§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Crowder
I beg to move, in page 3, line 19, to leave out "work," and to insert "the work of the licensing authority."
I think it will be agreed that it is very important, in the case of all Bills with which we have to deal, that the wording should as far as possible be quite clear. This Amendment is merely a drafting Amendment, to make the position of holders of licences clear. The wording as it stands seems to be a little ambiguous where it lays down that the licensing authority may issue a licence in respect of a goods vehicle for a shorter period than the two years specified in the Act. The Act of 1933, as hon. Members will know, lays it clown that "A" licences for goods vehicles shall be for two years, but the point has arisen that the licensing authority may wish to consider a group of applications together, or to spread out his work over different periods so as to avoid pressure at one season and slackness at another. With this object in view, Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 provides that the licensing authority may issue a licence for a shorter period than two years, so that applications for renewal at subsequent dates may come up at convenient times. The Sub-section contains the words:in order to arrange a suitable and convenient programme of work.The words "programme of work" are the ones to which the Amendment refers. It is not quite clear to some of us what exactly that expression means—whose programme of work? It may mean the work of the applicant—his contracts and other arrangements—or it may mean the work of the objectors to the application, in which case the licence-holders would not want to have their licences issued for a shorter period in order to suit the programme of work of objectors. On the other hand, it may mean, and this is what we think it means, the work of the 690 licensing authority. Therefore, we have put down this Amendment which would make the Clause read as follows:in order to arrange a suitable and convenient programme of the work of the licensing authority.It may be argued that it is as well that the programme of work of the licence-holder should be considered also, but the licence-holders do not think that this is necessary, because I think I am right in saying that they would always surrender a short part of their licences if it suited them better to take out their licences at a different time. We want to make it quite clear that a licence shall ordinarily be issued for two years, and that, if it is issued for a shorter period, it shall only be to suit the programme of the work of the licensing authority and of nobody else.
§ Mr. Raikes
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not think it is necessary for me to add anything to what my hon. Friend has said. The Amendment simply relates to a small point of elucidation.
§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
It is very seldom that I intervene in a Road Traffic debate, but I think I am entitled to say a word or two on this Amendment. Quite frankly, I do not think the statement of the Mover clarified the position at all, and the Seconder, who is very conversant with the law, might, I thought, have given us a little further explanation as to what the Amendment means. If I may, in my ignorance of road traffic and of this Bill in particular, I would like to examine for a few moments what the Amendment means.
The Clause reads:In subsection (1) of section three of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 (which specifies in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) thereof respectively the period for which licences of classes A, B and C respectively may he granted under Part I of that Act). there shall be inserted, at the end of each of the said paragraphs, the words 'or such longer period as may be prescribed'(2) At the end of the said subsection (1) the following words shall be inserted:'Regulations made for the purposes of this subsection may provide that, where the licensing authority is of opinion that such a course is desirable in order to arrange a suitable and convenient programme of work, he may in his discretion grant a licence for a currency period shortened to meet the requirements of that programme.'691 What the hon. Member is trying to do is to describe the meaning of words. Some of us have been at that task for very many years. It is competent to ask whether this word "work" relates to the person who owns vehicles or to the work of the licensing authority. A deputation met me some time ago in my division to ask if L would take an interest in their problem as road transport operators. I always endeavour to voice the opinion of every section of the community in my constituency. I do not think a member of Parliament is doing his duty unless he does that. Moreover, when a deputation of this kind comes to see us, whether we agree with the deputation's point of view or not, they are entitled to have their opinions expressed on the Floor of this Assembly.
I have been in a little quandary as to what is actually meant by the "licensing authority." I suppose every local authority, town council, and county council will be a licensing authority for this purpose. Will this Amendment affect the problem that was put to me by that deputation? They own omnibuses and lorries, some carrying freight from Liverpool, Manchester, Huddersfield and Halifax to London. They pointed out to me that the London Passenger Transport Board have made application to these licensing authorities that no omnibuses carrying passengers from any part of the country shall enter into the London zone during the Coronation. How will this Amendment affect a situation like that? Will a licensing authority in dealing with this problem be entitled to tell the London Passenger Transport Board to mind its own business and allow these road operators from Lancashire and elsewhere to carry their passengers into London? I come back to the point where I commenced, namely, what is meant bydesirable in order to arrange a suitable and convenient programme of work.Is it the work of the person who owns the vehicle? Does it relate to the number of people he will employ as chauffeurs and attendants in his cars and lorries, or does it mean that the work of the licensing authority itself is going to he affected? The Subsection is very clear in one respect.Regulations made for the purposes of this subsection may provide that, where the 692 licensing authority is of opinion that such a course is desirable in order to arrange a suitable and convenient programme of work, he may in his discretion—I suppose the Minister is the person referred to there. He may,grant a licence for a currency period shortened to meet the requirements of that programme.I am still in a quandary as to what this programme of work means. If it is like the programme of work of the National Government, it does not mean very much. But there are owners of lorries, omnibuses and motor cars who arrange their own work. Has the Minister any right at all to interfere in it? Does he intend, for instance, to inform the licensing authorities that they can curb the extension of their business? The deputation that I saw declared that we have reached the stage now that under this Bill it will be very nearly impossible for the owners of two or three lorries to extend their business and buy one more.
I want to know something else. I tread on very delicate ground here, because there is a great railway shop in my division. It is not for me to say a word in criticism of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, but the railway companies have an interest in this road traffic business. I understand that they are now shareholders in some of these companies who own motor vehicles. I want to know whether this programme of work that we are talking about refers exclusively to the owners of motor vehicles or whether it refers to the whole transport industry of the country, including railway companies as well? The hon. Member hardly did justice to his own Amendment, and I do, not think he was fair to the House of Commons. When an hon. Member puts an Amendment on the Paper, he ought to be prepared to explain the whole situation so that we may understand, without asking questions, what the Amendment means. I have looked up the Report of the Standing Committee and I cannot see it there. It seems to me that there is something amiss with the Bill. Some people say it is a very simple one but really it is very much more important than people imagine.
I fail to understand why this Amendment was not tabled in Committee. As hon. Gentlemen know, I am taking some little part in the proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Factories Bill where 693 we have hundreds upon hundreds of Amendments. I should imagine that there have been more Amendments put down to that Bill than have been put down to any Bill since I have been in the House of Commons, but it is understood that Amendments which come up for discussion on Report stage in the House of Commons ought to have received some consideration in Standing Committee before they come down here. These Amendments should come down on the Report stage only after having been discussed freely, openly and intelligently in Standing Committee—[Interruption.] Really I am not offending Members of Standing Committees when I say that they discuss these things intelligently. I should like, for instance, to see anybody challenge the intelligence of the Factories Bill Committee.
I want, however, to protest to the hon. Gentleman once again. As a rule when he takes part in discussions on the Floor of the House of Commons there is nobody more capable of stating his case than he is. The Seconder of the Amendment was slipshod beyond measure this morning. How he earns a livelihood at the Bar at that rate is beyond my comprehension. I do not know that I would trust him with a case of mine after the manner in which he has presented the case for the Amendment this morning. I remember working with the hon. Gentleman on two very important Bills. They had nothing to do with this matter, except that there is a connection, after all, between the drink traffic and the problem that we are now discussing, and that is why I thought the hon. Gentleman was actually supporting the Amendment. Many of the injuries and accidents that take place on the high roads of this country are deliberately the result of taking too much alcohol, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well.
§ Mr. Davies
I was coming round to that point. Mr. Speaker. I want to repeat what I said at the beginning, and I will not detain the House unduly with the remarks that I utter. I come to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman who wants to delete the word "work," and on that score it would be unfortunate if 694 the House of Commons were to leave that word out of the vocabulary of the Bill. It is very doubtful whether the word "works" belongs to the licensing, authority at all. We all have to work for our livelihood, and I would like to see the word as it is remain in the Bill. There is no more useful word in the English language than the word "work," and I wish that some people were properly paid for their work. Having said so much, I feel that Members of the House of Commons will be as much in the dark as I am as to the meaning of the Amendment. If there is anything to-day that hon. Gentlemen behind me can do to get enlightenment on the vital word "work," I am sure that we shall spend a very happy day together and at the end will have achieved the object we have in view.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)
I had no idea when I saw the Amendment on the Paper yesterday that there was so much in it. We want in this respect to make the wording of a Bill of this kind as perfect as possible. I cannot say that I feel very strongly on the question of whether the word "work" should be left out and the words "the work of the licensing authority" put in, but, at the same time, I hope my hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment will not press it. If he does so I am going to ask the House to reject it as being unnecessary and making the wording clumsy. On the Second Reading of the Bill, I explained the meaning of Sub-section (2) of Clause 2. It is designed solely to facilitate the machinery of renewal and will make for convenience both on the side of the Traffic Commissioners and the operator. It will make it possible to arrange a reasonable spread-over so as to avoid congestion at one period and slackness at another, and also, it will make it possible to arrange the various classes of application to fall due for renewal together. Whether the Amendment should be accepted or not depends upon whether the wording, as it stands now, is clear or not. I am informed by the experts that the obvious construction of the Sub-section as it stands is that the word "work" must refer to the work of 695 licensing, and not to work performed by any one other than the licensing authority. For that reason it would be very much better of we kept the word "work" in the Bill and rejected the Amendment, which I hope my hon. Friend will not press.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
As my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) indicated, some of us on these benches have had experience of the work,of traffic administration, particularly that of the Traffic Commissioners, and we appreciate to some extent that this inspired, original part of the Bill was brought about by the Transport Ministry. They are aware of the great congestion that is taking place with regard to the renewal of licences. The duties of the Road Traffic Commissioners are not merely concerned with the renewal of licences. Continuous complaints are being forwarded to the Ministry by those who are engaged in the industry of the long delays in respect of the licensing of additional vehicles necessary for the work for which they are required. These difficulties are accumulating, and I doubt whether actually the giving of greater power under the Regulations in this Subsection will overcome them. The Minister has not given any indication that there is to be additional assistance given to the Traffic Commissioners in carrying out their work in order to facilitate the working of the system and to prevent the delays that are being experienced. Deputations that have been meeting Members recently have indicated that, in the case of new vehicles being sanctioned for licensing, it may be weeks, and, in some cases, two months, or even three months, before these vehicles can be employed on additional work. Obviously, that is not in the interests particularly of the small traffic people engaged in the industry.
These licences are for various periods, and it may be that under this Sub-section the granting of what may be termed a temporary licence will, to some little extent, overcome the difficulties, but can the Parliamentary Secretary give any indication how it will operate? Let us assume that there is an offer of an extended contract to a small operator and that he enters into arrangements with a particular company for an additional 696 vehicle to be brought in to assist in the work. Can the Minister give any idea whether the officers of the Traffic Commissioners can grant this temporary licence, so that the work can be carried out, or must it wait for the ordinary procedure of the sittings of the Traffic Commissioners?
There is another point of material importance in these cases? Before an extension can be given to one operator for an additional vehicle, notice has to be given so that objections can be laid. It is well known that large companies, who may claim to be competitors, although in many respects they have never attempted to deal with this type of work, can lay objections, which will hold up the case from being heard for four or six weeks, and in the circumstances it is almost impossible to know what will happen unless we can have the regulations defined and know how they will be implemented. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information on that point.
§ Mr. Adamson
I appreciate that, but having some knowledge on this matter, and having been before the Commissioners I know something of the procedure in regard to the carrying out of these regulations, and I am merely trying to indicate some of the difficulties that are going to arise unless we can have amplification of what the regulations are to be and how they are to be operated.
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
There are one or two points which I should like to raise in connection with the Amendment. In Lincolnshire, where we are a long way from the licensing authority, there is always a difficulty in arranging a time for the granting of licences suitable to meet the convenience of the man who requires a licence when he happens to be in the neighbourhood. If currency licences could be granted so that a man could have his licence until the licensing authority went to the neighbourhood where the applicant for the licence lives, there is a great deal to be said for it, but if the programme of work means that the courts can extend the period until they come into the neighbourhood, I should be glad for that to be done. The hon. Member 697 for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), most unfortunately, attacked some of my colleagues on this side of the House. I was very sorry to listen to that part of his speech. He seemed to think that the licences had to do with the magistrates, and afterwards he attacked the programme of the National Government, forgetting the beam that is in his own eye—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member is dealing with a subject that has nothing to do with the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I thought that as the hon. Member had attacked us, we should be justified in telling him that we not only do not agree with him but entirely repudiate what he said.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams
I rise only because the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) fell into a mistake. I am sorry to intervene, because, like him, I very rarely intervene in the discussion of traffic regulations, and I was hoping to keep in the strait and narrow lines of non-intervention, but when I found that the Minister also fell into error, I could not refrain from taking part. It seemed to me that either the Minister had not learned his brief or the brief was inadequate. The hon. Member for Westhoughton and the Parliamentary Secretary went wrong because they both seemed to assume that the noble word "work" would be left out under the Amendment. If they will read the Amendment carefully they would see that it states:the work of the licensing authority.Therefore, the word "work" will not be left out, and we need not fear that the Bill will be shorn of its nobility through not having the word "work" in it. Having explained that point, I hope I have been able to make it clear that we need not have any fear in deciding on this Amendment that it will make the Bill less noble in character. The Minister's objection to the Amendment makes it difficult for the House to accept the proposition that the Amendment is superfluous, if he was assuming that the word "work" was not to be in the Clause, and that only the words "licensing authority" would be there instead of the noble word "work". If that were the case, the Amendment would have a narrowing effect. If we may take the Minister's answer as correct, and 698 we rectify any mistaken assumption which he may have made with regard to the word "work", we may assume that the words as they stand in the Bill are quite sufficient and that it will not be necessary to put in any extra words.
There was a time, particularly during the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton, when I was not certain that the various people affected were being fully considered, but after what the Minister has said I have been relieved of my doubt. I should, however, be glad if he would make the position a little clearer, so that we may have it on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT. His knowledge of these matters is very great and he has a precise working mind. If he could give us some assurance that he is satisfied with the original words in the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton might be appealed to not to press the matter. I think we are justified in urging the supporters of the Bill to back up the Minister. He so very seldom makes a mistake that I am sure he will be grateful to me for pointing it out. I feel fairly strongly on this matter and I hope that we shall have some legal opinion on the point.
§ Mr. Crowder
In view of the satisfactory explanation given by the Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Sir Assheton Pownall
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I would like to preface the few remarks I propose to make on the Bill by pointing out to the House that in the earlier part of the week a good deal of time has been spent in debates of a by no means uncontroversial nature with regard to the burden of taxes. We are now discussing what is a less controversial Measure, the sharing of taxis, a proposal which, I assume, will receive much wider support from the House than the former. It is a simple Measure. It was recommended by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), received a Second Reading unopposed, and is the consequence, as most hon. Members realise, of a judicial decision given in the Spring of last year, on a case arising under the Road and Rail Traffic Act passed a few years ago which laid it down 699 that any two persons sharing a taxi and sharing the expenses were thereby committing a criminal offence. That was obviously never the intention of the House when the Road Traffic Act was passed. That is the main purpose of the Bill.
It was suggested that at the same time it would be wise to give more scope to the Minister of Transport than he has now for lengthening the period for which the Traffic Commissioners can give licences to.road transport vehicles. At the present time the owners of transport vehicles have to apply at short intervals for fresh licences. Road transport is just now, shall I say, finding its feet, and, there—fore, it is extremely irksome for them to be continually going for fresh licences. They have not reasonable continuity in order to order fresh machines, and the whole business is impeded by having to go continually to the licensing authority -for fresh licences, while the licensing authority itself gets congested because of the frequent need for the application of fresh licences. Therefore, the second part of the Bill is to enable the Minister of Transport to lengthen the period for which licences can be granted. The Bill is non-controversial. May I say that I think this is an instance of the way in which private Members can help in regard to legislation? If they bring in controversial Measures the amount of time that is spent upstairs and on the Floor of the House makes it in most cases impossible to get their Measures through the House, but when they find that some anomaly existing in previous legislation which requires rectifying, there is a chance of a private Member doing something useful from a legislative point of view.
§ Mr. Williams
No, I want to ask the hon. Member if he will answer this question. Is he satisfied that what we are proposing to do is sound?
§ Sir A. Pownall
I can assure the hon. Member that it is absolutely sound. He need have no anxiety on the matter, and perhaps that assurance will make it unnecessary for him to intervene later in the debate. I think this is the sort of legislation which a private Member can usefully initiate, and I ask the House to 700 give the Bill the Third Reading in the hope that it will prove useful to all interests concerned.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I think the House will agree that this is a useful Measure. When it was introduced it was a very innocent Bill and dealt only with taxi fares, but there seems to have been woven around it a certain amount of verbiage which one can hardly understand. In the first place, it is provided that a vehicle shall not carry more than eight persons, and then in the first paragraph the number of passengers carried must not exceed four. I am a little at a loss to understand what is meant by that. I do not see any reason why the number should be limited to four if the vehicle will carry seven or eight people. It may be that a party desires to go on some errand or to some function in the country in connection with their political activities, or they may want to visit a hospital or convalescent home, and if seven or eight can go together, it means that they will be able to go more cheaply, and that is a consideration when money is rather scarce. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain this part of the Bill, and why there is this restriction on the number of passengers to be carried. Then paragraph (c) says:the journey must be made without previous advertisement to the public of facilities for its being made by passengers to be carried at separate fares;I understand that it is not to be a public affair, it is not to be advertised, and that this is to enable people to get the benefits of the Act which has been denied them in the past. Paragraph (b) says:the making of the agreement under which any of the passengers pays his separate fare must not have been initiated by the driver or by the owner of the vehicle, by the person who has let the vehicle for hire by any hiring agreement or hire purchase agreement, or by any person who receives any remuneration in respect of arrangements for the journey.I think we shall all agree with that. Then, further down, in paragraph (d) there is the provision:the journey must not be one on which passengers are carried at separate fares frequently, or as a matter of routine, in the same vehicle or in vehicles (other than vehicles used under a road service licence) belonging to the same owner or belonging partly to one person and partly to another who is a party to a hiring agreement or hire purchase agreement of which any of the vehicles is the subject.701 I am not going to say very much about that, because I expect the Parliamentary Secretary will give us further information about it. In Sub-section (2) of this Clause there is a provision which appears to stultify itself. The Sub-section reads:A motor vehicle adapted to carry less than eight passengers shall not, while it is being used on a journey in relation to which the conditions mentioned in the further proviso inserted as aforesaid by the foregoing subsection are satisfied, be deemed for the purposes of any enactment to be a vehicle carrying or conveying passengers for hire or reward at separate fares.I hope that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary will make that provision clear. It is Clause 2 with which I wish mainly to deal. In connection with this Clause I think the Minister of Transport has a very great opportunity of doing something which I think ought to have been done before now. We have had a fair experience in the granting of "A," "B" and "C" licences. The "A" licences are granted for a period of two years, the "B" licences for one year and the "C" licences for three years. Hon Members are aware of the great hardships which have been caused during the period of this experiment to the people who are in this business.
The present difficulties arise in connection with the conditions of holders of A and B licences. Many hon. Members are aware of the very great hardships which have been imposed upon users of vehicles under these licences. A maximum guaranteed life of two years is altogether inconsistent with the status of the industry, and makes impossible any sense of security of tenure on the part of the operator. Operators who have certain contracts to carry goods over a long period have no guarantee that the renewal of their licences will take place as a matter of course. I think that the expiry of these licences at the end of one or two years, whichever it may be, is wrong in principle. It does not give justice and fair play to the operator. Moreover, this uncertainty about the renewal of the licences robs the trader who wishes to dispose of his goods of any guarantee of service by his carrier beyond the term of the licence. Traders may thus be driven to the point of losing a satisfactory method of transport. I wish to press upon the Minister that there ought to be an extension of the A and B licences.
702 Another point is the cost of the vehicles, which is very great indeed. I understand now that they depreciate in five years the whole value of the vehicle. Depreciation of 20 per cent. per year is heavy, but I do not say it is too heavy, because proper provision ought to be made, and the operators ought to keep their machines in proper order. But if they have not a five years' guarantee with regard to the licences, they may have left on their hands vehicles which are partly depreciated. Moreover, a person may have an opportunity of getting a contract with some other company, but may not be able to take up that contract because he cannot say that his licence will be extended. I think five years is a reasonable period for these licences, from the point of view of giving fair play to the operator and of strengthening the position of the trade.
If a man has an opportunity of extending his business, it may necessitate the purchase of one or more new vehicles. At the present time it takes too long for a man to obtain the licence required in order to enable him to take up that particular work. It may take months and months to get the arrangements made whereby a person can undertake an extension of his business. I have heard of one case where an operator applied for authority in respect of a lorry he had purchased and had to wait for a period of 19 or 20 weeks before he could get the necessary permission. Something should be done to expedite the work of the Traffic Commissioners in that respect.
I do not find any fault with the Traffic Commissioners, I believe they have far too much work to do. It seems to me that the renewal of licences should be done in a more automatic way than it is at the moment. A great many of the formalities and regulations should be done away with. Perhaps greater power should be given to the Traffic Commissioners to carry on this work without the formalities of inquiries. Considering that it takes months to secure an extended licence, there must be a considerable accumulation of arrears in the offices of the Traffic Commissioners. I rather pity the Traffic Commissioners. They are confronted with all sorts of individuals and all sorts of mentalities; they might be doing the right thing in the view of one or two people and the wrong thing in the view of 98 per cent. of people. Their position 703 is not a very enviable one. I think something should be done with a view to extending automatically these licences, so that it would not take months to get through a piece of business of this sort and there would not be an accumulation of arrears of the offices of the Traffic Commissioners.
I believe that this matter will have to be dealt with in one way or the other. I do not know whether it will mean an increase in the number of districts or the appointment of one or two paid assistant Commissioners or not. It is for the Ministry to decide that question. But I recommend the Minister to go into this matter thoroughly. There ought to be no difficulty in getting extensions of the "A," "B" or "C" licences and I think the "A" licences and "C" licences particularly ought to be five-year licences or ought to be capable of automatic renewal. I am sure that such an arrangement would help the trade of the country and would hold out to operators and traders a measure of assistance which they have a right to expect. It is only by working in harmony one with the other in a matter of this kind that we can hope to get the best out of this very small Bill. It is a small Bill and it covers only one or two points, but they are important points to those concerned. I am sure that if the Minister applies his mind to the difficulties which I have indicated, he will be able to find a solution of them which will help to bring about better conditions both for the traders and the travelling public.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
I take this opportunity of remarking upon an Amendment which was proposed to Clause r in Committee. That Amendment, if carried, would have afforded facilities to private schools for the transport of pupils to and from those schools, and would have lessened the chances of accident to those children.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid the hon. Member is not in order in raising this matter on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. Somerville
May I not ask my hon. and gallant friend the Parliamentary Secretary to bear this point in mind and to try to provide these, facilities with a view to the prevention of accidents to these children on the roads?
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Burke
I understand the main object of the Bill is to make legal the commonsense arrangement by which four persons agree to share the expense of a taxi-cab journey. Previously, I gather, the practice of dividing the fare between four passengers was a contravention of the law. That gives an indication of the manner in which the road traffic industry has been restricted by regulations and provisions of all kinds contrary to commonsense. I do not often make use of taxi-cabs but occasionally, say on arrival at a railway station where only one cab has been available, or going to a football match when the demand on transport has been exceptional, I have shared a cab with others. This matter was brought to my notice on one occasion going to a football match when one of my fellow passengers—a Scotsman—pointed out that he was precluded by law from paying his share of fare. I understand that when this Bill has been passed he will no longer be under any such restriction.
I notice, however, that according to paragraph (e) that if a journey is made in a public service vehicle to the terminus of that vehicle's route and then continued by taxi-cab, the sharing arrangement is still apparently on the wrong side of the law although it is quite legal if a taxi-cab is used for the whole journey. Then, in the first part of Clause 2 provision is made for extending the period of licences but in the next Sub-section we find the phrase:No licensing authority … may in his discretion grant a licence for a currency period shortened to meet the requirements of that programme.That does not seem to make the position any easier for holders of "A" and "B" licences. On the one hand, the Minister makes provision for extending the period of those licences, but, on the other hand, he leaves them under the threat that the period may be shortened in certain circumstances. One difficulty in this connection is that these people are left without any sense of security. They never know whether, at the end of a year or two years, their licences will be extended or not, and it places them in a position of great difficulty. Apart from the delay involved there is the expense of making an application.
705 There is also the effect which this uncertainty has upon them when they are arranging terms for the purchase of new machinery or new vehicles. To-day, in all classes of business, men have to buy machines, motor vehicles and so forth on the hire-purchase system or, as it is sometimes called, the "Kathleen Mavourneen" system—because "it may be for years and it may be for ever." The advantage of the system has been that it may extend over many years, but a licence-holder cannot hope to get these extended terms in the purchase of a new vehicle, because his licence may not be renewed at the end of the current period. He, therefore, has to pay a higher rate for any new machinery he may require. Nobody knows whether his business has that security which would enable him to get reasonable business terms. There is considerable competition between the road traffic industry and the railways.
In spite of all the restrictions placed upon road traffic it has grown enormously, and I believe to-day the number of employés in it is even greater than the number in the railway service. It has done a singular service to the industry of this country by making it possible for all kinds of transport facilities to be made available to employers and others in order that their industry may function in the best way. Let me give one illustration from Lancashire. Take the case of a man who undertakes the cartage of spindles and is running two or three lorries for a period of so many years. Then the spinner who has been dealing with him and wants to keep him says, "I am going over from fine counts to coarse counts, and instead of your lorries being used constantly I shall want only three or four lorries occasionally." The man is unable to say that at the end of two or three years he will be able to continue in business until the job is done. That is putting an unnecessary restriction on industry. While I welcome the phrase in the Bill which says that the licensing authority may grant a licence for a longer period, I do not understand why, on the other hand, it says that the currency period may be shortened if so required.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
I would like the Minister to answer one or two questions. Clause 1 says that the provisions shall 706 apply to vehicles "on occasions of race meetings, public gatherings and other like special occasions." Is a theatre crowd in London at night a public gathering? Are dinner parties or club meetings or boxing entertainments public gatherings? Does the Clause apply to the Metropolitan Police area? The Minister indicates that it does. Does he imagine that it will be possible for the Bill to be worked with anything like reason? Does he imagine, for instance, that the driver of a hackney carriage, seeing the possibility of multiplying his receipts, will not in fact make overtures to get a load of four people as against a single individual? The Clause is opening the door to a lot of petty tyrannies. Has the Minister considered another aspect? Two people or three people or four people who may be strangers to each other, meet, and in fact one person is robbed by three other persons on the road. That is something which has to be considered. People coming out of a race meeting or from a dog track meeting meet casually, and one says to the others, "Which way are you going?" They reply, "So-and-so." Who is to look after them? There is no conductor to see that the vehicle is properly conducted. The Minister ought to satisfy himself how far this Bill is going to abrogate the existing hackney carriage laws. At the moment, as he knows, it is illegal, and it will still be illegal under the Bill, for the driver to "marry jobs," but the public can "marry" and say "We have agreed to marry and we will pay you what is on the clock, plus so-and-so." That opens up a system of bartering which is not good for the cab trade or for the public.
I hope the Minister will tell us and will define in the Bill what is a public gathering. I can see every night theatres bursting with people and a good deal of huckstering taking place before people get into a cab; and I can see a good deal of trickery taking place afterwards. Clause 2 of the Bill says that regulations may be made for the extending or shortening of a licence. Why does not the Minister face the issue properly, and say that the licence, subject to certain conditions, shall be granted, and that if the conditions are properly fulfilled there will be no obstacle placed in the way of any owner getting a licence? The present method leads to delay, to the loss of 707 possible work both for employer and man. I want the Minister to face the issue definitely. If three years or one year, as in the case of a "B" licence holder, or three years for "C" or two years for an "A," is wrong, let him face the issue properly and not give power to a Commissioner to extend or reduce the licence, but to recommend a period under proper conditions, so that a man knows exactly where he stands when he gets his licence. It is not a good system to give power to Commissioners to extend or shorten licences.
§ Mr. Smith
Has every person to apply to the Minister himself or will it not come through the Commissioners in the first place? It must come via the Commissioners as a recommendation to the Minister; that it obvious. Instead of handling these problems in a piecemeal fashion it would be far better to amend the Act and give the conditions that the trade wants, under proper safeguards; and a licence should be for a definite term and no other.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I wish to raise objections on Clause r to Sub-section (1, a), which limits the number of passengers carried to four. Let the House consider this fact. We have numbers of convalescent homes in remote districts a considerable distance away from railway stations. People wishing to visit invalids in those convalescent homes are often put to considerable difficulty because they cannot afford to hire a taxicab, and elderly people are unable to walk the long distance. A number of friends may agree to visit a particular invalid in a home and a little party is formed. None the less they are unable to hire a seven-seater and split up the fares, because that would be illegal—not more than four can go. That is a very great hardship. We know that in many of these remote districts local friendly societies gather together and agree that on a certain day they will visit a particular convalescent home or hospital. If a gathering of seven members hire a seven-seater the cost will be very little to each individual and they will be able to undertake it, but as long as the Bill remains as it is, limiting the number of passengers to four, a great hardship will 708 be caused to many poor people. I am afraid it is too late to put the matter right now, for it ought to have been done in Committee. But that is one of the weaknesses of the Bill and I am surprised that it was not dealt with before.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Henderson
As far as the Clause which deals with sharing taxi fares is concerned, I think the Bill has won universal support. If the Bill becomes an Act, it will be beneficent legislation, even for Members of Parliament, because in the early hours of the morning, say between 2 and 3 o'clock, when trams, buses, and tubes are closed down, three or four Members, living a fair distance from this House, will now be legally entitled to share a taxi. There has been a great deal of publicity lately about one very distinguished Member of this House limiting his family budget to £3 a week. If he, owing to the exigencies of his domestic circumstances, had to live three of four miles from the House, and there were several late sittings, he would soon expend that amount in taxi fares if he had to hire a taxi himself.
My comments on the Bill will largely be centred on Clause 2, wherein power is given to extend the currency period for A, B and C licences. We all know that licence A, public hire, is for two years under the existing law, that licence B, a limited carrier, is for one year, and that licence C, a private carrier, is for three years. I agree that it has been demonstrated this morning that for A and B licences there will be considerable anomalies and hardships in the country, in so far as the small men are concerned. Butchers and so on have to write off the capital cost of their vehicles at 20 per cent., which is very steep, and they have no guarantee that at the end of one or two years their licence for those vehicles will be renewed. I have been able to ascertain that a vehicle kept under fairly good conditions has a life of from five to seven years.
"A" and "B" licence-holders have to conform to the very strict provisions of Section 93 of the 1930 Act. Apart from having to observe the statutory conditions with regard to fitness, suitability, and proper maintenance, they have to pay certain rates of wages, and organisations of the workpeople can, if they think their wages are not sufficient, 709 make representations, so I understand, to the Minister, and the matter goes to the Industrial Court. It appears to me to be creating another anomaly if "A," "B" and "C" licencees are specified in the present Acts and you give power to extend those licences, and there is no specified time by which they can be extended. The comment that I have to make is that, while the "A" and "B" licence-holders start off, one, the private carrier, with two years' lease, and the other with one year's lease, assuming that they all get an equitable extension, and have to satisfy the authorities that their vehicles are all right in every respect and to allow, legitimately, in my judgment, for the Industrial Court decisions regarding the payment of wages, the "C" licence-holders ought not to escape those obligations.
After all, the "C" licence-holders are very numerous. I understand that there are 161,000 of them and that the people who are authorised under "C" licences number 374,000. Therefore, it appears to me that they ought to be under the same obligatory provisions as the "A" and "B" licence-holders. It is true that under the 1933 Act machinery has beeen evolved to regulate in zones or areas the conditions and wages of the employés, and, after all, the proceedings in certain respects are very protracted, and we find that a large number of these licence-holders agree to the conditions with reluctance, while others are very hostile to them. Therefore, it appears to me that there will still be an anomalous position if the "C" licence-holders, who are private carriers, are not to have the sante conditions imposed upon them, as far as the regulation of wages is concerned, as the "A" and "B" licence-holders. I am sorry that a provision to that effect has not been inserted in the Bill.
As far as the main purpose envisaged by the Bill, namely, the doing away with the anomalous position arriving out of the Law Courts' decision about taxi fares, is concerned, that, as I have said, receives universal approval, and for that reason I entirely agree with the major part of the Bill, but I object to trade influences being brought to bear upon a private Member's Bill so as to get a provision inserted which, as I understand, was never envisaged in the original Bill, 710 namely, a provision concerned with another category altogether of licences under the 1933 Act. However, in the main, I support the Bill.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I entirely agree with the last speaker that this was originally a very nice, minute, little creature brought in by a private Member to deal with a particular piece of legislation, and I object to private Members' time being taken up by inserting another Clause in the Bill under the cover of carrying out a small, but important and useful, detail of legislation. That is really going beyond what is the ordinary work of a private Member's Bill. I would like, however, in spite of Clause 2, to congratulate my hon. Friend opposite on his diligence in getting this Bill through. Since I began to look into the Bill, I have heard two or three very interesting speeches from the Front Opposition Bench and from the back benches above the Gangway. I have heard speeches from hon. Members who have great knowledge of the various matters with which the Bill deals, and I think they have performed a service, which very rarely comes from their Benches, I regret to say, in enlightening our debates.
The Parliamentary Secretary has failed us once this morning, in a small matter, and I should like to know whether there is any hon. and learned K.C. present who can explain what is exactly the meaning of one or two words in the Bill. For instance, in the first Clause, in line 13, occurs the expression, "race meetings." I am not one of those who go to race meetings, like my hon. Friend sitting close to me. Does the expression "race meetings" include dog-racing? If it does not and means only horse racing, it will be very undemocratic. I do not know whether this term is one of common acceptance in the law or whether we should have another Clause to explain its meaning. Then we come to the perfectly glorious expression "and other like special occasions." What is a special occasion? For the ordinary Member of Parliament to come to the House of Commons it is quite an ordinary occasion, but there are some Members of Parliament who very rarely come, and in their case it is a special occasion. We should be told by some eminent authority what this phrase 711 covers. Another point which has exercised my mind since I was incited by my hon. Friend to look into the Bill closely, is paragraph (c), which says:the journey must be made without previous advertisement".This provision refers to taxicabs, and what are advertisements so far as they are concerned. As I understand it, an advertisement is some sign, symbol or signal conveying the fact that you are willing to sell your wares. Every taxi in London is obliged to have a red flag—
§ Mr. Williams
I think it is red. I am not drawing attention to the red flag in order to incite the hon. Gentleman. A taxicab, at any rate, has to carry a flag. That must be an advertisement, for by that means the public knows that it is for him. Does this paragraph mean that taxis are to be prohibited from carrying these flags? It is sloppy Clauses like these which enable the lawyers to make their money.
§ Mr. Williams
I gather that the emphasis should be on "separate fares." The hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention just shows how valuable it is to have legal information on these matters. I am glad to gather from one eminent authority—fairly eminent—that this paragraph is watertight, but the ordinary person looking at it in the ordinary way would not think so. If we have the authority of the Government also that it is watertight, we can go home in due course satisfied that people will not run the risk of being prosecuted because they are advertising without meaning to do so. I should like to emphasise again that a Private Member's Bill dealing with one point should not have tacked on to it something else, as has been done in the case of this Bill. When we have a simple, innocent Bill like this and things are tacked on to it, it rather verges on the defective.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Dunn
It is the innocence of this Bill that attracts a number of Private Members to look into it. Having done 712 so, they find that it is not quite as simple as it looks. There are one or two dangerous things in it to which I should like to call attention. When we were debating this Bill on the Second Reading, I ventured to express one or two opinions, and I hoped that when it was in Committee some attempt might be made to meet the points I tried to make. The main intention of the Bill is to correct by Clause I certain anomalies which have been referred to from time to time. It did not strike me that we were entitled to pass over this question of taxis as against taxes in the simple way that the hon. Member who moved the Third Reading indicated. Anybody with any knowledge of the motoring industry knows that if there is one industry which at every stage makes a real contribution to the taxes of the country it is that industry. When this Bill was in the Committee I would have liked the Minister to have made it clear that Section 24 of the 1934 Road Traffic Act was intended to correct the anomaly created by Section 61 of the 1930 Act. As I understand Clause r of this Bill, it re-inserts into general legislation what the 1934 Act took out, for under Section 61 of the 1930 Act it was possible to do all that this simple Bill relates to. Some of us have had experience in connection with this matter and have taken it up from time to time with the Minister of Transport.
My complaint about Clause 1 is that while it is intended to restore Section 61 of the 1930 Act, it limits it to taxicabs. On the Second Reading some of us ventured the opinion that there were other grounds of complaint than those concerning taxicabs. I have no objection to people taking a taxicab and going either to a dog-race meeting, a football match or a horse-race meeting, nor do I object to their sharing the fare or sharing the winnings if they happen to get any. I am not a kill-joy in any sense of the term. What I want to point out is that under Section 61 of the Act of 1930 it was possible for men to combine together to hire a taxicab or an omnibus, or ever a fleet of 'buses, for the purposes of their work, not merely for pleasure, and my objection to Clause 1 of this Bill is that it attempts to correct an anomaly in the case of taxicabs only and does not deal with the other classes of vehicle to which I have referred. I again strongly 713 protest against the points to which I drew attention on Second Reading not being taken into consideration in Committee.
With regard to Clause 2, some of us have had strange experiences with "A" and "B" licences. In 1935 I had to get a licence to deliver workmen's coal under a co-operative scheme, and I applied for a "B" licence.
§ Mr. Dunn
Licence "B".—The Commissioner's court was good enough to advise me that it was not a licence "B" that was required by an "A" licence, and that application was refused and I had to apply for an "A" licence. Two years later we made application for the renewal of that "A" licence, and to our surprise and astonishment we were told that it was not an "A" licence we required but a "B" licence. That is the kind of thing which is going on. Anybody who has had any experience of these Commissioner's courts will realise the need, as the Under Secretary said, for doing something to simplify matters and relieve the congestion in those courts. It is somewhat disturbing to note the congestion in those courts, and I know that the Minister is well aware of it. I believe the congestion could be relieved considerably by adopting similar procedure to that which is in force in the case of an application for the renewal of the certificates of fitness of a vehicle. When the certificate of fitness is applied for the examiner examines the vehicle, and it seems to me that if the vehicle is still carrying out the purpose for which is was licensed an extension of the period could be granted if the licences have operated the vehicle properly and it is in all respects fit. I repeat that I regret that nothing had been done to rectify the points which I put to the Minister on Second Reading.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I rise to object to this Bill with reference particularly to Clause 2. That Clause statesIn subsection (1) of section three of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 (which specifies in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) thereof respectively the period for which licences of classes "A", "B" and "C" respectively may be granted under Part I of that Act), there shall be inserted, at the end of each of the said paragraphs, the words or such longer period as may be prescribed?The words to which I wish to draw particular attention are: "'or such longer 714 period as may be prescribed'". I have not a great deal of experience of the Commissioner's court in the north of England, and I am not taking any exception to Commissioners having a discretionary power to extend for longer periods the "A" and "B" licences, but from a case which was brought to my notice about six months ago I suggest that the Minister ought not to allow this proviso to apply in the case of "C" licences. "C" Licences, I should explain, are granted to vehicles which business houses and firms run themselves to provide their own transport. On each vehicle there has to be not only a driver but a second man. A young man who was a second man on one of these vehicles called to see me and though the House will scarcely believe it, this poor fellow, 25 years of age, a decent, keen upstanding smart, civil fellow, told me that he was getting only 18s. a week and overtime, but that if they made too much noise about overtime they got "the sack". The firm, a firm of hay and corn merchants—I will not mention their name—had a fleet of 20 lorries and they kept those poor fellow working from early morning till late at night. Things had become so intolerable that this young chap came to me to ask to see whether I could do anything about it. I know the Commissioner, Sir John Maxwell, who is a great friend of mine, and I went to see him, and I was told that lie had no power at all over these "C" licences. He said he would do what he could, and inspectors were put on the track of the firm and made inquiries and the result was that these lads got "the sack," and there was no redress at law.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Does the hon. Member mean that the mere mention of this matter to the Commissioner resulted in bringing about their dismissal?
§ Mr. Magnay
I was trying to do my duty as a Member of Parliament for the constituency, and trying to see what could be done to mend things and improve the conditions of these poor fellows. I did what any Member would have done. The Commissioner explained that his powers were somewhat restricted and that he could not exercise any supervision over the matter, but he would put his inspectors on the track, and get them to make inquiries. He would see whether anything could be done to make this firm 715 sit up and take notice. These lads were discharged and went on the dole, but not as an ostensible consequence of what the Commissioner had said. The Commissioner made it quite clear that while he had governance over the "A" and "B" licences, he could do nothing in regard to the "C" licence.
I went also to the trade union representative. A man in my town is the organising secretary of the Transport Worker's Union and I told him just the same, but he said that he could do nothing at all. He said that these men were the very kind for whom the Trade Boards Act was set up, to help them because they were getting such poor wages. Their poverty would not allow them to belong to any trade union, and therefore their rights could not be safeguarded. If the Bill had something to say about these poor men who have to exist—they cannot be said to live—on the beggarly wages which they get and who work under such bad conditions, I would have supported it. I want to give the Commissioner power to extend the licence, not merely from year to year in Class "C," but over a longer period. Knowing the Commissioner, I can safely say that if he had had the power he would have seen to it that the proper conditions were observed. The sooner this is the law of the land the better. I do not imagine that these conditions are peculiar to the north.of England; I daresay they are happening all over the country. I would vote against this Bill for that reason alone. That is the paramount reason why I oppose the Bill.
I want to say a word or two on behalf of the taxicab drivers. Legislation in regard to transport has loaded the dice in favour of the big transport companies. We know that many of the big transport companies are held fifty-fifty by the railway companies. You may see the omnibuses of the Scottish Motor Transport Company or the United Omnibuses, but if you examine the share position you will find that they are fifty-fifty in with the railway companies. It may be a matter of public policy, because in time of emergency the Government might be better able to use and organise transport facilities when the transport companies are working with the railway companies. I can see the value of that, but the thing has been cleverly and adroitly done. I 716 had something to do with the sale of some of those companies in the North. The dice is certainly loaded in favour of those bus companies. I do not know whether they will read my utterances, but it is plain fact. On the other hand, the taxi drivers offer an alternative service which is sometimes a very great convenience. Sometimes when we have a small family party going to Scarborough for a holiday we take a taxi. It is much cheaper and much more convenient to go from outside your own door by taxi to your destination than to be bumped about in a slow train that stops at every station, or in an express train that stops between stations. That is the definition of the difference between the fast and the slow train.
§ Mr. Quibell
Does the hon. Member know that the difference between express train and the slow train is that one is slow and the other is very slow?
§ Mr. Magnay
I defer to the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge of these matters. I am not trying to give a free advertisement to Scarborough. I do not go there for my holidays every time, but I am using this only as an illustration—as the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain used to say when he was addressing the House—and as in every sense of the word a mobile illustration. Why should we not have, if we desire it, this amenity, and why should the ordinary man have his choice interfered with and be dictated to? As an independent Member of Parliament and an individualist I stand for the rights of the individual. My State-ridden hon. Friends on the other side of the House would stand for State dictatorship.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I stand for the rights of the individual to choose which way he should go, on his own business and pleasure, and I object to the dice being loaded as heavily as they are in favour of the huge transport companies. If we are not careful they will dictate to us how we shall go to our destination.
On those grounds I take the view that the powers of the local commissioners are not sufficient to deal with Class "C" 717 licences, and that grave hardships are thereby caused to people who dare not speak for themselves and who cannot, because of the risk of unemployment and being thrown upon the dole, take any action. Because I think we ought to speak for the taxi drivers, and for our own rights not to be dictated to by the huge transport combines, I oppose the Bill.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Perhaps I may be allowed to say that it is a great pity that we should be discussing a Bill dealing with road traffic which is so circumscribed that it does not permit the House to discuss what to-morrow morning may be a very serious situation in this City and in large parts of the country, and what is becoming a very grave problem. That is that on the roads, as in the pits, the factories and the workshops, there is such a tremendous speed of life and such an intensification, of labour. The Prime Minister referred in public the other day to the hurry and rush and intensification of the present age, and the very great problems to which it gives rise.
Like most Members of the House, I travel now and again in buses, and I think we ought to take this opportunity of paying our tribute to the best, the most skilled, and the most careful drivers in this country, namely, those who drive the public service buses. They have told me how they are affected by the increased speed that is possible with the new type of buses, by the cutting down, as they describe it, of the schedules, under which they have to make the journey between one point and another in ever shorter time, and the reduction of the period of rest between one journey and another. These problems are becoming very grave, and I wish there was an opportunity on this Bill to discuss them. I hope that very shortly the Ministry of Transport will give some attention to these problems. I gather from the appeals of the Government that they consider it particularly desirable that industrial conflict should be avoided, but it can never be avoided unless these grievances are met.
I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) has become an independent Member of the House. I hope we shall see more and more evidence of that independence in the Division Lobby, and I look forward in the next 718 few weeks to the great pleasure of accompanying the hon. Member every day, and I hope in every Division, through the "No" Lobby. We shall welcome him as representing a depressed area. I am always amazed at his fidelity to a Government which, while it may have given him a trading estate, has not given him very much trade. He deplored the fact that the small man is being crushed out. I have a great deal of sympathy with the small man, but the tendency of everything that is done in this House, and the tendency of industry, is towards concentration. Who are the people whom the Government respect? Are they the small men? We have had debates on the Budget. Who has influenced the Budget policy of the Government? It is the big voice of industry; the big voice of the City; the big people. While I deplore the fact that the small man is being squeezed out, at the same time I am realist enough, and I hope the hon. Member will become realist enough, to see that the only hope of protection for the small man is to convert these services into State services, where his technical knowledge and skill—
§ Mr. Griffiths
You were not in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when the hon. Member for Gateshead was speaking, but he was allowed to make a very entertaining speech, and I was merely replying to his observations. I feel that we ought to be very careful, when we are dealing in this House with the problem of road traffic, that we do not give more liberties, that we do not loosen the restrictions and regulations governing road traffic. Someone told me the other day that the road used to be called the King's highway, but now it is the speed king's highway; pedestrians have been driven off. In my part of the country the Commissioner has done his work well, and I would be prepared to give him more power. There are men working on the roads, in the type of vehicles described by the hon. Member for Gateshead, under conditions of labour and for wages which are a deplorable scandal to the nation, and I should be quite prepared to give more power to the Commissioners in this respect, because, while the first concern of this House ought to be 719 to provide, so far as it is possible by legislation, services for the people, we ought also to protect the small man and give opportunities to the people for cheap travel. So far as the Bill does that, I agree with it, but at the same time I want to be careful that we do not, in our anxiety to protect the small man, do something that may add to the dangers of the roads, because I presume that our supreme duty in this House in matters of this kind is to protect the men and women, and particularly the children, of the nation.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Sir J. Haslam
I rise to support this innocent little Bill, but to criticise it in some respects because it does not go far enough. The Ministry of Transport, I believe, thought it wise that Clause 2 should be added to the Bill, but they might have gone much further and attached other Clauses which would have tended to alleviate a good deal of unrest among the transport vehicle owners of this country. From my experience and from what I am told by those vehicle owners, their life is not at all a happy one. They have to appear constantly before various authorities. I make no complaint about the authority in the district from which I come, because, besides being a first-rate man, he bears a first-rate name. His name is Chamberlain, and I think it will be agreed that he could not possibly have a better name. We do not complain about the name of our Commissioner, or even about his decisions, but we do object to huge financial combinations appearing in such large force against a small individual when he wants a privilege or is trying to meet what he thinks is a public demand. I am told that at one inquiry a single small man was faced with the opposition of II lawyers representing one huge financial combination. I ask the Minister, how is it possible for an individual to conduct his case when he is faced with opposition of that sort?
There are other grievances which I should have liked to see rectified. There has grown up, in Lancashire at all events, a system under which, during the week's holiday, certain owners of vehicles have contracted to take tourists round the South of England. During the day-time those people's vehicles are at the disposal of those who have hired them for the 720 week, but by some decision of someone, I do not know who, they are not allowed to be used for showing people round the town and district, but only for conveying them to and from their destination. I think the Minister of Transport might very well have added other Clauses to the Bill for the purpose of rectifying grievances of that description. The hon. Member for Gateshead spoke of the grievances of some of the employés, and I should like to see those grievances rectified, but at the same time I do not agree with the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) when he says that the only test of independence in this House is to go into the "No" Lobby. I should like to see some hon. Members above the Gangway show their interest—
§ Sir J. Haslam
The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) said that he had been incited into making certain observations, and made the comment that he thought the hon. Member sitting next to him was an authority on race meetings. I also would plead that the hon. Member for Llanelly has incited me to make observations which you will not allow, and, therefore, I will not say anything more on that particular subject.
I think that the Minister of Transport could very well sweep away many of these restrictions under which these vehicle owners—not only taxi cab owners—are suffering. I believe the taxi cab people are serving a very useful purpose and meeting a public want and I, therefore, approve the Bill. Perhaps to-morrow and on later days they will meet a much more desirable public want. Some people will want to go and see a match at Wembley. I prefer to go and see another team beat a London team, and I hope to avail myself of a taxi cab, but I suppose the Bill will not become law by to-morrow morning. I approve the principle of the Bill, because I think it will meet a public want. Much has been said about "A" and "B" licence holders being at sea when they come to apply for their licences. It is true, and the whole thing seems to be chaos. I want to remove these restrictions. They may be necessary in London, but they are not so necessary in the country. We are constantly passing legislation, because there is a 721 huge congregation of people in London who cannot manage to control themselves and, therefore, we pass legislation to deal with the whole country. Why we should do it I do not know. Some of us in the Provinces know how to manage our own affairs without Westminster coming in and passing all sorts of legislation of this description, and the more restrictions are removed and liberty given to the subjects,.the more I shall rejoice. I congratulate the promoters of the Bill, and I hope that it will go through and that subsequent Measures will be brought in to remove some equally obnoxious laws that are at present in operation.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnes
The hon. Gentleman complained that previous speakers had incited him to get on to his feet. His speech has incited me to take part in the Debate when I really had no intention of doing so. I cannot agree with him that legislation is not necessary to cover provincial as well as London areas. I travel a good deal about the country, and I find that there is a disposition for every local area to make its own arrangements, which is very confusing. Again I disagree with him and others when they urge that the Minister of Transport should have widened the Bill. I think it is an excellent example of the value of private Members' legislation. In my view the purpose of the private Members' day should be to remedy small grievances which cannot secure attention in national legislation. Too often Fridays are used for far-reaching reforms requiring information which is not at the disposal of the individual Member and with which only Government Departments, able to weigh up the reactions of such legislation, are capable of dealing. But there are a variety of grievances which spring from national legislation with which the Government of the day have not time to deal, because of their heavy programme. I feel that Members would preserve the usefulness of Fridays as their special day if they would confine themselves, when they are lucky in the ballot, to removing some grievance so as to command the general approval of the House rather than arousing controversy and securing no legislation at all.
Taxi drivers are a very commendable class, and they have very considerable difficulties in carrying on their business. 722 The growth of traffic makes it difficult to get about. The London streets are becoming increasingly congested, and the taxi driver depends on the rapidity with which he can get his fare from one part of the City to another. If, on top of that difficulty, he is to be placed at a disadvantage, because three or four persons cannot share a fare between them, we only add to the difficulties under which he is labouring. The practice of one individual incurring the cost of travelling of a number of other individuals is disappearing in these democratic days, and, if three or four persons want to use a taxi for their own privacy, I do not see why we should create the stupid difficulty that one of their number must pay the whole cost and they cannot share it between them. Because I think the promoter of the Bill has reminded the House that Friday should be used for a non-contentious type of legislation to remove some grievance of a limited number of persons in the community, and because the merits of the case are overwhelming, I trust that the House will give it unanimous approval.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Pritt
I join with others in offering my approval of the Measure, but I want to make some comments on detail and on principle. It is rather a tragedy for everyone, except the most mercenary lawyers, that it is impossible to legislates either about a complicated or a simple matter, without the intolerable complexity of modern legislation. What this Bill wants to say is that it shall be lawful for more than one person to pay a taxi fare. What it, in fact, says to the earnest student is: Will you please get hold of Section 1 of the Road 'traffic Act, 1930, and read most of it with great care? By that time you will be in a state of complete fog and you had better take a rest. When you have done that, turn to Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, and discover that it replaces most of the other fog with a fog of a slightly different colour. When you have done that and taken another rest, you turn to this Statute and discover that a page and a half of ordinary statutory print is to be added in to the complex structure of the 1930 and 1934, Subsections in order to produce the result that it shall be lawful for two persons, neither of whom is mean, to travel by 723 taxi for some common purpose. It is the joint product of the complex business of trying to give surgical and medical treatment to a dying system, added to the trouble that has grown up quite insensibly and, I think, without the fault of any lawyer or any judge, by which we have got stricter and more and more elaborate in the construction of Statutes, so that, as the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) rightly says, one comma may spoil the whole thing.
We have not even yet taken a leaf out of the pages of the experience of some of our Dominions whereby they do, at any rate, although their legislation is pretty complicated and on the whole a good deal worse drafted than ours, have a consolidated set of Statutes. The method of amendment is to pass an Act saying that you should take out a section or two sections of say, Chapter 326 and replace them by a new section or sections, and then immediately the Government printers, under a very simple arrangement and with the authority of the Statute, immediately reprint up to date the Statues as they stand, so that any ordinary person seeking to know the law has merely to misunderstand one Statute instead of eight, 10 or even 20 Statutes before he goes to his lawyer.
The hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam) demanded his liberty, which meant, of course, his liberty to carry on his business without either assistance or hindrance from Westminster. All industries demand that until they discover that they cannot carry on, except at ruinous loss, and then they want the interference of Westminster in order to enable them to carry on. The hon. Member must bear in mind that this industry is a new industry and that it grew up in circumstances of what the middle class are pleased to call liberty. The result is that, eight or nine years ago, people piled vehicles on to the road in the hope of killing their competitors becoming so wealthy that they might obtain baronetcies and such like things, and this led to inefficiency and to vehicles and management overlapping—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I again remind the hon. and learned Member that we are on the Third Reading, and it is difficult to see where that argument comes in.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was not applying the word "again" to the hon. and learned Member but merely reminding him that I had had to stop other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Pritt
One sees at once the great difficulty. I was seeking to reply to something said by you without criticism, but I will pass that over and simply remind the House that what we are dealing with is a Statute passed in circumstances going back to 1934 and 1930. There you realise what it is with which you are dealing and what is intended by legislation by reference. The Bill is an integral part of legislation rendered absolutely necessary for the purpose of preventing this industry from getting into too bad a state of congestion. Another reason, perhaps, why the legislation has to be so terribly complex is this: When you are, as you must be in so many of these Statutes, legislating in the public interest it is not enough to say what has to be done. You have to bear in mind that at every stage, every profit-seeking interest having anything to do with it, will seek to see either a way round in order to go on doing what they were doing before, or, even better still, whether some ingenious advantage can actually be built up out of the sections or sub-sections of the legislation. Therefore I offer no blame, but, if I may presume to do so, I offer some praise, to those who have found it necessary to produce two and a half pages to achieve something, which, in simpler days, would have been achieved in one line. One must not complain of that in the least.
One other reason why it is so necessary to legislate this type of thing with care is that there has grown up, as the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) pointed out, an extremely strong traffic interest. I will not go into the dispute between the hon. Member and another hon. Member as to whether some of the Northern companies have 50 per cent. or 51 per cent. of railway holding, but anyone who has anything to do with this industry and has had to come in any capacity before these tribunals knows that there is, in fact, a tremendously strong grip. You hear the names "Ribble," "Northern," "United," "Thames 725s Valley" and a good many others, but they all mean either one thing or two things. I forget how many octopi there are, but whenever anybody comes before any tribunal the opponent is an immensely wealthy and strong interest. If there has not been an arrangement between the railway companies and the road traffic interest, then, automatically, wastefully, stupidly anti-socially, every single application for any licence of any description is opposed either by one, two or three or four railway companies. They waste their money like that and then turn to their employés and tell them that they have no money left with which to pay them a living wage. Some of us hoped at one time that, with a sort of rationing of the industry, it would prevent the waste of money, and that in their privileged position they would give their employés better conditions. But what is the result? The transport industry is one of the scandals of the country. Even in London the Transport Board has driven its long suffering employés—
§ Mr. Pritt
Surely, in this Bill we are asked not only to allow hon. Members opposite to pay their taxi-cab fares without becoming criminals, but, in Clause 2, to allow the Minister to make regulations, so that the traffic licensing authorities can give the octopus a longer and longer period of monopoly exploitation of the public. Am I not in Order in submitting to the House that it should consider the position anxiously before it passes a Bill which puts these people in an even stronger position as against the public and also as against their workman? There have been references in a long, detailed and truthful account from the hon. Member for Gateshead of the way in which the northern companies have treated their employés. It is notorious all over the country that this new, great and valuable industry has now become a sweated industry of one of the worst types. That is a matter, in my submission, of very great importance, and I should be very happy to hear from the Minister the view of the Government as to how far that industry is to be put into an even stronger position in order to drive its workers to desperation.
§ Captain Hudson
May I remind the hon. and learned Member that "A," "B" and "C" licences are for goods vehicles? This does not interfere at all with the passenger side.
§ Mr. Pritt
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary, but I would point out that, while it is not so prominent to the public, there is just as grave a scandal in regard to the misemploying of drivers on long distance lorries as of drivers on passenger vehicles. I am much obliged to the Minister for the correction, which was a perfectly proper one. I am reminded of the case which has been before the House on several occasions of a concern either at Leeds, Sowerby or, at any rate, in one of the Yorkshire areas, where a firm deliberately put up a notice telling its employés that if they did not take out their vehicles, even when they were unfit to drive, they would lose their job.
I do not want it to be thought that I am in any sense attacking the tribunals. I have watched them at their work. I have been paid to watch them at their work. I have been paid to try to help them to do their work. They struggle to do their work as well as it possibly can be done, but when there appears before them constantly one particular set of individuals, represented by the best lawyers that money can buy, whatever that may mean, it is very difficult for the commissioners to hold the case equally between strong, well-organised interests like that and small isolated people seeking to carry on not a guerilla warfare but a guerilla peace in the present circumstance of the transport industry.
There are one or two matters to which attention was drawn by the hon. Member for Torquay. I am sorry that he is not here. I hope he will forgive me when I say that he is that type of informed person who does not need a lawyer to help him, although he pretends that he does. He was not quite so clear to-day as he usually is. He invited me to define "race meetings, public gatherings and other like special occasions." [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here now."] The hon. Member scented the fray and has returned. Before he returned to the battlefield I was saying that he is usually well-informed, but that there is one point on which we do not agree. He asked for my assistance. The reason why I do not propose to give him such assist- 727 ance as I can, is that he and one or two other Members have failed to notice that the phrase about "race meetings, public gatherings and other like special occasions" does not fall to be construed in this Bill. It appears here in brackets because the draftsman is reciting or misreciting, according to the skill of the draftsman, the effect of previous Statutes. It has been long considered by draftsmen that whereas legislation by reference is pretty difficult now, it is better on balance to put in some words in brackets telling people, roughly, what the Section is about, rather than simply leaving them to look it up. Consequently when "race meetings, public gatherings and other like such occasions" are from time to time to be construed, one looks at Section 61 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, ignoring the references to it in this Act. If that is a cowardly evasion, it would confirm my hon. Friend in the view that I am a lawyer.
In regard to some of the details of the Bill I am a little puzzled. I would refer particularly to the proviso which speaks of motor vehicles adapted to carrying less than eight passengers. That is a not inconvenient qualification, which has appeared in both the previous Statutes. I am always worried about the word "adapted," which has two distinct meanings in the English language. It sometimes means "having been altered for some purpose," and it sometimes means "naturally adapted for the purpose mentioned." While I do not think there is much difficulty here, and that it is pretty clear that "adapted" means being apt, and therefore not needing to be adapted, it is a word which often causes a little difficulty. I do not want to make much comment on that point, but I should like to refer to paragraph (a). The first condition is that the number of passengers carried must not exceed four. I have no doubt that that arises from the fact that the hon. Members who have taken the trouble to introduce this Measure which, with its faults and its virtues, I hope will be passed, were thinking about taxi cabs, in which you are supposed not to put more than four people.
It seems a great pity that in passing modern legislation one has to legislate 728 about something which may carry less than eight passengers and then starts right off by saying that it must not carry more than four. The proviso actually applies to what one loosely calls a taxi cab, say, in the north of England which may have cost £2,000 16 years ago and is still good, although it may not be looking up-to-date. I do not believe that any great social calamity would arise if such a vehicle were allowed to carry more than four passengers. But it is rather difficult, because the moment you do that, somebody will say "He has invested his money in a Vitamin "B" licence, and if some one else is allowed to cut into his profits his children will have to go short and will have to receive a good education at a council school, instead of a thoroughly bad education in a dames' school."
I do not think that one need trouble further over the point that was worrying the hon. Member for Torquay in regard to previous advertisement, or because one does not see the red or blue flag with the words "for hire", possibly announcing to the public that the vehicle is intended to prove facilities for a journey for passengers to be carried at separate fares. It is difficult to get this sort of simple problem solved on the Statute Book, and I have no doubt that when 18 months have passed we shall have the Road Traffic Amendment Act, 1937, amended by the Road Traffic Amendment Act of 1938 or 1939, because somebody will have discovered a method of using the Statute to avoid some licence duty or, on the other hand, a method of fining some perfectly respectable citizen of Manchester because he has shared with some other respectable citizen of Manchester the payment of a fare for some kind of a vehicle on a perfectly lawful occasion.
With regard to Clause 2, I can see some cause for anxiety in both directions. In the first place, I understand that big and moderate sized interests engaged in this traffic find it extremely difficult and expensive to have their business continually controlled by having to run to the Traffic Commissioners for permission for this and permission for that, and that it is not possible for them to work much in advance because they do not know what their legal rights are for more than a certain distance of time. That distresses a modern self-seeking, profit-earning industry. It is not the function 729 of the present Government, but of the next Government to see that it is destroyed by people who do not believe in the system, and—not be dealt with by people who wish to destroy it by keeping it alive. The longer period you give for their licences, the longer they know that they can really carry on their business with some measure of security. The moment you do that you put them in a stronger position than ever to starve out their actual or potential competitors and to obtain in the labour market a position far stronger than before. Nevertheless, with all these evils, I shall vote for the Bill.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Captain Hudson
I will try to deal with some of the points which have been raised during a very interesting discussion on a useful little Bill, which I think most hon. Members desire should reach the Statute Book. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) was wrong when he said that Clause 2 was added to the Bill in Committee. It has been in the Bill ever since it was printed In a private Member's Bill it is generally the practice to try to deal with questions which are causing a certain amount of dissatisfaction, and in this Bill two transport questions which have been giving some dissatisfaction are dealt with—one the splitting of taxi-cab fares, and, secondly, the alteration of the period of validity of "A", "B" and "C" licences for vehicles for the carriage of goods. Anyone who may have had any doubt about this would have had it set as rest by the very numerous letters which have been received from various organisations in the transport industry asking that the period should be made much longer. Therefore, my hon. Friend dealt with these two matters in his Bill.
I have some sympathy with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) on Clause 1. The position is this. It was desired to deal with the question of the splitting of taxi-cab fares and this question alone, and that is the reason for the length of Clause 1 and the number of provisoes in it. It was in order to make quite certain that only the genuine point of the splitting of taxi-cab fares was dealt with and that other kinds of vehicles were not brought in, thereby causing injustice to owners of other public 730 service vehicles and also making the licensing system more difficult.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), the hon. Member for Sedge-field (Mr. Leslie), and the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith all asked a question with regard to the words "less than eight" in one part of the Bill and "not more than four," in another part of the Bill. The words "less than eight" govern the type of vehicle involved, and the words "not exceeding four" refer to the actual conditions at the time. If the words "not exceeding four" applied to both it would cut out of the concession vehicles which could carry six or seven, but were only carrying three or four at the time. At the moment you cannot have more than four people in a taxi-cab in London legally, although I have seen many more. Again, we do not want to open the Clause to large vehicles carrying six or eight people, in which case it would be unfair to those who have properly applied for licences for public service vehicles to carry on their business under the legislation passed by this House.
As regards Clause 1 (2) the hon. Member for Wigan wanted me to tell him what this extremely complicated looking Sub-section meant. It is put in because of the wording of the London Passenger Transport Act. It was pointed out on the Second Reading that the Bill did not cover London, and by putting in these words the Bill will apply to the whole of the country.
Clause 2 deals with the lengthening of the period for "A," "B" and "C" licences. I want to make it clear that it does not alter the position of the Traffic Commissioners under the 1933 Act. The object of the Clause is to give the Minister power to extend the period, and my right hon. Friend himself has said on more than one occasion that if the Bill is passed he intends to use it. We resisted upstairs, and the Committee agreed, a suggestion to make it any set period, a period of five years, which some hon. Members wanted. The Committee took the view that the Minister should be free to exercise his judgment, and the reason they took that view was because under the Act the Minister is bound to obtain the advice of the Transport Advisory Committee and also to take the advice of the industry itself—both sides of the in- 731 dustry. It was, therefore, thought better that each class of licence should be considered on its merits after consultation with these bodies, and a decision made as to whether an extension should be granted and how long the extension should be. I think that also meets the fear of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith that a monopoly might become still more firmly entrenched, that one set of licences might not be extended while others would be extended. All these points can be brought before the Minister.
There was not absent from our minds the many complaints which have come before the Minister and before hon. Members as regards the difficulties of some of the smaller people, that if they make an application the railway companies and other big organisations bring all their powers to bear against them to see that they do not succeed. This Bill will make it easier for these small people because the length of their licence will be extended and they will not have to appear before the Traffic Commissioners as often as they have done in the past. The hon. Member for Wigan and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) called attention to the delays which have inevitably taken place in the past when applications were made to the Commissioners for carriers' licences. That was one of the reasons for including Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 in the Bill. That Sub-section allows a shortening of the period in order that a convenient programme may be arranged. As I explained in Committee, when we went into the details of the Bill, if a shorter period is granted a suitable adjustment will be made in the fees.
This sub-Clause is put in in order to meet the convenience not only of the Traffic Commissioners but of those who apply, so that licences dealing with the same class of vehicles may come up for revision at the same time. We hope that that will help considerably to ease the congestion which is unfortunately occurring at the present moment. I do not think I need take up the point about the proviso as to race meetings which was raised by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) and the hon. Member for Torquay because it was so clearly dealt with by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for 732 North Hammersmith. The words in question are merely copied from the 1930 Act, and are not altered in the slightest degree. The purpose is to ensure that the new proviso shall be put in the proper place and to make things clear. This would not be the proper opportunity to try to define what is a race meeting. That is included in the 1930 Act and is not in any way affected by the Bill which we are now considering. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) regretted that we did not amend the 1934 Act, and called my attention to a speech which he made on the Second Reading. No amendment in regard to this matter was put down in Committee, and it was generally felt by the Committee that we ought to confine ourselves to the two points with which the Bill deals and not make it too wide.
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) asked a question with regard to the powers of the Commissioners in connection with "C" licences. I think it will give him satisfaction to know that the question of applying rules as to wages and conditions to "C" licences is under consideration by a Committee set up by us jointly with the Ministry of Labour. We agree that this is a point which should be looked into. One other point was raised by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe. He seemed to think that by Clause 2 the Traffic Commissioner would be the person who would decide what the length of the period for the "A," "B" and "C" licences was to be. That is not so. It has to be done by the Minister, who has to make regulations after consultation with the Transport Advisory Council. I agreee with every hon. Member who has spoken that this is a useful little Bill, and I hope that it will reach the Statute Book without delay.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the fact that in London, although it is illegal to carry more than a certain number of passengers in a taxicab, he had seen more than that number carried on many occasions. I want to know whether this Bill will affect the liability in respect of insurance to any extent. I should be glad if he would say a word or two on that matter. Perhaps he has heard of the incident in either Glasgow or Aberdeen—[An HON. MEMBER: "Aberdeen."]—where two taxi-cabs collided, and I forget whether it was 733 27 or 23 persons who were involved in that collision were all more or less injured.
§ Captain Hudson
I think I can say that this will not affect the question of insurance. All that Clause 1 does is to make it legal to split a taxicab fare, and it reiterates that four is the number that a taxicab may carry. If people were breaking the law before, they will break the law still. The Clause does not alter the position that it is wrong for a taxicab to carry more than four people; it will still be wrong after the passage of this Bill.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell
It has been said that this Bill is a very small one. I suppose that is mainly the reason the Government are taking it under their wing and giving it their blessing. The Government are very good at doing very small and little things. I think this Bill is very much like their policy; it aims at nothing and succeeds in hitting it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman explained that the number of eight passengers mentioned in the Bill is the number which the vehicle is capable of carrying, but that the number of four is the number which it is allowed to carry. I consider that to be a very unsatisfactory explanation. I do not suppose there are many law-breakers in this House, and I suppose that most hon. Members when they go in a taxi always conform strictly to the law that there shall not be more than four people in it. The difficulty I was in only last week was that I had four friends, and I was the fifth person; it was not I who was breaking the law, but one of the other four. Nevertheless, I cannot understand why a very modern taxi capable of carrying five people should not be used to carry five people. I imagine that very few hon. Members were satisfied with the explanation given by the Minister. Sub-section (1, b) of Clause 1 refers to "the making of the agreement." What agreement? Does this mean that one cannot go in a taxi with three other people until one has got the names and addresses of all four people, has drawn up an agreement under the Bill, and signed and sealed it, agreeing that each shall pay his separate fare?—The provision says:the making of the agreement under which any of the passengers pays his separate fare.and that fortifies me in the belief that, as far as the law is concerned, this may be 734 interpreted in such a way that it will make my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) a little richer even than he is now. This agreement is to be drawn up in order to determine the part each person shall pay. I am under the impression that it is intended that they shall be charged according to their weight, and in that case I shall have to contest the apportionment of the fares when I join with three others in taking a taxi. The Clause says the agreementmust not have been initiated by the driver.Who is to initiate it? The Bill goes on to say:or by the owner of the vehicle, by the person who has let the vehicle for hire by any hiring agreement or hire purchase agreement, or by any person who receives any remuneration in respect of arrangements for the journey.That is clear to anybody.
§ Mr. Quibell
I was coming to that. The hon. Member has fortified me in my conclusion about the character of this Bill. The Bill does not state whether there is to be a stamp on the agreement or not, or, if there is to be a stamp, who is to lick it, but it seems to state nearly everything else. We are told, for instance, that the journey must be made "without previous advertisement." Does that mean that if you were going for a ride in a taxicab, you might advertise the fact and announce where you were going and who you were going to take with you? For the life of me, I cannot understand the mentality of the Law Officers of the Crown who passed an abortion like this Bill. Imagine the idea that a person hiring a taxicab might first advertise the fact that he was going to hire it to go on a particular journey. Anybody who did that ought to be subjected to a medical examination in the upper region. We are getting on indeed, when we have Bills presented to us in such plain phraseology, in language which at once makes itself understood. It is no wonder when we have a National Government. Then we are told:The journey must not be one on which passengers are carried at separate fares frequently—That may be plain to some people, but I come from one of the backward areas 735 of Lincolnshire and I do not understand what it means. The paragraph goes on:—or as a matter of routine—Who travels as a matter of routine? I do not regard travelling and the payment of fares as matters of routine, but as matters of necessity. Then it goes on:in the same vehicle, or in vehicles"—As if one could travel in two vehicles at a time—belonging to the same owner or belonging partly to one person and partly to another, who is a party to a hiring agreement or a hire purchase agreement of which any of the vehicles is the subject.And so on, and so on. I always thought it was the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown and of the permanent officials of Departments to present Bills to the House in language such as a plain man could understand, but will anybody read that passage which I have just quoted and tell me what it means? Anyone who can is, in my opinion, fit to be Attorney-General. Incidentally, I think the Attorney-General has kept away from the House to-day in order to avoid being asked what all this means. I believe it would take him a fortnight to explain even one Clause of it. The Bill also says:The journey must not be made in conjunction with or in extension of a service provided under a load service licence"—I should like to describe that in the ordinary language of a building trade worker—if the vehicle is owned by or made available"—If it is not available, how can it be used—under any arrangement including a hiring agreement or hire purchase agreement with, the holder of the licence or any person which receives any remuneration in respect of the service provided thereunder.When I pay a taxi fare I do not ask who are to get shares of that fare. I do not ask what part of the taxi-cab belongs to one man and what part to another, or to what extent it is held under a hire-purchase agreement, or how much is paid for its insurance, or how much is paid to a sleeping partner in the firm. What has all that to do with the man who is paying the fare? Nothing whatever. The more one reads this piffling Bill, the more dissatisfied one becomes with it. It does not deal with anything that matters. It says in effect to the public: "Some of you have been breaking the law so far, and you will continue to break the law, in various ways, but you can share these 736 taxi-cab fares." If I go for a taxi-cab journey with two or three of my Scottish colleagues in this House, that will be about the only occasion upon which the Bill will be of any advantage to me. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are optimistic."] The Bill has not been worth while. It does not go far enough; it creates more grievances than it removes and it will be only with great diffidence that I shall walk through that door to vote for such a useless and trifling Measure.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
As far as I know, there is no evidence throughout the country of any desire for this Bill. I heard of only one case in which a chief constable, having discovered that to split a taxi was an offence, brought the matter to attention. I do not suppose that half of 1 per cent. of the population knew anything about it, but on the strength of that one case this Private Member's Bill was introduced. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is no longer in his place, because I am particularly concerned with the fact that the Ministry of Transport appear, from what he said, to have taken over the Bill. I wish to ask why, if the Ministry consider a Bill of this kind necessary, they did not introduce it as a Government Bill. Private Members have all too few opportunities of introducing Bills. Yet there are a thousand and one subjects upon which Members would like to introduce legislation when they are fortunate in the ballot. Why then should this Measure have been introduced as a Private Member's Bill when apparently the Ministry would have been willing to introduce such a Measure themselves?
I foresee difficulties in the operation of this Measure. Near my constituency, large crowds of people assemble frequently to watch greyhound racing and occasionally prize-fights. There is a tube station about a quarter to half-a-mile from the stadium where these events take place, and a number of taxi cabs wait at the tube station on such occasions. Two people who may be complete strangers to each other coming out of the station at the same time, will, by means of a nod and a wink, arrange to get into the same taxicab for conveyance to the stadium, paying a fare of 1s. each. That may also apply, to four people. It is a recognised practice. I understand that will not be 737 affected by the Bill because of the proviso relating to race meetings, public gatherings and "other like special occasions." I presume that a prize fight, like that between Mr. Baer of America and Mr. Farr of Wales, would be regarded as a special gathering. The sort of thing which I have described prevails to a great extent.
Assuming that that is not affected by the Bill, I come to this point. Just outside my constituency is a very large hospital belonging to the London County Council. There is no omnibus service running within a quarter of a mile of that hospital. There are sometimes nearly a thousand patients in the hospital. Two or three times a week the friends of those patients come from all over London on visiting days to see the patients. By `bus or tram it is impossible for them to get within a quarter to half a mile of the hospital. They cannot afford taxicabs. The local authority for some time has been trying to get the London Passenger Transport Board to begin a bus service there to meet this need, but up to now it has not succeeded. I take it that under the Bill it will be possible for people when they get off the bus to join together, four of them, in hiring a taxicab and travelling to the hospital in that way. Would the Bill meet that difficulty?
When one goes further into the Bill one finds that:The journey must not be one on which passengers are carried at separate fares frequently, or as a matter of routine.How will the Bill work in that case? Will it be possible in future for a number of taxicabs accidentally on purpose, to use an Irishism, to be hanging about where people get off trams and 'buses, so that their services may be available to friends of patients at the L.C.C. hospital? That is one useful purpose that the Bill could serve. Would it be regarded as "a matter of routine" if the taxicabs made a practice of being there? Everyone who knows the taxicab business in London knows that the drivers make a practice of discovering where there are likely to be fares, and they go to that district. If it became known that just outside Finsbury Park Station on the occasion of a prize fight or greyhound race meeting taxicabs came and picked up two Or three people who, though entirely unknown to each other, split the fare, or if the same thing were 738 done in the case of people visiting the hospital to which I have referred, would that be regarded as "a matter of routine?" If the police were to prosecute in such a case because it was "a matter of routine," then of course the whole thing would be stopped and any useful purpose of the Bill would be lost.
The case is a typical one and it occurs almost within the shadow of the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary. Can he shed any further light on this expression "a matter of routine"? If live in a house that is 250 yards from the nearest bus service and the people who live on either side of me share a taxicab down to the bus and split the fare, and if the driver, whose garage may be at the end of the street, has enough sense to know that three people will probably come out of their houses at about the same time every morning on the way to business and he picks them up, how long could we do that without the practice being defined as routine? If we can do it only once, why trouble to pass an Act of Parliament to deal with it? It is an easy arrangement for us, we save money, and it means something for the taxicab driver. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give the House some guidance as to how many times that sort of thing has to happen before it becomes "a matter of routine."
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I want to follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and to obtain from the Parliamentary Secretary, in the absence of the Law Officers, an interpretation of this Bill. I really cannot understand why one of the Law Officers is not here. The House has treated them very well this week and it is a very bad piece of ingratitude for them to absent themselves on the first occasion when really complicated legislation is submitted to the House. What will happen to those people who run what is known in Epsom as the "bob-a-nob cab"? Members of the House who have been to race meetings at Epsom know that outside Epsom railway station the taxicab driver calls to the people leaving the station, "On to the course, a bob a nob!", the understanding being that he will fill his cab and charge a shilling per head. That has been the practice ever since there has been a railway station there. If it is a race meeting I understand that that 739 sort of thing is permissible. But at Epsom there is a large number of mental hospitals belonging to the London County Council, on the management committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) sits, and on Sundays at Epsom you have thousands of people pouring into the town by railway and bus in order to visit their relatives in the hospital. They come from all over London. The practice of arranging parties to the hospital has been followed for many years. Inasmuch as that is what occurs every Sunday throughout the year, I want to know whether the practice is legalised by the Bill.
Now I want to deal with another matter. During the 1929–31 Parliament it was the practice of four of us, after we had missed our trains owing to the activities of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby), and a few other people who used to take a pretty considerable part in the proceedings of the House, to share a taxi home. I am very glad to see that one of the Law Officers is now approaching, and I am sure his ears must have been burning during the last hour. Those four Members were my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Sanders), Mr. Frank Smith, who represented Nuneaton, Mr. Bowen, who represented Crewe, and myself, and we discovered that when we had made the necessary allowance for the return journey and had given what was regarded as a reasonable tip to the driver, it totalled half-a-sovereign. We used to pay half-a-crown each which my friend Mr. Frank Smith used to collect from us in the taxi. We did it every night that the House sat after about 12.20, and hon. Members who were in that Parliament will know that that was a very frequent proceeding. I was the third person to get out of the taxi, and my friend Mr. Smith used to be last, and it reached this stage, that on one night, as I got out of the taxi, the driver said to Mr. Smith and myself, "I have been lucky tonight. Several of us were arguing who was going to get the trip to Mitcham."
Was that routine? It was known that there would be one taxi which would be required by four Members to take them that distance. Would that be an illegal 740 happening under this Bill? We have now reached this stage, that twice this week it has been necessary for those of us who live on a certain line to make arrangements, other than those provided by the London Passenger Transport Board or the railway companies, to get home, and I have already made a fresh partnership. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names!"] I believe I am not compelled to make any statement as to names, still less to land any of my own colleagues in some position in which conspiracy might be charged against two of them. But that instance gives the House some idea of the difficulties in which one gets involved when one tries to make this ridiculous extension of the old sumptuary laws. This kind of arrangement has always been bad. The trip that I have described would frequently happen. It might happen on four nights of the week when we were on the Widows' Pensions Bill, when I think we had two all-night sittings very close to each other. Hon. Members used to take a delight in watching the clock get to about 12.25 a.m. on Gas Orders, Electricity Orders, and other things, and then suddenly at about 12.25, when all the trains had gone, they would find that their zeal for the performance of their public duties had evaporated.
I suggest that I have given an example of a case in which this Bill might quite easily have been held to have been evaded. One knows the way in which taxi drivers used to cruise around Parliament Square in the hope of picking somebody up after the House rose. I can see such a driver being accused of taking the initiative, as it is called in this Bill, and I very much doubt whether the phraseology of the Bill has in fact legalised what is a perfectly proper and innocent arrangement. I can only hope, as the Solicitor-General has been spoken of on this Bill and as we have had the advantage of having the legal position as we understand it expounded by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), that before we part with the Bill to-day and send it to another place, we may have the advantage of the advice of the learned Solicitor-General on the point involved and on the question of the wisdom or otherwise of giving the Bill its Third Reading.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Kelly
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) that this Bill falls far short of what is required at the present time. But after what we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I trust that the Solicitor-General is going to help us, because in view of the statement that my hon. Friend made, which sounded almost like evidence against himself, I am much concerned whether or not he can be protected from the prosecution which might follow as a result of his many apparently illegal acts. I would like to ask the Solicitor-General whether or not a meeting of this House would be looked upon as a public gathering under the terms of the Bill. I trust too that we shall be told whether or not those incidents, such as have been mentioned, of visitors to mental hospitals are covered by the Bill.
In London we have something like 74 general hospitals and 20 mental hospitals, and these institutions are not served by public vehicles such as omnibuses, so that many times the people who are visiting patients—and there are some 2,000 or more patients in each of those hospitals—make arrangements to share a taxi. When reaching the railway station and finding that they have one or two miles to go to the hospital—which is never constructed close to a railway, but is usually placed out in the country for the benefit of the patients and those engaged in the hospital—if those visitors arrange to share the cost of the hire of a vehicle, will they be covered by this Bill? Further, if more than four people happen to make use of a vehicle, will they be committing an illegal act under the Bill? We heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that he himself has many times seen more than four persons making use of a taxicab in London. I suppose he was referring to boat-race night or to a 'varsity Rugby match night. One has seen taxicabs on occasions with a crowd inside and another crowd on the roof, but no prosecution has taken place. It is only when a few people use a taxi because they are compelled to reach a particular point that prosecution is engaged upon.
I hope that this Measure will take away any idea that there is a criminal tendency on the part of those who split taxi fares. 742 Why is such a precaution being taken against the driver initiating the suggestion that the fare should be shared among the passengers? The driver will have to be very careful that he does not say anything to his passengers which may be construed as initiating the suggestion that the fare should be split. I am anxious that the Solicitor-General should satisfy the House on the subject so that the people who use taxis may feel a little more comfortable. I am thinking of the people who are on their way to London now to attend the Cup Final, and I hope that something will be said that will assure them that they are not liable to become criminals before their return journey on Saturday night. An hon. Member reminds me that the Cup Final is a special occasion, but many of the people who will come to London may not intend to go to the Final but may be using the opportunity for paying a visit to London.
I hope that under Clause 2 the Minister will speedily make regulations under which these extended licences may operate. The amount of time which is wasted by people who have to apply for their licences, or who have to appear to answer some objection, makes me wonder how the transport people are able to carry on their business. I trust that the regulations will be such that they will not have to stand day after day waiting in queues in the hope that somebody will consider their cases and grant them an extension of their licences. I would like to know whether they will be able to receive by post the renewal of their licences, or whether they will be compelled to appear before some committee. I hope that the Minister will take care in drafting the regulations that the drivers of vehicles will have fitting conditions instead of the sweating conditions that they often have to put up with. I welcome this Measure, but I am not going to quibble about it as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). I do not agree with him that it would be necessary to enter into a written agreement which must be duly signed and sealed before four persons could go on a taxi journey. I trust that the Measure will reach the Statute Book, and that those engaged in driving taxis and goods vehicles will have better conditions than they now enjoy.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Bull
I am not quite sure about the purpose of this Bill, but from what has been said to-day I understand that part of it deals with the question of two or more people sharing a taxicab. I would like to know whether there is any possibility of an alteration being made in the law with regard to taxi drivers taking people by a roundabout way to the destination they wish to reach. In view of the Coronation and the number of foreign visitors who are coming to this country, it will create a bad impression if people are taken for what is termed in the United States a "buggy ride."
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
In a measure I welcome this Bill, because when we pass legislation Members of Parliament should not be placed in the position of having to break the law, as they apparently have been doing in regard to travelling in taxis. I feel, however, that the Bill falls short of what I would like to have seen. The provision in regard to taxi drivers taking the initiative may cause difficulty. I have never had much experience of race meetings, but I have known people who have travelled to them, and I know the unbounding optimism with which they go. There is one man at least who has no particular optimism, and he is the taxi driver, because he has probably been, in the course of his livelihood, many times and has brought back people who have lost the optimism with which they went. With that experience, he may wisely suggest to the four or five people in his cab, "What about meeting you when the race meeting is over? And if you give me your return fare now you will be able at least to get home without having to walk." Would that be considered initiative? It is a practical commonsense thing to do.
I am not sure whether this Bill refers to cars in the country as well as taxi-cabs in towns. I have in mind a convalescent home which is doing good work among the people on the coast of Northumberland. The co-operative societies are largely shareholders in it, if we can speak of them as shareholders, because the place is not run for any profit otherwise than the profit derived by those who are restored to health there. Naturally the people who go there are those who are recovering from illness, or who are on the 744 edge of a breakdown, and in many cases they have to go there because the wage-packets they have been bringing home have been so light that poor living has gradually sapped their strength and energy. The London and North-Eastern Railway Company run a train which is very popular among those who go to that convalescent home from Newcastle, but it lands them at the station which is nearly a mile and a half from the home, and in their weak state they are not fit to walk that mile and a half over hilly country. If they did it might happen that their strength would fail and they would suffer the breakdown which they are hoping to avoid.
At the station they find a man with a motor car who is hoping to make a bit of a livelihood. Naturally it is not a two-seater car. Such a man will have a car holding about five or six persons, because it is just as easy to drive six persons as two, and he can take them at so much less per head, and that is an inducement to those people to make the journey by his car. Very few of them, however, on account of the poverty to which they have been reduced, would be in a position to pay the fares for a party of six, and there, I think, we expose one of the weaknesses of this Bill. But we are so much accustomed to having to accept half a loaf as being better than no bread at all that we are bound to say that the Bill does at any rate make some advance in the right direction, even if it is only by removing the worry of a guilty conscience which Members of Parliament may have who go home together in a taxicab after a late sitting, leaving one of their number to pay the driver and then, after the taxi has departed, splitting the fare among themselves. No one with a sensitive conscience, and there are Members of Parliament with consciences, likes to think that he is breaking the law, and at any rate I am hanging on to the faith which I had before I came here.
§ Captain Dower
Is it the suggestion of the hon. Member that Members of Parliament leave this House and, against the law, split taxi fares?
§ Mr. Taylor
I am saying that if anyone should give way to the temptation to split the fare he would be left with a load on his mind which would prevent him from paying proper attention to his duties here.
§ 2.50 p.m.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I hesitate to intervene in this discussion, but there are two important points which call for the intervention of a Scottish Member. I should have preferred that it should have been left to Englishmen alone to try to fathom the peculiar wording of this Bill, and I object to it being left to some Scottish taxi-driver or the Scottish people generally to accomplish something which the Law Officers of the Crown have failed, or neglected, to do, and I am amazed that the Ministry of Transport should give their support to such a Measure. There is much more important legislation which has been attempted by private Members which could have been brought forward for discussion with the support of the Government. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert), an independent supporter of the Government, in his place to-day, because he has on the Order Paper a marriage Bill which contains some very important proposals, and that has not received the support which this funnily-phrased Bill is receiving to-day. It may be argued by the Government that a marriage Bill is a natural sequence to a taxi Bill, but I am broad-minded enough not to agree with that. I appeal to the sense of fairness of hon. Members on the Treasury Bench.
This Measure says that the number of passengers carried must not exceed four. We all know that after a late sitting of this House, Members may see their friends stranded—perhaps after a heavy dinner or after an arduous night here—and feel that they are doing them a good turn and playing the part of humanitarians if they take even five or six of them into a car intended really to carry only four. Consider the wording of paragraph (b) in Clause 1. When I was chairman of a large association in the Labour party I was often asked to give interpretations, but I would never undertake to make a definite statement on wording such as this:the making of the agreement under which any of the passengers pays his separate fare must not have been initiated by the driver or by the owner of the vehicle, by the person who has let the vehicle for hire by any hiring agreement or hire purchase agreement, or by any person who receives any remuneration in respect of arrangements for the journey.746 May we have an interpretation of that? The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) —I hope he will not think that I am saying this in retaliation—knows that it is customary in his constituency and in other parts of Lincolnshire to telephone to a taxicab owner or hirer and to ask him: "How much will you want to take me from this place to another?" and, if the hirer says that the charge will be 6s. 6d. or 7s. 6d. for the caller to haggle a little and try to bring down the price. A conversation such as that brings revenue to the Post Office through the use of the telephone. Is that to be interpreted an initiating the agreement for the hire of a taxicab?
The Bill particularises in respect to one section of the community. London taxi drivers who, during the War, drove vehicles under very difficult circumstances, rank among the best drivers that we have. Are we to say that it is right for the owner of a private car to take an extra load when he sees his friends stranded, and to do so without a guilty conscience, while the taxi driver has to be a cold and calculating person who has not to say "Here are four lads stranded in the Strand. They may be hunger marchers from some part of the country wanting to get to some place of rest and comfort to-night. I will tell them that for 1s. or 9d. per head I will take them to their hotel, or wherever they wish to stay." Is it right that the taxi driver should be prevented from extending his sympathy and assistance in that way while hon. Members opposite are allowed to overload their cars? The Bill goes on to say:the journey must be made without previous advertisement to the public of facilities for its being made by passengers to be carried at separate fares.If any Clause is ridiculous, it is this, which, in the words of a well-known confectioner, take the biscuit. Here is a Clause stating that a taxicab driver or owner, when asked an elementary question about the legitimate fare from one place to another, has to say: "The legitimate fare from this part to another part of the town is 10s." but he is debarred from saying—he must not even breathe the words—" If there are four of you, that is only 2s. 6d. each." Other industrial undertakings and private traders, even the great co-operative concerns, have the right to advertise their 747 goods and to see that they are presented in the best possible manner, in order to get as much custom as they can. They can say: "Here is an offer of so many pounds of goods, the usual price of which is 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d. For this week only, the price will be 2S." Very often the owner of the taxicab is the driver, a poor man, striving to make an honest living in the midst of industrial depression, caused by the Government, and he is told that he must stand by regulations that the Government cannot explain. He is told that he can make no agreement with his passengers. I know of two words in the taxicab driver's vocabulary which would aptly describe the Bill.
An hon. Member opposite raised a point of detail which seemed to imply that taxicab drivers were a dishonest section of the community.
§ Mr. Bull
I definitely did not say that all taxicab drivers are dishonest. I did not mean to say that at all. I do not think it makes any difference. The taxicab driver knows how to take us a long way round, and we ought to know better than to allow him to do so. I was only trying to say that that makes a bad impression upon foreign visitors.
Generally speaking, the foreign visitors are at a loss for words to express their thanks for the courtesies that are continually being extended to them by the taxi drivers—and by the policemen, of course. I want to say, in justification even of the very few taxi drivers who may indulge in this reprehensible practice, that very often it is not so much that the taxi driver is trying to rob his passenger, as that he has not estimated his passenger's character in the right way.
The nature of this Bill must be perfectly clear to hon. Members by this time, in view of the continued criticism it has received from all parts of the House and in view of the levity which has been shown towards it by Ministers on the Front Bench. The Parliamentary Secretary is the only one on the Front Bench who seems to take the Bill at all seriously, and I wish he would take it seriously enough to try and explain some of its Clauses. As I have said, I object to the Bill because the wording means nothing at all. It cannot be explained by the Government, and we cannot expect taxi 748 drivers to carry copies of the Bill about with them when they are looking for fares in London. We know that, just as Members of the House are driven to certain things by economic circumstances—for instance, just as Members of the Government are putting forward legislation because of their own particular economic circumstances, or to defend their own particular economic circumstances—so must the taxi driver make the best of a bad job. With our knowledge of taxi drivers, their skill in driving, their courtesy to passengers, and their sweet reasonableness in every way except perhaps towards one another, we can agree that such a Measure ought not to be placed on the backs of this section of the community.
I think we shall also be able to agree that the Bill may have very serious repercussions. We may find that the taxi drivers, because this Bill has been imposed upon them, may follow a practice that has been common in the United States of America, and adopt the policy of a stay-in strike; and I think they would be justified in doing so. I would ask hon. Members to consider what this great City of London would be like without its taxis, many of them nowadays built on the best lines, and comparing favourably with the car of the average £1,000 a year Member. I would seriously ask hon. Members to have nothing to do with this Bill, which is an objectionable Bill in every degree, and I would ask the Government, if they cannot agree to that, at least not to impose it on that more highly educated section of the community who live in Scotland. If ever my salary enables me to afford to take a taxi from one point to another, I can assure hon. Members that I shall—
§ Commander Bower
Does the hon. Member realise that probably he will have to travel by taxi next week?
I have not realised that yet. I assure the hon. and gallant Member that any taxis that I may take next week will be well away from the crowded City of London. I want to conclude by assuring Members in all parts of the House that, if my salary ever enables me to afford to join with them in the luxury of a taxi, I shall always be willing to come to any agreement with the driver, and I have no doubt that hon. Members will insist upon my agreeing to pay my proper share of the fare.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Banfield
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill. A great many questions have been asked upon it, but the fact remains that the Bill is really an honest attempt to deal with a difficulty, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman must be experiencing a feeling of congratulation inasmuch as it is very seldom indeed that a private Member's Bill of this description has received such a searching examination as this Bill has received to-day. I understand that this Bill arises out of a prosecution. While listening to the Debate, I have thought that those responsible for it, perhaps, little knew what they were letting the House of Commons and the country in for. I wish they had been present to-day to see the effect of over-zeal in prosecutions for trifling things.
I have heard Member after Member ask what is the precise meaning of certain Clauses of the Bill. I, too, find myself in considerable difficulty as to what the precise meanings are. I thought the Attorney-General was going to give us the benefit of his assistance. I noticed that a green card was handed to him. I hope that there was no conspiracy about that, and that he may still think fit to return. I really must condole with the Parliamentary Secretary on the fact that he has to bear the heat and burden of the day in trying to explain the provisions of the Bill. We can hardly expect that he has the same knowledge as the Law Officers of the Crown. The question that underlies the Bill may, of course, have some important bearing next week. If we have a 'bus stoppage, we may be driven back, not to four in a taxi but half a dozen inside and one or two on the roof and as we are now situated, it is very difficult to know whether we shall not come within the limits of the law. If there is one thing more than another that the Debate has brought out, it is the wonderful testimony that has been given on all sides to the virtues of the London taxi driver. I am satisfied that, when he reads this Debate, when four or five are gathered together in a cab shelter, they will say, "We never thought we were half as good." The taxicab driver has been the subject of so much abuse and so-called wit, he has been put before the public in all kinds of colours and degrees of virtue and vice, that it is very nice to think that to-day 750 the House of Commons is unanimous in saying there are worse but it is difficult to know where they are.
So we come to the real point of the Bill, which is to remove a difficulty which would never have arisen had common sense been exercised by those in a judicial capacity. It seems unfortunate that a comparatively trifling point like this should be the subject of a prosecution and of the necessity for a Bill of this kind. But I am sure the promoter of the Bill will have the pleasure to know that eventually the House will give it the Third Reading and its blessing. He, at any rate, may live in the memories of London taxi-drivers as the man who enabled them to earn an honest bob where previously it was not possible to do so. Hon. Members in this House might be rather jealous of the hon. Member in that capacity, as he, at any rate, will be able to leave behind him a record of something done. He will be able to say "When I was a Member of the British House of Commons I was able to get this Bill passed." If in the future taxi-drivers should carry him free on every occasion, it would be a very excellent and a just due. I hope that the House will give the Bill its unaminous support. It deals with a small matter, but it is one which requires adjusting, and it will be to the credit of the hon. Member in seeing it carried. I give the Bill my blessing.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
It falls to me to endeavour to close the Debate on the Bill, because I was fortunate enough almost to open it. It has given me the greatest amount of pleasure to hear the most remarkable tributes paid to this Bill. The most amazing feature of the Debate is that every speaker in turn wants the Bill to become law, but finds a certain diffidence in letting it pass before 4 o'clock. I do not think that I have ever come across such a sentiment in the House of Commons before. We have heard a great number of speeches; I think I have been able to listen to them all. It is a matter of great regret to me, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies) has not given us the benefit of his views. I expected him to unravel some of the knots of the Bill, with the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. R. 751 Robinson) supporting him with a penny ice-cream cornet. I wish to say one or two things about the Bill on points which have emanated from the discussion and are worthy of note. I am going to single out one speech as being the most remarkable that has been delivered in this Assembly for many years. That was the speech delivered by the hon. Member for the Brigg Division (Mr. Quibell). His vocabulary was choice, but I began to hesitate very much when he threatened to use bricklayers' language in the House of Commons. I am not sure that he felt like it, but he did not descend to that on this occasion.
The problem which the Bill proposes to cover is a very simple one; I did not know much about the subject until I listened to the arguments which have been put before us to-day. They have been clearly stated from time to time, and perhaps I may be pardoned if I collect the pieces as it were at the end of the discussion. It appears that a very strange thing happened not very long ago in the great City of London when some person in a taxi-cab with friends was found to have broken the law because he did not know how to pay for his taxi-cab correctly. Perhaps the hon. Member for Brigg will be interested to know that three of us were once staying in the same hotel—a Yorkshireman, a Lincolnshire-man and a gentleman. I noticed a strange thing happening to me. When we arrived at the hotel door I was, as I always seem to be, the last to get out of the taxi-cab. I begin to wonder whether I am breaking the law in allowing the others to get out first. I notice that when we come to the House of Commons, if it happens to rain and we do not come by bus but by taxi, I pay for the lot.
§ Mr. Davies
As it happens, it is kept by a Scotsman. The House must now come down to the facts of the situation. This Bill has been discussed fully, and the Parliamentary Secretary explained its provisions with great eloquence. I did not like the almost offensive way in which 752 hon. Members on this side of the House have been calling for the Solicitor-General. Why? The Parliamentary Secretary explained the Clauses of this intricate Bill as clearly as any Law Officer could have done. If there is anything that has offended me in this discussion it has been the call for the Solicitor-General, especially when the hon. and learned Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) took a hand at the job. What he does not know about these things is not worth knowing. If I have anything to do at any time in promoting or initiating appointments when a better Government comes into power, and I want a first-class Attorney-General I shall find him in the hon. Member for Brigg. If I may use a slang term, I have never seen the guts of a Bill analysed as the hon. Member for Brigg did to-day. I say that not merely because he is a friend of mine and belongs to my party, but because that sort of thing deserves to be said in this great Assembly.
One hon. Member was very eloquent about Epsom races. Other hon. Members talked about hiring taxis for football matches, hospitals, tennis competitions, bowling handicaps, and so on. I was amazed at the sheer ignorance displayed when not one hon. Member referred to one of the most important events in our political history. What about taxi-cabs at general elections? Nobody has raised that matter.
§ Mr. Davies
That is exactly the reason why I raised the point. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) will perhaps appreciate what I am about to say. If I said it outside the House of Commons I should find myself in a court of law, and I say it here because this is a free Parliament. Hon. Gentlemen who do not belong to my party have actually employed taxi-cabs at election times.
§ Captain Dower
That is a general and a very sweeping statement. It is easy to generalise, but hard to particularise; and I should like to ask my hon. Friend to give us the details of any particular instance.
§ Mr. Davies
Well, that would carry me a little bit further than I propose to go, and I am dealing with a Road Traffic Bill. Let me say something else. The argument about taxi cabs and motor cars 753 at election times does not seem to appeal to the House, and why there should be all this hilarity I do not understand. Let me bring up something which will be facing us very soon—the May Day demonstrations. The hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam) knows what I am talking about, and probably is about the only one who does. I had a letter—I hope the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) is present—and I want to know what is going to happen on Monday with the taxi cab that is provided for me. I live in Manchester—I had better inform the House of that.
§ Mr. Davies
There are not many people who know that I live in Manchester, and most people imagine that it rains there more than anywhere else. I hope hon. Members will not take that as a fact, because all that happens is that it takes longer to come down. But, leaving that point, may I come to the one, which I want to put to the House. I shall take a taxi cab next Monday from Cardiff, through Llandaff, the Taff Valley, Abercynon, Ystrad-fodwg, into Mountain Ash. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where's that?"] Where did that ignorant voice come from? I suppose under the Bill that if I pay my own taxi cab fare all will be well. Mind you; I shall not in any case. But suppose something else happens, as did happen many years ago in an election in my own Division, when I found my opponent in the ditch. The House may be interested to know that my opponent on two occasions was the hon. Member for Bolton, but he was not the one who was in the ditch. What did I, as a good Samaritan, do? I picked him up and carried him in my own taxi-cab, took him to his own meeting, and saw that he was not allowed to speak at all. The point was, Who was to pay for that journey? There was I, a comparatively poor man, carrying a member of the capitalist class, a venomous brutal political opponent of mine. Good Samaritan that I was, I did that good deed for him. The news spread abroad throughout the whole of the constituency, and needless to say I saw that it did spread. In the end, happily for me, the electorate, being the most intelligent in the land, returned me. An hon. Member asked, Who pays for the taxi? It depends upon your nationality. I know what happens in 754 the case of the three of us who stay at the same hotel in London, one of them a Yorkshireman, another a Lincolnshire man and the third a gentleman. The gentleman always pays. To return to the problem raised by the hon. Member for Gateshead, his point was very nearly the most pertinent one raised in the Debate.
§ Mr. Davies
I was in the great city of Rome about three weeks ago, and I stood in the Forum; and when the hon. Member for Gateshead was speaking today, he reminded me of Demosthenes—
§ Mr. Davies
After that very serious deviation from the main subject, I come once again to the point raised by the hon. Member for Brigg. I assert that he is a master of the law. I have never heard such an analytical examination of the Clauses of a Bill since I came to the House 16 years ago. I have heard great speakers, banisters and eminent gentlemen, in the House, some of them dead and gone; but the eloquence of the hon. Member for Gateshead and the hon. Member for Brigg has surpassed the eloquence of every man I have heard. That is saying a great deal, especially when I add that it is very difficult in this assembly to be eloquent when there are small issues before us. But happily, to-day the issues are momentous. We dealt with the India Bill some time ago, putting in their place those Indian Princes and settling the political constitution of 350,000,000 coloured people on the Great Continent of India; we reached the Agreements at Ottawa and settled the problems of other parts of the world; then we come to the problem of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco-Soviet Agreement—all big issues in their way; but not one of them was elevated to such a point that it attracted such eloquence as we have had to-day on this Bill. It is a tribute to the Mother of Parliaments that we can debate an issue of this magnitude for five hours as this Bill has been debated to-day.
Reference has been made to the wages paid to men who drive these vehicles. I hope that in handing over authority to the commissioners, to those who are to 755 have charge of the licensing arrangements and to the local authorities who are to deal with these transport matters, care will be taken to see that the interests of the men who drive the taxi-cabs and omnibuses are not overlooked. I think I have said enough to indicate to the House the attitude of hon. Members on this side towards this Measure. I hope I have helped to a better understanding of the position. I do not suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary failed in his duty, but I think I have rarely heard any Member of the Government expressing so much in so few words, and I could wish that he had enlarged a little on the subject. If we have any feeling at all in regard to him, it is that he did not sufficiently expand the explanations which he made in reply to our questions.
I observe that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is waiting patiently for his turn, but I wish to say that we on these benches have done nothing to-day to prevent the business of the House proceeding in the normal way. If we have been moved to say more than we ought to have said on certain points, or if we have left unsaid things that ought to have been said, that is not our fault. I think we on this side have behaved with dignity and with decency and that we have succeeded with the help of a few blacklegs from the Government side—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I mean decent blacklegs. It has been pleasing to observe the independence of hon. Members opposite. They have not allowed themselves to be dragged behind the Whips on this occasion. The hon. Member for Bolton has stood up, as he always does, and preached the gospel straight and unashamed, irrespective of consequences, and it is happy for us that we have a goodly number of Members of that sort in the House. I am reminded that we are now discussing problems of the high road, and I am told that the next Bill to come before the House deals with ice cream. I hope it will not arouse a great deal of heat.
As regards this Bill, we have never stood against its passage into law. It is true that some hon. Members have found some fault with parts of it, but, on the whole, it is an admirable Measure. I was almost hoping that the Minister of Transport could hear what I am saying. I am not in the least suggesting that he is a con- 756 ceited gentleman, but I would have liked to have seen him here to-day, to hear me say that for once in a while the whole of the House of Commons, irrespective of party or religion, or colour or creed, is unanimous in favour of the Bill. That is a great achievement, and why the Minister of Transport is so humble as not to come here to receive our bouquets is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will carry the bouquets to him.
In the few minutes that remain perhaps I had better say a word or two about the Bill. It is an extraordinary Measure. I, of course, am interested in road transport. I happen to be Secretary of one of the Health Insurance societies, and we deal there with about two cases daily of road accidents, when the problem always arises as to whether our members are entitled to damages at common law. It is perhaps thought to be presumptuous that a person like myself, knowing nothing about road transport problems, should intervene in a Debate of this kind. When I dealt with an Amendment this morning, the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be a little offended. I do not know whether he thought he would have his lunch in comfort about 12 o'clock. We were very sorry to delay him. I collected the voices of all my hon. Friends behind me and they behaved magnificently. No troops in the history of any war went into a battle with better spirit. They have won such a victory to-day that they all deserve the Victoria Cross. That is a great achievement.
Having said that, I am quite willing to conclude, in spite of the sad looks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and of the hon. Member for Blackpool; and if the future prosperity of Blackpool is to be determined by a penny cornet of ice cream, well then Heaven speed it. That is a reference to the next Bill. The time is getting on, however, and I have spoken very much longer than I anticipated. As a simple sort of man I am very prone, I confess, to be influenced by the cheers of my hon. Friends behind me. If they will content themselves by remaining quiet and without showing any enthusiasm by applauding me, I think I shall be able to draw my remarks to a close very shortly. Once again let me say that this Bill is a very admirable Bill. I do not remem- 757 ber any Bill which has received so much analytical treatment. My hon. Friends and I are considering in Standing Committee a Factories Bill of 151 Clauses. It covers about 7,000,000 workpeople and deals with their hours of labour, the time of commencing work in the morning and leaving off at night, holidays with pay, machinery, prime movers and everything. I think that no Bill that I have ever touched, not even the Factories Bill, has received such microscopic attention as has this Bill. I wish it well. It is a small Bill, but it has grown in importance to-day, not because of the provisions which it contains, but because it is a very handy instrument to prevent a very dirty trick being played upon some of the most helpless of the community.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Herbert
This is the last quarter of an hour on the last private Members' Friday in this Session, and although I am a new Member, I attach great importance to the institution of private Members' Fridays. It seems to me to be the last real expression of the individual in this democratic State. Although my name is on the back of the next Bill, I am not very hot about it, one way or another, but I am full of hot feelings about democracy, and I am hot about private Members' Fridays. I am not thinking of a Bill which stands later upon the Order Paper in which I am interested, because I never thought that to-day, owing to the fortunes of war, we should reach it, but I want to say, with great respect and humility as a private Member, that I regard to-day's proceedings as one of the most disgraceful things I have ever witnessed. This Bill, which was discussed for half-an-hour in Committee, has taken the whole of the last of the private Members' Fridays.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Does the hon. Member think that we are not entitled to use the rules of procedure of Parliament to prevent a Bill becoming law which would worsen the abominable conditions of a certain class of the community?
§ Mr. Herbert
I have two answers to that question. First of all, I do not think hon. Members opposite, who are always boasting that they are the defenders of democracy and always saying 758 that we should not be like Hitler or Mussolini, are entitled unjustly and unfairly to use the procedure of Parliament—
§ Mr. Herbert
I think hon. Members opposite have been heard enough to-day and that I might be allowed to continue. I am not speaking about the Bill in which I am interested, but I am sincerely and deeply interested in the traditions of this House, and I say that when the story of this day goes forth it will be discreditable not only to the House, but particularly to the hon. Members opposite, and I am sorry to say that, because they have been of great help to me in regard to the Bill in which I am interested. But what after this, will be the good of asking the Prime Minister not to take private Members' time? What hon. Member who has been present to-day will think it worth while giving time and trouble to serve on a Standing Committee of this House on a private Bill after to-day? What hon. Member coming in as I did with great faith and hope in the principles of democracy will ever think it worth while, after to-day, to spend time in trying to legislate by the method of a private Member's Bill? I think it is a most deplorable thing.
When the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies)—I admire him very much when he is being serious, but when he becomes humorous he reminds me of an elephant floundering about in a hip bath—said, "Are we not entitled to resent something in the Bill which we are next to discuss?" I say let him by all means oppose the Bill in regard to ice cream and let us hear what he has to say about it; but let him not continue this preposterous farce of discussing for five hours on Third Reading a Bill which occupied half-an-hour in Committee and on the Third Reading of which any reasonable House would not spend 10 minutes. I am proud to be a Member of this House; but to-day for the first time I am almost ashamed. I believe in all the principles of democracy, and especially do I believe in private Member's Fridays. I say again that I am sorry to have to speak so to hon. Members opposite who have been help- 759 ful about a certain Bill, but I hope that such a Friday as this will never occur again. I am bound to say after the proceedings to-day that for the first time I begin to be ashamed of it. I am sorry to have to couple with that accusation Members of the party opposite who have been so helpful in the Bill which stands in my name, because I know that on other occasions they will be flinging objurgations against Members on this side because they think they are fighting against the principles of democracy. I am glad that I have been able to say that, and I hope that no such Friday as this will ever happen again in this House.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I have not heard, very much of the discussion on this Bill, but I have heard the last two speeches, and I resent very much the remarks to which we have just listened. I regret them as an individual, because I claim for myself, as I do for all Members on this side of the House, to have given at least as much service to democracy as the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert). I claim to have given a lifetime in the service of democracy, and I claim, further, to have given that service free. I do not seek to make anything out of it, and I have never made anything out of it. All decent and thoughtful people in the House will recognise that the only person who has a right to say whether we are exceeding the Rules of the House is Mr. Speaker, and I do not concede for a moment to the hon. Gentleman the right to say what we ought to do or ought not to do in this House. I was here when the hon. Member's own Bill was being discussed, and he knows that while most of us were supporting him, there were Members in the House on that day who adopted tactics to defeat his Measure which were permitted by the Rules of the House.
I regretted the success that they achieved on that occasion, but I hope that on this occasion we may be permitted to use the same tactics for the purpose of defeating a Bill to which we object. As long as there is in the House a majority of Members capable of keeping within the Rules of Order who are opposed to a further Bill in the Orders of the Day, and who are able within the Rules to handicap or defeat that Bill, 760 they are doing something not discreditable to democracy but are using tactics that are permitted by the Rules. Hon. Members who have had anything to do with Boy Scouts know that they always speak about their good deed for the day. If I can by any legitimate means—and no means but legitimate means have been adopted to-day—do what I believe to be a good deed, I do not see why I am any the worse democrat because I have done it. Some of the Bills that follow this Bill are open to serious criticism. I would like to see some defeated and others seriously amended.
§ Mr. A. Herbert
I did deal with that. All I ask hon. Members opposite is why, if they wish to criticise the other Bill, they do not criticise it?
§ Mr. McEntee
We have not had the opportunity. I should have loved to criticise the Bill, and I have in my pocket the notes for a speech on that Bill. Because some other Members, quite within their rights, think it wise to speak on a Bill which comes before the one which I want to criticise, I do not see that they or I should be called bad democrats. I hope the House will now give the support to this Bill which, in my opinion, it deserves, and I, at any rate, do not propose to vote against it.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Sir A. Pownall rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put".
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.