HC Deb 13 February 1933 vol 274 cc678-89

The following Amendments stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE:

In page 24, to leave out lines 10 and 11.

In line 38, to leave out the word "not."

In line 39, to leave out from the word "Board," to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert instead thereof the words: whether within or without the special area, and notwithstanding the provisions of Section ninety-nine of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the board shall not use any public service vehicle as a stage carriage, whether by short stages or otherwise, or as an express carriage within the special area, except under a road service license granted by the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner.

In page 25, line 5, to leave out Subsection (4).

4.48 p.m.


These four Amendments are all linked together, and I should like to know whether it is possible to discuss them together.


I did not quite realise that the first Amendment necessarily was part of the remaining three. If the hon. Member and his friends regard the four Amendments as standing together the convenient thing will be to deal with them as one Amendment; then the last three Amendments will then stand or fall on the decision on the first Amendment.


I do not wish to raise any difficulty, but the Amendments deal with distinctly different points, and they will have to be argued as different parts of the same subject.


If the Government or any other section of Members of the House take that view then the Amendments must be treated accordingly. Perhaps the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) will move his first Amendment.


I beg to move, in page 24, to leave out lines 10 and 11.

The object of the Amendment is to protect the interests of the public and the smaller services which are now operating on the roads concerned to the benefit of the public. I am not a London Member and it may be asked why I should be moving this Amendment. I should be very glad if my constituency was not touched by this Bill, but as it is I think it is my duty to defend the interests of the people in my constituency and the smaller services which have been operating with efficiency. It is a remarkable thing that the chief opponents of the Bill are London Members or Members for constituencies which lie just outside the London passenger transport area, and that the chief supporters of the Bill are hon. Members who sit for constituencies a distance from London. The Amendment would deprive the London combine of running services on certain spurs which strike out from the London passenger transport area. On a map you see certain spurs colored blue and yellow, and the Bill gives the London combine the power to run services on these spurs. Previously they were confined to the area on the map.

Take the road from Slough to Maidenhead. On this road the Green Line is running a service. One of the objects of the Bill is to provide assets for the Underground combine in their dealing with the board. The Green Line is one of the properties of the Underground combine, and they are running 'a service on this particular road, and upon other spurs, in order to provide assets for the Underground combine. The result is that the existing efficient services have been considerably damaged and there has been an over-service on these roads. The matter came before the Traffic Commissioners. The licenses of the Green Line were strongly opposed by the other operators, and as a result several services of the Green Line were disallowed. An appeal was made to the Minister, who in some cases has upheld the decision of the Traffic Commissioners. Other cases have still to be heard. The paragraph in this Clause gives to the London combine, which owns the Green Line, the power to replace the Green Line services on roads from which they have been forbidden by the Traffic Commissioners, to the detriment of the efficient services already plying there, 'and without any benefit to the public. Those are the reasons for moving the Amendment.

4.55 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment, and I appeal to the Minister to accept it on the ground that the public will not suffer in any way. They will have quite as good, perhaps a better, service than they will have if he refuses it. I am interested in the service on the road between Slough and Maidenhead because it operates from the town which I have the honor to represent. The company started in quite a small way and by much endeavor, good work and intelligent application have succeeded in producing a first-class service. It has been challenged twice as to its efficiency, and has been upheld twice by the Commissioners and once by the Minister. There is no doubt that hon. Members were returned to this Parliament to uphold private endeavors. If the Amendment is not accepted the it is the case of a successful private endeavor being crushed. That is entirely contrary to any principle for which we were elected, and, therefore, I appeal to the Minister of Transport to accept the Amendment. It is difficult enough in these days for private enterprise to make good. We suffer from heavy taxation, and there is a feeling of despair, perhaps it is wrong, among many people that whatever they may do they are handicapped by Government action. I do not wish it to be thought that the Government are favoring what is in reality a scheme of nationalisation. The area under consideration does not wish an alteration; they do not wish to be swallowed up by this Bill. Things are going on quite satisfactorily. Why interfere and Cause bitterness, and destroy what is really a good service? The Amendment will make no difference at all to the Bill, but it will make this difference, that we shall be upholding a principle which I believe is very dear to the vast majority of hon. Members in this House.

4.58 p.m.


May I make an appeal to the Minister? By accepting a useful Amendment earlier he has done something to remove hostility to the Bill, an hostility which is felt by Members not only inside but outside the London area. Many of us feel that the Government should accept an Amendment which will do no real harm to the Bill. No case has yet been made for allowing this great octopus to spread out its tentacles into various odd corners, far outside the London area. A strong case has been made against it, and if the Government refuse to accept a reasonable Amendment it may cause bitter hostility amongst many of their supporters. Before the representative of the Government gets up and reads his brief, which has been supplied by some office, which should be abolished, it would be better if they decided that they would accept a perfectly sensible Amendment, which does not hurt the Bill and which puts some kind of restriction on the enormous power of this board. I hope the Government will be able to accept the real feeling of the House of Commons on this matter, which undoubtedly is that we should not allow this body to go outside a very restricted area. They would thus do something to remove a fear which some of us have, no matter how far we may be from London, that the time may come when we also may be included in this monstrous Bill.

5 p.m.


I should like to add that at one time I represented a constituency which is very materially affected: that which is now represented by my hon. Friend who seconded this Amendment. I feel very strongly that here the Government have an opportunity, without in any way altering the general structure of their Bill, to meet a substantial grievance. We may be wrong in our views, but we feel that a great monopoly is acquiring a little too much influence. This great monopoly wants to obtain by Act of Parliament something in the nature of what a court of justice has already decided it should not have. Here we have these services being provided by outside companies, meeting the requirements of the public; and a competing organisation, with the enormous resources of the Combine behind it, attempting to destroy these smaller bodies. In other words, the Green Line were the pirates of this service. We know how much the Combine has objected to the pirates and how, as a result of the Act of 1924, they were enabled to limit the number of vehicles on the streets and to buy out the pirates in London. It is most unfair, however, when a service has been adequately provided by people of local interests, that this Act should give power to the Combine to re-establish itself in a place where it has no right except the right of free competition and where its services under the principle now established have been shown to be unnecessary.

If the Government want to please a great many of their supporters who do not like this Bill much anyhow, they will accept this Amendment. On this issue we feel that we are appealing for same support for the independent companies against what in the future may be a semi nationalised service. The Government will thereby smooth the passage of the Bill a great deal more than will otherwise be the case. If I wished to make the passage of the Bill a great deal more difficult, I should ask the Government to reject the Amendment. If they do, they will much increase the trouble which the Bill will have in another place. Both this and the subsequent Amendment are informed by the same purpose: that of permitting moderate-sized enterprises the right to live, and to protect them from being dominated by an enormous combination which will have the support of the State and will be entitled to operate throughout the metropolitan area and to some extent outside it.

5.3 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

Nothing would give more satisfaction to me than to be of help to my two hon. Friends who have made such eloquent appeals in favor of this Amendment, but I think that they are laboring under a mistake. In listening to the hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Amendment, one might have supposed that these spur roads to which they refer were roads on which the Combine-run services had never been. As a matter of fact, the Combine has run services there for some years past. It is decidedly to the advantage of the public as a whole that the board should be able to run these omnibuses to places like Ayles bury Maidenhead, Royston, Tunbridge Wells—


And Harwich !

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

No, Harwich is not in the area. I am not altogether sure that a number of members of the public, if it were left to them, would not like to be able to travel to Harwich without having to change. That, however, is a matter which we are not called upon to decide. It was part of the agreement reached with the approval of the Joint Select Committee, that these services to be operated by the board should continue, and be taken over by the board, subject to their obtaining the necessary road service licences. The severance of these services, which has been asked for by certain hon. Members, at the boundary of the London Passenger Transport Area would, in our opinion, deprive the public of suitable and neces- sary facilities in transport. We therefore do not think that it would be in the interests of the public to accept this Amendment, and we do not propose to do so.

5.5 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman has returned a still more effective answer to this Amendment. As I read it, the Bill makes no change whatever in the position of these lines. The lines referred to in the Amendment, that is, in Part II or Part III of the Seventh Schedule, are, by their description, outside the London Passenger Transport Area. They are therefore just as subject to the traffic commissioners—as I read it —as they are at the present moment. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment suggested that the Bill tended to give, by statute, something that has been refused by a court of justice. As I read it, the Bill does not give anything whatever; it merely continues to give to, say, the Green Line power to apply to the traffic commissioners to run services on the roads in question. It does not give them a statutory right to do so unless they first get the license of the traffic commissioners. If I am right in my reading of the Clause, there is really no grievance, because the position will be exactly what it is now. If the traffic commissioners think the Green Line should not have this or that right, the Bill gives them no reason for altering their opinion. It certainly confers no right whatever to a licence from the traffic commissioners.

5.7 p.m.


I wish to be quite clear about the effect of this Amendment. As I read it, I think I am correct in saying that, when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, there will be no Green Line and no independent undertakings; they will all disappear and be absorbed and merged into one big authority. If I am wrong, I am in favour of the Amendment. I understood that by Part V independent undertakings were to be merged and the companies that are now running on these fork roads— like the Premier, and various others— will disappear. If they are to disappear or merge, then they are perfectly right in fighting for their rights. I understood that the very long list in the Schedule, covering some two pages and including some 60 or 70 companies, covered every enterprise: all enterprises owned by the Underground Combine and all the private enterprises that ran on the various roads in the area and a good many miles out of it.

5.9 p.m.


May I ask the Minister, or whoever is going to reply, to put the position clearly to us? The Mover and supporters of the Amendment have represented it as a measure of protection for private enterprise against the monopoly which this Bill confers. I understood the hon. and gallant Gentleman who responded on behalf of the Ministry to say that it makes no change in the existing condition. If that is correct, that the Bill does not affect the situation in any way, then I suppose that the Amendment will not be required. I should, however, like to be definitely informed on the situation and on the effect which the Amendment would produce. If the paragraph will curtail further the opportunities of private enterprise and further strengthen this undesirable monopoly, I hope that we may be told clearly what is to take place.

5.10 p.m.


I am sorry that some hon. Members are still a little uncertain about this provision in the Clause with which we are now dealing. My hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry described these routes with which we are dealing as spur roads. That is a very apt phrase, if one looks at the map. Hon. Members can picture for themselves an area which is circumscribed by a large circle, within which certain things will be limited: the transport undertakings may carry out their services without the necessity for a road service licence. Hon. Members may then imagine roads which stretch out to the east or west, as the case may be, or in some other direction, of short lengths. They will realise that they are dealing only with roads outside that part of the London district in which the Transport Board need not obtain road service licences. On these spur roads the board will have to obtain licences. In answer to my hon. and learned Friend below the Gangway, I can tell him that it is in precisely the same position as anybody else on these spur roads. If, however, we leave out these two lines, the Transport Board will be prevented from running its services on these spur roads, and that would be to the great prejudice and inconvenience of people concerned in those districts. When the vehicles of the Transport Board reach the line which marks the termination of the area in which they have the monopoly, passengers would have to disembark and get into another line of vehicles to carry them two or three miles to their destination.

In order to provide for the convenience of passengers who wish to get to the end of these spur roads, it is provided in the Bill, with the consent of the operating companies, that the Road Transport Board shall have additional powers: that is to say, over the spur roads, which are comparatively few in number and only stretch for a few miles—five or ten miles—into some particular district. The Bill might be drafted with the idea of enlarging the whole circle so as to cover these spur roads, but that was not done. We prefer to limit these powers actually to the roads themselves which are marked on the map, which are few in number and short in extent, and have been picked out with the consent of the operating companies for the sole purpose of meeting the convenience of the inhabitants. There will be no monopoly on these roads. It will be open to anybody to obtain road service licences if they can, to conduct services on them. I hope that I have succeeded in persuading the House to allow the Amendment to be rejected.

5.13 p.m.


The explanation given by the right hon. and learned Attorney-General does not cover the objection in the minds of those who dislike this Bill from start to finish as being merely a Socialist Measure. What he has said confirms our impression of the unfair competition which is going to be placed on outside companies by virtue of this monopoly. The learned Attorney-General claims that it is to be to the advantage of the public that the monopoly omnibuses shall be able to go to the boundary of the London Transport Area and then, instead of their passengers having to get off and travel in another vehicle, they shall be able to continue on that journey into the heart of the district at present organised and worked efficiently by these outside companies. I am, however, very doubtful whether the Attorney-General would equally say that for the convenience of the public these outside operating omnibuses should be allowed to come into spurs inside the London Transport Area. If the thing applies in the outward passage, it equally applies in the inward passage. These efficient outside companies will be permitted to run up to the boundary, and then their passengers will have to transfer into those omnibuses that are permitted to go to the actual district.


That is quite a different point.


I know, because you have a powerful monopoly working from the center on one hand, and on the other hand you have a number of little efficient companies which possibly will be crushed out by the unfair competition which is going to be placed on the spurs. This is the very reason why we feel ourselves so bitterly opposed to the Bill. A point which Members seem to have lost sight of is the enormous area to be covered. When you think of it, it is 2,000 square miles, and affects one-fifth of the population of the whole of Great Britain. One can see how very necessary it is, if one is to protect private enterprise, to see that every kind of consideration is given to these outside companies. If the big combine is allowed to run into their areas on these spur roads, equally the outside omnibuses should be allowed to run into spurs inside the London Passenger Transport Area, if you are to give a square deal all round. I urge the Government to accept this Amendment in its entirety and at least to show that they have not forgotten the principle for which they have stood in the past.

Amendment negatived.

5.15 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 25, line 5, to leave out Sub-section (4).

I do not conceal the fact that my Amendment in page 24, line 39, opens up a very large issue, no less than that of re-placing the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner in the Bill. The object is to have some authority inside London which will to some extent control the Combine and deal with the various services running into London which are now independent of the Combine and give them a square deal; but, in view of the opposition of the Government to the granting of anything to these small companies, and the Government's readiness to push out competition, I feel that it is of little use to move the Amendment, and I therefore do not do so.

We shall have in London an uncontrolled Combine, which can arrange its time-tables so as to suit its own services that run along the spurs, and make them detrimental to the services and timetables of these smaller companies. Subsection (4) recommends the Traffic Commissioners outside the area of London passenger transport to have particular care for the interests of the Combine. That is not dealing fairly with the services running into London. It has been shown by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) that the Government are asking for the Combine what they are not willing to give to the smaller services running into London. In opposing a previous Amendment of mine the learned Attorney-General showed how the public might suffer some inconvenience by changing omnibuses if they were not conveyed outwardly by the vehicles of the Combine, but he did not admit that exactly the same inconvenience to the public will be caused by the fact that these smaller services running into London are not allowed to operate inside the London area. I ask the Minister whether it is not possible for him to omit this Sub-section?


I beg to second the Amendment, and I appeal to the Government to deal with it more leniently than they did with an earlier Amendment.

5.18 p.m.


Sub-section (4) is merely to carry out what is already provided in Clause 3. Clause 3 provides that it shall be the general duty of the board to secure the provision of an adequate and properly co-ordinated system of passenger transport for the London Passenger Transport Area. Subsection (4) merely provides that the Traffic Commissioners, in considering whether they will grant road service licenses, shall bear in mind the duty which is created by Clause 3, and that Clause we have passed. I quite agree that probably if the Sub-section were left out it would be the duty of the Traffic Commissioners to bear in mind Clause 3, but it is very desirable that there should be a pointer so that "he who runs may read," knowing what are the conditions under which it is likely that he will obtain the desired road service licence. I should regret very much if the Sub-section were omitted, if only in the interests of clarity and the general understanding of this Bill when it becomes an Act.

I must deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) and the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland). It does show a want of appreciation of the Bill which I did not suspect in the case of my hon. Friends. They have reproached the Government for not allowing the existing services to penetrate the sacred circle and to operate within that circle; in other words, to do what a few moments ago I claimed for the vehicles of the road transport board, namely, to extend into the outside territory. If my hon. Friends will refer to the provisions of Clause 16 they will find that it is permissive for these privately-owned services to pick up outside and to set down inside, or to pick up inside and set down outside, or to pick up outside and go right through the circle and set down outside; so that these privately-owned services have precisely the same privileges as, a few moments ago, I suggested should be conferred on the Transport Board, that is of carrying their passengers in the way most convenient to the public.


I am very much obliged to the learned Attorney-General for his explanation and for making it clear that the services running inwards will have just the same privileges as the services of the Combine running outwards. With the consent of my hon. Friend I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.