HC Deb 23 April 1931 vol 251 cc1286-97

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.

[Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to provide (among other things) for the establishment of a Passenger Transport Board for the London Traffic Area and for the transfer to that Board of various transport undertakings and interests, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) the expenses of the London Passenger Transport Arbitration Tribunal to be constituted under the said Act, including the remuneration of members and staff of the tribunal;
  2. (b) any additional expenses incurred by reason of the provisions of the said Act in connection with the Railway Rates Tribunal;
  3. (c) any sums payable by the Minister into the Metropolitan Police Fund in respect of costs incurred in connection with the licensing of the drivers and conductors of certain vehicles;
  4. (d) any expenses incurred by the Board of Trade in the granting of certificates in connection with the distribution of transport stock and money forming part of the consideration for the transfer of statutory undertakings to the said Board; and
  5. (e) the costs, charges, and expenses preliminary to, of and incidental to the preparing, applying for, obtaining and passing of the said Act."—(King's Recommendation signified).

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

This is a Money Resolution which really, so far as I can see, involves no money to the State ultimately, but, in connection with the passage of the London Passenger Transport Bill, there will have to be, for a transitory period, an amount of expenditure by the Slate which will be recovered from the London Passenger Transport Board when it is established and working. Under the Bill there is to be established, for purposes of arbitration, an arbitration tribunal. Obviously, the tribunal will have to be paid, and there will have to be staffs. The cost will be met in the first instance out of moneys which will be provided by Parliament, and the expenditure can be reviewed on the Votes of the Ministry of Transport. It is, however, proposed under the Bill that the expenses of the tribunal shall be ultimately recovered from the Board, with interest at a rate to be determined by the Treasury. It is difficult to give any exact figure as to the expenses of the tribunal, but we estimate that they will be in the region of £35,000 on the assumption that the work of the tribunal will occupy some two years. There is a precedent for this arrangement under the Railways Act, 1921.

The second point deals with the Railway Rates Tribunal, which was established under the Railways Act, 1921, under which expenditure is recovered from the four amalgamated railway companies. Clearly it would be improper that any expenditure incurred by the tribunal as the result of the London Passenger Transport Bill should be recovered from the amalgamated railway companies, and that expenditure will be recovered from the Board. Any expenses that we may require to advance in respect of the reference to the tribunal under the provisions of the Bill will be recovered from the Board, but in the meantime it may be that the Railway Rates Tribunal may have to incur some expenditure.

The third point is with regard to payments to the Metropolitan Police Fund. Under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the licensing of omnibuses and stage carriages in the Metropolitan area remains with the Metropolitan police although the licensing of motor coaches goes to the Road Traffic Commissioner. Under the Bill the power to license stage carriages will pass to the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner functioning under the Road Traffic Act and also, unless agreement is otherwise reached, the licensing of drivers and conductors. It may be necessary, if the police continue to licence drivers and conductors, that some of the expenses in this and other connections will have to be met so far as the police are concerned. They will have to be reimbursed from the Road Fund and, therefore, that provision appears in the Resolution, although it is probable that the greater part of the expenditure will be met out of fees, and in that respect the Road Traffic Act generally, under Part IV, is paying its way.

The fourth provision deals with the issue of transport stock in connection with the winding up of the existing undertakings and certain expenses, not material in amount, which may be incurred by the Board of Trade. They also will be repayable by the London Transport Board, and that expenditure again will not fall upon the State. Then there are the costs of securing the passage of the Bill, which is a hybrid Bill, and again it is proposed that that shall fall upon the board, expenditure in the meantime being advanced by the Ministry of Transport. For that expenditure, of course, Parliament will be responsible, but we shall recover that from the Board. I think that briefly explains the Resolution. There is really no point of principle involved in it. At any rate, practically all the money will be paid back to the State by the board and I hope, therefore, the House will give me the authority that I now seek.


The right hon. Gentleman has said that in one sense this is a Vote which involves no ultimate public expenditure, but, of course, that is only contingently true, because what he is asking the House to give him is a general covering financial authority for all expenditure that will be incurred over the passage of the Bill and all expenditure that will be incurred after the Bill has gone through. It is only true that this involves no expenditure on the taxpayer on the assumption that the Bill passes through Parliament in such a form that all the expenditure for which the Minister seeks authority to-night is expenditure which Parliament puts upon the new board. Whether it is on this Resolution or on the Clauses which the Resolution covers when we come to deal with them ultimately in Committee, we are not at all exonerated from seeing that we do not incur unnecessary expenditure. I say that fur two reasons: First of all, if the Bill is to go through and is to work, obviously, we must not load the new undertaking with any costs which can be reasonably avoided. But we are also embarking on public expenditure, and, in accordance with the form the Act ultimately takes, it depends on whether Parliament decides that all those sums shall be recoverable from the board. Therefore, we have to see that the expenditure is necessary and reasonable.

I do not propose to argue the general questions of principle which were discussed upon the Bill nor the details of those Clauses which the Resolution covers. One is a matter for Second Reading, and, though it would be within order, the other would be more appropriately debated on the Clauses of the Bill. There are, however, certain questions I should like to put to the Minister. First of all, take the estimate of, £35,000. The Committee will observe that no financial limit is placed on this Resolution. It is often the case that you get a White Paper which estimates for an expenditure, say, of £20,000, £30,000, or perhaps £40,000. One sometimes asks the Minister, if the outside estimate is £40,000, whether he will accept an Amendment to the Resolution limiting the expenditure to that amount. I have always hoped that that old watchdog the Treasury would have supported us on these occasions, but it always seems asleep, metaphorically, at such times. Although a limit may be put in a White Paper, the last thing the Minister is prepared to accept is any limit, and the only things which matter are the Financial Resolution and the operative Clauses of the Bill. I observe here that, though the expenditure is to be incurred under a number of heads, an estimate is given only under one and that is the expenditure on the arbitration tribunal which is put at £35,000. The Minister said, in opening the discussion, that there would be an opportunity for considering the expenditure under this head on the Vote of the Ministry of Transport. While that may be technically true in one sense, will the expenditure which is incurred by the arbitration tribunal appear as an item in the Vote for the Ministry of Transport? I gather from what the Minister said that it will—


It will be met in the first place from the Minister's Vote by Parliament, and the House will have an opportunity of discussing it, if it so desires, on the Estimates for the Ministry, and we shall recover from the Board after the arbitration is completed. It must be appreciated that under the Bill as it stands, the board can function straight away and then the arbitration can follow. In the meantime we shall have to carry the expenses so incurred, which will be recovered from the board, and clearly the House would be able to discuss that on my vote.


That is rather a curious position, because the Minister is not going to have the appointment of the Tribunal. This Tribunal is to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. It is rather curious as the Minister does not appoint the Tribunal and they are not his creatures and are in no way responsible to him that we should yet have to discuss on the Minister's Vote the salaries, the emoluments and the conduct of the Tribunal which is appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and which as far as it is responsible to anybody, is responsible to the Lord Chancellor.


It is true that the Lord Chancellor appoints them, but, as far as effective expenditure is concerned, I am responsible. The Lord Chancellor is responsible for the appointments.


I see, or at least I partly see. The Lord Chancellor is to appoint the three arbitrators, and the Minister is to appoint the secretary and typists. The big item of expenditure, the sum of £35,000, I should have thought, was to be in the salaries of those people. The Minister is to settle their salaries and not the Treasury. The Lord Chancellor is to appoint those people. Suppose that the House wishes in any way to criticise the functions or the work of the Tribunal, how can it effectively do it upon the Minister's vote when the Lord Chancellor and not the Minister is responsible for their appointment? It would he useful to know a little more about the Tribunal and its functions. I rather hoped that the Minister would be in a position now, when he is asking for this covering authority, to tell us of whom the Tribunal is to consist. I do not know whether he can do so. The House will be very interested to know if the Minister can tell us who are to be members of the Tribunal?

11.0 p.m.

I observe that in the White Paper it is estimated that the work of the Tribunal may go on for as long as two years. That seems to be a very long time and anticipates very contentious issues being raised before the Tribunal. I do not know whether it, is really to be expected that we cannot receive before the end of two years an assessment of the fair value of an undertaking which has been taken over. It is a curious position as far as stockholders of municipal and other undertakings which are being taken over, are concerned. As the Minister says, the board can function at once, but it may be two years before a man, or a public authority, whose property is taken over can get to know what is to be received in return for it. That seems to be a proposal which demands a certain amount of justification. It is infinitely preferable, if you are going into a transaction of this kind, that you should follow the precedent followed in the Port of London Authority of getting agreement with everybody concerned. Then you would be able to come to the House, and say, "What we are inviting you to do is to ratify the agreement which all the parties have made." That really is the proper way of dealing with a matter of this kind. If that has not been done in this case, we want some light on and some further justification for a proposal which may leave people in complete uncertainty for two years what value they are going to get for their property when it is taken over, while at the same time they have to part with it. With regard to paragraph (b), it is right that when questions go to the Railway Rates Tribunal arising out of the London traffic scheme, the expenses should be borne by the people engaged in London traffic, and should not be borne by the main line railways. Does this paragraph include the addition of two members? Does it include the salaries?

Mr. MORRISON indicated dissent.


There are no salaries? They are unpaid? So far as remuneration goes, it is a negligible item, and the expenditure will be litigation expenditure.

Mr. MORRISON indicated assent.


With regard to paragraph (c), sums payable into the Metropolitan Police Fund, the Minister assures us that it is a small matter. Paragraph (d) relates to expenses incurred in the granting of certificates. Then we come to paragraph (e), an item which I suppose will be very large, namely, "the cost, charges and expenses preliminary to and incidental to the preparing, applying for, obtaining and passing of the said Act." How much will there be in that I should like to know what the preliminary expenses are. Has the Minister incurred large expenses in the preparation of this scheme? If so, I would like to know what those expenses are. A further item, I suppose, will be the cost of counsel, experts, etc., in connection with the Joint Committee. Obviously, that is going to be a very large item of expenditure. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an estimate of what those costs are likely to be, and whose costs are covered? Will the taxpayer in the first instance have to pay the whole of the costs of everybody who appears before the Committee? I was told to-night that 70 petitions have been launched against the Bill. I suppose that means that 70 counsel are going to appear for an indefinite number of days. That may be inevitable in a Bill of this kind. Does this proposal mean that the taxpayer in the first instance, and the Board eventually, when it has funds, will be responsible for the whole of the costs incurred before the Committee, or be responsible only for the costs incurred by the Minister himself and the counsel he employs? It is important that before we part with this Money Resolution that we should know that. If we are to pay for 70 counsel for an indefinite numbers of days it is not a prospect which will be warmly received in any quarter of the House, because no Member of Parliament can appear before the Committee nor shall we be able to have the assistance of the law officers. I should like the Minister to tell us what is the estimate of costs and whether in voting for paragraph (e) we are voting for the payment of the costs of his counsel and his experts or for the counsel and experts engaged by all the petitioners.

Major GLYN

There is only one point to which I desire to draw the attention of the Minister, and it is in connection with the work of the Arbitration Tribunal. It may be that this tribunal will have heavy duties imposed upon it, much in excess of those contemplated in the Bill. That surely will mean that the expenditure of the tribunal will be heavy. I hope it was not to be considered that £35,000 will be the limit for two years of the possible scope of the proceedings of that tribunal. Should it be the recommendation of Parliament that it shall have other duties then obviously the costs will be great. Can it be done at a figure of £35,000. I imagine that that estimate has been based on the idea that the tribunal will not function beyond the scope outlined in the Bill. I hope it will be appreciated that the tribunal itself may have extended powers given to it, in which case its expenditure will be considerably higher. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accede to the request and give any indication as to the gentlemen to be appointed or whether they have in fact been appointed by the Lord Chancellor. It may he that £35,000 for two years is excessive pay for certain people unless they are of great merit, and it would be well for the House to know who will comprise this tribunal.


It seems to me that this expenditure on the part of the Minister of Transport is necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman has told us how the money will be spent. At the same time we must assume the possibility of this Bill not becoming an Act of Parliament, to what Department would these charges be debited. I presume it would be the Ministry of Transport. We have to recognise this as a possible contingency. There are 70 petitions against the Bill, and the life of this Parliament is not sure. If the Bill does not become an Act of Parliament on whom will these charges fall?


I should like information on one or two points. Hon. Members will agree with the wish that there were more Resolutions like this brought forward, which will not cost the country anything. As regards the £35,000, I see that in the Memorandum there is this sentence: the expenses of the tribunal will be defrayed in the first instance out of moneys to be defrayed by Parliament but will be repaid on demand. I want to know exactly what "on demand" means. Does it mean that the Ministry will take upon itself the right to decide whether or not the board shall ultimately expend this sum of money, and when do they think they will be able to wipe out the liability of the taxpayer and put the estimated sum of £35,000 on to the board itself?

Another point arises out of the Memorandum on the Financial Resolution and dealing with the Metropolitan Police Fund. It lays it down in the Memorandum that: The main purpose of this Amendment is to transfer the duties connected with the licensing of omnibuses and tramcars and the drivers and conductors thereof, from the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to the Traffic Commissioner. It seems rather absurd that we should be asked to vote money to the Metropolitan Police Fund under the Financial Resolution when it is clearly laid down in the Act itself that the power is being taken away from the police of the Metropolis and given to the Traffic Commissioners. I think we might have a little more explanation of that.

The other point I wanted to make is as to what liability we shall be under under paragraph (e) which seems to he very broad. The paragraph reads: (e) the costs, charges and expenses preliminary to, of and incidental to the preparing, applying for, obtaining and passing of the said Act. Can the Minister give us any estimate I He has by now got a large number of petitions and knows to a great extent what sort of opposition he will have to the Bill, and it will be interesting to have from him what the expenditure is likely to be.


The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) is quite right in saying that, even though this expenditure is ultimately recoverable, assuming that the Bill passes, which I always do, being an optimist and a cheerful soul in these matters, there is a responsibility on Parliament to see that the expenditure which we are now asked to authorise should be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. With regard to the limit of expenditure which is estimated for the Arbitration Tribunal, it will be appreciated that it is very difficult to give. It must depend on the measure of agreement that we are able to get meantime, and as to how far we are able to agree upon a whole body of facts which the arbitrator will have to consider, and how far those matters may be contentious. I am afraid the figure which we have given is the best we can give in the circumstances, and I can only express the hope that there will be such an agreement between the Government and the parties concerned that that expenditure will not be exceeded, and even that it may not be reached, but I cannot be altogether certain.

With regard to the Arbitration Tribunal itself, and the right of criticism, if it would be in order to criticise the tribunal which it sets up and on which I do not express an opinion, that criticism should arise on the Vote of the Ministry of Transport, and, of course, that Vote is always arrived at after consultation with the Treasury, and that is the Vote upon which rests the entire responsibility for the whole of the expenses of the tribunal. I am sorry I cannot inform the Committee of the names of the commissioners, whom the Lord Chancellor appoints, because he in fact has not yet made up his own mind. We thought it right to get a little further with the progress of the Bill before we got to that business, but I hope that before the Bill passes, I shall be able to announce the names to the House, and indeed, if possible, to incorporate them in the Bill. I agree that two years sounds a long time to settle the arbitration, but hon. Members will realise that two years, unfortunately, can easily be spent, if they recall some previous arbitrations. It is a very complicated business and the two years might be taken. But I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if we can arrive at a just and equitable agreement with all the parties concerned it is better to negotiate and to agree than to go to arbitration, and I am sure that the parties outside take a similar view.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what was the probable cost of the passing of the Act. That is something like the problem with which we are faced with regard to the arbitration tribunal itself. It is true that 65 petitions have been presented, though I think that some of the parties will combine forces in the employment of counsel, and thereby economise in their expenditure; but the committee proceedings must depend on the degree of conflict. The money I spend will depend on how far it is a real fight, and how far we can agree as we go along and negotiate. The right hon. Gentleman asked two questions—first, approximately what we have spent so far; and, secondly, what so far as we can tell it is probable we shall spend.

There is the expenditure of preparing the Bill, the publishing of notices in the Press—it is a hybrid Bill—and the expenses in connection with the retention Of an expert accountancy adviser, Sir William McLintock; and in other ways experts have been employed to advise us on the proper financial basis of the Bill and in the negotiations we are conducting with the parties concerned. Up to 31st March last, approximately £11,600 has been spent on fees and expenses of consulting accountants on various financial considerations arising out of the proposal for the transfer of the undertakings to the board, and additional expenditure on that must be incurred in the present financial year. With regard to future expenditure provision will be made in the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport for the current year. The nearest estimate we could get was in the region of £25,000. There is a very big proposition in the Bill. The undertakings run into many millions of pounds; and clearly the expenses of the promotion of such a Bill, the counsel and the experts one retains, must mean sums of substance. That is the information as soundly and accurately as I can give it.


Another question about paragraph (e). Whose costs have we to pay?


The right hon. Gentleman asks whose costs we have to pay. They are only mine. The opponents of the Bill will fortunately pay their own. It would be a terrible position if they could spend all they liked and get it back from the promoters. That paragraph covers only the expenses of the promoters, who in this case are the Government.


There is no discretion in the Parliamentary Committee to award costs?


Not to my knowledge. Another hon. Member said it might be that very extensive powers were given to the tribunal, and that the estimate might be wrong; but we shall see as the Committee proceeds. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), who is not as cheerful to-night as I could like him to be, asked me who would pay all this money if the Bill failed. I simply cannot contemplate that a Bill with which I am associated should fail. If that should happen to be the case it would be a great misfortune to the country. Then the expenses would fall upon the Vote of the Ministry of Transport, and it would be upon that Vote that it could be discussed. The best thing the House can do is to pass the Bill, and then the expenses will not fall on the Ministry of Transport. The hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain A. Hudson) asked a question about the police and the Traffic Commissioner. It is a small point. He is quite right that the licensing in the first instance passes from the police to the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner, but there is a discretion on the part of the Minister, whereby, after discussion with the Home Secretary, the licensing of drivers and conductors can go back to the police, if it is found mutually convenient. It is in that connection that the possible grant to the police out of the Road Fund arises. I think I have covered all the points that have been raised and I shall be grateful if the Committee will now agree to the Resolution.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next, 27th April.