§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. SCURR
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I make this Motion in the unavoidable absence of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). The general principle underlying the Bill is one which I feel sure will obtain the unanimous support of hon. Members sitting on these benches, and it is in no sense of the word a party Bill. It is supported by every section of the House, and it is a measure which, when examined, I feel certain will receive, if a Division be taken, the support of an overwhelming majority of the Members of this House. In 1926 a Bill very similar to this one was introduced in the House of Commons, and on that occasion the promoters were members of the Conservative party. That shows that this Measure is, in every sense of the word, a non-party Bill. On that occasion, the Measure was rejected on the Second Reading by a small majority, the figures being 133 votes to 128. I hope the result on this occasion will be of a totally different character.
The objects of this Bill are practically similar to those of the Bill of 1926.
The machinery of the Bill under Clause 1 is simplified. Its scope is definitely limited to local authorities that have already been authorised by Parliament to operate passenger transport services, either tramways, trolley vehicles, or motor omnibuses. The Measure extends or gives powers to local authorities where those powers will confer something entirely new upon a district. Those who have not the powers concerning tramways or trolley vehicles will not be affected by this Bill. It is permissive in relation to co-operation with neighbouring authorities. Under Clause 4 provision is made for working and other arrangements betweent local authorities and other parties and for inter-running services. Effective control of capital expenditure to be incurred under Clause 2 will be exercised by the Minister of Transport under the 2252 powers of Clause 7. Other Clauses of the Bill relate to fares and charges, stopping and starting places, etc.
The Bill is described as an enabling Bill, and it is a Measure to enable local authorities to do that which they ought to be able to do without any trouble at all, without going through the cumbrous process which they have to adopt at the present time if they desire to secure any of these powers. A return recently issued by the Minister of Transport and dated March, 1929, contains the most up-to-date figures to which we have access and it states that there have been no fewer than 947 local Acts and Provisional Orders obtained by local authorities dealing with transport at a cost of£748,000.
We hear to-day a great deal about the necessity for an economy campaign against waste, and it is my submission that this Bill will secure real economy in that respect. The local Acts to which I have referred cost nearly£750,000, and that does not take into account the expenses incurred by local authorities that have obtained powers to run motor omnibuses only, but they had to go to Parliament to obtain those powers. In one case at Ramsbottom in Lancashire the obtaining of powers to run 11 motor omnibuses cost the ratepayers 2s. 7d. per head of the population. There are nearly 1,000 of these Acts on the (Statute Book, and our legislation on this question is certainly in a state of chaos and demands attention. There are before us to-day 30 Bills dealing with the question of transport promoted by local authorities.
The local authorities have really good cause and ground for complaint in the cumbrous procedure of this House in regard to local legislation. When a local authority decides to promote a private Bill consider For a moment what they have to do? First of all, that local authority must pass a resolution by a two-thirds majority. That is really a very big barrier to start with. When the local authority has passed that resolution by a two-thirds majority, it is then essential that that decision should be ratified by a public meeting of the ratepayers.
§ Mr. SCURR
Yes, but the local authority has been returned by the ratepayers, and probably the very thing in question has been made an issue at the election and there should be no necessity to call a public meeting. The local authority is bound to call that public meeting, and the mayor has to preside, and the local authority is not allowed to incur any further expenditure beyond that. On the other hand, the persons who are interested in the matter from a private enterprise point of view can go to any amount of expense, and it is well known where there have been large motor omnibus companies the owners have been able to bring from outside parts of the district persons who for reasons best known to themselves have come to those meetings to vote against the resolution, and often in that way the proposal of the local authority is defeated.
Then Parliamentary notice of the proposals of the Bill must be given in the local Press and in the "London Gazette." The Bill is then examined by a committee of both Houses of Parliament and witnesses, counsel and agents must be employed. Perhaps gentlemen learned in the law may not be very keen about this Bill, but after all, in these days of rationalisation, even the profession of the law must suffer to some extent. I have already mentioned the case of the Ramsbottom Urban District Council, and there has recently been a case in Leeds in which a private operator brought an action against the local authority because they extended one of their statutory omnibus routes by 40 yards at the terminus, merely because they wanted to turn the omnibuses round, and not for the purpose of getting any increase in passenger traffic. [An HON. MEMBER: "What happened?"] The matter in question is one with which my hon. friend the Member for South West Hull (Mr. Arnott), who is going to second this Motion, is more familiar than I am, and no doubt he will be able to answer that question. 2254 The main point that I want to make today is that this Bill is supported by all the local authorities, and I can call into the witness box a distinguished Member of this House who, I feel sure, has the respect of all of us, namely, the late Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). He presided, on the 27th November, over a meeting of the Association of Municipal Corporations, a body which cannot by the greatest flight of imagination be described as a Socialist body, and a resolution was then passed unanimously:That this Association approves the principle of a Bill to enable local authorities to provide and run omnibuses within and without their districts.This in itself is a very powerful resolution coming from a body of that character. We often hear arguments in regard to the value of municipal enterprise and private enterprise and so on, and I am going, if the House will permit me, to put forward a few figures with regard to what local authorities have done from the financial point of view and so on in regard to passenger conveyance. The number of tramway passengers last year was over 4,000,000,000. In the year before the War it was 2,633,000,000. The route miles of tramways are 1,812. The number of passengers carried on municipal omnibuses last year exceeded 500,000,000, and on trackless trolley vehicles was nearly 92,000,000. It is rather interesting to note that these numbers compare with 1,668,000,000 carried on all the railways in Great Britain, reckoning season ticket holders at 600 journeys per year.
A further point in regard to municipal ownership of tramways, omnibuses and all kinds of passenger transport, is that there is the great protection which exists as regards debt redemption. The capital expenditure has to be redeemed over a period of years. This capital expenditure has been in round figures£85,000,000, and of this sum£47,000,000 has been redeemed during the existence of the powers; that is to say, 55 per cent. of the original capital has been paid off. In regard to omnibuses, the capital expenditure has been£5,420,000 and in regard to trackless trolley vehicles,£1,171,000, and here again there is Parliamentary provision for debt redemption. The total revenue for tramways, in a year of industrial de
2255 pression, has been£23,000,000, and the net revenue, after paying all working expenses, was£4,000,000. Of this,£1,600,000 went in interest on borrowed money and£2,153,000 upon the reduction of debt. I want to urge upon the House that, representing as we do the people of this country, we must take into very grave consideration the opinions which are expressed, especially when they are expressed unanimously, by the local authorities of the country. We are all justly proud of the muuicipal services of this country. We feel that the majority of men and women who are engaged in the work of local government bring to it a tremendous amount of public service and make considerable sacrifices in carrying on their work. That is not confined to the members of any one particular party. The present President of the Municipal Tramways and Transport Association is Alderman Thomas Canby. Politically, I am given to understand, he is well known as a doughty fighter on behalf of the Conservative party, but in this respect he stands, not as a Conservative or a Liberal or a Socialist, but as a representative of the great local authorities; and, presiding at a meeting held at Caxton Hall on the 23rd January last, he made some remarks which I think I ought to bring to the attention of Members of this House. In opening the meeting he said:We welcome this meeting. It is evidence of the widespread interest and concern in the subject we have now to consider. It is no ordinary event that has brought together the representatives of these two Associations. It is the first joint meeting that has been held during our 29 years' history. On December 18th the House of Lords, with 35 Members present, rejected Part V of the Road Traffic Bill by a majority of 13 "—I may say that the powers under Part V of that Bill are very similar to the powers proposed in this Bill—not on its merits by any means, but because of the fear of the extension of municipal enterprise— It seems to have been forgotten that during the last Parliament a large number of Local Acts were passed which conferred road transport powers on local authorities, or the extension of them, both inside and outside their areas.—. Private passenger transport interests have always held a great advantage over those of the community. For instance, they are free from Parliamentary control. Their numerous appeals against decisions of 2256 local authorities in respect of motor omnibus licences to the Minister of Transport have in many cases served to emphasise their resistance to conditions less onerous than those imposed upon local authorities. It is intolerable that we should continue to occupy a position of inferiority, and now have that position fastened upon us, aparently, once for all. Our protest against the rejection of Part V is not a protest against private enterprise. It is, however, an emphatic objection to inequality and privilege.—. We cannot, on behalf of those we represent, consent to the subordination of public to private interests in a service with which, because the public streets are a necessity to it and are in fact its permanent way, maintained at public cost, every ratepayer is financially and compulsorily concerned. We put our claim as high as this, and it is a reasonable one: Equality of service, equality of opportunity within the limits I have referred to, and of course equality of obligations.There is one other point that I should like to make, and that is that in regard to labour conditions, those of us who are associated with the transport industry on the industrial side from the workmen's point of view know that in the case of municipal concerns we get a fair deal, but that is not true in regard to a very large number of the private transport undertakings which exist at "he moment. When the Royal Commission on Transport was taking evidence, Mr. John Cliff. Assistant Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, a man who is held in such high esteem that he has been made a member of the Royal Com mission which is now visiting India, used these words:I think it ought to be known to the Commission that the public omnibus service of this country, excluding London, is the only branch of the passenger service that will not accept machinery for dealing with the wages and conditions for the settlement of disputes. First of all, the municipalities, or the Treasury Joint Industrial Council, together with ourselves, approached the company representatives on the Council with regard to the institution of a national agreement for omnibus employers, but the company representatives escape on a technical point and say the Council was not formed for that purpose. We have made representations to the Association on behalf of which evidence was given before you and have asked that the machinery should be established.That in itself in these days, when everyone is urging that there should be peace in industry, shows how necessary it is that these services should be under the control of a municipal authority. I am rather pleased that I have been able to introduce this Bill, because it seeks to 2257 achieve one great object if it achieves no other—it will enable the late Minister of Transport to make up his mind. His name is down to an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. He was in rather a different mood on the last occasion. He was rather suspicious at the beginning of his speech. He said:I confess that after the speeches of my two hon. Friends the Mover and the Seconder, I began to think that the Bill was a very small one, and that there was very little in it, but owing to the continued approval of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, I cannot help thinking that there may be more in the Bill than appears on the surface. … The private Company differs from the municipality in that the latter, if it wants to start omnibuses, has to come here and go through the whole procedure of a private Bill, with its expense and delays. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong. This Bill only applies to those municipalities which have already got powers to run tramways, trolley vehicle routes or omnibuses.That is so still. Then we really come to a gem:I do not think I am called upon, or indeed that it would be wise, to express a definite opinion on its merits. Friday afternoon is recognised by the House as one of the appropriate occasions on which private Members should usually discuss a Bill and come to a conclusion unfettered by any expression of opinion from the Government. … If I asked the House to reject the Bill, the House might well say, 'Here is a Minister who, because certain powers are going to be placed in his bands, does not want the trouble of administering them.'Having put forward that argument, he balanced it on the other side:If I asked the House to pass the Bill, I might receive the criticism, 'Here is this autocratic man, this bureaucrat, wanting to have more power placed in his hands, and to do things without the consent of the House of Commons.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1926, col. 2817, Vol. 192.]
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I promise the hon. Member to give a definite opinion this morning. I am now in Opposition and not in office.
§ Mr. SCURR
I am highly gratified that the right hon. Gentleman has declared the real policy of the party to which he belongs. We will balance things carefully when in Opposition. We will really give our own opinion and our real opinion. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and his friends may be in Opposition for a very long time. I submit the Bill to the judgment of the House. I think it is in every way fair, it confers 2258 powers that ought to be conferred upon local authorities, and I feel that if hon. members approach it, not from the point of view of party but from the point of view of the support it has from the Association of Municipal Corporations, and from the point of view of public convenience, they will see that it is their duty to support it in the Lobby.
§ Mr. ARNOTT
I beg to second the Motion.
I was very much interested in looking up the Debate on the similar Bill in 1926. I was not in the House at that time, so that I cannot speak from personal experience of the speeches that were made, but I have read them, and I can estimate from that the general attitude of the House. There was remarkable support for it. We had the Liberal party and the Labour party in favour, and we were also supported by that numerically small, intelligent section of the Conservative party which knows something about municipal transport. So that our task—I admit it is a delicate one—is to convert the remainder of a rapidly disappearing Opposition. I am encouraged, not only by reading the Debate, but by examining the names of the people who took part in it. Amongst those who opposed it last time were the Members for York, South Derby, Everton, and Greenwich, and they are all gone. Their place knows them no more. There are one or two opponents left, and it is interesting to examine where they come from. One of them represents the wilds of Argyllshire, where, of course, there are no trams. We find another from Rutlandshire, where also there are no trams. Another comes from Harrow. I am not sufficiently conversant with the geographical position of Harrow to know whether tramways penetrate that region or not, but I know they have no municipal trams, so that we can readily understand the point made by the ex-Minister of Transport. When I read his speech, I was even more struck by it than my hon. Friend. He thought it was indelicate, if not actually indecent, to ask him such questions considering the position he occupies, the position being that as Minister of Transport he could not oppose the Measure, but in view of his association with the anti-Socialist Union, he could not possibly support it, and I think that was the reason for the neutral position he took up.
2259 I am also concerned with the arguments that were adduced on that occasion by this minority of Conservatives. I am willing to confess that, though some excellent speeches were made on the Labour side of the House, and possibly even one or two excellent speeches on the Liberal side, the speeches in which I was mostly interested were those made, both in opposition and in support, by members of the Conservative party. I found there that the supporters did not depend upon arguments at all. Their speeches really consisted of the recital of a creed, a very old-fashioned creed, a creed presumably which they had learnt at their mothers' knees in infancy. But there was some thing even more remarkable than that. It was not a Tory creed. It was, in fact, a creed which Benjamin Disraeli fought all his lifetime. When we hear some of the speeches on other topics from those benches referring to the obsolete ideas of Richard Cobden, I cannot help thinking that this creed came, not from Richard Cobden, but from Richard Cobden's pre decessor. They are acclaiming now particular portions of this creed, the creed of the early Nineteenth Century, which allintelligent people have discarded, and which is certainly not held either on Labour or Liberal benches at the present moment. These speeches which enunciated that creed in detail have been epitomised elsewhere. I cannot sum them up more adequately than they were summed up in another place the other day in reference to a Bill which is very similar to this one. This particular section of the Bill was rejected on these grounds. A Noble Lord said "Those who agree with municipal trading—
§ Mr. ARNOTT
I may give the effect of them if I cannot quote the speeches, and the effect was that those who agreed with municipal trading would support the Bill and that those who disagreed with municipal trading in toto would oppose the Bill. That is a very simple statement, but the issue is not quite so simple as that. The arguments which I alluded to a moment or two ago from the Tory benches were very similar. They could be summed up in two contradictory statements. One statement was "This Bill 2260 is Socialism, and therefore it is bad and all good Tories will vote against it." The other Conservatives who knew from first hand that the Bill was not bad said, "This Bill is not bad; therefore it is not Socialism, and we ought to vote for it." This is an absolute summary of every speech which was made on the other side.
Hon. Members on the other side who had examined municipal undertakings had found them to be effective, and the speeches were made purely on abstract statements. One hon. Member—I am glad to see him here now—said that a Bill like this destroyed private enterprise, that municipal enterprise is always unfair to private enterprise, and that there was a great objection to public enterprise, and he made a great many more statements of that kind without producing a single word of proof, but in fact admitting that from his own experience the municipal tramway system which he knew best was a great success.
It might be worth while to look at this system before I sit down, but it is as well before examining this system to ask ourselves what this Bill does. The Mover of the Second Reading has given an account of its scope, but there is another aspect of the Bill which even the Mover did not touch upon. It is an aspect which ought to commend itself even to the opponents of the Bill. I suppose that the plea of economy was put forward as being likely to appeal to their views, but there is something in which hon. Members opposite are even more interested than the question of economy, and that is the destruction of the national capital. This Bill, in addition to being a Bill for freeing the municipalities, or limited number of the municipalities, is a Bill to prevent the destruction of some of the most valuable and productive capital which this country possesses. The purpose of the Bill is to allow a limited number of local authorities who have already been entrusted with certain powers by this House, not under Labour rule but under Conservative rule, not recently but extending for at least a quarter of a century or more—they have been entrusted with those powers and have incurred great financial responsibilities—to utilise those powers and to manage these services so as to continue to be financially sound, in order to protect them, not from unfair competition, but against the 2261 parasites which sometimes infest undertakings of that description. I use the word "parasites" advisedly and not offensively at all. It is a description usually applied to a certain kind of animal and a certain kind of plant, but, when we are dealing with competition, it is as well to remind Members of the House that even in the sphere of nature where competition is allowed to run most unchecked you do not eliminate parasites.
§ Mr. ARNOTT
I admit that. A municipal tramway system acquires the same facilities for defending itself against the attack of undertakings of that description just as does a railway company. Whatever validity these speeches may have possessed as arguments in 1926, however a Conservative party might have been committed to support them in 1926, the Conservative party cannot consistently support them now, because under the late Government we passed the Rail-ways Act. Why did we pass that Railways Act? Because railway trains run on rails just as the tramcar runs on rails. The railway system has to maintain its own permanent way, and so has the tramway system. But the railway system has a great advantage over the tramway system: its competitors are not allowed to run over its rails. The tramway system has not only to maintain roads for the use of its own vehicles, but it has also to maintain roads for its competitors. Not only that, it has to pay rates and taxes on those rails and roads. Finally, while its competitors may be exempted in some instances, as are some of the undertakings under the de-rating scheme the tramways have to pay rates under the de-rating scheme in order to make up the deficiencies of those who do not. Roughly speaking, a tramcar has to bear a tax of£335, as compared with the ordinary vehicle tax imposed upon an omnibus.
In Committee upstairs, after a prolonged discussion and an extraordinary expenditure of public money, it was decided to grant certain powers to railway undertakings. Was that because Members of this House had a particular affection for railway shareholders? Some people might think that that was the true explanation, but that would be unfair to those Members of this House who happen to hold railway stock. The ex- 2262 planation was that the railways are a national necessity; they represent a great expenditure of capital and a vital service which this country cannot afford to lose. To destroy a service of this description it was only necessary to have competing services to take away a certain percentage of traffic to make all the difference between profit and loss, and then these undertakings would become crippled and valueless. Because of these considerations, the railways got their special powers. For similar reasons, we ask that the municipalities should be vested with powers to enable them to preserve their municipal tramway services, which have justified themselves by results, and on which they have expended considerable sums.
I will not take up the time of the House by quoting at length statistics with respect to municipal undertakings, but I will take as an example the position of the City of Glasgow and its undertaking. The tramway undertaking of the City of Glasgow was a great success at one time, but it was not always a wonderful success. Before the Glasgow Corporation took over the service it was anything but a success. It was an absolute disgrace to the City. The service was bad, the men were sweated, they could not even clothe themselves decently, fares were high and the service was everything that it ought not to be. There was opposition to the municipality taking over the service, because it was believed that a municipality was not capable of controlling the service efficiently. However, the municipality took over the service and made it a great success. They turned the horse-driven system into an electric system, they raised wages, lowered fares, opened up new routes, gave better facilities and made so much money that they did not know what to do with it. Then they extended the system, and after they had extended it was a different state of affairs. By the time that they had extended the system and included other areas we had the internal combustion engine and the motor 'bus. There is a remarkable difference between the economics of running a motor bus and a tramcar. The running costs of a tram-car are very low, much lower than the costs of running a 'bus. The actual cost of running a tramcar is perhaps the same as the cost of running a motor 'bus, but 2263 the tramcar has the advantage that it can hold double the number of passengers.
Therefore, the running cost of the tram-car is much lower than the running cost of the 'bus, but in operating a tramway service there are other things to consider besides the running of the tramcar. There is the cost of the upkeep of the road. It is obvious that if you have a two minutes service on a particular road, the cost per car of maintaining that road is much less, proportionately, than if you have a five, ten or 30 minutes service. That argument does not apply in the case of an omnibus. The cost of running an omnibus is practically the same whether you run it once an hour or every minute. It is obvious that in a congested, densely-populated district with a potential number of passengers which is large, the tramcar is a more economic proposition than the 'bus. On the other hand, where you have a thinly-populated district the bus is the much more convenient vehicle. If the tram makes a number of stops it cannot go at a great speed. Its potential speed may be equal to or even greater than the speed of the omnibus, but it cannot take full advantage of that speed owing to the number of stops. Consequently, you cannot have an express tramway service. You can, however, have an express bus service, and that is the economic way of getting your long-distance service. You cannot serve routes which are thinly populated by means of a tramcar.
Omnibuses if used in combination with an efficient tramway system can improve that system enormously, and help the public enormously. When you work the two systems together they can be made financially profitable, but if you get a private omnibus company competing with a tramway undertaking, what happens? The private omnibus owners are not concerned with the efficiency of the system; they are not concerned with public convenience and they are not concerned to give the public the same facilities as do the municipal tramway undertakings; all they are concerned about is to get the traffic where the traffic mostly is to be found. Even if their fares happen to be higher than the tramway fares, if they can take a fraction of passengers away from the tramway system the de- 2264 fection of those passengers may turn a paying concern into a loss, and in this way your£85,000,000 of capital invested in a concern may become a losing concern instead of a profitable concern. That is why it is so essential that whether a tramway undertaking is under private or public ownership if that undertaking is to give the service which it ought to give, and if it is going to survive it ought to be operated along with whatever omnibus service can be provided. That is one reason why this Bill ought to be passed and why certain municipalities which have already tramway powers and have asked for separate Acts have got them.
It is also a reason why Glasgow at the present time is severely handicapped. At the time when Glasgow had an efficient tramway system, Edinburgh had a very poor system, but that is not the case today. Edinburgh has now an up-to-date tramway system, because Edinburgh has full omnibus powers. Edinburgh has the powers which this Bill would give to Glasgow. Glasgow has been deprived of those powers. What earthly chance has the Glasgow Corporation of bringing their tramway system up-to-date and providing a sufficient number of omnibuses on their main routes to link up with outside districts off their main routes, when an Act of Parliament says to them, at the end of a five miles limit: "Thus far and no further shall you go."
Let me say a few words in respect to the Yorkshire tramway system. In Yorkshire we have some towns which have no omnibus powers, and we have some towns which have omnibus powers inside their borough boundaries. They can run anywhere inside the borough boundaries, but not outside. We have some with powers to run inside their borough boundaries and also over any tramway routes. We have other undertakings which have practically all the powers they want. One argument used is the well-being of the ratepayer; and it amazes me to mark the solicitude of rural members who never see our industrial towns for the well-being of ratepayers who happen to live there, and how anxious they are to protect them against the incompetence of the people, whom they elect as their representative. I have never marked the same solicitude to protect people against financial sharks.
2265 The only way of testing this matter is to compare local authorities possessing tramway undertakings and full powers to run omnibuses, and who use these powers sensibly, with tramway undertakings which do not possess these powers. It is no use segregating the omnibus section and saying that the omnibuses run by municipalities never pay where there is a tramway system, because any intelligent manager of a tramway system will obviously use his omnibuses on the less productive routes. In that case the omnibus service is bound to show a loss. Take a city like Sheffield, which I claim has the finest transport undertaking in the whole of this country. Any person who studies the system in Sheffield for half an hour can find an answer to every argument that is likely to be raised in this Debate. Sheffield has powers over nearly all the routes outside the city, a power which is denied to Leeds and Bradford. What happens? Inside Sheffield you have a tramway system, and a good bus system, and every omnibus and every tramcar is owned and controlled exclusively by the municipality. The longest routes outside Sheffield have been surrendered to the railway company, and that scheme of co-ordination is making the undertaking financially prosperous and the tramcars are the most up-to-date in the whole country. Compare that with the tramcar system of a private undertaking like that of Bristol. Although the Bristol system is very efficient you can see a great gap. The private undertaking at Bristol is prosperous because it has greater powers than are given in this Bill. They have powers not only to run omnibuses but to manufacture them. It is a prosperous concern because it is free to act.
The criticism often urged against local authorities is that they are tied by red tape. They are very often asked to show some initiative, to be more active. This Bill does not give local authorities all the powers for which they ask, and which a private undertaking possesses, but it does cut a few of the strands of that red tape, it breaks down some of the barriers and gives them a certain amount of liberty. Where they have that liberty, as at Sheffield and Rotherham, the whole community benefits and nobody loses anything. Take the city of Leeds, where they have only limited powers, or Bradford which has been denied all these 2266 powers until quite recently. Let me put the astonishing paradox which exists at the present moment. Leeds is prohibited by Act of Parliament from running omnibuses to Bradford, but Bradford is allowed to make an agreement with Leeds whereby Leeds can run omnibuses into Bradford. The powers that Parliament has refused to give to Leeds, Bradford is empowered to give to Leeds. That is the extraordinary position under the law at the present moment. Therefore, every municipality when it asks for these powers, which are necessary not merely to extend its operations but to preserve its existing capital, has to promote a Parliamentary Bill.
There are some politicians in all parties who believe that in framing our laws we should not be guided by principles but by experiment. We have given most of these powers to local authorities on that basis. You give a few local authorities power to do certain things. They have done those things well, few mistakes have been made, and Parliament gives these same powers to all municipalities. When they find they are absolutely necessary they give compulsory powers. We have reached the second stage. Many areas have these powers, and in every case the area has benefited. The case for the municipality has been made out. The case for co-ordination has been made out. Parliament has passed the Railways Act, and an attempt was made to pass a Bill which was professedly an attempt to coordinate London traffic. You have given a private tramway undertaking not merely these powers but powers to prohibit any competitors appearing at all in their area. The principle of co-ordination has also been established. This Bill breaks-a few more fetters; it is in the line of modern legislation. It is a small attempt to apply the principle of rationalisation and co-ordination to-transport. Whether transport is in private hands or is a public undertaking one thing is certain, and that is that if it is going to be economical and serve the needs of the community it must be rationalised. For that reason I hope that even the small and disappearing remnant of the Conservative party which voted against this Bill on the last occasion will be even smaller to-day.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
There was one common denominator running through the speeches of the mover and seconder of this Bill—namely, a refusal to discuss any of the provisions of the Measure. The House has heard the hon. Members' speeches, but has been left absolutely in the dark as to what is proposed in the Bill. We have heard a great deal about the hardship to municipal enterprise, how municipal enterprise is far superior to private enterprise, how shackles were to be struck off, and how very delicately the late Minister of Transport sat on the fence in 1926. We heard all those interesting facts, except in the case of the Minister of Transport as to whom the statement was not a fact. The hon. Members did not mention— I think I am not misrepresenting them—in one single sentence the provisions of this amazing Bill.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Of course, if the hon. Member says so, I accept his assurance, but he painted in the details with such a broad brush that the important matters escaped his scrutiny of the Bill. The first point that I make is that we ought as soon as possible to have some light and leading from the Minister of Transport with reference to the Bill. I shall listen to him with interest, because he will have either to throw over the provisions of his own Bill, the Road Traffic Bill, or throw-over the Bill that we are now discussing. The provisions of the two Bills are so absolutely different that it is impossible to reconcile the two. Let me analyse for a moment Clause 1, the operative Clause of the Bill before us. It says that any local authority, having powers to carry on an omnibus, tramway, or trolley vehicle undertaking may, as part of that undertaking, run omnibuses. That is quite clear. If they have any transport powers at all, they may run anywhere within their own district, and, with the consent of the authority empowered to license omnibuses within the area in which the road is situated, or with the consent of the Minister of Transport, run them outside.
2268 In effect, what docs that mean? It means that the local authorities may give the go-by to the Minister of Transport, the Government and Parliament. They are allowed under this Bill—anybody who has any transport powers—to run any where outside their borough boundaries, from Land's End to John o'Groats, anywhere in Great Britain, without anyone's consent, except that of certain people. What are those certain people? They are not all the local authorities, because the Bill says that they have only to get the authority of the people empowered to license omnibuses. The people at present having power to license omnibuses are the big municipalities, county boroughs, and certain urban areas. The County Councils, the rural district councils, and many urban areas have no power at all to licence omnibuses. So this modest Bill, this Bill which is to throw the shackles off municipal enterprise, says that a county borough shall be able to run anywhere, through the county without the consent of the county, shall use the county roads, shall cut them up and pay nothing, and all that can be done without the consent of the county. In addition, it will be allowed to go through certain urban district areas without any consent from the urban district councils.
A more astounding proposal was never put forward. It says that because a county borough has been given powers by Parliament in the past to run a tramway service in its area, it should be given the further power to go anywhere in the county council area and in many urban district council areas without the consent of the authorities or of the Minister of Transport or of Parliament. In the county areas it is a very tall order indeed to allow two municipalities to confer together and run omnibus services without any consultation with anyone else. What does the Minister of Transport propose? I am not in favour of the Bill of the Minister of Transport, but at any rate there is some sort of control contained in Part V of that Bill, which I understand we are to discuss the week after next. I shall not deal with it at length now, but at any rate that Bill does say that outside the area in which the local authority has power to run tramways, trolly vehicles, or omnibuses, it shall not run omnibuses except with the consent of the Commissioners who are 2269 to be appointed under the Bill by the Minister of Transport, and, even when consent is given, Parliament is to retain sonic control, or complete control, over the running of those omnibuses, because there can be an appeal to the Minister of Transport from the decision of the Commissioners, and he can override the district councils if he thinks that permission has been given wrongly and unfairly.
After the observations that I have made, I submit that no responsible House of Commons on a Friday morning or afternoon or at any other time can lightly give such extensive powers to any municipality, unfettered in any way. To do so, would be an in-justice to the great county councils and the urban district councils, who, after all, ought to have some say as to whether their roads are to be used by foreign omnibuses, and ought to have some security that the extra charges which are to be thrown on them are recoverable in some measure from the municipality which for its own profit and advantage runs the omnibuses.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
Will the right hon. gentleman say whether privately owned omnibuses at the present time are not in exactly the same position?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Yes, air. But always in the past where municipal enterprise is concerned, and when a municipality is playing with someone else's money, the ratepayers' money, some control is retained over the authority. On the other hand, private enterprise is risking its own money. This is a very wide and dangerous power to give to municipalities. I ask hon. Members to turn to Clause 7 of the Bill. There is no financial limit of any sort imposed on the municipalities. They can draw on the rates to any extent that they like. If the enterprise does not succeed, they can throw good money after bad. One knows that a corporation's reputation being at stake, it will not lightly give up any such enterprise, once entered upon, and that the wretched ratepayers will have to find more and more money for the enterprise. A very important point is that no separate accounts are to be kept for these omnibus undertakings. Everything is to be wrapped in mystery. The local ratepayers association 2270 will have no means of knowing whether a business is paying or not. I submit that if we are going to give these tremendous powers of spending money to these municipalities', there ought to be some revision and some means of enabling the ratepayers to know the financial position of these undertakings.
I base my main objection to the Bill, however, on the fact that it short-circuits Parliament it does away with all Parliamentary control and seeks to change the whole outlook of Parliament in regard to municipal enterprise. Up to now Parliament has said, and I think not unfairly, that if municipal enterprises want the power to run omnibuses, or to construct new drainage systems, or to carry out any of the score of other activities in which municipalities now engage, they must come to Parliament and prove their case, and Parliament will then grant the powers, perhaps in a modified form or refuse them as the ease may be. The procedure of course costs a little money, but it is better for the ratepayers that that expense should be incurred, than that they should suddenly find themselves committed to some hare-brained enterprise which would eventually cost them much more. That would be possible if Parliamentary control were eliminated as is proposed in this Bill. If there were no other reason for objection, even if the other pro visions of the Bill were quite satisfactory, I would still object strongly to it on the ground that it does away with the immemorial practice of Parliament—that if municipalities want powers they should come to Parliament for them. If those municipalities have a good case, Parliament has generally granted the powers sought in the past.
It is astounding to find hon. Members who are supposed to be very democratic deliberately supporting a Bill which cuts out the authority of Parliament to decide these very important matters. At present there are safeguards for the ratepayers in municipalities where enterprises of this kind are promoted. They can have a town's meeting; they can have a poll, and the matter can be thrashed out before any Bill is promoted Under this Measure all such safeguards would be eliminated and the ratepayers would have to rely upon the level-headed-ness of the people whom they have elected. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I 2271 will then give one or two instances, which have occurred in the last fortnight, in which the elected representative apparently have not been very level-headed in the opinion of the ratepayers and where the ratepayers, under the present system, have been able to curb the Socialistic and extravagant tendencies of their representatives. The first instance refers to the town of Leicester. I take it that there is a Labour majority on the town council in Leicester. [Interruption.] At any rate it is represented in this House by two Labour Members and one Conservative Member, and I quote the following from the "Times" of 3rd February:A town's poll of Leicester upon the Clause suggested by the City Council for insertion in a Parliamentary Bill, allowing the corporation to run omnibuses outside the city boundary, has resulted in the Clause being defeated by 19,187 votes to 4,654 votes.So much for the confidence placed in the town council—
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I cannot say, but of those who did go to the poll, 19,000 voted against the town council and only 4,000 voted for it. I was rather amused at the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Arnott) who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading, having the bravery to do so, in view of the rap over the knuckles which his corporation—or at any rate the corporation to which he formerly belonged—received only last week from the ratepayers of Hull in reference to this very question. The corporation of Hull, I understand, is nearly controlled by Labour though perhaps not quite so. There are 28 Labour members, 21 Conservatives and 15 Liberals, and it is very evenly balanced. That town council apparently does not always represent the views of ratepayers, and it certainly did not represent those views in this case, because when a referendum or vote was taken on the question of level crossings the proposal was beaten by an overwhelming majority. But I wish to draw the attention of the House to the voting on a Clause in the Hull Corporation Bill which would have allowed the corporation to do exactly; what is suggested in this Bill. The vote was overwhelmingly against that proposal.
§ Mr. ARNOTT
It will be overwhelmingly in favour of it at the next municipal election—and that on a 60 per cent. poll instead of a 20 per cent. poll.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
That may be, but I am dealing with facts and not with opinions, and I think facts are always better than opinions. The facts in this case are that 26,846 electors voted against the proposal of the corporation to run omnibuses outside the boundaries and only 4,636 voted for the corporation. Thus out of a total vote of some 31,000, 26,000 were against this proposal.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am stating what was the result of this poll. Hon. Members opposite are perfectly entitled to raise these points, but I am giving the decision of the ratepayers which may be presumed to represent opinion among the ratepayers. My objection to this Bill is that it eliminates the safeguards of these special votes which now exist and which have shown that councillors very often do not represent the ratepayers. Hon. Members opposite probably think it very courageous that I should say anything in favour of private enterprise I am not making this point because the people who have suffered so much are private enterprise people, but for practical considerations. In this Bill, there is no consideration given to the traffic which is already upon the roads, and by this Bill these corporations will be allowed to run almost anywhere, though most districts are quite well covered by an efficient system of omnibuses, which serve the public very well. Why on earth should we allow this new competition to come on the roads and to run off private enterprise by a rate-subsidised enterprise: and, above all, why should we allow this chaos and extra traffic to come on the roads when we ought to be trying to do all that we can to eliminate unnecessary traffic upon them? For all these reasons, I think this Bill ought not to be given a Second Reading. I would press the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport to define in his speech the attitude of the Government 2273 towards this Bill, because, quite obviously, be cannot be in favour of Part V of the Traffic Bill and of this Bill at the same time.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
The speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (Colonel Ashley) is not unexpected in its tone. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, as we know, a convinced, whole-hogging anti-Socralist. He is, I understand, even the President of the Anti-Socialist Union. Therefore, I should have expected a whole-hearted attack upon the whole principle of municipal enterprise and municipal trading; but, while the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been a little more definite than he was in the speeches which were quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), it has still been something of a milk-and-water speech. It has not been whole-hearted, and I will now proceed to tell the House why it has not been whole-hearted. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman held the office of Minister of Transport for some years, and I regret to inform his anti-Socialist friends opposite that, from the point of view of the pure and simple doctrine of anti-Socialism, the record of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves very much to be desired.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is conscious of his past sins, and he tries to-day to stand before us as well as he can as a true-blue Tory, but his record at the Ministry of Transport, while certainly not blameless, nevertheless has a pinkish hue about it from time to time. A whole series of municipalities have obtained Parliamentary powers to run omnibuses, subject, I quite agree, in most cases to restrictions as to the distance they could run, though there were one or two cases where there was no restriction upon the distance they could run, again, I agree, subject to a safeguard as to the consent of the Minister of Transport. In the Parliamentary Session of 1925 10 private Bills went through giving municipalities omnibus powers, all under the right hon. and gallant Gentleman: in 1926, eight; in 192V, 12; in 192S, 12; and in 1929, five. They are within recent years, and I understand that in practically no cases, if indeed in any case, in the advice which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave to the Committee 2274 upstairs did he object to the principle of municipalities running omnibuses within and without their areas.
The indictment against the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, from the point, of view of the true faith of the Anti-Socialist Union, is even worse, and I am not sure that he will not be carpeted when his colleagues read my speech in the House to-day. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman had certain administrative powers as Minister of Transport. Certain Acts gave him powers to consent, of his own administrative volition, to certain municipalities running omnibuses for certain services, and during the period of the last Parliament he gave 76 such consents, covering 137 routes, and they were given to 32 local authorities. This will not fit in with the doctrine that municipal trading is bad and that municipal omnibuses are an offence to decent, respect able civilisation. They are an indication that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not only flirted with municipal omnibuses; he has embraced them, he has encouraged them, he has authorised them. To-day, in opposition, his only-defence is, "Ah, these things were permitted it is true; these fallings from the true faith of anti-Socialism took place, but they happened when I was a Minister, and I could not help myself. To-day I am free. My principles are returning, and I move the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill."
Really, it is very much like "Alice in Wonderland," rather than a serious Parliamentary performance. That is what happened and has been happening for a whole series of years, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says that it should go on happening for ever, that Parliament should continue to consider each specific application for powers, that the local authorities should make their applications to Parliament, should go upstairs, that learned gentlemen should argue, and that Parliament should make its decisions; and he contemplates that that should happen in every case and for all time, and he says that that is the proper Parliamentary practice. There is nothing more foreign to constitutional tradition than that that should go on for all time. The whole history of the powers of local government is a history of experiment and consolidation, of be- 2275 ginning by giving certain authorities powers and continuing by ultimately giving all of them powers, subject to proper safeguards.
If it were now 300 or 400 years ago and the City of London Corporation had a Bill here enabling them to put down sewers and to have a public health system, I can imagine the right hon. and gallant Gentleman objecting to it as a matter of principle, on the ground of his opposition to municipal enterprise and development; but these powers were given, and in all the branches of public health and normal local administration the constitutional history is that powers are given to this authority, and powers are given to another, until the Statute Book becomes encumbered with a whole series of powers, and then Parliament consolidates them and passes a general enabling Act so as to get the position into shape. It is not only I, a Socialist Minister, who say this, but Mr. H. P. Macmillan, as he then was, appearing in opposition to a municipal omnibus Bill on behalf of the railway companies, who, I understand, are somewhat obstinate opponents of this Bill, made use of this very argument before a Committee of Parliament in March, 1927. He said:When Parliament sees that in consequence of the promotions by a largo number of local authorities and other persons, the Statute Book is becoming encumbered with a great mass of divergent legislation, causing constant conflict not only in these rooms but also in the Courts and before Inquiries, both local and central, it has been the practice of Parliament in such circumstances to say: This matter must be brought to a halt, and the time has now come when, profiting by the experience of what one may call the tentative period of legislation, where it has been left to the ingenuity and the enterprise of a great many different persons to promote what they thought right—the time has now come to reconsider the whole position, and to devise means which will remedy the chaos which this congeries of local legislative effort has brought about '.That is exactly the purpose of the Bill which is before the House of Commons to-day, and, therefore, I say that this House had better follow that exceedingly able lawyer and consolidate the law on a reasonable basis.
Is there really any question of party principle involved in this matter at all? Is it not a question of reasonable justice 2276 to local authorities in relation to the provision of transport facilities? Is this a matter upon which hon. Members opposite need think of their anti-Socialist faith? Can they not rather consider: Is the present system fair, or is it unfair? If it is unfair, upon what basis can reasonable justice be done, and what are the proper safeguards to accompany that concession of justice? I am very glad to know that there are hon. Members opposite who will vote for this Bill—yes, Conservative Members, if I am not mistaken. They will either vote, or they will go home by an early train. I am very glad that this should be so, because we cannot regard this as a party question. It is supported by all parties; and probably two-thirds of the local authorities supporting this Bill are dominated by schools of political thought represented by hon. members opposite and below the Gangway. It is not a party question; it is a question of fairness. It is a question of playing the game by local authorities. It cannot be a question of principle in view of the record of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to which I have referred.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Gentleman has referred to Parliamentary control. There is no Parliamentary control here either by the Minister or Parliament.
§ Mr. MORRISON
We will see to that all right. If that is all the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants and if on that condition he will vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, I shall have no difficulty in enticing him into the right Lobby this afternoon. But that is not a question of principle; it is a question of safeguard; it is a question of detail. The principle and the basis of the Bill are: Is it a proper thing for local authorities to have wider powers to run omnibuses? The record of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is that he has given them such powers, has supported such powers, and, therefore, on the question of principle, I assure him, on his own record, that he is a lost soul, and that he can never be completely restored to the true faith and the true counsels of the Anti-Socialist Union. Conservative and Liberal municipalities support it, and, therefore, there is no question of fundamental party divergence. 2277 The right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), as my hon. friend the Member for Mile End pointed out, was in the Chair of the Association of Municipal Corporations when they supported the principle contained in this Bill, and I have in connection with my own Bill fortified my position in connection with Part V, which originally formed part of my Bill, by consulting the Royal Commission on Transport—in the appointment of which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, had quite properly, a very big voice— which has a definite Conservative majority, and an eminently Conservative chairman, who, by the way, has rendered excellent service to the country as Chairman of that Royal Commission. The Royal Commission did not touch on this point in their first or second reports, and I was anxious to know their views on the principle of the matter. This is the letter I obtained dated 27th November, 1929, from Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, Chairman of the Royal Commission:The Royal Commission has had under consideration the question which you brought before me, namely, the proposal to include in the Road Traffic Bill a Clause which would enable any local authority already possessing transport powers of any kind, to operate omnibus services either inside or outside its area, and thus obviate the necessity of the authority coming to Parliament for an extension of its existing powers.This is part of a larger question with which the Commission had already decided to deal, after further consideration, in the Final Report, but my colleagues see no reason why this particular proposal should not be included in the Bill. The result would be to place those local authorities, which at present possess limited powers to provide transport services, in a position of equality with other operators when applying for a licence to the Traffic Commissioners, and it should further enable such authorities to substitute omnibus services for tramways if they consider it to be in the public interest so to do.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I want to be quite clear. The hon. Gentleman does not suggest that that qualified approval applies to this Bill but to his proposal—a very different thing?
§ Mr. MORRISON
Quite. I said it was in relation to Part V-of my Bill as introduced in another place. This Bill was not then published, and I want to be quite fair and perfectly clear, but if I may take it that the right hon. Gentleman will support my Part V if he cannot support this Bill, I shall be very glad to have that in- 2278 formation. I have assumed up to now that hon. Gentlemen opposite have some regard for economy of the ratepayers' money and on that point surely this is a reasonable proposal. Hon. Members cannot defend a little town in Lancashire, to which the Mover of the Bill referred, spending 2s. 7d. per head of the population for the glorious privilege of running seven omnibuses. It is an impossible situation. It is a sheer waste—we must keep the safeguards by all means—but it is a sheer waste coming to Parliament each time and going upstairs through all the business there. It is perfectly true that certain towns have rejected proposals. They have rejected all sorts of proposals. They often do reject all sorts of proposals. It all depends which vested interest was awake at the moment, and which asleep. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman persuaded the London County Council to do certain things when he was in office. By some means or other the London County Council never have to have a meeting of ratepayers. It is as well they do not! They do not have to have polls of the electors.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman may think this form of referendum a democratic device. Some of my hon. Friends used to think so, before they were as well informed as they are now. I was never fond of the referendum. It is essentially reactionary. It is an instrument which can be used by every vested interest that ought to be wiped off the face of earth. Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman care to submit every one of his great Bills, which he was going to introduce but never had the good fortune to do so, to a referendum to decide whether they were good or bad? He would not. The day will be welcomed when this farce of town meetings and polls has gone, and the ratepayers have the feeling of responsibility that when voting for councillors they are voting for people fit and competent to conduct their business. These meetings mean nothing. It depends who gets there first. It depends how well certain people have been drilled by vested interests to put up their hands when they put up their hands. The polls mean little. The percentage of people voting is usually very small, and a poll is usually wanted because vested interests are threatened. I should not advise the 2279 right hon. and gallant Gentleman as a Conservative politician to get so enthusiastic in embracing the referendum because it really is not in his line, and, strictly between ourselves, it is not in my line either.
Tested on the basis of service, surely the local authority ought to be in a position to provide the best transport system for the town that it can—a co-ordinated system, in order that they and the private undertakers are not both providing services and getting into each other's way. Consider the position of a local authority when it promotes a Bill. Transport development in great urban communities ought to be planned out in advance of requirements. If a local authority comes to Parliament in advance of the actual need of the service, all the vested interests appear upstairs, and Parliament is inclined to say, "You have not proved your case: go away and come again." It goes away and it comes again; in the meantime, the private omnibus proprietors have got into the field, running services. The private company then also comes along and says, "The municipal services are not needed now, for we are giving the town all that it needs." So Parliament says, "You are quite right. Go away, municipality, you are too late." So the poor municipality is either too early or too late, and it does not get a proper chance of considering what is necessary for the town.
I should have thought that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have welcomed this Bill on other grounds. In transport, this is the age of co-ordination. We all believe in it. Co-ordination is a blessed word. I have seen lots of it in all sorts of circumstances. I have seen it in the Labour movement; we usually appoint a committee, and, if we are not careful, we get a series of committees co-ordinating, and then we have to appoint another committee to co-ordinate the co-ordinators. This is the age of co-ordination, and everybody believes in it. It is nearly as blessed as rationalisation, which is a word I cannot say with complete assurance is all right. Coordination is also right, and how are you to get it? There are provisions in this Bill, of which some hon. Members opposite are afraid, to give local authorities powers to make agreements with other local authorities and private undertak- 2280 ings. Surely, that is a good thing. The more we can get agreements for through running services and co-ordinated services between municipalities and companies, subject to proper conditions, the more it helps towards the elimination of wasteful competition. I should have thought that that would have been a proposal which would have been welcomed by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I propose to inform the House what is the intention of the Government in relation to this Bill and to the original Part V of the Traffic Bill, to which I must not make extended reference, because it is not before the House. There is a similarity between Part V and this Bill, and it is perfectly clear that the future must be considered in relation to both these Measures. I want to make it abundantly clear that on the principle of this Bill, and on the principle of the original Part V of the Traffic Bill, His Majesty's Government will not move. We are firm upon that principle. We are satisfied that it is sound and just, and, given the support of the House of Commons, we shall put this principle through. Having said that, and having made it perfectly clear that we shall abide by the principle involved in these Bills, I have to point out that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that there are certain differences between this Bill and the original Part V of the Road Traffic Bill. I think that my Part V was better, in so far as there are differences, than this Bill; I should not be human if I did not. There are certain differences, but there will be no difficulty about them, and in certain points this Bill may even be an improvement. We shall endeavour in due course to reconcile the two provisions, to co-ordinate them, and to bring them into harmony.
I have said that I am willing to listen to those who say that, while they are willing to concur in the passage of the principle of the Bill, they think that certain safeguards are necessary. Certainly, I am prepared to listen to them, and to discuss it with them, but I have never had a chance to do it. They have never come to me. I suspect that they got very busy at the other end of the Corridor one day, and that that part of the Bill was, as a consequence, struck out, and was not given a 2281 chance of being considered in Committee. They have never been to me, and I wish that interests, even the most capitalist interests, would understand that, although my philosophy of life is not their's, when they have a difference with me and a grievance, I am always willing to talk to them and negotiate. I am never afraid to meet anybody in negotiation; I will stick to my guns maybe, or I will not, but they really ought to understand that it would be far better to come and talk about these things than to get into a panic and adopt an attitude of pure obstinacy, as certain interests do. They would be better off in the end if they would discuss details.
It may be argued, for example that, if a local authority is applying for a licence from the licensing authority, certain other people should have a right to object. That is an argument to which I am perfectly prepared to listen. If it be suggested that there should be a right of appeal to the Minister as between private and municipal undertakings, I am prepared to discuss that. I am not promising anything at the moment, but these are points which can be considered. There is a fear that local authorities may run char-a-banc services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London, and even from Land's End to John o' Groats—although I do not think that that is likely to (happen, because it is not a very sensible route—but that again is a point to be discussed. Just as the right hon. Gentleman did not give his consent to the municipalities in all cases to exercise their powers, there will always be cases where the Minister will refuse consent to local authorities. I refuse consent to certain things sometimes, and whoever is Minister is bound to refuse them. I do not regard it as a reasonable thing for a local authority to run a great national service of omnibuses for national long distance transport, and I do not propose that that should be done. On the contrary, it must be done on a national basis, possibly more and more in relation to railway traffic; and I have no Socialist objection to that, because, the more that these things are economically perfected on national lines, the more ripe they will be when we are ready to take them over. Hon. Members opposite need not be afraid that I am not 2282 prepared to discuss details, as long as they understand that I am not prepared to move an inch on the main principle and purpose of these proposals.
There are local authorities who have raised points of detail. I understand that the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) has had a communication from the Edinburgh Corporation, not against the principle of the Bill, but on certain legal and technical points on which they will need to be safeguarded. Great bodies like the Edinburgh Corporation must be listened to, and we shall be prepared to discuss those points with them. Subject to all that, it is intended that, after the Second Reading of the Road Traffic Bill, we shall ask the House to take one of two courses; either to instruct the Committee upstairs that it has power to re-incorporate Part V of the Traffic Bill as it was originally introduced, or to secure that both the Road Traffic Bill and this Bill are considered by the same Committee upstairs and to instruct the Committee that it has power to amalgamate the two Bills. That is the course the Government propose to take, and therefore I am anxious that this Bill shall have a Second Reading to-day.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one specific point? He says that he is always willing to receive representations and to listen to arguments. Do I understand that he absolutely refuses to budge in any way on Part V of the Bill; although he is willing to receive representations he could not favour the consideration of some modification of Part V? I think that is of some importance.
§ Mr. MORRISON
We must divide the point of principle and the general purpose of the two Bills from questions of detail. On the point of principle, on the general purpose of the Bills, I am not going to move, I shall stand firm—as firm as Parliament will let me stand, anyway. That is my intention. But both upon this Bill and upon Part V of the Road Traffic Bill I am perfectly willing to consider representations that may be received and to meet any responsible parties who have locus in this particular matter, whether it it is on this Bill or on Part V of the Traffic Bill. That is the intention of the Government; and I think the House will agree that if this Bill gets a Second Read- 2283 ing to-day, we shall have settled for the moment, so far as the House is concerned, the question of principle. As to the ultimate procedure it is a matter for Mr. Speaker and the rules of the House to secure the best and the most expeditious way of dealing with the technical situation in which we find ourselves.
I hope very much that the House will give this Bill a definite Second Reading by a large majority. I am not sure whether hon. Members opposite are going to a division or not. I have an open mind as to whether I would like them to do so or not. If they do, the figures will be very eloquent, and there is much to be said for a division. If they do not go to a division, that will be similarly-eloquent of the weakness of the opponents of the principle. But I do ask the House to consider this matter not upon the basis of political dogma, but upon the basis of reason. I ask even the interests who are in opposition to this Bill to decide between mere obstinate opposition in the last ditch and discussing practical points and coming to an agreement upon practical points; the latter course is better than being merely foolish, and better than the satisfaction of voting against the Second Reading, and of voting against the ultimate stages of the Bill, on grounds of fundamental principle.
I am prepared to consider what is fair, and that is an offer which is open and which can be clearly understood. The local authorities in this country have suffered from many restrictions imposed by this House. Many of those restrictions are proper restrictions, and ought to be imposed. But nobody interested in municipal administration, whatever his political views may be, can gainsay the fact that British local government in many ways is unduly fettered in its reasonable activities and in its reasonable discretion. I think the House of Commons might leave it to the Manchester Corporation, the Liverpool Corporation, the Glasgow Corporation, the Birmingham Corporation—the great model of municipal activity, so long dominated by Conservative influences—to have a sense of responsibility in exercising these powers. We have given these powers to a host of local authorities, and it is time we consolidated them, time we had a general Statute; and I hope 2284 the House will not be worried too much about abstract dogma and abstract principles but will give this Bill heartily a Second Reading, and then settle down to a consideration of the practical details which should go to make up a useful Measure.
§ Mr. MILLS
On a point of explanation. May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that on the 12th March, 19–26, your predecessor had to explain to those who were anxious to speak that two hours had been taken up by the first four speakers. That has occurred again to-day. I hope you will follow in the footsteps of your predecessor, and urge hon. Members to remember that Friday should be a day of short speeches.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member may rest assured that it is always my desire to give as many hon. Members as possible the opportunity of speaking.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
We have listened to a most interesting speech from the Minister of Trans port. I was going to second the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, but you, Mr. Speaker, told me that a Privy Councillor is worth two private Members, and therefore here was no need for the Amendment to be seconded. However, that has given me the advantage of hearing what the Minister had to say. It seems to me that the Minister of Transport has almost out-Mussolinied Mussolini. He talked about the farce of elections and polls. I do not know—
§ Mr. MORRISON
The hon. and gallant Member misrepresents me. I said nothing about the farce of elections.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The farce of referendums and polls. I think those were his exact words. I do not know whether he had at the back of his mind the events of yesterday at Sheffield. But for the rest of his speech, as it regarded transport, I think he makes a very great advance, and his views were decidedly sympathetic. But I say this is a thoroughly bad Bill. There are no restrictions whatever in it. It does not follow on the lines of Bills dealing with municipal undertakings which have been passed through this House. Without casting any reflection on the hon. Member who moved the Bill, I must also say 2285 that it is badly drafted. We realise that he is only its foster-father. His duty is only to foster and cherish the Bill. Its real author is the hon and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who is sunning himself in India and as we learn from the papers, interviewing Mr. Gandhi.
This Bill gives no protection whatever to existing interests. It introduces a completely new precedent which has never before been put in a private Bill. It authorises any local authorities who are empowered to provide tramways to run omnibuses anywhere they like in their own districts, and anywhere outside if they can get the consent of the authority licensing omnibuses. The county councils and rural district councils have no authority to license omnibuses, but these municipalities are to be allowed to run omnibuses over their roads, doing whatever damage they like to the roads. If they cannot get the consent of the licensing authority to run those buses, they can apply to the Minister, and the Minister himself, unconditionally can override the licensing authority, and give them the necessary permission. The objection to this Bill is that it gives local authorities absolute carte blanche to do practically what they like so far as running omnibuses is concerned. There is not even a Fair Wages Clause in this Measure, and there is no need to make out a traffic case at all. What is there in this Bill to prevent wasteful competition being set up by running municipal omnibuses where there is already an efficient service of private omnibuses? The only result of such a policy will be that the roads will become congested if free competition of this sort is to be allowed on roads where there is already a good and adequate service. This Bill goes far beyond what has already been granted to other local authorities to provide and complete their transport equipment.
There is no effective control under this Measure over local authorities in regard to their transport undertakings. Hitherto any powers required by local authorities have been subject to the control of this House and the other House, and Parliament, as a result of this control has always carefully investigated the necessity for such undertakings. The Minister of Transport agrees that, on the grounds of economy, it would be wise 2286 to have some alternative method; but we must have certain safeguards, and where these proposals have been accepted there has always been a proper definition of the routes on which the omnibuses would be allowed to run. Sometimes those proposals were rejected, and sometimes they were subjected to stringent conditions to secure the public interest and prevent wasteful and needless expenditure. That is a very important point. In other cases, Parliament has safeguarded the ratepayers. The fact that Parliament has always exercised jurisdiction in these matters means that there is great need to continue such jurisdiction which has been so useful in the past.
Under this Bill, there need be no inquiry whatever as to the contemplated extension of municipal trading, and surely that is a question which ought to come under the control of some competent authority. Again, adjacent local authorities have no power or control over the operation of omnibuses running from outside into their areas. If there happens to be adequate and good services run by private enterprise in any particular district, Parliament ought not to authorise the running of another outside service from another district over the same roads. Surely, the rates ought to be spent solely upon services which are undoubtedly for the benefit of the ratepayers in their own district, and such expenditure should not be applied to services running all over the country. In the past, we have always had model Clauses suggesting certain powers to municipal authorities that wanted to run omnibus services. Parliament has not always accepted those model Clauses, even when they have been modified, and at times Parliament has restricted the running of omnibuses even when they extended only a few miles outside their own area.
I think the ratepayers ought to be protected in this way, and Parliament should prevent the running of omnibuses all over the country. In these measures, very often certain routes are specified where there is not already an efficient service, and in those cases the local authorities have been allowed to extend their services to adjoining districts. Such powers as have been given before by this House have been granted with definite Clauses inserted to avoid wasteful and unnecessary expenditure, and, wherever there was 2287 already a good service and no need for municipal undertakings to start new services in some particular district, those powers have been refused. Where it has been established that the service was bad and insufficient for the local inhabitants, then and then only have local authorities been authorised to run a suitable service. Parliament and the Minister of Transport have always been ready to allow a reasonable measure of co-ordination between the various transport services. We have heard an instance given to-day where a local authority had to incur expenditure amounting to 2s. 7d. per head of the population in order to secure authority to run 11 motor omnibuses. I agree with what the Minister of Transport said on that point, but can the Minister suggest some equally impartial authority under his new Road Traffic Bill to obviate that expenditure. I think there should be some other authority established by which a more simple method could be adopted to ensure an impartial investigation being held as to whether a service is necessary or not instead of having to incur heavy expenditure.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
There are no safeguards in the Bill of any kind. Under Clause 1, the local authority has simply to obtain the consent of the authority empowered to licence omnibuses within the area or the consent of the Minister, and that is quite unconditional. It does not say a word about hearing the whole case. When we turn to Clause 3. which deals with fares and charges, it is provided that the local authorities may demand such fares and charges as they may think fit. There is no control over those charges. You are simply subsidising a municipal service out of the rates, but because there is already an existing service, and it may be a good service, it may be necessary to charge fares considerably below the ordinary fare in order to drive competition off certain routes. There is no safeguard whatever against that kind of thing happening.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The usual Clause dealing with this point has not been inserted. Clause 4 enables local 2288 authorities to establish a network of omnibuses all over the country. Hon. Members are aware of what happened in the case of the Bradford Corporation Bill which was strenuously opposed by the railwaymen. Are hon. Members opposite prepared to support a Bill of that kind against the advice of the Lord Privy Seal?
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
That shows that there is division already in the party opposite. This Bill affords no protection whatever against a reckless or improvident local authority. In most cases in the past it has been provided that there should be a poll of the ratepayers before sanctioning a scheme, and experience has shown how useful that provision has been in the past. In the case of Sheffield, there was a large majority of the council belonging to the Labour party, and they desired to build an omnibus transport station supplying oil, petrol, and refreshments. What did the ratepayers do in that case? They did not like that idea at all, because they considered such a station was unnecessary and when a poll was taken 23,670 ratepayers voted against the proposal and 9,150 for it, showing a majority of 14,520 against it.
Again, the Leeds Corporation, the majority of whose members belong to the party opposite, wanted to extend their omnibus services outside the city. We all want economy, and the ratepayers of Leeds were no doubt also calling for economy. There is one type of economy that Parliament has seen lit to provide, namely, a poll of the ratepayers before any additional expenditure is incurred, and 32,794 of the Leeds ratepayers voted against this proposal, and 11,248 for it. Hon. Members may, and do sometimes say, "Yes, but it was a comparatively small percentage"; but in the case of the trade unions we are always told that it is only those interested who vote. Parliament has hitherto provided some very good safeguards. It is not a question of anti-Socialism at all; it is a question of protecting the ratepayers against their own councillors. I should like to see the Traffic Commissioners, or whatever body may be set up, empowered to examine the various questions brought before them, and provision made that notice should be giver to them, and that all those who are for or against the 2289 various proposals should attend and put their case before them. We have to see that there are proper safeguards for the ratepayers, whether they live within or without the border, for the public at large, and also for the other existing transport undertakings, because municipal trading can go a very long way with the ratepayers' money.
There are three definite safeguards that we ought to ask the Minister to insert. The first is a provision for impartial inquiry in every case. I think that that is extremely important in regard to the scope and the purport of the powers proposed to be exercised. The second is that no local authority should be given priority or preference over any existing transport undertaking; and, lastly, steps should be taken to see that there is no wasteful or unnecessary competition. The roads are congested quite enough as it is, and we do not want more and more useless services running one against another. Our roads cost us goodness knows what a year. It should be the object of the Minister of Transport to see that there is sufficient transport, but that there is not any excess of transport, with consequent wasteful competition. We have to try to co-ordinate and amalgamate these services and make them complementary one with the other. It is not a question of anti-Socialism at all; it is a question of providing proper safeguards. I maintain that in this Bill there are no safeguards, and that, therefore, it is a bad Bill. In Part V of the Road Traffic Bill the Minister provided proper safeguards; it was better than this Bill. I oppose this Bill because I look upon it as being without any safeguards for the ratepayers, and, consequently, as being a bad Bill, and I should like to see it withdrawn altogether, because I do not think it can be amended adequately even in Committee.
§ Mr. MANDER
I rise to support this Bill, because I believe that it simply asks for a measure of fair play for municipal tramways and omnibuses, and not for any sort of privilege. It merely aims at putting them in the same position, so far as possible, in which private undertakers are at the present time. To vary a metaphor that has been used, it is going to knock off one of the fetters that now hamper municipal trading, 2290 and is going to make it possible in future for municipalities to go out and compete without having one hand tied behind their backs. The opposition to this Measure to-day, so far as there is any, is drawn almost entirely from hon. Members above the Gangway on this side, and it is lamentable to find them divided on this matter, as they are on still more important matters. It was said in one of our Debates the other day that the issue before the House was one between two centuries. That is the case again to-day. Hon. Members above the Gangway on this side are still living, some of them, in the stage coach era. I can visualise the picture of the late Minister of Transport coming here if this were a Bill to enable local authorities to run stage coaches without any limitation all over the country. I feel quite sure that he would put up as good a case against that as he has been able to do to-day.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman used a phrase which I thought was a very true, but perhaps a somewhat unhappy, one, coming from him. He referred to the boroughs as being "foreign." They are foreign to the Conservative party after the last Election. The late Prime Minister, in the great speech that he made the other day, announced to, I think, a somewhat startled and alarmed country, that within two years he was coming back again at the head of the Government. Is this the way to bring that about? The Conservative party at the present moment are almost unrepresented in the boroughs, and they desire to get back to representation in the boroughs. I ask in all seriousness whether it will really help them to do that if they oppose the unanimous opinion of all the local governing bodies in this country who have transport facilities. Many of these authorities which own transport undertakings have Conservative majorities. Many of the chairmen of their transport committees are staunch supporters of the Conservative party, and for years they have devoted their abilities and zeal to making these transport undertakings the great success that they are. For the Conservative party to oppose the unanimous wish of all these authorities and to prevent the passing of a Measure that will reduce rates, is, I venture to suggest, a most unwise piece of political 2291 propaganda from the point of view of the Conservative party so far as the boroughs are concerned.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Does the hon. Member think it fair that the county councils should have no voice on the question whether these boroughs should run transport services outside their areas or not?
§ Mr. MANDER
Yes; I shall be glad to deal with that point; I had made a note of it already. The local governing bodies of this country are bodies of which we have every reason to be proud. They have taught local and national government to the whole world. We have in our local bodies people of all parties who give freely and voluntarily most efficient service, and, when they come forward with one voice and ask for additional powers of this kind, I think there should be very grave reasons indeed before we say that we will not allow them to have the powers for which they are asking so strongly. Figures have been given showing the tremendous development that has taken place in the last 30 years, and I am not going to repeat them, but I would point out that Parliament has always encouraged the local authorities to do what they are asking to be allowed to do now. They are simply asking for a general enabling Bill, a Consolidation Bill, such as the Minister of Transport referred to. At present, if a local authority wants to start a new omnibus service running to a new housing scheme that it has built a few miles away, it is most seriously handicapped in developing its services. It has to go through a very elaborate and expensive procedure. It has to give away the whole of its plans to its opponents, and when, after great expenditure, it gets the necessary powers it finds that a private interest, for five shillings, has been able to get a service running and to create a goodwill and make the position impossible for it. As the result of the licences granted to private companies, very large vested interests and a great amount of goodwill have been built up and very large sums are being paid for it by the railway companies who are taking them over, whereas the local authorities have to spend enormous sums—£700,000 in 30 years—in order to get these same privileges.
The late Minister of Transport alluded to the power that will be given to the 2292 municipalities to go out into the counties without their consent and to operate in that way. It has been made clear by the Minister that that is a committee point. We are perfectly ready to deal with it and, if Part V of the Transport Bill is put upon the Statute Book, as I hope it will be, and as is the intention of the Government, it will be the Commissioners who will decide between public and private interests and they will see that no powers are granted to anyone, whether a municipality or a private company, unless it is in the general interest of the transport of that neighbourhood. There you have a complete safeguard with no possibility of these municipalities going out and operating services in a haphazard way regardless of local conditions. They will be stopped with a firm hand by the Commissioners. In any case, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that is not a wise way of doing it, it is a point that can be dealt with in Committee and he can put down some alternative method of arriving at the same result. He also stated that, under Clause 7, the local authority could really spend as much money as it liked and there would be no sort of control. That really is not so. Sub-section (3) makes it perfectly clear:Any sum borrowed under this section shall be repaid within such period as may be prescribed by the Minister, and the Minister in giving his consent to any such borrowing may attach thereto such conditions as he thinks fit with respect to the application of revenue, the formation of a reserve fund or sinking fund, the investment of moneys representing any such fund and' the keeping of accounts.The Minister has complete control over the raising and spending of money.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Surely not, I admit that, as far as the borrowing of money is concerned, the Minister has power, but he has no power at all over the annual sum raised from the rates. That is entirely at the discretion of the Council.
§ Mr. MANDER
With regard to that point, and the many points made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, it seems to me that the whole of the criticism is based on distrust of the local authorities who had been elected by the people. If they choose to spend their own money in various ways why should they not be allowed to do it? Occasionally, they may do foolish things, as 2293 individuals will, but far the best line to take is to trust the people on the spot. They can elect their own representatives and can spend their own money in their own way, and it is impossible for us to impose checks from outside. That ought to be left to the people concerned.
May I point out the very important work that many of these municipalities are doing in providing transport facilities. Many of them are not confined merely to small operations inside or just outside. The Manchester authority is providing facilities for 17 different neighbouring authorities, Bradford for 13 and Halifax for 10. People who are capable of doing work of that kind ought not to be called upon to come to the House, at great expense, every time it is found necessary to make a minor extension. The system one wants to see set up is co-operation and co-ordination. We do not want to favour one system or the other. We want to have diversity and experiment, as has always been done in this country. We do not want any rigid, hard and fast line la-id down. Let the best system succeed. In Wolverhampton we have been fortunate in arriving at a very happy adjustment of the interests of municipal authorities and private companies. For a long time past the scheme has been working without friction and with great advantage to the public. That neighbourhood could set a very good example to many other parts of the country.
There is no issue to-day between private and public trading. All that is asked for is that public authorities should be given equality of opportunity with private companies. Then the issue will be decided by the success with which the different authorities run their undertakings. I support the Bill very strongly because it will give equality of opportunity, it will reduce the rates in the boroughs throughout the length and breadth of the country, or, rather, prevent any increase through the necessity of coming to Parliament so often, and because it will be giving assent to the unanimous opinion of local bodies of all parties in different parts of the country when they come forward and ask that, we ought to give them the support and satisfaction that they are entitled to demand.
§ Mr. EGAN
I would congratulate the hon. Member on his very fair presentment of the case. The question to my 2294 mind, after many years in municipal work, is one of removing an injustice and of fair play to the authorities which has been denied to them for many years, especially since motor omnibuses were put on the road. I am sure hon. Members opposite, when they see their remarks in print, will wonder as to the replies to the questions they have put because, obviously, they were suggested by the very nature of the questions. The handicap that especially needs removing is the fact that, if a municipal authority wishes to extend its running powers, it must apply to Parliament, but a private company can take running powers without going to the expense of promoting a Bill at all. They can make arrangements with a rural authority outside, which may have reasons for obstructing the municipality. May I give one or two little illustrations to hon. Members who are opposing the Bill of how it works, and I will ask them frankly whether they would wish that such a state of things should continue. In the neighbourhood of my home there was an earnest desire to have an extension of the omnibuses outside the area. Part of the area was being supplied by the municipality. The area outside, anxious not to give the municipality too great a footing, gave permission to a private company to run over the same routes, which were already well served. What happened? It is hardly creditable. The private company actually put omnibuses on to the road to stop and to start one minute before the municipal omnibuses, running over the same route. Would hon. Members opposite try for a moment to justify such a thing as that?
It had to be admitted in evidence before the Local Legislation Committee upstairs that, the private company having got permission from the rural district to run over a route already served by the neighbouring municipality, started to run their omnibuses a minute before and to stop them a minute before the municipal -omnibuses at the recognised stopping places. One might say how would that benefit the rural district? If an intermediate omnibus had been put on the roads and at such a time as to divide the services there would have been justification for such a course, but to try and drive the municipal omnibuses off the roads is surely not an object which will be defended in this House by any 2295 member of any party. Moreover, it is almost incredible that an authority could be so antagonistic towards its neighbour as to give these facilities. I took the occasion to speak to one member of the neighbouring authority, and I said: "Why have you this feeling against our municipality? We have so many things in common that we ought to help one another." "Oh," he said, "You do not give free passes on the buses. I have a free pass to go to all over the district." Would hon. Members opposite justify that as a proper thing to demand to be put into operation over the whole of the municipalities? I do not want to go into details, but any hon. Members who might care to look up the matter would find that interesting occurrences have happened in the neighbouring city of Chester regarding omnibuses both inside and outside that area.
I want to say a word or two in relation to the protection afforded by this Bill. Parliament is laying upon municipal authorities every year greater and greater burdens. Money has to be found. A great deal has been said about the reduction of rates? One of the two ways in which you can reduce rates is by municipal revenue. Big authorities like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Glasgow, and towns such as my town of Birkenhead have every reason to be grateful for the powers which have been placed in their hands of running municipal services and so obtaining revenue. We are bound by Act of Parliament in regard to fares. We are bound to provide workmen's fares, and workmen's transport, while the private company omnibus is not. The private omnibus may start at 10 o'clock in the morning if it desires, but the municipality is compelled at an early hour in the morning to provide the means of transport for the workers even if it is at a loss. That obligation has been faithfully carried out by municipalities everywhere. I doubt if there is a municipality in the country to-day whose running costs in this particular connection do not exceed the revenue received from workmen's fares. They cannot charge any more than the prescribed amounts because of the regulations which are imposed throughout the country. Also the cost of transport on men's wages is very serious indeed.
2296 A further point is that with the increase of overcrowding and the necessity for housing accommodation, municipal authorities have had the obligation placed upon them of extending their boundaries, or of going outside their areas in order to buy land on which to build houses to meet the congestion of the towns and boroughs. That, again, throws upon the municipality increased rates. If you move, as we have moved in my town, whole sections of the community a mile or two miles from where they were originally settled you have to try and provide transport for them, and surely, a municipality has the prior claim to supply that transport, and, if possible, regain some of the expenditure which they have been compelled to entail.
As the Minister of Transport has so very ably said, this is not an innovation at all. At the present moment, we are promoting a Bill which is to come before the House of Lords this month. We have been put to the expense of doing so although we have practically arrived at agreement with private companies and with the outside authority, and with the railway companies. We must, owing to the existing law, come to Parliament and spend£2,000 or£3,000 in promoting a Bill which is practically an agreed Measure. This is an illustration of what this Bill, if it is accepted, as I hope it will be, is seeking to end. If it is to be incorporated in the Road Transport Bill, it will be all to the good. There need be no fear that expenditure on these schemes will not be under proper control. Hon. Members know very well that every November we are compelled to submit an account of our stewardship to the ratepayers who are the shareholders in these concerns. Every municipal election is the test by which we judge whether the work is good or bad. Surely, the safeguards are enough without putting a municipality to the expense of applying to Parliament for the purpose of running omnibuses two or three miles outside its boundary in order to supply the needs and wants of local residents.
I hope that the House will not go to a Division on this Bill this afternoon. If it does, I hope that the answer will be so emphatic that when the Bill really does come forward there will be no question of obstruction in any shape or 2297 form. I believe that this Bill is for the good of the whole of the municipal services of this country, for the good of business, for the good of commerce, and good for work of every description. I went across to the meeting of the Municipal Association which was held in Caxton Hall a fortnight ago. There were gathered there mayors and town clerks and representative officials to the number of 500 or. 600, and so united were they on this matter that it did not take half an hour to put the resolution, which was hammered home with the instruction that everything possible should be done. They were men of different political opinions. Conservative, Labour men, and Liberals were there, showing a determination that this Measure was one which ought to be carried through. Surely, therefore, we cannot go into the Lobby and vote against this very desirable Bill.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
After carefully reading the proposals of this Bill I must confess that, even after listening to the very interesting and amusing speech of the Minister of Transport, I am still firmly of the opinion that it is a very bad Bill. It has been suggested that such objections as have been urged against it can be dealt with during the Committee stage, and are merely Committee points. I am afraid that I cannot accept that suggestion. The Amendments that would have to be made are so fundamental that they would amount to a new Bill. No matter what other hon. Members may do, I certainly intend to vote against the Second Reading. I do not think that a Bill of this character is a fit subject for a private Member's Bill. It is a matter which the Government ought to take up. Perhaps I feel a little strongly on that point because, having had the good fortune through the luck of the ballot to win a place, I introduced a private Member's Bill dealing with a small traffic question, namely, the unlawful user of vehicles. The Government considered that that was a question that needed to be dealt with and, consequently, the Home Secretary introduced, immediately after my Bill, a Bill of his own on behalf of the Government, thereby showing that, the matter being one which he felt ought to be dealt with by the Government, he could brush aside any Bill that had been 2298 introduced by a private Member. That course could have been easily pursued in this instance.
I am not opposing this Bill as an out-and-out opponent of municipal trading. On the contrary, I recognise that there are many cases in which it is necessary for municipalities to take action, particularly in regard to the question of transport. It may be necessary in certain instances to give them what has been called a controlling monopoly, but that is a very different thing from what is proposed in this Bill. This Bill proposes—and here I am referring to the Clauses of the Bill, to which very little reference has been made in to-day's discussion—to give local authorities an absolute monopoly. It is no answer to say: "Is it reasonable to suppose that great municipalities such as Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham will not behave with responsibility?" There may be other municipalities, because this Bill is not confined to any selected municipalities, that will not have the same sense of responsibility as the authorities to which I have referred, and I do not feel that these unfettered powers ought to be given.
The Minister of Transport said that at this stage we are merely dealing with the principle of the Bill. What is the principle? The principle of the Bill is not, as he suggested, whether local authorities should have reasonable powers to develop their enterprises, but whether they are to be given a monopoly. It is, in other words, municipal trading unlimited, and it is to that proposal that I take the strongest possible objection under this Bill, any local authority that already possesses municipal powers can run services, subsidised from the rates; they can, if they desire, cut the fares below an economic level, they can acquire land, borrow money without any limitation or qualification whatsoever, and they may do so entirely regardless of whether any efficient transport service already exists, provided by private enterprise, and there is no appeal, either by the public or by any parties who may be directly affected.
What are the arguments which have been put forward in favour of the Bill? We are told that it applies only to authorities which already possess these 2299 transport powers. Is not the answer to that—the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill gave statistics as to a large number of authorities who had acquired these transport powers—that in practically every case those powers are subject to very definite limitation and, moreover, those powers have only been obtained after a very full inquiry, in the course of which every interest was heard and examined. This Bill proposes to sweep away all that. Another argument put forward is, that this is proposed to be done in the interests of economy, that Private Bill procedure is very expensive and that it is unreasonable to put local authorities, and ultimately the ratepayers, to that expense. There may be something in that argument. Possibly the case might be met by some amendment of the Private Bill procedure, but that is a very different thing from sweeping away a procedure which does provide certain safeguards. It is an illustration, perhaps, of Socialist mentality, that because there are certain defects in the existing system—after all, nothing is perfect—their idea is always to sweep that system away. In spite of the fact that they cannot suggest anything on reasonable evidence to put in its place, they want to sweep away the present system. In regard to this Bill, because there are criticisms, with which I sympathise, which can be made against Private Bill procedure, on the ground of delay and expense they wish to sweep away that procedure and they do not mind that they have no alternative safeguard to put in its place.
Reference has been made to the fact that this Bill is very similar to Part V of the Road Traffic Bill, which has been discussed in another place. To my mind it varies absolutely from the provisions of that Bill, because in the Road Traffic Bill, and this is the essence of the matter, an independent tribunal is contemplated, which can hear objections and try to ensure fair play to all parties. There is nothing of that kind in this Bill. I frankly admit that if it is merely a case of a local authority already possessing transport powers and wanting to extend its powers by a mile or so for the purpose of public convenience, it is very reasonable and proper that they should be 2300 entitled to do so, but under this Bill there is no limitation. If a limitation was included that such extension of powers should be only for purely local purposes and only, for example, within the area immediately adjoining that of the local authority concerned. Then, possibly, some of the objections that many of us feel with regard to this Bill might be removed.
The only limitation in Clause 1 is that the local authority must obtain the consent of the authority empowered to license omnibuses within the area. Which is the local authority entitled to license omnibuses? Very often it is the same local authority that is going to run the omnibuses. In one of the sections of the Road Traffic Bill there is a very necessary Clause which provides that no one shall take part in licensing proceedings if they are financially interested in the results. What is to happen where the local authority is financially interested and is at the same time acting as the licensing authority? That is another serious objection.
The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) suggested that all that was desired by this Bill was fair play; to put local authorities and private enterprise on a footing of equality. That never can be. You can never place local authorities and private enterprise on an equal footing, for the simple reason that a local authority is not bound by the strict economic considerations which always affect private enterprises. As the late Minister of Transport pointed out—his remark seemed to cause amusement to hon. Members opposite for some reason which I am quite unable to understand—private enterprises use their own money, whereas local authorities use the money of the ratepayers. That seems to me to be a very essential difference, and that is why Parliament has always thought it right, in conferring powers on local authorities, to provide that the powers should be subject to some supervision. One hon. Member opposite endeavoured to draw a parallel between tramways and railways. I respectfully suggest that there is no comparison at all. Railways are placed in a privileged and special position by Parliament and are entitled to run their trains on their private property. No one else has a right to go on 2301 that property except under special conditions; whereas trams and omnibuses are run on public roads where everybody has a right to travel.
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
That may be true, but again I suggest that there is no parallel to be drawn between railways and tramways and omnibuses which are for purely local purposes. Railways are a national matter affecting the whole of the country and are placed in a category by themselves. When we remember that private enterprise has invested very large sums of money in many parts of the country in providing highly efficient services it is only fair that private enterprise should be reasonably protected and should not be undercut by local authorities placed in an altogether privileged position. A good deal of the opposition to this Measure has been altogether misunderstood by hon. Members opposite. It is not that we are opposed to small and necessary extension by local authorities, but that we are absolutely opposed to anything in the nature of unbridled and uncontrolled powers being given.
The Minister of Transport himself misconceived the basis of our opposition. He said that the powers of local authorities ought to be extended, and he foreshadowed the time when those powers would be absolutely unlimited. We object to that. If you take the view that private enterprise is a bad thing and must be ultimately swept away, I can understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite, but those who believe that private enterprise is essential to the prosperity of this country take a different view with regard to the limitations which should be imposed on local authorities. I take the view that this limitation should confine their activities to their own particular areas for which they are responsible to the ratepawers who elect them, and that there should on every occasion be safeguarding proposals which would give fair play to other interests; to private interests. In this Bill there is nothing of that kind and, consequently, we who oppose this Bill do not take the view that it is a small matter and that any defects can be smoothed away during 2302 the Committee stage. We take the view that it raises a fundamental and important principle to which we are entirely opposed, and that is why we intend to vote against it.
§ Mr. ALPASS
There is one point on which at least we agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) and that is that we do not regard this Bill as dealing with a small matter it is a matter of great and urgent importance to a large number of the people whom we represent. I support the Bill not only on broad grounds of general principle, but because I am a strong believer in local authorities becoming-more and more autonomous in the management of their own affairs. The existing procedure under which, when they desire to promote a Measure for the good of the people in their particular locality, they have to go through the cumberous method of promoting a Bill in Parliament should be overhauled it acts as a serious drag on the development of our social services. I also support this Bill because of the peculiar circumstances and experiences in the City of Bristol. It has been said that this Bill gives a monopoly to municipalities. That objection exists to-day. One of the reasons why we want this Bill is to get rid of existing monopolies. Take the. City of Bristol. A powerful company has complete monopoly of the transport services so far as trams and omnibuses are concerned. In that respect we are backward. We are extremely proud of the municipally owned docks which compare favourably with any docks in the country. The people of Bristol are at the present moment suffering from a very real grievance. Hon. Members will probably be surprised to hear that we have practically no penny fares on our omnibuses.
§ Mr. ALPASS
No matter what distance you want to travel, however short, the fare is three-half-pence, with rare exceptions. We have no workmen's fares. This is a matter which the people feel very strongly. There are about fifteen branches of the Transport Workers Union in the City of Bristol. All these branches have passed resolutions unanimously asking the company which owns and operates the omnibus service to 2303 grant the concession of workmen's fares. Petitions have been got up, deputations have been appointed, interviews have been arranged and all sorts of appeals made, but the company has remained absolutely adamant. I have in my constituency large numbers of men who are compelled to travel daily to the docks at Avonmouth which, although inside the city boundary, are some distance from the centre of the city. Sometimes these men have to go to the docks twice a day. Even in the case of those who have to go only once, the unduly high fares which this monopoly company is able to impose mean that the men are burdened with a charge of 4s. per week in getting to and from their work. No one can justify such excessive charges at the present time. The men feel it very seriously. In spite of all representations to the company, no concessions have been obtained.
I would also suggest that this is a matter which affects the housing of our people. The City Council of Bristol has been fairly progressive in the development of housing sites in our suburbs. I say "fairly" because there is a lot of leeway yet to be made up. They have acquired sites some distances from the centre of the city, they have spent large sums of money in developing these sites, and they have widened and improved the roads, all at the expense of the public. In the existing conditions who gets the benefit? We have provided passengers for the omnibus company. We have not only provided them with the business in the shape of passengers, but we have given them the means of transport—we have provided them with a permanent way.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I think the profit represents rounds about 10 per cent. One cannot always judge profit by the amount stated. There are such things as reserves. I dare say that the hon. and learned Member knows more about that than I do. Net profit does not always give a proper index to the amount of money that a company has got. My 2304 point is that the public, at very large expense, through the City Council, has provided the company with this business. I happen to live on one of the most profitable routes in the city. It is exceedingly difficult for our people who want to live in the suburbs to pay the rents, which are in themselves high, and to pay the excessive charges for transport. The double burden is intolerable. That is one of the reasons why I and my colleagues from Bristol welcome the introduction of this Bill. It will give our authority power to run omnibuses at a rate which will be fair, and to study the convenience of the public of Bristol.
The late Minister of Transport suggested that under the Bill the interests of the ratepayers would not be safeguarded. He used a word to which I very strongly object as coming from the other side of the House. He spoke about "hare-brained enterprises." I submit that no one side of the House possesses a monopoly of brains. I have always noticed that when a question is being discussed in this House or in a local authority, the opponents of any real measure of progress, any development of a social service, are prone to stigmatise that improvement as hare-brained, thereby trying to convey the impression that they alone are the custodians of wisdom and so on. The last speaker suggested that we wanted to give a monopoly to municipalities under the Bill. I have read the Bill very carefully and I do net see in it anything which would have that result. We want to prevent existing companies from continuing monopolies which enable them to exploit the public. We are merely seeking to give municipalities the same rights as are now enjoyed by private companies. That would be destruction of monopolies. I do not think that sufficient stress has been laid upon paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1. Is it suggested that when this Bill is passed the authority which is empowered to license omnibuses will act partially?
§ Mr. ALPASS
What is the authority to-day? It allows the company to have this monopoly to-day. All that we demand is the same rights; we want a position of equality and are not asking for any privileges. There is another very strong reason for supporting the Bill. Employés of municipalities have much greater freedom for organisation in their own interest than they can hope to obtain under such companies as I have mentioned. Since I have been in the House I have been informed that the Bristol Tramway and Omnibus Company, although belonging to the Joint Industrial Council, have so little regard for the interest of their employés that they not only discourage them from joining a trade union organisation, but if it is known that one of their employés—this is the information supplied to me—is a member of a trade union, he is immediately dismissed. Is anyone in this House, however die-hard a Tory he might be, prepared at this time of day to support the continuance of a system which enables a big and powerful company to act so unjustly towards its employés?
§ Mr. ALPASS
They are looking after the interests of the men who had faithfully served them. We are trying to secure that the elementary right of every man to join an organisation in protection of his own interests shall not be taken away from him.
§ Mr. ALPASS
If this Bill passes and if the Bristol Corporation gets the power to run omnibuses, we will see to it—that is to say the electors will see to it—that such oppressive tyranny as I have described will not be exercised on the employés by the committee responsible for running the omnibuses. The employés will be allowed at least some measure of economic independence. I wish to say something in refutation of the criticisms made from the other side. We were told that under the Bill there would be no protection for local authorities, but what protection have they to-day? I have been a member of a county council for 24 years and the Bristol Tramways and Omnibus Company wanted to run omnibuses 2306 through the county. In its wisdom the Highway Committee of which I was a member said to them, "Give us a little time in which to improve the road on which you propose to run your omnibuses so that we can put it in a fit state to carry traffic". Representations to that effect were made to the company but they practically said that they were allowed to do as they pleased and brushed us aside.
It is suggested by hon. Members opposite that in this Bill we are going to take away from the local authorities something which they do not possess. I support the Bill in the interests of the local authorities in whose areas and over whose roads these omnibuses will eventually run. We have no say to-day as to what fares are charged. Of course representations can be made but I have told the House (sufficient to show that representations without power in the case of the particular monopoly company to which I have referred are of no value. If hon. Members carefully read Clause 3 they will find that the Bill proposes to give local authorities a new power with regard to fares:Provided that if the council of a borough or district in which any omnibuses are run by a local authority under this Act object to the fares and charges … in such borough or district, they may apply to the Minister to prescribe the maximum fares and charges.Thus there is a court of appeal and the Minister is empowered to fix fares which he considers just and reasonable. We are really giving an extension of power to the local authorities by allowing them an effective voice, through the Minister, in seeing that the fares on the omnibuses operating in their areas are reasonable. I sincerely hope that the Bill will be passed by a substantial majority. I suppose it is vain to hope that hon. Members opposite will not oppose it in the Division Lobby. I hope it will have a large majority because the people whom I represent, the people who have to travel on these omnibuses to obtain their daily livelihood, will welcome the prospect of being able to do so without the burden of excessive fares—the prospect also that their convenience and comfort will be studied more in the future and that they will get something like ordinary fair play done to them as members of the travelling public.
§ Major SALMON
As a member of the Royal Commission on Transport I wish to say that if this Bill, as now presented to us, were passed, it would cut right across the recommendations of that Commission. I have heard the Minister of Transport say, publicly, that he appreciated the work of the Commission and was going to introduce a Bill to carry out its recommendations. If the Minister supports this Bill as at present drawn he is supporting the creation of new vested interests which will make the control of traffic infinitely more difficult. By Clause 1 it is proposed to give statutory power to local authorities to run omnibuses, and no provision is made that this is to be part and parcel of the Traffic Bill or the Commissioners are to have the light of refusing licences. Thus you will have local authorities running omnibuses within their area which may be very congested areas, in competition with, or, if you like complementary to other services. I do not want to approach the question from a controversial point of view, and it is from the traffic point of view, that I say that if we give permission to local authorities to run omnibuses within their own localities, they will be running in addition to the services already provided, resulting in an extra number of vehicles on every road.
There would be no power under Clause 1 as I read it to refuse licences for omnibuses owned by local authorities. That cuts across the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It may be said that the Royal Commission had an opportunity of considering a report or rather a letter from the Minister of Transport on the subject of Part V of the Traffic Bill. That was considered by the Commission and they wrote a letter to the Minister in which they said, in short, that the result would be to place those local authorities, which at present possessed limited powers, to provide transport services in a position of equality with other operators when applying for licences to the Traffic Commissioners. It would be all right if this Bill were to provide that the local authorities would have to apply for licences to the Traffic Commissioners, but there is no protection under that head in the Bill and, for that reason I protest against it. It is contrary to the whole object of the Commission. That Commission was set up to investigate the traffic question throughout the country. We 2308 heard evidence from all classes of persons and we came to a unanimous conclusion as to what would be best in dealing with the traffic of this country. The promoters of this Bill have ignored the recommendations of the Commission. They are going on the old lines of permitting a local authority to grant licences, when another branch of the same local authority is running omnibuses. I suggest that that is a very unfortunate procedure and I hope that the Government will seriously heed the views of the Royal Commission.
§ Major SALMON
If I may remind my hon. Friend, there is nothing in the Bill that has made it quite clear that it is going to be embodied under the general purview of the Traffic bill.
§ Major SALMON
I do not doubt for a moment that, whatever the Minister says, he will loyally carry out. I was not present when he said if, but it is unfortunate that the promoters of the Bill did not, in bringing it forward, make it clear that it was their intention that the licensing authority under the Bill should be subject to the Traffic Commissioners who are to be set up. If it is clearly understood by the promoters that the Bill is to be subject to Part V. of the Traffic Bill, I believe that a large amount of the opposition might disappear, and I hope that that is the case. Having dealt with the subject from what I might call the traffic point of view, I am rather impelled to make one observation to the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass), who said that the local authorities are in the best position to manage their own affairs.
§ Major SALMON
How does the hon. Member propose that local authorities should be in the best position to manage their own affairs? If he had had in his mind that the licensing authority was going to be the Traffic Commission, he 2309 would have known that the local authority could not have managed their own affairs, but that it would be the Commissioners who would have to decide if it was within reason to have extra omnibuses run on a particular route, and that it would not cause congestion of traffic. If he was so sure that it was in the Minister's mind to transfer the main part of this Bill to Part V of the Traffic Bill, I cannot see the relevancy of his observation that the local authorities are the best judges of how to manage their own affairs.
§ Major SALMON
The hon. Member for Central Bristol rather suggested that an omnibus company was running omnibuses in his area, and made a certain profit, and that the fares were too high. I do not know if he has had an opportunity of knowing that economically it would be possible to charge a less fare, and yet not lose money on the operation of those omnibuses.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I was speaking in a comparative sense, and saying that fares in my city, where the omnibuses are run by a private company, are unduly high compared with places where they are operated by the municipality.
§ Major SALMON
I would like to remind the hon. Member of a very important difficulty which always strikes me with regard to the municipalities running either omnibuses or trams. It is that members of those authorities put such pressure upon the highways committee that they reduce the fares, and the consequence in many cases is that the ratepayer has to foot the bill.
§ Major SALMON
I do not want to go much farther than across the road to the London County Council trams.
§ Major SALMON
The hon. Member asked a question, and I am endeavouring to answer him. It is surely not denied that for years the London County Council unfortunately lost a considerable sum of money on the running of their trams. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] The 2310 reason is probably due to competition, and also to the fact that pressure has been put upon the Council to reduce fares, but the point remains that for a considerable period the county council did lose considerable sums of money on running their trams. I believe that in the last 12 months things are improving, and I am pleased to think they are, because they give a very good service. I am not decrying municipal trams or private trams; I am only saying that there is a danger, when a municipality runs either omnibuses or trams, of pressure being put upon them to reduce fares, and that that does not take place if a private enterprise runs them. And, after all, the people who have to pay the difference are the ratepayers, who have practically no control over them. It is true that every one, two, or three years there is an election for a local member, and they have an opportunity of returning him or otherwise. But that is beside the mark. So long as it is clearly understood by the promoters of the Bill it is their intention that all the conditions in regard to licensing in the Traffic Bill are to apply in this Bill, I think, as far as I am concerned, it will have my hearty support.
§ Mr. PALIN
I believe the last speaker would not have made the speech that he has made if he had heard the Minister of Transport make his statement, because the Minister very frankly admitted that there was room for an alteration in the method of licensing public service vehicles, and he held himself quite free to consider both Bills before they were committed to a Committee; and, what is more, he gave an undertaking that he would receive representations upon anything, apart from a mater of fundamental principle, in the Bill. I do not think anything could have been fairer than that. So far as the London County Council tramways are concerned, I am not going to enter into that question, because I am sure there are Members present who would be able to give the facts much better than I could, nor am I going to follow the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) in introducing the Bill. I think the ex-Minister of Transport and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) did scant justice to that speech when they said that he did not explain the Clauses. A 2311 clearer and more concise statement in introducing a Bill has never been made in this House, and I think the hon. Member is to be congratulated upon it.
Our old sparring partner, the ex-Minister of Transport, is very much concerned about the control of Parliament, and so am I. I think it would be a very unfair thing to allow municipalities, and local authorities in general, to have a general scramble with regard to transport powers, and the Minister of Transport does stand there with the big stick to keep them apart and to see that a fair rule is laid down. But if we are going to insist upon a municipality coming to Parliament in the bad old way that has been described this morning, it is equally fair that the private company should come here in the same way, submit to the same scrutiny, incur the same expenses, and that the local authorities through whose district they run should have the same opportunity of coming and putting their case as to special damage or inconvenience which might be caused. As an upholder of private enterprise the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is bound to give a householder whose house may be damaged by a constant procession of omnibuses passing the same rights as he gives him against a municipality, and until he does that, his arguments fade into thin air. Private companies are subject to no such restriction; they can do exactly as they please. All that they have to do is to get a licence from some authority, and proceed, irrespective of the authorities through whose districts they run.
We have frequently had the position shown up. I remember a case in which the Sheffield Corporation, which had got powers from Parliament to run omnibuses and which had got the sanction of the Ministry of Transport that there was a necessity for a service of omnibuses on a particular route, sought to come to an agreement with the West Riding County Council, but they were told that they would have to pay for some road improvements and certain expenses for the upkeep of roads. Therefore, they considered that it was not worth their while, and they abandoned the service. But private enterprise came along the next day, and the county council had no power to impose any restrictions whatever upon them. The Bill does not as was suggested by 2312 the hon. Member for Lowestoft, give any monopoly to the municipalities. The municipalities would still have to come for power to Parliament before running omnibuses, tramcars or trolley vehicles, but, having got power, they would be able to extend, within reasonable limits, without having to promote a Bill. In the first instance, however, they would have to promote a Bill, and this only deals with extensions.
§ Mr. PALIN
If the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill again, he will find that it does make provision for agreements with other local authorities, and agreements whereby they can have inter-running both with other authorities and with private companies. Look at what is taking place in the country. Take the city of Sheffield, where Parliament before the War gave unrestricted powers. They have run certain long distance services as well as their city service. Immediately Parliament granted powers to the railway company, they made an agreement which turned their long distance traffic over to them and they have made an agreement for the suburban traffic, where there is a very excellent service indeed.
There is something more at stake. I agree that there is a fundamental principle. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the participation of municipalities in transport is of comparatively recent date. There was very little of a municipal system prior to 30 odd years ago. Up to that point we were entirely dependent upon private enterprise. I know that in the city of Bradford where the city council was then pre-eminently conservative, they tried by private enterprise to run a certain service. Eventually a company was formed, but the corporation had to incur all the costs of obtaining Parliamentary powers and of laying down the permanent way, and, incidentally, the life of the permanent way was so under-estimated that the corporation was a great loser, because they had leased it at an inadequate figure to the private company, and even then they would only take the cream of the traffic. When the corporation wished to branch out, to spread their population in the interests of the health of the community, there was no co-operation whatever from 2313 the company, who were quite content with their 8 and 10 per cent. Therefore the corporation had to come to Parliament in the interests of public health to get powers to install a more up-to-date system of transport. The company were quite content with their old miserable, stinky steam-engines, and it was left to the municipality to obtain powers to adopt a more cleanly and up-to-date method of running their municipal transport by electricity.
As the population has developed on the outskirts we have had a desire to follow them, but, as previous speakers have said, the introduction of the internal combustion engine and the great cost of laying down a permanent way by the municipality, enabled private enterprise to come in, 100 yards outside the Parliamentary line that had been laid down, and, on the ground that they were providing a transport system for some few houses or villages just beyond, they have been able to live upon the capital invested by the municipality. If it were not for the fact that they can pick up and set down inside the boundaries of existing systems, most of the competitive omnibus systems could not possibly live. They are living upon the enterprise and upon the capital laid down by the municipality. It is a very serious matter that, while a railway company can be protected by Parliamentary powers, a munipality which has laid down capital almost to a greater extent, should not have the same protection. Railway companies have this protection.
§ Mr. PALIN
Both outside and inside. In most cases these municipal transport systems have been instituted by Conservative and Liberal councils as well as by those on which Labour has some power. Take the city I represent—Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That has been the home of private enterprise and individualism for 2314 generations. The only municipal interference in trading is in connection with a transport system. Private companies provide water, electricity, gas and every other service, but the municipality was compelled, for the same reason as other municipalities, to take part in the transport system. Owing to the power station being under the control of a private company, they had even to build their own power station to run their trams, an essentially profitable service. But it is not the case that municipalities have made huge profits. There have been exceptions, but, in the main, the municipalities have had the principal object of providing a public service, and to spread their population out so as to improve public health. What has happened? Services coming into the city of Newcastle have practically made the municipal system unprofitable. In Scotswood Road, where not a single private omnibus has power to run or pick up, they have ostensibly been licensed to provide a suburban service, and that has reduced the revenue of the corporation tramways by£10,000 last year. If that goes on all over the country, the£88,000,000 of capital now invested will soon be of no account.
Furthermore, there will be a heavy-burden put upon the rates of all those municipalities if the same power to protect the transport system is not given to them as is now given to the railway companies. Road maintenance is an important factor. Until the Road Act, which was introduced during the Premiership of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the omnibus was not called upon to pay anything for road maintenance. Even under that Act, they pay an inadequate amount as compared with the tramcar and the trolley vehicle. In the city of Newcastle, we are told that road maintenance amounted last year in respect of the tram routes to something like£22,000, and that would be transferred to the rates if the tramways were abandoned. There would be a further loss of rates upon the permanent way, the overhead equipment, and the garages, which the omnibuses are not liable to pay at all.
Looking at it all round, therefore, this would appear to be a measure of justice. Whether it will find its way eventually to the Statute Book in its present form 2315 is a small matter compared with the educational advantages which this Debate has had. It might possibly filter to another place and cause a more enlightened view to be taken of the Road Traffic Bill when it is next presented. Be that as it may, anyone who has taken part in local government will wholeheartedly support this Bill, and accept the undertaking given by the Minister of Transport that both Measures will receive adequate consideration, and that the best parts of both may possibly be incorporated in a comprehensive Measure. This, I trust, will remove the worst evils of which we have been complaining to-day.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I do not wish to give a silent vote on this Bill, as it is exactly seven days since I exercised my right as a ratepayer in Leicester to register my protest and vote with the great majority of the ratepayers on that occasion. I am not surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who has so much knowledge of this House, is not here to-day to propose this Bill. He is like certain barristers who, whenever they have a very bad case to put forward, send their juniors to argue it. [Interruption.] On this occasion, we see one of the junior Members of Hull acting instead of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. I cannot understand the position which he takes up, for as has already been pointed out by the ex-Minister of Transport, the position of Hull is practically the same as the position of Leicester.
§ Mr. ARNOTT
The reason is that we polled nearly as many votes in two constituencies as the others polled all over Hull.
§ Mr. EVERARD
There is no doubt that the great majority of the citizens of Hull gave their votes in the same way as I give mine.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I do not mind the number of people who polled. The hon. Member might as well say that if 80 per cent. of the people do not poll when he is elected, he has no right to come to the House of Commons. The people have 2316 the right and utilise their right in any form of election. The Bill brought forward to-day is entirely a waste of time. Part V of the Road Traffic Bill has been refused in another place, and Members opposite are endeavouring to get a double-barrelled gun, so that if they cannot get Part V back, they are going to substitute this Bill in its place. I am surprised that the Minister of Transport, after giving his views of election by poll and other methods, is not satisfied with the vote which was given in another place by people who are not subject to elections. My position is the same, whether it be upon this Bill or upon Part V of the Road Traffic Bill. I am entirely opposed to both. It may be true to say that a municipality has the right, if its citizens desire, to take control of the traffic needs in its area, but it cannot be right for the municipality to say that it should have power, without any consent of the authorities outside, to run traffic throughout the county. I am in favour of the present system of individual Bills, although it may cause a certain amount of expense, because I can quite see that there are places in the north of England where one town is practically joined on to another, and where there is hardly any county district at all.
In a case like that, it may be to the interests of the municipalities and the county between to bring forward a Bill which would receive the general acceptance of those municipalities and of the county in between, because the county is to all intents and purposes one large area of towns. In those circumstances, I should have no wish to impede an arrangement of that sort. When you come to a position such as we see in the rural counties, it is impossible to go to Leicester or any such city, and suggest that they should take powers to run outside the city to any village or town where private enterprise has already built up an adequate service. Many counties are opposed to these proposals, and in my own county the proposals were defeated by 19,000 to 4,000, in spite of the fact that, in the words of the Minister of Transport, it depends on how the people have been drilled." In the case of Leicester, the people in favour of the proposed Clauses were so well drilled that pamphlets were distributed to all the employés of the tramways, and the 2317 town meeting was packed by people representing the tramways department. The people who were drilled, therefore, were in favour of the Clauses, and not against them.
May I say why we who live in the county are opposed to the proposal? My own county council, every single rural district council, every single urban district council, was opposed to these particular Clauses in the case of Leicester. I do not know another occasion when the whole of the county of Leicester has been completely and absolutely united on one purpose. The reasons are perfectly clear. The small omnibus owners who operate from areas outside the city have been the pioneers of transport from the counties to the cities. They are the people who invested a certain amount of the money which they got after the War in providing transport facilities for people living in the small villages to get into the towns. The people in the villages deeply appreciate this new form of transport, and it has proved so successful that the railway companies have been forced by its competition to ask for similar powers for themselves. If the powers proposed in this Bill were granted, the corporation would eventually have a complete monopoly of the transport system over the whole county. What they want to do is to run more and more services, possibly cheaply at first, and at the cost of the ratepayers of Leicester, and when they have finally ruined all these poor men who at present are operating omnibuses successfully and to the satisfaction of the people in the villages, the great corporation will come along and seek, by increasing fares, to get back some of the money of the ratepayers which they have lost.
There is the point of view of the drivers of these omnibuses. I do not wish to go back to the unhappy episodes of 1926, but I cannot let this occasion pass without making this observation as regards my own city. The only traffic coming into the city of Leicester during the general strike was the traffic operated by the small omnibus owners, with the assistance of their drivers; and we who live in the county districts are not prepared to put ourselves in the hands of a great monopoly which is prepared to hold to ransom every section of the community when a situation like that arises. The 2318 poorer people more particularly have to thank those who operated transport so successfully on their behalf during the general strike. Then there is the position of the ratepayers. If these small omnibus owners are to be put out of business altogether, the rateable value of the county will be seriously diminished. Large garages used for the omnibuses, and the smaller garages in various parts of the county used by small men for their omnibuses will be out of use, and to that extent rateable value will be affected.
It has been said by some hon. Members opposite that the omnibuses operated by municipalities are cheaper than those run by private enterprise. That is not so in my own district, and it is generally found that the people would sooner use the omnibuses run by private enterprise, even when they are in competition with those worked by the corporation. The omnibuses of the municipality are being run at a loss, whereas the equally good services run by private enterprise must be making some profits, or otherwise they would not carry on. We have heard a lot about equality. I do not know what hon. Members mean by their references to equality in this connection. Owners of private omnibuses coming into the city are not allowed to pick up a single-passenger within the city boundaries, nor to pick up a single passenger in the city when they are going out, unless-that passenger has a return ticket; but the very municipalities who act in this way are now asking that they shall be allowed to run wherever they like in the county and to pick up passengers in any place and take them to any other place. I cannot see where equality comes in there. They are asking for something which they are not prepared to give to private enterprise. From that point of view alone I am strongly opposed to the extension of these powers.
One point which has not been touched on concerns the new housing areas round some of our large cities. Everybody must admit that where a city extends over its own boundaries into the county the municipal trams and omnibuses ought to cater for that new district. That difficulty can easily be arranged for, and is arranged for by an application to Parliament for the extension of the borough boundary. Finally, there is no doubt 2319 that on all recent occasions on which the electors of a particular district have had a right to give a considered judgment upon this particular Bill, they have expressed themselves against the principle by vast majorities. I cannot conceive how hon. Members, with that knowledge in front of them, can say they are going to support something which is entirely contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the people.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
As the only Member of the Conservative party whose name appears on the back of this Bill, I feel I must say a word or two in justification of my name appearing there. In the case of the Bill introduced in 1926, a Conservative Member was its proposer and another Member of the Conservative party, a very eminent legal gentleman, was its seconder, and practically all the backers of the Bill belonged to the Conservative party. I have listened carefully throughout this Debate, and I am still unrepentant, and quite satisfied that I did right in allowing my name to be put on the back of the Bill. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) wanted to know where the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) was to-day, because the Bill stands in his name. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull is out of the country. He has gone on a visit to India, to enlarge his knowledge of political affairs in that country, and those of us who know him realise that when he does return there will be a few more questions for the Secretary of State for India to answer. Still, as he is in India he cannot be here to-day. His deputy, the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), put the provisions of the Bill before the House in a very clear and concise way. The hon. Member for Melton said that the country districts around Leicester are still being served by private enterprise, and that if the Leicester Corporation had certain powers they would be able to crush that service out of existence. This Bill provides in Clause I that no authority can run a service within the area of another authority without the consent of that authority or without the consent of the Minister of Transport.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The Clause says that they must obtain the consent of the licensing authority, and that; it is a very different thing because many country authorities have no licensing authority.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
We have been told that the licensing authority is the local authority, and consequently they would be able to licence themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is my experience, but it does not matter about that, because we have had an assurance from the Minister of Transport that he favours what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) before the Traffic Commission that in his opinion Commissioners should be appointed to perform the duty of licensing omnibuses in outside areas. We have been assured by the Minister of Transport that he will be quite prepared to insert certain safeguards which will at any rate remove the danger that many hon. Members sitting on this side of the House see in this Bill.
I expected that we should hear a good deal to-day, as we did on the occasion when a previous Bill was debated, about the question of Socialism, suggesting that those of us who supported this Bill are proving ourselves to be Socialists. I am going to suggest that, at any rate, I cannot be charged with being a Socialist. One hon. Member sitting below me who comes from the same town that I represent has heard me speak on many occasions against anything in the form of Socialism or even an approach to Socialism. I have often spoken on behalf of the transport organisation of which the Minister of Transport is the President. I have addressed large open air meetings on behalf of that association, and I hope that I shall have opportunities of doing so again. I have had 19 years' experience of the work of local authorities, and I shall always be prepared to come here and support any proposal giving them fair conditions to carry on an efficient transport service. I consider that it is quite beside the mark to suggest that I am a Socialist by taking such action. As I said on the last occasion when we discussed a Bill of this kind, if hon. Members on this side of the House continue to call it Socialism every time a Bill is brought before this House asking for reasonable powers for local authorities, it 2321 reminds me of the fable calling "Wolf!" and when the wolf did really appear nobody would believe it. That will be the position in which we shall find ourselves if we do not recognise that there are great differences in this matter between the legitimate power of local authorities as regards certain services and the question of Socialism.
Let me give my own experience, as a member of a local authority, on the question of getting powers from this House. When a local authority wants power to carry on certain services, it has to come to this House and go through a long and very expensive procedure, possibly getting its powers after all, or possibly not. It has been suggested from time to time that we should have consolidating Acts, which would take into account the powers that have been given to various corporations for several years past, and bring them into one Act of Parliament applicable to the whole of the authorities throughout the country. In 1925, in my first year of Parliamentary experience, I had the good fortune to draw a place in the Ballot for private Members' Bills, and the first thing that I did was to suggest that it would be a good idea to have a Consolidation Bill dealing with the Public Health Acts of the country; and, in conjunction with the Association of Municipal Corporations, and other organisations connected with local government, such a Bill was prepared and brought before this House. It received unanimous support from all sections of the House, and had a very rapid passage, and I suggest that it has saved scores of thousands of pounds to local authorities who wanted powers to carry on services which they could not otherwise carry on without getting private Acts. When I have travelled round the country and discussed matters with those at the head of public affairs in various localities, they have told me that that Act of 1925 has undoubtedly saved corporations throughout this country many thousands of pounds.
I suggest that this Bill is going to do for the transport system of our towns exactly what that Bill of 1925 did for the public health services. As I read it, it is going to enable those authorities which have not the power to serve outside districts to do so without coming to this House and going through very expensive 2322 procedure. In my own constituency, the local authorities are very anxious that this Bill should pass, because we happen to have two districts running side by side, with very similar interests but under two different authorities, and those authorities desire to run a transport service that will be suitable for the people of the district. They are, however, up against many difficulties which this Bill would remove, and that is why they, at any rate, have asked me to support the Measure and do all that I possibly can to help to get it through.
I hold, even as a very staunch Tory, that there are local services which ought to be in the hands of the local authorities, and the first test that I would apply to such services is as to whether they are for the public benefit. We see in many localities such services as water supply, lighting and transport under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, and I say that it is quite proper that the transport system should be under the control of the local authority, because in the majority of cases it works out in the best interests of the people concerned. In my own town we have certain districts which have been recently developed, and it was suggested that services should be run from those points to the centre of the town. Private enterprise could not have been got to tackle the job, because it did not appear that it would be a paying concern, and I am bound to admit that when it was first commenced this service did not pay very well. It provided however, something, which was absolutely necessary for the public, and that is the real test of the value of a service of this kind. If it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the public that such a service should be run, when it is in the hands of the municipality they can arrange it. It is true that they made a loss in certain districts in the first place, but profits were made in others, and they were able to balance the losses.
My experience, at any rate, with private concerns is that they want to select the routes that pay and leave the others to take care of themselves. If you say all and sundry can come and run upon your routes, you are giving free and fair competition, and possibly you will get very low fares. But you do not. The licensing authority only allow what they consider sufficient for the needs of the 2323 district. Therefore, a monopoly of a kind is granted, and, wherever there is a monopoly, it is better, if it is a question of transport or essential services, that it should be publicly and not privately controlled. That is one of the reasons why I am supporting the Bill. Reference has been made to a meeting of the Association of Municipal Corporations. That was a very representative meeting representing a number of municipal authorities throughout the country. There is no politics about the Association of Municipal Corporations. The only question about membership is whether you are representing some municipality and whether you are keenly interested in the work of municipal government. There are men of all shades of political opinion. Many of them have spent years and years in the public service, studying and considering what is best in the interests of the public, and many of them would on no account subscribe to Socialism or to a Socialist policy. But still, knowing the problems that have to be faced by local authorities as regards transport affairs, they passed a Resolution in favour of this Bill.
I am glad to see that in certain towns recently Clauses in certain Bills have been turned down by the ratepayers, who have been allowed to vote. I believe the public should have a right to say "yea" or "nay" on these questions. I have had experience of promoting Bills on behalf of corporations and I have had experience of what are called towns meetings. The Minister has suggested that meetings can be packed. I have heard the suggestion made that it would be a very nice thing for working people to walk into the Town Hall and vote for a Bill instead of going to work. Is it not a fact that the Sheffield Corporation issued literature advocating that people should vote for this Bill? Did they not use even their own municipal printing plant—to which I am totally opposed, because that is not a question of a public or municipal service—for the purpose of advertising their side of the question? Did not they use the full organisation of the Socialist party? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes they did. I saw some of the literature, and I have been to Sheffield. Why was it that the 2324 ratepayers turned this down? Not because Sheffield wanted to run a few trams or omnibuses, but because they wanted to go into the selling business, and that is where you arouse antagonism against reasonable proposals, packing into your Bill not something reasonable, such as we have in this Bill, but trading, wanting to go out openly in competition with the private traders and the ratepayers. The ratepayers even at Sheffield, after all the drilling they have had from the Socialist party, and all the bribery they have had from the Socialist party, could not be dragged to the poll to vote for a Clause that was wrong, because they have discrimination and know what is right and wrong.
At the same time, we have to view this from the right perspective, and, although I am keenly opposed to municipalities going out into ordinary trading, selling petrol, providing refreshments and that sort of thing, I do not want to say that a Bill so innocent as this shall not receive the assent of the House. If you refuse the local authorities reasonable powers to carry on essential services which are monopolies, you will drive them possibly into the other camp. I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they took from their municipal bodies the power to deal with the excusing of rates, and the power of giving Poor Law relief from certain public representatives, there would not be such big Socialist majorities on town councils in the country. I say that advisedly, and from my own experience. That is the reason why they could not bring them to the poll in Sheffield. There was nothing in it for the working man at the end. It might be suggested to the working men that, if a corporation received the power to run their own omnibuses, the fares might be reduced, and that would be very helpful and something for which they would vote. It is because, as I said in the earlier part of my speech, I am a convinced anti-Socialist that I am supporting this Bill this afternoon. I honestly believe that there is not the slightest bit of Socialism about it. It is a sound commercial proposition to give the people of the various towns throughout the country the power to run their own services for the convenience of the public.
§ Major GLYN
I am quite sure that the whole House has listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and I think we all agree with his sentiments, but I am at a loss why he thinks this appallingly bad Bill is either a sound or the best way of carrying out a simple result. It seems that the Bill did not have very strong support from the Minister of Transport for the simple reason that the Bill for which he is responsible attempts to do the same thing in a much better way. The whole House, in listening to these speeches, must realise that we are not really arguing as to whether or not for the first time a municipality should run transport services for the benefit of its own ratepayers, but the proper limits and precautions to be taken in order to see that these services are sufficient for the ratepayers and that the ratepayers maintain a hold over them. I believe we should be satisfied if we could get an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he recognises the position, and that he does not want to see, say, an omnibus proceeding from Sheffield to Great Yarmouth which might be run at a loss and be entirely unnecessary for the inhabitants of Sheffield, who have other equally good facilities for going to Great Yarmouth! Under this Bill this sort of thing can be done.
There is another thing about the Bill, and I cannot for the life of me understand the hon. Gentleman allowing it. In the very first paragraph of this Bill there is a provison which, if the Bill were passed, would cut across the real licensing authority which he himself proposed to set up, namely, the ten areas and the Traffic Commissioners. Speaking for myself, and, I think, for a great many of my hon. Friends, I think that his proposal is absolutely the right one. The work done by the Royal Commission on Transport has been invaluable, and I am quite sure that if the House looks at the main recommendation which appeared in page 46 of the second report, it will see that if those conditions are properly carried out we shall have no reason to object strongly to a local authority being allowed to operate vehicles provided there are the safeguards to which I have called attention.
There is one other point. The whole of transport in this country has undergone a tremendous change and co-ordina- 2326 tion has been achieved by the Measure which was passed during the last Parliament to enable waste to be done away with and the needs of the community to be met. My impression of this Bill is that it would deal such a body blow at that co-ordination, that we should not proceed at all. Clause 7 deals with the expenses that are to be raised and how they are to be raised. While it is true that the consent of the Minister is to be obtained before the local authority borrows, there is nothing to say that the accounts are to be kept separately. That condition was insisted upon with respect to the railway company when they promoted their Bills. The House said: "If you run on the roads, your accounts must be kept separate from the accounts of the railways." If the House considered it right for a railway company to do that, surely it is right for a municipality, where the persons elected are far more responsible in many ways to see that the money of the ratepayers is not misspent. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister of Transport that he will be prepared, at a later stage, to achieve the same purpose and to ensure that there shall be an impartial public inquiry into the scope and purpose of the powers proposed to be exercised. That is absolutely essential and, further, every inquiry ought to be made to see that the local authority has no priority over other people, so that there shall be nothing done by a municipality to load the dice in favour of itself. To do that would be utterly wrong.
There ought to be no wasteful or needless running of vehicles on the roads, thereby destroying the property of the ratepayers, namely, the roads, whilst not being of the slightest use to the population as a whole. When discussion was taking place in the other House it was made clear that the present Minister of Transport and the Government seek by their Road Traffic Bill to carry out, as far as they can, the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Those recommendations are completely at variance with the provisions of this Bill. It is extraordinary that the Minister of Transport should ask us to consider favourably a Bill which is not half so good as his own Bill. We would like to have a renewed assurance from the Minister of Transport that the public will be safeguarded, and that things will be con- 2327 ducted in such a way that municipal trading by a corporation outside its own area shall not take place, because we believe that is wrong, and that it does far more to antagonise people towards the legitimate transport arrangements made by municipalities than anything else.
One hon. Member suggested that if a new housing scheme is started outside a borough, the way to get over the difficulty is to extend the boundaries of the borough. I am afraid that that idea would take too long and that the babies of to-day might be grown men before they got the transport to bring them to work. We ought to make the procedure of this House more simple. In the Bill which was on the stocks and which was framed very largely by my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Transport the whole intention was to consolidate that legislation, and to protect the public through Commissioners. If that could be done, then the business of bringing every small Measure to this House could be reconsidered, because it certainly adds needless expense. Provided that there is right of appeal to the Minister it would be right and proper that the existing procedure should be reviewed so that expense can be saved to the local authorities. On the whole, I feel that the Bill is thoroughly bad. I agree with the sentiments of the hon. Member who preceded me, but unlike him I believe that to carry those sentiments into effect the best thing that I can do is to vote against the Bill rather than to vote in favour of it.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should not intervene in this Debate if I thought there was any chance of the second Order on the Paper being considered at this late hour of the afternoon. I want to draw the attention of hon. Members to a scheme in my own neighbourhood, which I think is a first-class example of the unfairness suffered by local authorities who have tried to satisfy Parliament as to the needs of their locality. I suggest to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) that he is not so much concerned with the losses of municipalities as with the profits they make. If he requires any confirmation, may I ask him whether he has ever heard of a town called Huddersfield, and, if so, whether he has made any inquiries as to the financial conditions of that county borough? It may interest 2328 the hon. Member if I tell him that Huddersfield has spent£700,000 on its tramway undertaking. They have repaid every penny of that capital expenditure with the exception of£29,000, and in a short time the tramway undertaking as a whole will be made a present to the ratepayers in that district. The town council will be able to charge fares of an abnormally low rate or reduce their rates annually, as a consequence.
In connection with the omnibus undertaking in the same town, similar figures obtain. About£18,000 has been expended on omnibuses by that county borough. They have already£20,000 in the reserve fund, sufficient to enable them to purchase 20 more omnibuses, and the fares charged are as low, or lower, than those charged by private enterprise in the immediate neighbourhood. Therefore, it is not so much the loss as the profits made by municipalities which the hon. Member for Melton fears, where private enterprise will not give the same service for the same fares. I want to recall to the notice of the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) an undertaking in which the London Midland and Scottish Railway is a partner. I suppose the hon. and gallant Member knows of the Sheffield City Council, the railway company and the Boundary Omnibus Company undertaking, which has provided an admirable service from Doncaster to Sheffield. It is an example of the sort of co-ordination which the Minister of Transport hopes to see emerge when the Transport Bill becomes the law of the land. If the hon. and gallant Member is a supporter of that Bill I cannot understand why he objects to the proposals which are before the House this afternoon?
The Dearne Valley Light Railway scheme is not known to many hon. Members of this House, but it is an example of what ought not to happen. Here are four urban district councils isolated and desolated, with no means of transport at all. The local authorities decide to come to Parliament and seek powers to provide their own transport. They satisfied Parliament in 1915 and secured approval in 1916, but sanction for borrowing powers was held over during the period of the War. They came in 1921 and again satisfied Parliament as to the desirabi- 2329 lity of the undertaking, but for some inexplicable reason they were held over until 1923. Finally, they secured power to spend the money in 1924, but in the meantime the original cost of the scheme, which might have been£100,000, had increased to£300,000. In the meantime an omnibus company, a private enterprise, stepped in when the way had been made clear for them. It runs one omnibus to-day, two to-morrow, until, finally, now that the track has been laid, there are so many omnibuses on the route that it is impossible for the tramway to pay its way. The people resident in the area are condemned almost in perpetuity to provide out of their rates sums sufficient to enable them to continue this service.
The local people desire to supplement their tram service by omnibuses. To do so they have to come to this House and spend thousands of pounds more so as to prevent a continuance of present losses. The authorities have satisfied no fewer than four different Parliaments as to the desirability of the service; they have secured the sanction of Parliament for the service; they have contracted this very large obligation for the ratepayers; and then when they require to supplement their tram service with a few omnibuses, they have to come to Parliament again and go through the old and painful process before they can get the necessary powers. In view of these facts and in view of the experience all over the country, I hope that the Bill will become law. If municipalities do not run omnibuses over routes that call for development, private enterprise will secure what benefits are obtainable, will break up the roads, and will leave the authorities to spend tens of thousands of pounds in repairing and maintaining what has been destroyed by these profit-making concerns.
Therefore, and particularly in view of the statement made by the Minister of Transport that every interest shall be considered before the Bill becomes operative, the House ought to give a maximum vote for the granting of these powers to local authorities. The powers will not be abused, but will be used for the benefit of the people of the country. I hope that the Second Reading will be carried by such a majority as to justify all the statements that have been made in this House 2330 during the past five or six years, when we have sought to extend these powers legitimately to publicly-elected bodies which run these transport services.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am not going to say, like the last speaker, that I shall be only a few moments, because I am going to say what I have to say, and I will state the reason why. The Seconder of the Motion talked of me as representing the wild Highlanders. When the General Strike took place we lent all our police to the less civilised parts of the country; we published all our newspapers as usual; and everything was carried on as before simply because we were not barbarians. The last speaker has told us once again his story about the light railways. When he told us that before, I thought that I said enough to make him hide his head and never repeat the story. I thought it was originally 1913 when the powers were applied for to build this light railway. Even in 1913 they were a bit behind the times. Ten or 12 years later they were still carrying on and building the light railway to carry passengers between certain towns. If that is the mentality of the local authorities round about the Don Valley, we do not need to look for the neanderthal man, for there are a lot of troglodytes there. Because they engaged in this antediluvial method of transporting people and because some wide-awake private enterprise renders this mediaeval undertaking null and void by introducing motor transport, then the hon. Member comes here and weeps, and says, "We want to apply the methods which these other people have proved to be satisfactory."
There is no use in talking about the cutting up of the roads. That is a different matter. I have always believed that motorists get off far too cheaply, especially in regard to solid-tyred motors, and, if I had my way, I would not allow a single solid-tyred motor on any highway in this Kingdom. But the example given by the hon. Member opposite of municipal enterprise is a most mournful one. It is not at all encouraging. I notice, time after time, that the attitude which is being taken up in these matters nowadays is that the customer exists for the benefit of the business, and not the business for the benefit of the customer. That is the attitude of the municipal tramway undertakings and it is an unsound view. 2331 The voice of the monopolist is being heard in the land. We have heard the hon. Gentleman opposite speaking on be-half of a railway company and we have heard that blessed but menacing word "co-ordination." That word means that the consumer is to be consumed. We hear about the co-ordination of the railway companies. All I know is that before an enlightened legislature paid my fare to Scotland, it cost me double the moment the railways were co-ordinated. That is what co-ordination has led to and all this talk about co-ordination simply means "Let the public rip, we want to join with our fellows to raise prices all round."
I am perhaps the last of the individualists—the last survivor—but I will survive when all you industrialists have disappeared into the limbo of forgotten things. We have heard here about the railways and about the losses which they are going to suffer. We have the railways now as monopolies but they were not begun as monopolies. So careful were our ancestors about the liberty of the subject and so opposed were they to anything in the nature of monopolies, that when the railways started—[lnterruption.] If I am interrupting the hon. Members behind me I will stop until they have finished.
§ Sir ROBERT GOWER
Might I suggest to the hon. and learned Member that if he did stop we might have an opportunity of proceeding with the Bill which is next on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member wants to humanely slaughter me, but it is no good. So careful were our ancestors that when railway Bills were introduced it was carefully provided that the railway should have a toll road, and every citizen in the country was entitled to go and draw his own transport upon it. Until a comparatively few years ago, when you got a railway account, you were entitled to ask that it should be divided into three parts—one for the cost of the toll, one for the haulage which had been done for you, although you were entitled to do it yourself, and one for the general charges; and you could criticise any one of the three. That was the law until a comparatively few years ago. The whole 2332 idea was that it would prevent monopoly, but the mechanics of the thing forbade it, because you could only have one thing on the railway line at a time. It is different on the roads. The position was exactly the same in regard to trams. Trams run on rails—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The hon. Members who say "No" are frequently off the rails themselves; they are what I might call mentally trackless trolleys. The consequence is that when you gave to private enterprise the right to run trams in any city, you made them the worst of all. You did exactly what successive Governments have done for nearly 60 years in West Highland transport: when they gave a private enterprise a subsidy, they killed all private enterprise. They gave them all the vices and the greed of private monopoly, with all the evils of municipal mismanagement. These two things were combined, and, of course, without restriction of any kind, you had a great many evils.
Take the Glasgow tramways. After a great deal of trouble, Glasgow had the good fortune to start a highly trained manager, a man trained in private enterprise. He did not live to stay with them long enough to be corrupted by municipal inefficiency, and he made a great success of them. So did his successor, and for a considerable number of years there was a monopoly. It was extraordinarily well done, but the omnibus came on the scene, and the management and others were warned again and again that the omnibuses would run them off the streets. There is this also to be remembered. Look what a restriction on the user of public highways trains are, and look what a cost they are too. You simply halve the value of the streets and increase the dangers. At one place where they pulled up the tram lines and ran trackless trolleys, in a year they doubled the number of passengers, because instead of being slaughtered walking from the pavement to the trams, they pulled up at the side of the street. But in Glasgow they persisted and carried on, till ultimately the omnibuses run by private enterprise came in, and then they began to lose heavily and there was trouble. They began then to run omnibuses, too. Will anybody tell me that if it had not been that trams had to run upon rails and therefore created 2333 a mechanical monopoly, municipalities would ever have been required to take up tramways? They would never have been needed, because the natural law of supply and demand would have provided all the people with methods of transport.
Had it not been for the railways, of course there would have been transport on the roads nearly 100 years ago. They were the cause of the congestion of the population in our vast slummy towns. The danger is that the railways have now got into co-ordination with the transport system, which means the building up of another and bigger monopoly, which looks at the public, as all transport services look at the public, as something which exist for their own benefit, very much like the bureaucracy look upon the public generally. That is the real danger. We have the proposal that popularly-elected persons are to have the right to take the money of the general taxpayer, composed, it may be, of those very men who are running the motor omnibuses by private enterprise. To what a tremendous amount of misfeasance that opens the door! I can tell the House of one town—I do not want publicly to pillory it, but I will tell any hon. Gentleman of it privately—which, to my own knowledge, bought 300 motor omnibuses from a far distant town not in its own county, when it has two of the finest motor omnibus firms in its own district, where there is a lot of unemployment, and those two firms were prepared to provide them with motor omnibuses at£80 less than the distant firm would do it. I have been told by someone in the trade that there is no municipality not liable to undue in-
§ fluence in buying and selling motor omnibuses.
§ When I am told that all the municipalities desire this fresh power—of course they do—to speculate with the ratepayers' money. All elected persons follow the advice of St. Paul, and desire to magnify their office. They all want more power to tax people to carry out their experiments at other people's expense. There is no question in their case of overdrafts; they have practically a bottomless purse from which to draw. Of course, you can over do it, and I say, therefore, that this Bill is a most dangerous thing. It is all right to talk about democratic experiments. When people vote against the Liberal party, the public are a mob; when they vote against the Labour party, they are mugs; and when they vote against the Conservative party, they are an enlightened democracy. There has been a test in two places, and it was turned down, and, unless there is something of that kind put into this Bill, there will be no safety. If it were put into the Bill that the ratepayers had a say whether their money was to be put into these commitments, I do not believe that there would be 1 per cent. of the municipalities of the country which would carry a vote in favour of them. I shall go into the Lobby against the Bill, because it is a dangerous opportunity for whittling away the resources of the ratepayers in our boroughs.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 203; Noes, 118.2337
|Division No. 146.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Burgess, F. G.||Ede, James Chuter|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Edmunds, J. E.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Caine, Derwent Hall||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M.||Cameron, A. G.||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Cape, Thomas||Egan, W. H.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Freeman, Peter|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Charleton, H. C.||Gardner, B. W. (WestHam, Upton)|
|Ayles, Walter||Chater, Daniel||Gibbins, Joseph|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Church, Major A. G.||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Cluse, W. S.||Glassey, A. E.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Gossling, A. G.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Gould, F.|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Compton, Joseph||Gray, Milner|
|Benson, G.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)|
|Blindell, James||Cove, William G.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)|
|Bowen, J. W.||Daggar, George||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Dalton, Hugh||Groves, Thomas E.|
|Boyce, H. L.||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Grundy, Thomas W.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Bromley, J.||Dickson, T.||Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)|
|Brothers, M.||Dukes, C.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Duncan, Charles||Hardie, George D.|
|Harris, Percy A.||Matters, L. W.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Maxton, James||Simmons, C. J.|
|Haycock, A. W.||Messer, Fred||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Hayes, John Henry||Mills, J. E.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Milner, J.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Henderson, w. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Montague, Frederick||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Kelghley)|
|Hoffman, P. C.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Horrabin, J. F.||Morley, Ralph||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Snell, Harry|
|Isaacs, George||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Muff, G.||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Nathan, Major H. L.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Naylor, T. E.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Kennedy, Thomas||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Kinley, J.||Noel Baker, P. J.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Knight, Holford||Oldfield, J. R.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Lang, Gordon||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Tillett, Ben|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)||Palin, John Henry||Tout, W. J.|
|Law, Albert (Boiton)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Townend, A. E.|
|Law, A. (Rosendale)||Perry, S. F.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Lawrence, Susan||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Walker, J.|
|Lawson, John James||Pole, Major D. G.||Wallace, H. w.|
|Lawther, w. (Barnard Castle)||Potts, John S.||Wellhead, Richard C.|
|Leach, W.||Raynes, W. R.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Lees, J.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Lindley, Fred W.||Ritson, J.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Logan, David Gilbert||Romeril, H. G.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Longden, F.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Rowson, Guy||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Lowth, Thomas||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Lunn, William||Sanders, W. S.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Sandham, E.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|McElwee, A.||Sawyer, G. F.||Wise, E. F.|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Scrymgeour, E.||Womersley, W. J.|
|McShane, John James||Sexton, James||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|March, S.||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Markham, S. F.||Shield, George William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Marley, J.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Mr. Scurr and Mr. Arnott.|
|Mathers, George||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Meller, R. J.|
|Albery, Irving James||Eden, Captain Anthony||Mond, Hon. Henry|
|Ashley. Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Monsell, Eyres, Corn. Rt. Hon. Sir B.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Ferguson, Sir John||O'Neill, Sir H.|
|Atkinson, C.||Fermoy, Lord||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Fielden, E. B.||Peake, Capt. Osbert|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Preston, Sir Wallet Rueben|
|Beaumont, Mr. W.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Berry, Sir George||Gower, Sir Robert||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Roberts. Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Hanbury, C.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Bracken, B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Sandeman, Sir M. Stewart|
|Butler, R. A.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hurd, Percy A.||Savery, S. S.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Iveagh, Countess of||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Knox, Sir Alfred||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Macquisten, F. A.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Turton, Robert Hugh||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon||Wayland, Sir William A.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl||Mr. Everard and Colonel Howard-Bury.|
|Warrender, Sir Victor||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.2338
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Nine minutes after Four o'Olock, until Monday next, 10th February.