HC Deb 22 January 1937 vol 319 cc495-512

Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House will regret that this Measure cannot be introduced by its real sponsor, namely, the hon. Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall). He, of course, would have taken charge of the Bill had it been presented on the day when he thought it would be presented, but owing to Government business it had to be postponed. Now he is abroad. He is indulging in no more serious business than ski-ing, and he is undoubtedly disproving the old Roman statement, "Facile descensusest," or "It is easy to slide down hill." At any rate, he is free from one-way valleys and speed limits. The Bill is fairly simple, but I think we ought to examine the background of the legislation which has brought forward this particular Measure.

The whole of our road traffic system is founded on three Acts. The first one was that of 1930, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), and that was a very imaginative Measure and a very big and bulky document, but it did three very important things. First of all, it introduced compulsory insurance, secondly it did away with the speed limit, and thirdly it endeavoured in a way to control public service vehicles. That was the first time that that very big undertaking was entered upon. It was quite obvious that things were going fast and that other legislation would have to follow, and it was tentative, but the Ministry of Transport was subsequently presided over by the present right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, and although it is, of course, a tradition of English public life that when you take charge of a Department you should know nothing about the subject of which you are in charge—and there is much to be said for it—yet I think it was dangerous to put in charge of the Ministry of Transport a Member who was at that time a director of a great railway company.

Although I am not saying for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman took a prejudiced view of road transport, he could not help, by virtue of his association with a railway company, but look at road problems through glasses coloured with a certain love for railway, and opposition to road, transport. It was under his aegis that we had inflicted upon us the savage Act of 1933, which dealt very rigidly and very cruelly with all forms of road transport. These two Acts are intermingled and tied up together, and they are even more complicated by the Act which followed, namely, the 1934 Act, known as the Road Traffic Act. There the general law of the country with regard to all motor vehicles was changed, and although the Minister had power at the time to apply speed limits anywhere he liked, he never did apply them, but a certain amount of propaganda was spread throughout the country making it seem desirable to introduce a general speed limit. A general speed limit of 30 miles an hour was tied up with lamp-posts, and when the Bill was nearly through Committee, and in spite of the fact that the Minister had given definite undertakings, when he left and the present Minister came in those solemn undertakings given in Committee were not implemented. Many of us always resented that, because if pledges given by Ministers upstairs are not to be implemented, it seems to me that many of our discussions upstairs are entirely useless. The present Minister of Transport, although I do not for a moment suppose that had he been in power he would have introduced a Measure anything like the 1934 Act, had the responsibility to implement it and to try to make it a success, and he has been staggering under that difficulty ever since. It is quite true to say that he has done his best. The Act was faulty, and in spite of his vigour, in spite of his enthusiasm and enterprise, What gives rise to no little surprise Nobody seems one penny the better, if one may misquote a few words out of the "Jackdaw of Rheims." This particular Measure which I have the privilege of introducing deals with only two small points. Certainly if I had my way I should have introduced a measure almost as big as one of these which I have in my hand, to change most of the points in these three Acts, because they are three of the most preposterous pieces of legislation that this House has ever put through. They are indeed very complicated, but to start with we have to remember that our public service vehicles are divided into three categories. There are the stage carriage, the express carriage, and the contract carriage. The stage and express carriages have very small differences, one of which is the question of fares, but the contract one is the particular vehicle which has introduced the trouble which we are trying to put right. The contract carriage was one in which you could hire a vehicle for a definite purpose, on a definite occasion, for a definite time, that is, not by paying separate fares, and it is that which has got us into the particular trouble of making it illegal to share a taxicab. The thing really came to a head in the courts in the case of Newell v. Cross, which was heard before the Divisional Court at Ipswich. It will be of interest to the House to know exactly what the judge said in regard to it. Speaking after the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice du Parcq, said: I agree absolutely with what has been said by my Lord that we are not concerned with the question whether an Act of Parliament is expressed in terms which are too wide and may lead to results repugnant to common sense. I fully realise that the last thing which a Court ought ever to think of doing is to try to alter the law in effect by finding some ingenious means of escape from its clear provisions. Indeed, if it ever does happen, and I am not saying it has happened in this case—that Parliament, owing to the difficulty of drafting a law of general application, has spread the net too wide and has done something which on more mature deliberation Parliament would say it did not intend to do, then the best way of pointing out any defect, if defect it be, in an Act is that it should be rigidly enforced by the Courts, and the worst way of dealing with legislation of that kind is that any authority or any Judge should give any sanction to the view that laws which the public do not like ought to he disregarded or improperly evaded. The result is that any of us who split a taxi-cab fare can, according to this view, be rigorously prosecuted by the law and sent to gaol. The first Clause of this Bill tries to take some of us away from that dreadful threat which must be hanging over our heads every day in our ordinary lives. Although the Clause is fairly complicated by reference to Acts of the past, it says in effect that a stage carriage or express carriage which carries less than eight passengers shall be excluded from the prohibition subject to certain conditions being satisfied. We have had to insert many conditions because it was still thought unwise that the sharing of a taxi or vehicle should be a thing that is done every day, or that such a vehicle should be used as a disguise for an express carriage. The arrangement must not be advertised or done as a habit on a definite route, but it must be a casual thing.

The other Clause of the Bill has nothing to do with that question. It refers to a difficulty which has arisen over the licensing of public service vehicles. Under the 1933 Act it was laid down that licences "A," "B" and "C," which are given by the Commissioners, were given a certain time to run. "A" licences were given automatically because, during the first licence year 1934–5, "A" and "B" licences were granted in whole or the greater part without examination owing to the provisions of Section 72 of the 1934 Act, under which applicants were entitled to claim licences to the extent they had used vehicles to carry goods for hire or reward in the standard year. It will be seen that everybody having been given a licence, they all ipso facto came up for renewal at the same time. That has caused great difficulty in the administration of the Commissioners' work. This Clause gives power to the Minister to grant these licences for a longer time should he so desire in order that they need not all come up together and be examined at the same time, but in the best way and at the best time by the Commissioner.

There is also the other point that sometimes under a "B" licence it is advisable not to investigate one claim by itself but to wait for a claim by another operator at a later date, because they are running on the same line and should be examined at the same time, and this enables them to arrange their time-tables so that applications which it is convenient or desirable should be examined at or about the same time should fall due for renewal accordingly. I do not think this Bill is of transcending importance and will alter the lives of any citizens in this country very much, or that it is revolu- tionary. It deals with two defects in the Acts as they exist to-day, and I think it would be advisable if we could pass it in order to put them right in the easiest possible way.

11.20 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen

I beg to second the Motion.

This is rather an important Bill, but I shall be brief because there is another Bill to follow. It is a halting step in the right direction. Clause 1 has been ably explained by my hon. and gallant Friend, and I do not propose to go into it. It is a necessary correction based upon experience. Clause 2, as he pointed out, enables the Minister to lengthen the licence period. I want that period to be even longer, and I think that when Clause 2 comes up again it will have to be altered. The first report to 30th September, 1935, shows that the number of vehicles licensed was 459,626. The renewal applications for "B" licences were made and considered in the autumn of 1935, and the renewal applications for "A" licences in the autumn of 1936. Experience has shown that the period was too short and the authorities became overcrowded. The Bill proposes to remedy that. My opinion is that the period is not long enough, and that the Clause will have to read: or such longer period as may be prescribed, such longer period to be not less than five years. This will give justice to the road hauliers and prevent the traffic authorities from being overcrowded. It will, too, save considerable time and expense. Most of the congestion in these courts is due to the objections to applications for "A" and "B" licences from the railway companies, who have objected very often on trivial grounds. Sir Josiah Stamp said last year that they deplored the railways' inability to object to 70 per cent. of the goods motor vehicle licences, that is, manufacturers' and traders' "C" licences. These objections are giving the impression to those engaged in the road haulage business that they are being badly bullied by the railway companies. If that is the case, there can be no objection to a longer licence. The legal costs to one applicant alone came to £475 before he could get his licence. British justice may be open to all, but it is open only to the rich on these terms, and it is ridiculous to suggest that that sort of thing is not going to clutter up the courts. One applicant answered a thousand questions put by the railway authorities, and then he was opposed. There are long, detailed and severe cross-examinations about rates, books and customers, which make the road hauliers feel uncomfortable that their customers are being wheedled away from them. The greatest hostility of the railway companies is reserved for such road hauliers as have the effrontery to have an expanding business. There is a real danger of depriving the trader of road transport facilities, and these costs are a grave item.

If objection is put in, King's counsel is briefed by the railway, and an equally clever King's counsel has to be briefed by the applicant. It is, therefore, a very expensive business. Barrister has to be briefed against barrister. The legal community are again battening on the trading public. Unless the position is altered a rot is bound to set in, and the situation in regard to the road services will not be for the benefit of the community. There is no continuity, there is no stability, no incentive to improvement or expansion. Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 enables the authority to shorten the period if that will assist in arranging a convenient programme of work—to shorten the period for the convenience of the authority, I ask the House to note. I hope to see there a provision to say "or lengthen for a limited period." As the Clause stands, the public appear to exist for the convenience of the licensing authority, and that is putting things the wrong way round, but it is an inversion which can easily be remedied in Committee. I trust that the House will see the urgent need for this Bill to clear up the position as regards the licensing authorities, to make programmes easier, and, in short, to make it altogether easier to obtain licences and bring about a smoother flow of traffic.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I am glad that this short Measure has been brought forward, though, for the reasons indicated by the hon. and gallant Member who moved it, I should have been glad if some more substantial Measure had been introduced. I think it is generally agreed that the Act of 1933 was introduced, to be quite frank, not in the interests of the general public but in the interests of the railways. It was a sequel to what was called the Salter Report. At various gatherings which I attended shortly after the Salter Report appeared, it was denounced with the greatest possible vigour by the road interests, but, unfortunately, they were not as skilful in Parliamentary organisation as are the railway companies, who have had 100 years' experience of how to manage both Houses of Parliament. They have facilities for getting their own way which have been denied to all other interests. If you want to see how legislation should be handled, watch this House when a railway Bill is before it. We then see all sorts of mysterious people who are generally missing at other times.

I may recall that such votes as I gave on the Road and Rail Traffic Act were hostile votes in respect of various Amendments. Not long after it became law I was talking to a shopkeeper who opened the conversation by saying, "Have you people all gone mad?" I asked, "Why do you suggest that?" and his reply was, "I am only judging by the results of your Acts of Parliament. I think you have been stark, staring mad." I pursued my inquiries into his reasons for doubting our sanity, and he explained, "You know that I sell furniture and also carry on a removing business. Suppose you were to commission me to move your furniture from your existing house to another house, and that you found it necessary to get some additional furniture for your new house. The law does not permit me to put the new furniture in the same van with your old furniture. He added, "I think you are lunatics," and I said, "I am afraid I must agree with you," though explaining that in the part which I took in the proceedings on the Bill I was in opposition to many of its provisions and, therefore, had done my best to prove my personal sanity.

A great deal of the procedure under the Act of 1933 cannot be explained on any intelligent grounds. I see no reason why a person who wants to buy a lorry and cart goods round the country should not be permitted to do it, subject only to paying his necessary fees for the use of the road. Why anybody should have the right to say "You shall not enter the business. The door is barred. 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here,'" I cannot conceive. But this is all part of our modern Fascist legislation, if I may so call it. It is the setting up of the corporate State. We are passing Fascist legislation every day now. It started with the London Traffic Act, 1924. The party opposite were the first Fascists. They followed it up with the Coal Mines Act, 1930, which, broadly speaking, stopped anybody else from entering the coal mining industry, and did not allow those already in it to do their job properly. Yesterday we were passing a similar type of Bill.

I am one of those who still believe that a little liberty ought to be left to us in this country. What appals me is not that all this legislation emanates from those on the opposite benches who want more interference with liberty, but that the chief destroyers of liberty are those on my own side of the House. That is my grievance. I am perfectly certain that if three-quarters of the controversial legislation of the last four years had been introduced by the other side, and we had been in opposition, the whole of our party would have been stampeded against it. What disease has seized upon my party to make them introduce this sort of stuff I have no idea. I hope that this Bill will become law, and that the title is so drawn—it appears to be rather narrowly drawn—that certain Amendments will be in order, because I think we ought to go a little further than the Bill proposes to go; but because it is a Measure which makes some effort to correct a public evil and a real scandal, I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. E. Dunn

I should like to support this Bill, because I regard it as an attempt to correct one or two of the glaring anomalies which exist in connection with the transport business generally, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will give us an interpretation of a particular matter which will clear up a good deal of misapprehension which exists in the country. As I conceive it, this is a small Measure designed to put a section, or two sections, of the transport undertakings of the country in the same position as they were before the Road and Rail Traffic Acts of 1933 and 1934 were passed. All who have had anything to do with the operation of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, will recollect that when that Measure was under consideration paragraph (c) of Clause 61 was withdrawn. That Subsection really did attempt to do what this Bill now proposes. I suggest that on a true interpretation of it this small Measure is considerably wider in its application than the hon. and gallant Member who introduced it really intends that it should be. He has merely called attention to the anomalies which exist in regard to the sharing of a taxicab, but I suggest that the real difficulty goes far beyond that arising in the case of two persons agreeing to share a taxicab, or three or four persons agreeing to purchase and to run a motor vehicle for transport purposes. Under the Act of 1930, as a result of the withdrawal of paragraph (c) of Clause 61, it was possible not merely for two persons to purchase and to share the costs of running a taxicab, but it was also possible for combinations of men to undertake transport services of their own. I am actually engaged at the present time in operating such a service in the district from which I come. The workmen engaged at a colliery, which has approximately 3,000 miners, have put upon the road a transport service. The object of it is to convey the workmen to and from the colliery. Under the 1930 Act it was possible to do this without any licence, but Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, altered the procedure. There is no question, in the service to which I refer, of hire or reward, and no fares are charged. The workmen have combined together to put a transport service on the road, and it covers approximately 6,000 rides per day. The service has been running since before 1930.

Because the applicable Sub-section of the Road Traffic Act was repealed, it was not necessary to license the service, but the Road Traffic Act, 1934, reinstituted the licence. Consultations took place with the Ministry of Transport on the matter, and we brought responsible Ministers to see the service, which benefits not only the workpeople but the industrial undertaking itself. All those who have seen the service have expressed themselves as amazed that it does not ply for hire or reward and does not compete with other operating services. There is no objection from the latter services within the district. They have also expressed themselves amazed at the humbug created as a result of the reimposition of the licence. If the Bill will correct anomalies of that kind, it will perform a useful service. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary realises that undertakings operated by workmen are put to considerable annoyance with regard to "A," "B" and "C" licences. His Department knows that the courts have been tested on the question, and that there has been considerable inconvenience to the services in question. A strange picture is presented in the courts by the array of a new set of legal gentlemen who present themselves when applications for licences are to be heard. There are eminent banisters and lawyers of every description. We are annoyed and amazed at the operation of the Section and we regret that annoyance has been caused to the public in connection with these services, which are intended to be of industrial utility and to make industry work smoother than it otherwise would.

I am not concerned merely about the array of legal gentlemen who appear day after day and week after week in the courts. Who could possibly interpret the services to which I refer as being undertaken for hire or reward? Any proceeds have not been for personal profit, but have been used to keep the services on the road for the general good of the industry. I hope this small Measure will cause a reversion back to previous conditions, and will give the same interpretation as was intended by the Act of 1930. That is the basis upon which I support it.

11.43 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage

I hope that this Bill will put a stop to what I can only describe as tyranny on the part of the railway companies. Certain interests seem to have given orders to their legal departments to oppose automatically any application for licence in any court, and men have to travel from 20 to 40 miles in order to defend their applications. Sometimes they find on getting there, that there has been no need to defend them, and they are put to considerable expense. I am bound to say that, in my own part of the country, the railway companies have brought to bear an intolerable burden upon these people, and I feel that it is my duty to cast about to see whether I can react—and I hope other Members will, too—to cast as many burdens as I can upon the railway companies in exchange for the unfair system. Small men in my constituency, carrying on a perfectly legitimate trade, are put to considerable expense in connection with quite ordinary licences, and I know that that was not intended by the Ministry of Transport. If I had known when the present Act was passing through the House what its effects would be, I should have opposed it strenuously. I am sorry now that I supported it. It makes one considerably apprehensive of the ideas of hon. Members opposite, who wish to make the railway companies into a State-run organisation. The wide powers which the railway companies already have in opposing these licences are sufficiently strong, and I shall look forward with dread to the position of people who are carrying on a motor trade if anything is done which makes the position of railway companies in this respect even stronger than it is to-day.

If any words of mine can reach the heads of the railway companies, I would beg of them to consider the harm that they are doing to themselves in setting against them people in the country like those who run these businesses, and like the passengers who wish to travel by some of these vehicles. I would like them to consider whether it is worth their while to incur the danger of this tremendous opposition that they are stirring up against themselves. I am very glad that this Bill has been brought in, and I hope that it will be possible to pass it.

47 a.m.

Mr. Sandys

The object of this Bill, which I heartily support, is to confer certain new privileges upon certain classes of vehicles. It may be maintained by the hon. Members responsible for the Bill that these privileges ought to have been extended long ago, that in fact they ought never to have been denied; but nevertheless the fact remains that this Bill would extend certain new privileges to certain classes of vehicles which they have not hitherto legally enjoyed. Those vehicles, for the purpose of what I wish to say, can be divided into two classes. In the first category there are the coach and omnibus services and the taxi-cab services—that is to say, the public-hire conveyances; arid in the other category there are the private-hire vehicles. At the present time the standard enforced as regards efficiency, comfort and general upkeep in the case of these two classes of vehicles is entirely different, and I submit, while fully supporting the Bill, that this occasion should be taken to raise the standard required in the case of the private-hire vehicles to the same high level at which it is at present enforceable in the case of public-hire vehicles; and it is in that connection that I would like to say a few words.

The conditions which are imposed at the present moment on the proprietors of taxi-cabs all over the country require them to maintain a certain standard for their vehicles, and in the larger towns the vehicles are subject to regular inspection. In London the standard laid down by the police is extremely high. In the first place, the police regulations set out a definite specification for chassis and for body, and consequently the price which these cab proprietors have to pay for their vehicles is to that extent higher. The taxi-cab has to be overhauled at regular intervals, and after it has been on the road a certain number of years it is the practice of the police to inspect the vehicle before it is overhauled, and to specify the exact repairs which are to be made. That often involves the taxi-cab owner in considerable expense. Furthermore, the police lay down in London a time limit of 10 years for the life of a taxi-cab, which again is a further restriction upon the taxi-cab owner, and is a further guarantee to the public of good and efficient service. What is more, the police can walk up to any taxi-cab and put what they call a "stop notice" on it, preventing it from plying for hire until certain deficiencies have been remedied. In other words, the taxi-cab has by law to be maintained in a proper road-worthy state and to maintain a prescribed standard of efficiency.

In contrast to this, the private-hire car can be any old car from any junk-heap. It is not subjected to inspection for road-worthiness, and there is no standard for its maintenance. Any cheap car can be used, and no age limit is set for it by the authorities. Of course one realises that there is a definite need for the private-hire car, but I feel, and I think many hon. Members will agree with me, that these private-hire vehicles, particularly in view of the fact that the object of this Bill is to extend their activities, should be regarded, so far as efficiency and the maintenance of a certain standard are concerned, as public vehicles, and that it should be the duty of the authorities to see that they are in a safe state for the public to ride in and in such a condition as to be able to perform their function properly. Therefore, in supporting the Bill and wishing it a smooth passage, I would submit that, in extending the privileges of certain classes of vehicles, it is most desirable in the interests of public safety, in the interests of public comfort, and in the interests of fair competition, that the same high standard should be enforceable on all classes of vehicles which are to benefit under this Bill.

11.52 a.m.

Sir Francis Fremantle

I want to make only one small point which illustrates the application of this Measure to village life. I will give a single illustration, but I take it that it will probably be typical of many. In my own village, which is five miles from Hatfield and six miles from Hertford, to get to either of these places costs the ordinary villager a considerable sum of money. Until quite recently, a small man of enterprise has been running a car of which the women of the village were able to make use to go to either Hatfield or Hertford or other more distant towns like St. Albans, sharing the expense between them. Now they are unable to do that, owing to the decision to which reference has been made and to which this Bill applies. The hardship is obvious in any village of this sort. The women must be prepared to pay 5s. or 7s. 6d., which none of them can afford to do, and they cannot go into those towns either for shopping or perhaps for such purposes as attending educational, religious, political and other meetings or the women's institutes and so on which have done so much to brighten village life. Hitherto they have been able to divide the expense between them which has helped materially, but this was abolished by the decision in question, and the service for the time being is in suspense. I hope—I am not quite clear about it—that the Bill will be passed in such a form as to meet this case, and I would plead with it on behalf of the life of the villages of this country.

11.54 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)

I think it will probably be for the convenience of the House if I now state very briefly the attitude of the Government towards this little Bill. It has given an opportunity for various Members of the House to give their views, both on the Road Traffic Acts and on the deeds of the railway companies; but I would call the attention of the House to the fact that the Bill is designed to deal only with two comparatively small points in connection with the administration of the law as affecting motor vehicles. On both those points the Government feel that some alteration of the law is desirable. The matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) about people forming themselves into clubs for their transport is not dealt with at all under the Bill. It is another subject altogether. This Bill cannot either make their position better or worse. As regards the railway companies, in as far as Clause 2 permits the Minister to lengthen the duration of the licences of hauliers, it will mean that they will come before the licensing authority, less often, when the railway companies may oppose the licence, so in that respect they will be better off than they are at the moment.

Clause 1 deals with what is called "splitting a taxi." Public service vehicles have to be licensed under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, by the Traffic Commissioners, and it is an offence to cause or permit a vehicle to be used as an express or stage carriage without the necessary licences. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) made one small slip. It is not a contract carriage, but an express or stage carriage to which this Clause refers. Parliament endeavoured, under Section 61 of the Act, to meet special cases of this kind and in Subsection (1) of that Section it met the case of race meetings and public gatherings, but covered no other case. That proviso still stands. The case of hiring a taxi for race meetings as dealt with by the proviso is not altered in the slightest by this Bill. Experience has shown that Parliament drew the Act wider than was intended and it has been made clear in a Divisional Court that, as it stands, any two people who arrange to hire a taxicab and agree that each shall contribute to the fare, provided they do not come under the proviso, are committing a criminal offence by using the vehicle without a road service licence. The Lord Chief Justice and Mr. Justice du Parcq clearly stated that in their opinion the law should be altered, and under this little Bill it is proposed to alter the law by stating in Clause I that a vehicle adapted to carry fewer than eight passengers shall not be regarded as a stage or express carriage, even though it is used to carry passengers at separate fares, provided certain conditions are fulfilled. The terms of the Clause are in accordance with suggestions contained in a circular letter to interested bodies and are such that in cases of bona fide "splitting a taxi" there should be no real difficulty in complying with them. On the other hand, we feel that they will create great difficulty for anyone who seeks to use the Bill to get round the provisions of the ordinary licensing law.

Mr. Dunn

Is not the provision under the 1930 Act really wider in its application than merely "splitting a taxi"? It may be a case of eight persons being conveyed to and from their work. Does not the same interpretation stand and, if it applies to eight, why not to 800?

Captain Hudson

The whole point is that the Bill has been drafted to deal with one small point. The question that the hon. Member raised as regards Section 26 of the Act of 1934 is a different matter altogether. If the hon. Member looks at the bottom of the first page of the Bill he will see that it is "not exceeding four" and not "not exceeding eight." That is the reason that the Subsection was put in, in order that it should deal simply with the case of "splitting a taxi." However, no doubt these matters can be dealt with in Committee. I agree that it may be necessary to ask the promoters to amend the Bill slightly, and we can go in detail into it in Committee.

As regards Clause 2, the present position is that "A" licences have a currency of two years, "B" licences of one year and "C" licences of three years. We feel that the experimental period may now be assumed to be over and that the necessity for renewing carriers' licences at such frequent intervals as this imposes an un- necessary burden both upon operators and on licensing authorities. The object of the Clause is to give the Minister power to extend the normal period of any class of licence as soon as he is satisfied that the position warrants such an extension. Before exercising this power the Minister would consult the Transport Advisory Council and, in addition, under Section 26 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, he is obliged to consult all the interests concerned before making any regulations, so that everyone would have every opportunity of stating their case before any alteration in the periods of these licences is made.

Clause 2 (2) is consequent upon the suggested lengthening of the period under Sub-section (1). It is simply designed to facilitate the machinery of renewal, and we think it will make both for the convenience of the Traffic Commissioners and of the operators, because it will make it possible for the Traffic Commissioners to arrange a reasonable spread-over to avoid congestion at one period of the year and comparative slackness at another, and it will allow them to arrange for various classes of applications to fall for renewal together. They will also, if they wish, be able to take all the applications for one part of their area at the same time, which will be a convenience both to the operators and the Traffic Commissioners. Of course, adjustments will be able to be made with regard to the fees payable if the period is shortened in this way. We feel that the Bill should be a useful addition to the traffic law, and we hope the House will see its way to pass it into law.

12.4 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

There seems to be no opposition in any part of the House to the Bill and, generally speaking, one would welcome the speech of the representative of the Ministry. It is to be regretted, however, that he has not given any hope of real and careful consideration with a view to removing grievances of the kind my hon. Friend has mentioned, and I hope that the fact that we give an unchallenged passage to the Bill, because we are in sympathy with its objects, does not mean that the Ministry will not examine the problems that my hon. Friend has raised.

Captain Hudson

It was not through any discourtesy on my part, but this point could not be dealt with within the scope and title of the Bill, and that is why I did not deal with it.

Mr. Alexander

I recognise that fact, but I do not think that in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary very much hope was held out for dealing with the point that has been raised. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) endeavoured to advance some of, shall I say, his wide or narrow theories which he often takes the opportunity to advance to the House on Private Members' days. Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy with him in any opposition to what might be called the development of the corporate state, if the corporate state is the maintenance of sectional monopolies for private profit. I should have thought that, with the very bad state of the casualty lists in the road and transport industry to-day, his suggestion for complete uncontrol was worthy of more examination before we allowed it to be adopted.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I would point out that with regard to the use of the road, the private motorists, who are far more numerous, are free to make use of it without asking for permission.

Mr. Alexander

Some approach has been made in that direction, and there is no question at all that something will have to be done if you are to stop the slaughter, which is now approaching something in the nature of the casualty list of a first-class war. Therefore freedom of that kind must really be examined from the point of view of public welfare. I w ill not pursue the point, but I hope that he will see that there is clearly some common sense behind it. When, however, I turn to the active provisions of the Bill, I welcome the Bill very heartily, and the promoters of the Bill will probably recognise why. It is because of the great interest in the movement with which I am connected in one of the particular cases decided in the Scottish courts. I would ask on this account whether the promoters of the Bill cannot possibly see their way in Committee—and they might consider it in the meantime—to put the provisions in the proviso upon rather more logical lines. The proviso has to deal with all vehicles carrying fewer than eight passengers, but the arrangement under paragraph (a) of the proviso is limited to four passengers, and I am unable to understand the difference between the two.

I make this statement for the reason that we have—and these are cases perhaps of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle)— a large number, I am thankful to say, of institutions erected for the working classes in this country in rural areas. There are miners' and other trade union and Co-operative canvalescent homes, and over and over again it is almost impossible to obtain convenient arrangements for relatives and friends of those who are in those homes to get to out-of-the-way, but healthy situations in order to visit the people who are recovering, unless they can hire a motor car or a conveyance of some kind to get there which will not confine them to time tables and schedules and long journeys.

Sir F. Fremantle

And for the patients themselves.

Mr. Alexander

Yes. The case I have in mind on which there was a decision of the court was one of that kind. We have many vehicles available for hire to-day which carry from six to seven passengers, and they are perfectly good vehicles in spite of what the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) has said. He might be able to produce a few bad ones, but it seems unreasonable to limit the number of passengers that might be carried under this proviso to four. I hope that if we give the Bill a free passage to-day, we may have an assurance from the promoters that they will be willing to consider that point in Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.