramway systems, are also owners of an omnibus service, and they have had powers conferred upon them by Parliament. Unfortunately, there is a wide 1328 divergence between municipalities as to the interpretation of their powers and as to the manner in which they administer those powers in their own locality. It is quite usual for a tramway authority owning tramways, and other local authorities who do not own tramways, to come to Parliament and ask for authority to work omnibus services. It is suggested by those who are hostile to the Conservative party that we are opposing these Bills because we do not think they should have power to run omnibus services. May I point out that already many authorities have power to run omnibuses. It is the general rule, except where it is shown that a local authority ought not to be invested with such powers, to give local authorities power to run omnibus services within their areas.
The Newcastle Corporation not only have power to run omnibuses in their areas, but under their Act of 1920 they can run omnibuses outside their areas with a certain condition attached to that power, and it is a condition similar to those contained in many other private local Bills. Therefore, when it is said either that this authority or the Bradford authority were being denied reasonable facilities for running omnibuses, it is absolutely contrary to the fact. The Newcastle authority under the Act of 1920, can run omnibus services outside its own boundary if it gets the assent of the other authorities concerned, if it satisfies the Minister of Transport, and he is prepared to grant his consent. Where local authorities have that power and have applied to the Minister, they have been given permission to provide services. But in this particular ease the authority has acted contrary to the spirit of that general rule. They, on the one hand, have acted ultra vires and run services for which they have no authority at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who?"] The Newcastle Corporation. They have run services for which they had no authority under their existing Act. They have then gone to the Minister of Transport under the provisions of their Act and asked for authority for certain routes. The Minister of Transport has been informed of the fact that there was local opposition to the granting of his consent for these services to be run and after lengthy and highly expensive local inquiries the Minister has withheld his consent on the 1329 merits of the case, arid has not allowed this local authority to run on certain routes.
When the Bill was originally presented to this House it was designed to sidetrack Departmental control and to enable the Newcastle Corporation to do just as it liked, and run services where it liked on the roads mentioned in the Bill without the consent of the Minister, and contrary to his already expressed decision. That, of course, makes the case of this Bill quite different from the usual case of a municipality asking for powers to run omnibuses, and I think that fact ought to be clearly stated for the information of the House. What is the fact? The Newcastle Corporation took up an absolutely unjustifiable attitude. Of course, it is useless for Parliament to prescribe for Bill after Bill in Committee upstairs a model form of procedure, if it is to be defied by great municipalities, as is being done by this particular municipality, and we ought to take notice of that fact. Now the Newcastle Corporation realise that they have been taking up a wrong attitude, and as things stood a few hours ago this Bill would certainly have been rejected on the ground that it was absolutely necessary to maintain the authority of Parliament.
Quite rightly realising that their attitude has placed them in the wrong and imperilled the Second Reading of their Bill, the promoters have run away at the last moment, and now we get the Bill before us in a condition which justifies this House sending it upstairs to he considered in the ordinary way. I understand that that satisfies the Minister of Transport. I am glad to hear it does so, because the situation now is that the local authority, having applied to the Minister under the provisions of the Act of 1920, and having been on the merits of the case turned down, the promoters are now appealing to Parliament against the decision of the Minister. I do not object to that, in fact I am glad to see the Government now realises that the Departmental inquiry should be subject to revision by this House. Of course, it is somewhat late in the day for a recantation in regard to Departmental policy, but having been refused the appeal to Parliament asked for on major questions in another direction, it has now 1330 been found necessary to allow quite small persons outside to be involved in considerable expense in appealing to Parliament in order to have their case heard against the decision of the Minister.
There is a wider question on this subject of municipalities and omnibus services. I said just now that there is a wide divergence of practice in the way in which the different municipalities administer their function in relation to omnibus services. You get in one place a local authority which is a licensing authority simply refusing to admit any outside omnibuses into their borough on the ground that those omnibuses would compete with their tramways. Nevertheless, the same authority will come along notwithstanding that fact, and ask for powers to run their omnibuses outside their borough in competition with other people to whom they have refused access to the centre of their borough. That is an attitude which I hope the Department will deal with in the Roads Bill when it is introduced. Then you have a class of local authorities which licenses all comers with omnibuses until they get such a state of congestion and chaos within their boroughs that they do not know how to clear up the muddle into which they have got. That frequently happens where the existing services within the borough are not provided by the same authority, but are provided by some private company. I have mentioned these two instances of what is going on because it is obvious that the general law of the country relating to these matters cannot remain as it is, but ought to be amended.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
If the hon. Member is proposing a change in the general law, I am afraid we cannot argue that here.
§ Sir J. NALL
I quite realise that, and I am not proposing to do so, but here is a local authority, that of Newcastle-on-Tyne, which, as a lisensing authority, has refused licences to other omnibus-owning people to run their services into Newcastle, and is now asking Parliament to allow it to run its omnibuses outside in competition with people to whom it refuses access to the borough. That is an entirely inconsistent attitude. I think it should be recorded now, because the promoters, 1331 who have, quite rightly, so far recognised the foolish position in which they nave placed themselves, and have precipitately run away from that position at the last minute, should realise the further illogical absurdities relating to their position, in order that, when this Bill goes to a Committee, they may endeavour to put forward a reasonable case, founded upon facts which do not do injustice to people who are already providing services, and in order that, instead of wasting many hours of Committee time upstairs, they should be content to put forward a case which can be justified on its merits, and avoid a repetition, on the Third Reading, of the doubts and difficulties which have arisen in connection with the Second Reading.
I can only hope that the experiences of the promoters in connection with this Bill, as in the case of the Bradford Bill last week, will indicate to municipalities who are omnibus-owning authorities and at the same time licensing authorities that they cannot have it both ways—that they ought not to abuse their position as licensing authorities in order to protect their own undertaking as against the undertakings of other owners. If the Debates which have taken place on this Bill and on the Bradford Bill will do something to draw the attention of municipalities to what ought to be the principle upon which they work, and cause them to realise that, as authorities invested with special powers by Parliament, it is their duty to see fairness to all the parties concerned, and not to take advantage to their own ends and abuse their special privileges, these Debates will have been to good advantage, and one may hope that such a situation will not arise on later Bills.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I intervene for a few moments because of the statements which have fallen from the last speaker. His speech was ostensibly one lecturing the corporations on the ground that they seemed to be biased as far as their own interests were concerned, and more keen to promote their own interests than to preserve the interests of private traders outside. Now that the Minister is in his place, I want to put a case which is within my own knowledge, and I think it is pertinent to this Debate. I am giving the case for the benefit of the hon. Member who has just spoken, because he occupies a very prominent position upstairs, and it is in order that he may be able to adjudicate in an unbiased manner that I give the illustration.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The question of the hon. Member's action in another capacity is really not relevant to a Private Bill.
§ Sir J. NALL
May I be allowed to say that I am not on the Committee of which the hon. Member speaks?
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I will not proceed to say what I meant to say, but I congratulate the hon. Member on having done what he has done.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.