HC Deb 21 June 1950 vol 476 cc1365-99

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."—[Sir C. MacAndrew.]

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

On a point of order. There is, I understand, a Motion on the Order Paper relating to the suspension of Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading). I should be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether that Motion is taken now or at the conclusion of the discussion.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asked about Third Reading, I understand.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I desire to raise a certain number of points on Third Reading. I was seeking your guidance as to whether we are now taking the suspension of Standing Order 205, which I understand is necessary before we proceed to Third Reading.

Mr. Speaker

I now understand the point. I think we ought to give the Bill consideration; then I will say, "Third Reading—Now?" The Debate can then take place on Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly.

The following Motion stood on the Order Paper in the name of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS: That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the third time. (King's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, to be signified.)

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not propose to oppose the Motion, but I hope that if the Transport Commission are permitted the favour of the suspension of a Rule, which otherwise might have prevented them from progressing with this Bill today, the Minister will show, by way of gratitude, he has no undue desire to restrict the Debate by Closures and that kind of thing.

Mr. Speaker

It is not the Minister who can restrict the Debate; it is I. I am bound by the Rule on Third Reading, and the Debate must be based on what is in the Bill, and nothing else.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I respectfully agree. What I had in mind was an attempt to close the Debate by way of the Closure which, of course, it is open to the Minister to move. Of course, it is for you, Sir, to decide whether you would accept that.

Mr. Speaker

I did not think it would be possible to go so far with this Bill that the Closure would have to be moved. It is a very limited Debate, and I shall see to that.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter rose

Mr. Speaker

I did not quite get the point. Now, I understand that the hon. Member would like me to divide this Motion so that we can get rid of the first part and then we talk on the Third Reading. Is that the idea?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I respectfully suggest that that would be a convenient procedure.

Mr. Speaker

Then I divide it into two.

Motion made, and Question, "That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended,"—[Sir C. Mac-Andrew]—put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—(King's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.)—[Sir C. MacAndrew.]

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As this Bill now emerges from the Select Committee, to which it was committed after Debate, which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will recollect, on Second Reading, a close study of it makes two points very evident. The first is that the promoters of the Bill have, quite clearly, ignored the representations which were made to them in this House on Second Reading. Amendments which they have incorporated neither deal, nor seek to deal, with those representations.

The second point that becomes immediately apparent is that there is at least a doubt whether we are dealing effectively with a Bill which was ruled on Second Reading to be a general powers Bill, promoted by a great monopoly with effects directly and indirectly upon the whole life of the community. There is the question whether or not it is appropriate to follow on this Bill the Select Committee procedure which, in my view, is highly appropriate in the case of a less widespread Measure.

In debating this Bill, one is faced with the difficulty that, on a normal Committee stage of a Measure of this magnitude and importance, there would have been a Committee stage in the sense in which one normally understands it and in which the public interest would have been raised and discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. Here, however, the procedure which has been followed has been the Private Bill procedure.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must not criticise the procedure of this House. It has followed the normal procedure on a Private Bill. It is a Private Bill, and nothing more; therefore complaint cannot be made against it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged to you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. The submission I make is that Private Bill procedure has been sedulously and strictly applied and that it has been shown to be inappropriate for this new type of Private Bill—a Private Bill not proposed by a private company but by a great monopoly corporation.

Mr. Speaker

We have had many Bills on water corporations and so on, and I have had to rule on those. They are public corporations, the same as this Transport Commission.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I would not seek in any way to be impertinent or out of order, or to question your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. While they are public corporations, they are of course—

Mr. Speaker

I allowed a very wide Debate on Second Reading, and that cannot be followed on Third Reading.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I fully appreciate that, and indeed the only reason I prefaced my remarks with the remarks with which I sought to preface them is that, owing to the facts to which I refer, it will be necessary for a more detailed examination of the Clauses of the Bill on Third Reading than, perhaps, would otherwise have been necessary.

The first Clause to which I would invite the attention of the House is one of considerable public importance. If I may respectfully say so, it does lend force to the contention I sought to make in respect of the appropriateness of the whole procedure in these cases. That is in reference to Clause 30 of the Bill, as it now stands. I should remind the House—because it makes it a little difficult to follow the Debate on Second Reading—that owing to the inclusion of a number of additional Clauses in Committee, mainly, I think I am right in saying, for the protection of certain special interests, the numbering of Clauses in the present Bill is different from that on Second Reading.

Clause 30 is one which now deals with the publication of by-laws by the Commission, as the successors of the former railways. It has been the law for 100 years that the by-laws, made previously by the Commission, should be published by being displayed on the front of every station and wharf owned either by the company or by the Commission. That was provided by Section 110 of the Railway Clauses Act, 1845. This is the relevant extract: The substance of such last-mentioned bye-laws, when confirmed or allowed according to the provisions of any Act in force regulating the allowance or confirmation of the same, shall be painted on boards, or printed on paper and pasted on boards, and hung up and affixed and continued on the front or other conspicuous part of every wharf or station belonging to the company. …

That provision was, of course, to secure that by-laws which affectnot only the companies and the Commission, but still more the public, who may find themselves facing criminal charges if they transgress them, should secure full and adequate publicity. That, I would repeat, has been the practice for over 100 years.

Clause 30 of this Bill seeks to repeal the Sections of that Public Act of 1845 and to substitute a procedure which it seems to me is much less appropriate for the publication of by-laws of this importance. The provision—and it is mainly contained in Subsection (2) of Clause 30—is: A printed copy of any such by-laws when confirmed or allowed according to the provisions of any Act in force regulating the confirmation or allowance thereof shall be deposited at every passenger station on the railways of the Commission and shall at all reasonable hours be open to public inspection without payment. …

or, as an alternative, a copy thereof shall be furnished … at the principal office of the Commission "—

I take it that that means the headquarters in London— on payment of such sum not exceeding one shilling. …

The House will appreciate that that is a totally different procedure. Instead of displaying these by-laws where anybody who likes to go to a railway station can see them at any hour of the day or night, they are to be, I do not wish to use an offensive word such as "secreted," but maintained inside an office and subject to inspection only on demand, and I suppose during the ordinary working hours. That seems to me to be quite an inadequate method of securing proper publicity for what are, after all, in some respects parts of our criminal law.

I would respectfully submit that no case was made or attempted to be made on behalf of the Commission, either on the Second Reading or before the Select Committee, for this change. In fairness to the Commission, I must read what was said to the Select Committee on this Clause, which was then Clause 27, by learned counsel who appeared for the Transport Commission. Learned counsel said: This Clause provides for a much simpler and easier system of publications. You have probably very often on long waits on railway stations seen those forbidding looking large notices "—

Mr. Speaker

We are up against another difficulty here. This document has not been laid before the House and, therefore, it should not be quoted. The hon. Member can state his own opinion about it, but this Committee has not reported and, therefore, the House has no knowledge of it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

With great respect, I hold in my hand the Report of the Select Committee.

Mr. Speaker

It cannot be produced as evidence, I am afraid. Those are oar rules.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

With respect, it is the Select Committee to which this House committed this Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid it is not a document which has been produced before the House. All we have are the minutes of what happened. We know that a Clause was amended, and that is all. We have no document showing what was said in the Committee and we are not allowed to quote it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I have to accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Speaker, but I respectfully submit that there are grave disadvantages which inevitably must flow from it. We are seeking here to elicit the reasons for a change in a Public Act of Parliament 100 years old. No reference was made on the Second Reading to the reasons for that, and it was only as a result of a good deal of research into the minutes of the Select Committee that I was able to find what are apparently the Transport Commission's reasons. If, according to your Ruling, I cannot quote this document, it is a little unfair to the Transport Commission that their only reasons for this proposed action should be kept from the House.

Mr. Speaker

The principle is laid down perfectly clearly. This is a document which is not before the House. Of course, the hon. Member having read it and knowing the argument, he can state the argument as his own.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am most grateful to you for that guidance, Sir. As I understand it, I can quote what in my view is the substance of the Transport Commission's case, on the understanding that it will not be open to the Minister to correct me by quotation. As I understand it, there is no dispute about this aspect. All that the Transport Commission believes to be the reasons for this change is that the procedure was somewhat out of date. I hope that before we part with this Bill, we shall hear reasons for this from the Minister, who I am very glad to see in his place.

This is a matter of public importance. The publication of what amounts to a form of delegated legislation under which criminal penalties are imposed on the subject, is a matter of which this House is naturally and properly jealous, and one which affects not merely the private interests of the Commission but the public interests of the public at large. I hope we shall receive from the right hon. Gentleman much fuller justifications for this change than I have described as the only possible reasons in the minds of the Transport Commission.

These by-laws and their publication have become more important inasmuch as the penalties imposed under them are increased by this Bill, and therefore if it were important to secure publicity for the criminal provisions made by the Transport Commission in the last 100 years, it has become more important at present, now that the penalties imposed upon those who transgress them have become somewhat larger.

That brings me to the next Clause to which I desire to invite the attention of the House, and that is Clause 31. That Clause contains a number of provisions under which the penalties imposed for breaches of the Commission's by-laws are substantially increased. They relate principally, though not exclusively, to those enterprising gentlemen who seek to travel upon the railways or other means of transport without the preliminary precaution of obtaining a ticket. Nobody has any particular sympathy with those gentlemen, however well known or indeed notorious they may be in individual cases. But there is an important question of principle here, and I would like to deal with it first of all with reference to subsection (1) of Clause 31.

That subsection increases the penalty for the first offence of this nature from 40s. to £5. As I understand it. Mr. Speaker, for reasons which you have told me I may not disclose, the reason that the Transport Commission have for this increase is the fact that these penalties were fixed last in the year 1889, and that for reasons which it would be both out of order and tactless to refer to, the value of money has fallen substantially in the interval. That is, as it stands, a reasonable argument, but I think we should analyse it a little further.

This Clause provides that in one aspect of the criminal law which relates to those persons who seek to develop railway or Other transport undertakings, penalties shall be raised by 150 per cent. to allow for the fall in the value of money. If that is to be done at all in our criminal law—and I am glad to see the Home Secretary on the Front Bench—I submit that it should be done by general Act, and least of all by a Private Bill promoted through the form of Private Bill procedure by a nationalised industry or by any other private body. If we are to have this inflation of criminal penalties to correspond with the inflation of our currency, that is a matter which it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to deal with generally and not specially in this way.

There is another provision of this Clause which is not without interest. Hon. Members will see that subsection (2) provides that people who commit a second offence of this nature, for example, on the buses of London Transport, have their penalty increased four times, from £5 to £20. As I understand it, the reason for that is not that money has fallen in value to that extent, but in order to bring the penalties on those who travel by bus into line with the penalties on those who travel by rail, in view of what I understand is called the integration of our national transport system. It is, perhaps, a little discouraging to the citizen to know that the first result of the much vaunted integration of our transport system is that the penalties imposed upon the citizen are to be increased in the case of those means of transport where they were lower, so as to bring them into line with those means of transport where they were higher. Perhaps I may say, in parenthesis, that there was nothing about that in "Let Us Face The Future."

The point goes further. In my submission, previous legislation has provided these different scales of penalty because of the different scales of the offences. If one defrauds a railway company, one may potentially be trying to travel to Wick or Thurso or some sub-arctic station, and one may, if one succeeds in that enterprise, relieve oneself of a charge of perhaps £8 or £10. But if one defrauds on a London bus it is difficult, even with the greatest of ingenuity, to do so to the extent of more than a few shillings. It seems to me that the old provision, under which there was some relationship between the amount of the fraud and the amount of the penalty, was based upon common sense; and the zeal of the Transport Commission for the integration of transport might perhaps have been concentrated more on co-ordinating road and rail services than on co-ordinating criminal penalties.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

A flat rate for fraud as well as for transport.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged to the Liberal Chief Whip, whose interest in travel to Wick or Thurso is, I am sure, perfectly bona fide. He has admirably summarised the effect of this Clause. The expression "a flat rate for fraud" regardless of the potential scale of the fraud exactly expresses what the Transport Commission have apparently attempted to do, and I am glad that they have not had the frankness to use that expression on another occasion, which would have debarred me from using it now.

These, again, are serious matters, because the imposition of penalties for criminal offences is always a serious matter. There is a further aspect of it which is difficult to understand. As I have said, the provision under subsection (2) increases fourfold the penalty for a ticket offence on London buses. It so happens that such offences are, in proportion, extremely rare. I believe I am right in saying—and I quote authority for which the Minister, although he sometimes forgets it, is responsible—that the number of such offences in London last year was 39 on the buses as compared with over 6,000 on the railways. It is not, therefore, an offence of which there was evidence of any undue prevalence. The case which is sometimes used for the increase of criminal penalties—although I believe it is generally a pretty bad one—that it is in order to deal with the high incidence of an offence, cannot possibly be advanced in this case. I believe that the reason sometimes given by the Commission for the claim—simply a desire for integration—is a perfectly genuine, though in my view inadequate, one. I hope we shall hear something from the Minister on that point.

There is another Clause of the Bill which was drawn to the right hon. Gentleman's attention on Second Reading by the hon. Baronet the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson). Owing to the changes in the Bill, that Clause has now become Clause 36. It is the Clause responsible for dealing with the relationship between, on the one hand, the works authorised by this Bill to be undertaken by the railways and, on the other hand, the Town and Country Planning Act. On the face of it, it appears to be an innocuous Clause in as much as it attracts, and rightly attracts, the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act to the works to be undertaken, but I believe—and I shall be grateful if the right hon Gentleman will clarify the matter—that it is for that reason a somewhat deceptive Clause.

I believe I am right in saying that it does not subject the railways to the inconveniences which the Town and Country Planning Act inflicts on almost everyone else of paying a development charge before the work is done so that, although the Clause, as far as it goes, appears to be innocuous, I should be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would give an explanation of whether it brings into the Bill not merely the general provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, but the particular provisions which relate to the development charge. That is highly material on consideration of this Bill because, as will have been observed, Part II relates to the construction of a very large number of works in a very large number of parts of the country.

With reference to that part of the Bill. I hope I shall not incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, if I say that I am one of those who are contemplating with a great deal of anxiety this House authorising the construction of this large amount of works by what is, frankly, a bankrupt concern. We have not at any stage had any indication of how these works are to be financed. We have not at any stage had any indication of the policy of which these works are the physical development. We are simply presented with a whole list of proposed works, set out with great geographical exactitude but with a complete lack of economic information. We are presented with proposals which appear to be precise inasmuch as they specify where the work is to be done; but what they do not tell us is why the work is to be done; what they do not tell us is the policy behind it and what they do not tell us is how the work is to be paid for. I think this House would be irresponsible to part with this Bill, under which, with the authority of Parliament, the Transport Commission are to be given the right to proceed with these works, unless and until we are satisfied that a concern faced with an ever-rising deficit is in a position financially to pay for them.

The Bill is now in its last stage in this House, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it has another stage in another place. While I can express the hope, which is perhaps the triumph of hope over experience, that the right hon. Gentleman and those who advise him will pay some attention to the views expressed in this House, I can also express the hope that, if the same attitude of obstructive unhelpfulness is adopted, then it might be found that the Bill does not have a particularly easy passage in another place. We are about to take leave of an unsatisfactory Bill which has had an unsatisfactory passage through this House and about which very few hon. Members, despite its importance, know very much. That, if I may say so, is not a fault of ours but it is a fault of the system. As I say, we take leave of the Bill, as far as I am concerned, in the hope that, not for the first time in the last five years, another place may do the work that this House might have done.

Mr. Speaker

I might just warn the House here. I did not interrupt the hon. Member, but I thought he was going to discuss the finances of the Transport Commission and I must rule that out of order, because it is an extraneous matter which is not in the Bill.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

On a point of order. Arising out of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which, of course, I do not seek in any way to challenge, may I seek your guidance, and ask whether it would be in order to discuss how the purposes of the Bill are to be financed, because we are, so far, in the dark about that?

Mr. Speaker

That was before the House on Second Reading. It would not be in order on Third Reading. There is nothing in this Bill to do with finance.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Further to that point of order. On Second Reading we did not know What form the Bill would take on Third Reading. We have, on Third Reading, a list of undertakings before us which the Commission propose to take in hand. Are we not, Sir, entitled to ask for further information as to how the undertakings which appear in the Bill on Third Reading will be implemented?

Mr. Speaker

; I allowed a very wide Debate on Second Reading, and we must leave it at that. This is a limited Bill and any extraneous matter is out of order on Third Reading.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

While, of course, fully accepting that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I take it that it would be in order to ask not about the general finance of the Transport Commission, which would obviously be out of order, and which we discussed fully on Second Reading, but to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the total cost of the provisions in the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

I think that that would be reasonable.

7.33 p.m.

Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)

I think that you yourself, Mr. Speaker, have shown the House how circumscribed must be a Debate on the Third Reading of a Bill of this kind. You must, I think, have some sympathy with the Members of the House, perhaps particularly with those who, like myself, have had a period of absence from it, during which time a great change has taken place in the running of our railways and road transport. When I left the House there was no such thing as the British Transport Commission, and before that, when we wished to raise such questions as are in the Bill, we could do so on the Floor of the House and receive answers. Nowadays we are nearly always told, and I notice particularly on my return to the House, that the questions are a matter for the administration of the executive concerned, in this case the British Transport Executive.

We therefore have to take the few opportunities we have, while keeping in order, to deal with matters about which we find it quite impossible to put down Questions or employ other Parliamentary means to obtain answers. I agree with you, Sir, that on the Second Reading of the Bill you gave us great latitude to discuss the whole question of the British Transport Commission. In the few remarks I shall make I wish to ask only for information about one or two of the items in the Bill which have changed in some way since it was before us on Second Reading. Although, as you yourself have said. Sir, I cannot quote from the minutes of evidence, that does not prevent a Member from reading those minutes and discovering why certain things are in the Bill.

There are two items in the Bill, one at the bottom of page 4, with the subtitle "(Widening at Nottingham)" and another, on page 5, with the sub-title "(Bridge reconstruction at Northwich)." There is a point of principle which I wish to raise with the Minister. The Northwich case is one of a road bridge going over the railway, and that railway is to be widened to four tracks. The Nottingham case is slightly different. It is a proposal to improve two bridges which are carrying the railway over the road. I do not wish to go into the details of these cases, and what I wish to say arises out of my preliminary remark on the fact that the railways are now nationalised. The case I wish to put to the Minister is best illustrated by the Northwich case, because in that case there is a class A road which goes over the railway, and which is to be widened. That road carries a 75 per cent grant. We on this side of the House were not enamoured of the nationalisation of the railways, but it seems to me that on occasions of this kind some good may come because there should not now be the conflict of opinion which we might have had previously in the case of a privately owned railway.

Most of the class A roads in the country require widening; this one obviously does. The bridge requires widening also, and I hope that when these cases come forward the Minister will see that the widening proposal is not turned down. In one of these cases it has been deferred in any event because of the unwillingness of either the railway or the road authority to pay for it. Let the Minister, who is the overall authority for both roads and railways, have a look at these cases and see whether, perhaps by making both sides come together—the funds come from the same source, that is, to the extent of 75 per cent. in the case of the road and the whole of the cost so far as the railway is concerned—he cannot take advantage of the opportunity which he has here of assisting in having the necessary improvements made to the roads.

I wish to put one other point concerning the question, in Clause 31, of increasing the fines for fraudulent travelling. We discussed that matter at some length on Second Reading. I said that I thought that the increases were somewhat excessive. I have taken the trouble, knowing that I intended to try to make these few remarks, to find out whether with these very big increases there had also been a big increase in fraudulent travelling. I can inform the House that unfortunately that is so. I will give only one figure in connection with the London Transport Executive. In 1938, just before the war, the number who were caught for this offence was 1,305. The latest figure I was able to obtain was for 1946, when the number was 6,218. The omnibus figure, as my hon. Friend said, is much smaller—11 in 1938 and 39 in 1949; and the figure for the Railway Executive was 2,575 as against an enormous increase to 7,078.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these are offences which were detected, not necessarily the number of offences?

Sir A. Hudson

That, of course, is so. I think that both sides of the House will agree that they are rather shocking figures. Of course, I may not quote to give the information, but I think it has been put up by the London Transport Executive and also by the Railway Executive, that one reason for this great increase in the figures is the greater proficiency on the part of the police and others in catching offenders. Nevertheless, the figures are so enormous—six times in one case, and from 2,000 to 7,000 in another—that I feel that all of us on all sides of the House ought to let the public know that we do not consider that the people who commit these sorts of offences are people who ought to be encouraged in any way. I, for one, would never criticise the idea of increasing the fines. I think these figures throw a rather horrifying light on the brave new world we are living in, and I sincerely hope that the next time these figures come before the House they will be seen to have gone steadily down.

I had wanted to say a word on the cost of works in London, but you have ruled that out of order, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I was going to ask the Minister to ask the London Transport Executive, as its political head, to remember that the cost of living is going up and to be very careful in putting in hand works which are expensive and not of first rate importance.

Just one word about the Clause dealing with town and country planning—Clause 36. I have an apology to make to the Minister. When I spoke before I asked why was the Minister doing such a monstrous thing as contracting out. He wrote me a most courteous letter saying that I had got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and that he was contracting in. I apologise for my mistake. What I wanted to ask him was this: I have talked about this with several of my hon. Friends, and none of us has been able to get to the bottom of it. What exactly would be the effect if this Clause was left out altogether? I was wrong before, but I am not much better informed now, though I have complete hold of the other end of the stick.

That is all I wanted to say on the Bill: I particularly wanted to make the point of the Minister's using the opportunity which he has, having both nationalised roads and railways, to get costs agreed and more quickly than was possible before.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)

On Second Reading we had a fairly wide discussion, and, considering that, it is difficult for me to understand exactly opposition that is being made to the Bill. The Bill, as has already been pointed out by the Chair, is on the customary lines of railway or transport Bills; it contains only usual or customary provisions.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

With respect, no. Is the hon. Gentleman not making a mistake? This is only the second Bill that has applied to all the railways of this country. All previous railway Bills have been related to particular sections only.

Mr. Harrison

That is quite correct, but that does not alter the fact that the Bill is drafted on lines that are customary for railway Bills.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

This is a serious point. I understood the hon. Gentleman to preface his speech with the remark that you, Mr. Speaker, had so ruled. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman made an assertion that the Bill was on customary lines in its drafting, and in the hearing of the House he said that you, Sir, from the Chair had so stated. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In my respectful submission, this point was used by the hon. Gentleman, and I would ask you, Sir, to indicate whether that was so, because, if so, I misunderstood.

Mr. Speaker

I did say, I think, that the Bill was drafted like any other ordinary Private Bill, and I mentioned a Bill which was drafted by a water company, another public body, as is the British Transport Commission.

Mr. Harrison

The only point of diversion from what is customary in the contents of such Bills is, of course, the increase in the fines for evasion of fares or rates of travel and the obtaining of tickets. One would expect careful examination to be made of the contents of the Bill in that particular direction, and it is in that direction that I think we shall, on all sides of the House, profit by this discussion tonight.

As to the other contents of the Bill, I cannot understand any substantial opposition to them, taking into consideration the works proposed in the Bill. Those works are definitely of such a character that they will enable the railway section of the Transport Commission to undertake their ordinary shunting duties, or ordinary traffic duties, far more conveniently than they will without the structural alterations involved in the Bill's provisions. Take, for example, the alteration to be carried out at Winnington and the proposed new bridge. The proposal is to widen the bridge to permit another set of lines to be accommodated under the bridge. The reason for that proposed alteration is the fact that Imperial Chemical Industries are building a huge factory in that neighbourhood, and that this line is designed to serve that new factory. Without these added facilities, it would be impossible for the traffic to be moved. Therefore, that one particular example should commend itself very strongly to the House as a whole.

The second example we can take from the provisions of the Bill is the widening of the track over the roadways at the Beeston sidings in Nottingham. The effect of being able to widen that part of the track will be to enable the operating manager in that part of the country to avoid considerable waste of engine and man hours by what we call back blocking of shuntable traffic. It will enable the Railway Executive to avoid delays to mineral trains entering the Beeston sidings.

The financial cost to the Transport Commission of this provision will be fully repaid in a very short time by the very nature of the provisions proposed. Coming to the London area, good examples of the works proposed in the Bill are the works proposed at Wembley Park and the Oval Station. Here, there is a question of expense being entered into to provide a new bridge and ventilate the subways. I am quite sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House will seriously object to that expenditure, particularly in the case of the business of running railways. Generally speaking, the Bill contains sufficient to commend it to the whole-hearted support of everybody in the House, no matter on which side he sits.

I now turn to the contentious part of the Bill. We all recognise the seriousness and importance of that part of the Bill which increases the fines for evading the payment of fares. Although, last year, there may have been only 39 convictions for fare evasion on buses, it must be remembered that it is much more difficult to catch people jumping on and off of buses at unpredictable points than it is to catch people on the main line trains, or even on the London Underground. At present the maximum fine upon conviction of evading payment of a 4d. fare on a bus is considerably less than the fine which can be imposed upon somebody convicted of evading payment of a 4d. fare on the underground railway, and this Clause has been drafted to bring those two into line. I cannot see why there should be any strong objection to the co-ordination of fines for similar offences.

On the size of the fine, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, it is about a hundred years since these fines were decided and put into the by-laws.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In 1889.

Mr. Harrison

In 1889 for some of them, and in 1845 for others. The very date suggests the necessity for a revision of these fines. It is on record that some frauds of this type have been so bad that magistrates have had to impose extra costs so that the fine, plus the costs, fits the measure of the fraud. If that was necessary in cases already on record, I am sure the House will agree that to increase these fines to the extent suggested is justifiable for two reasons: first, the changed value of money; and second, the necessity to co-ordinate the fines for similar offences committed on buses and on the underground.

Substantially, this Bill should commend itself to those who wish well to the efforts and undertakings of the Transport Commission. It is difficult to understand the objection made by the Opposition, unless it can be summed up by saying that the changed ownership has given rise to the fierce opposition that this Measure is receiving from some hon. Members opposite.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

In rising to make a few remarks on this Bill, I want to base myself on my own experience as a railway solicitor who formerly had to administer the Sections which are amended by the Bill. I do not raise these points in any sense of carping criticism, and I can assure the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), that it is quite incorrect to suggest that we on this side of the House are trying to obstruct the British Transport Commission.

We fully appreciate that the greater part of this Bill is in common form, and is very like the many omnibus Bills that have come before this House both before and since the amalgamation of 1921. Nevertheless, it does differ from all previous Bills, except one, in two respects: first, the provisions of this Bill, unlike the other omnibus railway Bills of the past, apply to all railways in this country; and second, in two cases, which have already been referred to, it reverses the general law of the country with regard to the railways. It reverses law which was the general law, and not provisions included in a private Act—in one case in the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, and, in the other, in the Regulation of Railways Act, 1889. Both those Acts are basic railway law—if I might put it that way—Acts on which a great deal of the work of the legal departments of the railways has in the past been based.

Clause 30 of this Bill varies the provisions of Sections 110 and 111 of the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has already referred to its provisions, in which, in effect, it does away with the necessity of exhibiting by-laws painted on boards or printed on paper and pasted on boards in a conspicuous place at a railway station before any penalty imposed by the by-laws can be recovered. That provision will not, in future, apply to the Transport Commission. Instead, it will be sufficient if printed by-laws are placed somewhere—it does not say where—which the passenger can read if he so wishes.

I want to place it on record that, being responsible for the prosecution of, I was going to say, hundreds of people for by-law offences, I always found it a most unsatisfactory form of prosecution To begin with, while on the one hand, a lay bench was very inclined to treat a bylaw offence in a light and perfunctory manner, as if it were some sort of imposition imposed upon the public by a private Act, not to be treated very seriously, on the other the unfortunate defendant very often felt he had a grievance; because he was being prevented from doing on the railways something for which he would not be prosecuted anywhere else.

I do not know whether many hon. Members have looked at the railway bylaws. They include a remarkable number of offences. There are all sorts of things for which a person can be fined, and there have been many cases in which, to my knowledge, the defendant clearly felt a sense of grievance, when he was fined merely because he had, perhaps, taken explosives into a railway carriage, or insisted on taking his dog into the passenger compartment instead of putting it in the guard's van, or perhaps even because he spat on the floor. It is now to be made more difficult for people to find out what the by-laws are. I gather that the reason is said to be that this is more modern. I do not know what is more modern about making things a little more uncomfortable for the railway passenger—unless we are to conclude that that is the natural and inevitable result of nationalisation. Seriously though, I do suggest that that is the wrong attitude to adopt towards the railway passenger.

We all know—at least, anyone who has ever been a law student knows—that the very basic principle of English law is that justice should not only be done but should appear to be done, and that if the railway passenger already feels himself under a grievance when he is hauled up and fined because he has failed to read a notice somewhere on the railway station, how much more will he feel himself under a grievance if he is now to be hauled before the bench and fined for breaking a by-law which he probably does not know exists, which is secreted somewhere in the station master's drawer or under the booking clerk's counter, and which he cannot find unless he goes and asks for it. I suggest that that is a thoroughly retrograde step.

If we want to take a more modern view of this matter it would be much better to adopt the principle of modern advertising and assume that the customer is always right. After all, that is what all businesses do and the railways are a business. Instead of multiplying offences, and making them more difficult to understand and know about, I suggest that we should limit the number of offences and make it less likely that members of the public will be hauled up for petty offences and fined.

Mr. Harrison

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that this Bill necessarily multiplies the offences that the passenger on the railway may commit?

Mr. Wilson

Perhaps I have been misunderstood. I intended to convey that it makes it more difficult for the passenger to find out what are the offences and, therefore, he will be more likely to feel himself under a grievance when he is prosecuted. I might perhaps commend to the Minister and to the British Transport Commission the example of Toc H, which when they wanted to do away with certain practices which are also offences under the by-laws, put up a notice, "If you spit on the carpet at home, please do it here."

With regard to Clause 31—increase of penalties—as already pointed out, that is an increase of penalties principally under Section 5 (1) and Section 5 (3) of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1889 and also under the London Passenger Transport Act, 1936 and the Tramways Act, 1870. It is increase in the fine from £2 to £5, in the first and third Acts, and provides for a uniform fine of £20 for a second offence in the second Act. I gather that the reason given is the altered value of money and also to iron out inequalities, presumably on the principle that even in fines we should have fair shares for all.

With regard to the question of the increase in prosecutions since the war, some figures have been given for London transport. There are other figures available which relate to the four main line companies compiled by the Railway Executive. I understand that in 1938 the number of prosecutions for such offences was 2,575, and that in 1948 the figure was 8,361. There was a decrease in 1949 to 7,078. Whether the decrease had anything to do with the fact that I ceased to be responsible for prosecutions in one of the regions in the interval, I do not know, but I gather that it has been suggested that there are fewer passengers travelling and that this accounted for the decrease in 1948–49.

With regard to the general overall increase since before the war, there seems to be some suggestion that this is due to increased supervision. That is not my impression. I had to deal with these cases over a period of 10 years before the war, and, after an interval, for two years after the war. My impression was that there was a considerably increased tendency among the public to commit these offences. I did not find any difference in the efficiency in the railway police. I have always found the railway police a very efficient body, as were the ticket collectors and particularly the travelling ticket collectors—often called the "snappers." They were a keen body of men who did not neglect their duty before the war. I think that it is unfortunate that it should be suggested that the increase in prosecutions was due to some increase in efficiency.

I think that the increase is due to the psychological effect of present conditions. On one occasion someone suggested that the real reason for the increase was because so many people regarded the railways as fair game. That is true. People who would not dream of stealing an apple from a costermonger's barrow do not hesitate to attempt to defraud the railway companies. I think that it is a psychological effect because they feel frustrated and are a bit "fed up" with the number of rules and regulations; they take a chance and they get caught out. It seems to have nothing to do with their station in life or their income.

One illustration has been given already, and I can remember another one which happened many years ago. I mention it, not in order to stir up old mud, but as an illustration. It happened years ago, when I was responsible for the prosecution of a lady who claimed to be a relation of a philosopher well known to many hon. Members opposite. She alleged that she was a relation of Karl Marx. I do not know whether that was true or not but it is true that she was the wife of an hon. Member of this House at the time of the offence, though not at the time of the prosecution. As, unfortunately, he was concerned in that offence, the incident brought to an end a political career which might have led to very great things. The increase of fine from £2 to £5 would not stop that sort of thing happening. I suggest that it was the psychological effect of having too many rules and regulations, and that if we could have a greater degree of friendship between the passenger and the railway company an improvement might result. It is quite possible to do so because London Passenger Transport managed to achieve that result before the war by brightening up their stations and by advertisements and so on, instead of the rather grim—

Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

The decrease in the number of prosecutions between 1948 and 1949, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, was partly due to the falling-off of passenger traffic. Would he not agree that the increase from 1938–1948 was in some measure due to the proportionate increase in passengers? There were more people travelling.

Mr. Wilson

I should not have thought that there would be an increase to that extent—it was an increase from 2,575 to 8,361, which is a very big increase. I do not know whether this increase in the fine will have the desired effect. It may be that perhaps the Minister and the Commission will consider whether there are other means by which they can bring to an end, or, at any rate, greatly diminish, because they will never bring to an end, the cases of fraud on the railways. I suggest that they might consider linking the punishment with the crime. Instead of having an increase in fine they might possibly make the defrauding passenger pay a certain proportion of the fare which he has defrauded—say four times the fare he has defrauded or something like that—which might have the effect of connecting up in his mind the offence which he has committed with what it actually is—the taking of money from the railway company.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)

I want to draw the attention of the House for a short time to one of the powers which would be given to the Commission under this Bill. Unfortunately, some of the actions of the right hon. Gentleman have cut across my particular hobby horses from time to time, and one of them is the question of watercress. Under this Bill powers are given to the Commission to pump any water which they may find in the construction of any works into any available stream or watercourse or any sewer or drain of any local authority. It is a perfectly reasonable provision, because in the course of foundation work, and so on, it is 10 to I that water will be encountered and so must be allowed to run away. However I, and we on this side of the House do not necessarily take the view expressed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) that because a thing has been done for 100 years it is necessarily right in the present circumstances.

A very important fact in this case is that in the Fifth Schedule the powers of the Commission extend to certain parts of my constituency, such as Sandridge and Welwyn, which are in the watercress growing areas of Hertfordshire.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

There is nothing in the Bill about watercress.

Mr. Grimston

I am finding it a little difficult to connect watercress with the case I want to make in regard to keeping the water clean. However, I will try and keep off watercress.

The Commission have power under this Bill to put water into local rivers. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the water is not only free from gravel, soil, or other substance, but is also free from oil. I do not know whether oil is considered in the Bill as a solid substance or whether it is in suspension, but it is certainly fatal to the crops I have in mind. There is a further point, and that is the regularity of the discharge. If the water is pumped out at an even rate daily throughout the seven days of the week, no harm results, but if it is pumped out five days a week only, great harm is done. I hope that the Minister will look again at these words and see whether they can be altered if they are common form.

8.13 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) is asking me to take more powers than I am entitled to take. It is not the Minister who is responsible for this Bill, but the British Transport Commission. Therefore, if his hobbies are being interfered with on this occasion, I hope he will relieve me of that responsibility.

I intervene to answer some of the points which have been submitted with a view to assisting the House to come to a decision. I understand that Mr. Speaker has agreed that I can give the total cost of these works. The total cost is £306,000, which does not represent a substantial outlay of capital, taking the responsibilities of the British Transport Commission into account and the need to meet the industrial and other developments that are taking place from time to time throughout the country. The money will come from the capital resources of the Commission, and the figure indicates that this will not be much of a strain.

Before I come to the main problem that appears to occupy the minds of Members, I should like to deal with the question put to me in regard to the town and country planning Clause. I am able to give the House the full assurance that this is not a Clause which in any way gives favourable consideration to the British Transport Commission. It is a standard Clause which the Minister of Town and Country Planning has himself required to be inserted. When the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) asked me whether there was any value in the Clause, I confess that that particular point had not occurred to me. However, I have since possessed myself of the necessary information, and I think the hon. Member will find it very reassuring.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

Can the Minister tell us what it does?

Mr. Barnes

Under Section 118 of the Town and Country Planning Act, the Minister has power to vary the provisions of a Private Act passed before 1948. A Clause on the lines of Clause 37 is the procedure whereby we ensure that the Minister can vary, by order, the provisions of Private Acts, where necessary on planning grounds. The hon. Member will appreciate that without this Clause the Minister would not be able to vary the works for which this Bill makes provision even if they were objectionable on planning grounds. I hope this explanation will allay any concern that might exist. Clearly, it gives no preferential treatment to the British Transport Commission, which is liable, like any other undertaking, to the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, including any development charge for works undertaken.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made great play with Clause 30. I do not consider there is much substance in the criticism of the Committee for agreeing to variation to the 1845 provisions. Since then, a great number of Acts of Parliament have been passed in which there has been laid down a common procedure in regard to local authorities and statutory undertakings in the matter of their by-laws. I cannot help drawing the conclusion that the hon. Member is showing very clearly his attitude to the British Transport Commission when he wants to tie them down to conditions that were laid down in 1845, since when there has been a change in a variety of directions. Statutory corporations have become a recognised part of our economic life, and new systems of regulations and laws governing them have grown up on a much more modern basis than prevailed when the railway companies first began to develop. It is only right, therefore, that the British Transport Commission should use the normal procedure of the House and adjust themselves to common practice.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is the Minister referring to statutory undertakings which have places where by-laws can be exhibited, such as railway stations in the case of the British Transport Commission?

Mr. Barnes

It does not matter whether the undertaking has the facility or not. In the case of railway companies and undertakings, they have the same facilities. In fact, greater facilities have been available under this old procedure than is the case with the other statutory corporations, because the copy of the bylaws will be somewhere in the station or in some other place to be determined. Therefore, the average traveller or user of a railway can have the same facility as when the old method was in operation.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The right hon. Gentleman said that because of changed circumstances this method can be adopted, but can he say what objection has been found in the last 105 years to this practice, and whether the result of this change is not to change the position in which the by-laws can be seen every hour of the 24 to a position in which they cannot be seen at any rate during many of those hours?

Mr. Barnes

There may be differences of opinion as to what procedure is best, but I suggest that it is not the vital issue which hon. Gentlemen wish to make out. One of the reasons for the change, as I understand it, is that the Lord Chairman of the Committee on the Bill last year drew the attention of the British Transport Commission to the fact that many of the by-laws were now obsolete and it was very desirable that they should reexamine them and bring them more into line with modern and common procedure.

Sir H. Williams

I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but can he tell us whether bringing the by-laws up to date has anything to do with their publication? We are dealing solely with the form of publication, and whether they should be stuck on the walls so that every traveller waiting for a train can read them.

Mr. Barnes

As I say, there may be different points of view on this, but there is very little difference as far as the facilities of the public are concerned, because they will be available, like all other bylaws of local authorities, water companies, electricity corporations and so on, so that any person can read through them on the stations. Any person who wishes to have a copy of the by-laws will be able to obtain them for a shilling.

Mr. Renton rose

Mr. Barnes

I am speaking under considerable difficulties tonight. There may be differences of opinion on this matter, and probably nothing that I say will alter the views of hon. Members. I am emphasising that this issue has been exaggerated out of all proportion to the Bill that the House is asked to approve here tonight. It has gone through the procedure laid down by this House. Four Members of the House of Commons have considered it in Committee, and have come to the conclusion that this is a justifiable alteration. I myself, having listened to the arguments of hon. Members, do not consider that it represents such a substantial change as hon. Members have said this evening.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The right hon. Gentleman told us that one of the reasons for this was an indication by the Lord Chairman in another place that the Transport Commission should review their bylaws. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how that observation is relevant to this change, which is a change not in the by-laws but in the statutory provision for the display of by-laws?

Mr. Barnes

I do not propose for a moment to exaggerate that general remark of the Lord Chairman of the Committee, and I cannot interpret this in every detail, but what I do say is that one of the things that led to the examination of the whole of the by-laws and penalties was the comment of the Lord Chairman of Committees. That does not justify every particular change—

Sir H. Williams

Did he suggest this change?

Mr. Barnes

I did not say he did but, on the other hand, he did not condemn this change. This change emerges both as a result of the Second Reading of the Bill in this House and the examination through the Private Bill procedure. I hope the House will approve of it by agreeing to the Third Reading of the Bill.

With regard to the penalties that Clause 31 imposes, there are a whole series of modem Acts of Parliament to Which I wish to make reference. I want to name a few of them. They include the Land Drainage Act, 1930, the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the Local Government Act, 1933, and the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. These and others represent a series of Acts of Parliament that have been approved by the House of Commons in recent years, and which deal with the types of practices similar to those that are involved here in the railway by-laws. As a general rule, Parliament has fixed this scale of penalties for that type of offence, and here again I think that the British Transport Commission cannot be condemned if they seek, particularly in their Private Bill, to bring their scale of penalties more into line with what is the common practice in this country. I trust that after this full and complete examination of these three issues, the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

The Minister's answer was very disappointing. We make no apology at all for having had some discussion upon the Third Reading of this Bill, and all I want to do now is to deal with one or two of the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to the House. I am not going to go through all the minutes of the Committee upstairs. As a matter of fact, I could not get a copy of the minutes upstairs. If this Commission asks for a Bill to be passed through this House, at least it might make some of the documents available to hon. Members. It would then be so much easier for everybody.

We have to deal with these things on Third Reading because we can never raise them at any other stage. The questions which I am going to raise tonight will afford me the last opportunity of referring to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered. It is quite impossible to put down any Question under the Rules of Order of this House, and so I want to take this opportunity of saying something to him which will be of further assistance on this Bill, which has got to go through another place. The Transport Commission, while that is going on, can ponder carefully the speeches which have been made this evening, and I hope, having pondered them, they will embody in the Bill the gist of what has been said. This is not the last stage by any manner of means.

Let me dispense with two points. What the right hon. Gentleman said on the town and country planning question was satisfactory. It was right that we should raise it, and I am quite satisfied with the answer which he gave. On the question of total costs, it is clearly right that we should not pass a Bill of this kind without inquiring how much it is going to cost. It is one of the functions of people who are examining Measures of this kind to find out something about the cost of them. A sum of £306,000 is not as insignificant as the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make out. It sounded a rather large sum of money, but in the general concept of the Transport Commission's financies, which we cannot discuss here, it is probably against that background not an unreasonable capital expenditure.

On the two other grounds, which are matters of general public importance, the question of the by-laws and the question of the penalties, it seemed to me that the answers the right hon. Gentleman gave were wholly inadequate. After all, it was a pretty astonishing proposition with which he came to the House—that he was going to quadruple the penalties and conceal the by-laws. He could not expect to get away with that without someone asking a few questions about the matter.

I will take the by-laws first. I understand that the case that has been made by the British Transport Commission is that it is much easier and simpler—I think that is the term they generally use—not to publish the by-laws but to keep them in the drawer. Of course, it is much easier and simpler, but that is scarcely an argument which can commend itself to a democratic assembly. It may be a big presumption these days, but people are presumed to know the law. Do not let us make it even more difficult for them.

Then the right hon. Gentleman talked about modern practice. What is this modern practice that one should not publish to the world the laws one expects people to keep? The only modern thing about it is that it happens to be introduced this evening in a Bill the Third Reading of which was moved by the right hon. Gentleman. What we have to discuss is not its modernity, but whether it is right or wrong. To tell the truth, I have a shrewd suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman thinks it is quite wrong. In these Debates we have come to know pretty well when it is obvious that an hon. or right hon. Member is putting forward an argument which he thinks is pretty thin. The right hon. Gentleman was searching around desperately for something which he could put in, and all he could think of was an ex cathedra statement made by the Lord Chairman in another place on another subject.

It may well be that the Lord Chairman was right on the subject he was talking about and that many of these bylaws are out-of-date and ought to be amended. Will the right hon. Gentleman call the attention of the British Transport Commission on that matter? It is not a matter we can discuss tonight on the Third Reading of the Bill, because it has nothing to do with the Bill. We are not in the least concerned this evening about the merits of the by-laws. We are concerned that people should be able to see them, and it really is no good saying they will be somewhere in the station.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

Will the hon. Gentleman ask that they should not only be published, but that they should be published in Welsh, as well as in English?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am very grateful to the hon. Member. By all means they should be published in any language that is spoken in any part of the British Isles. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying they will be somewhere in the station. How comforting to anyone who goes to Euston to know that they are somewhere in the station. Does the right hon. Gentleman really imagine that if one asks a porter at Euston Station whether one can see a copy of the by-laws, he will lead on to the place where they are put up in a little cabinet for inquisitive passengers to go and see. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the argument he was putting forward was complete nonsense from start to finish. Will he invite the British Transport Commission to read the speeches made in this Debate, including his own, and to reconsider this matter and see whether something can be done in another place?

I wish to say a word on the amount of the penalties. I could not understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He said something about it being the sort of scale of penalties provided in the Food and Drugs Act or the Local Government Act, but what has that to do with it?

Sir H. Williams


Mr. Thorneycroft

It has nothing whatever to do with it. Why a penalty which might be appropriate for selling drugs below the appropriate standards should also be the appropriate penalty for travelling without a ticket, I really am a little at a loss to understand. The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) said that there were only 39 people prosecuted for fraud upon the buses. "But," he said, "of course you can only prosecute the ones you catch." Of course we can only prosecute the ones we catch, and how will the quadrupling of the penalties help to catch any more? I should have thought it would have made it a great deal more difficult.

I am not going to detain the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can, quite easily, but I have never heard a greater travesty of an argument by anyone than that addressed by the right hon. Gentleman to the House this evening. I hope that another opportunity will be taken to put something very different in this Bill before it reaches its final stage.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. David Ronton (Huntingdon)

It is not very often that I find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), but I cannot share his satisfaction with the Minister's explanation so far as it affected the town and country planning practice with which this Bill is concerned. Although the British Transport Commission are very rarely brought fully within the terms of the procedure laid down under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, nevertheless the Commission have been given access to the Minister's office by means of the backstairs.

As evidence of that, I draw the attention of the House to the somewhat sordid arrangement which has been made between the Commission and the Minister of Town and Country Planning which has, or will have, the effect of spoiling the "green belt" to the advantage of the Transport Commission in a way that no private enterprise concern would have been allowed to do. If hon. Members look at Clause 23 and the Fourth Schedule, and the evidence which has been given in relation to Ickenham, where already the Commission possess 38 acres, much of which is undeveloped, I feel that they will find themselves bound to agree with the allegation which I am quite deliberately making.

Mr. Barnes

I do not like to interrupt the hon. Member, but that statement is absolutely incorrect. The British Transport Commission, or rather the London Transport Executive, were compelled to search considerably and extensively to meet the requirements of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. It was only after very exhaustive consideration that it was discovered that this was the only available site. In view of the enormous increase which is taking place in the fleet of London Transport, which in a few years will grow to something like 11,000 buses, no more delay could possibly take place if we did not want very serious inconvenience.

Mr. Renton

Would the right hon. Gentleman enlighten the House on whether the local planning authority were consulted, and, if so, what they had to say about it? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much of these 38 acres was undeveloped, and to what extent it does create—as it is admitted in the proceedings to be—an infringement of the principle that the "green belt" should be sacrosanct? Would the right hon. Gentleman answer that?

Mr. Barnes

I cannot answer all the details in that connection. All I am refuting is that there has been any sordid arrangement between the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Transport. That is the allegation which I am repudiating very strongly.

Mr. Renton

We are greatly handicapped by not being able to refer to the evidence given before the Select Committee. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman and myself trying to bandy denials across the Floor of the House. I will merely invite hon. Members on both sides of the House to examine the matter, and I shall be very surprised if the majority of them do not come to the same view as the one which I have formed. I think, quite candidly, if I may use a vernacular word, that it "stinks."

There is a further matter in regard to town and country planning and the British Transport Commission which appears to me to be very strange, and about which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will have any denial to make. The combined effect of Clause 36 of this Bill and Section 13 (4) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is that the Minister of Town and Country Planning may entirely exclude or, if he wishes, modify the provisions of this very Bill to which we are now being asked to give a Third Reading. This is a most strange situation. The Government implore us to give a Third Reading to this Bill, to act as legislators in regard to it, and we find, when we penetrate a little bit below the surface, that what we are being asked to do may be undone by a stroke of the pen by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. That situation may be inevitable but, if it is becoming the common form, the House should know about it and should be on its guard against it. The House should watch very carefully for any act of the Minister of Town and Country Planning which will have the effect of upsetting the decisions which we are invited to take.

A very strong point has been made about Clause 30 and the publication of by-laws. This is a matter which in itself should cause this House not to accept the Bill, even on Third Reading. It will always be to the convenience of passengers to be able to have ready access to the railway by-laws. If this Clause becomes part of the law of the land, as it will do, passengers will be completely in the dark. In the first place, who are they to ask for a copy of the by-laws? We have not been told. Have they the right to ask the humble porter, and has he the duty to provide a copy? Have they the right to seek out the station master and has he, however exhalted a station master he may be, the duty to come down to the platform and supply a copy personally? All these important matters are left vague.

How will it come to be proved in a court of law that a copy was available? If a copy is kept under the cushion of the seat where the ticket collector sits, is that enough, or is there a specified place where it must be kept? We do not know. The reason I say it is important that a copy should always be available is that sometimes passengers, especially if they are carrying valuable articles when travelling, want to know what is the liability of the railway company for accidents and loss of baggage. They may wish to know the liability of the railway company in regard to personal injuries. Those hon. Members who know anything at all, and all hon. Members do know something—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

If the hon. Gentleman proposes to discuss all the by-laws, we shall be here for a very long time.

Mr. Renton

I am pointing out that, in order that passengers may ascertain their rights for compensation, it is necessary that they should be allowed to see the bylaws, because they frequently contain some of the conditions of carriage which apply to passengers. There is the further point that we find in line 38, on page 23, that the copy of the by-laws is to be deposited at every passenger station. Why should it be limited to passenger stations? I know of several stations—there is at least one in my constituency—which were once used for pasengers but which are now used for goods only.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member appreciates that we cannot amend the Bill? This is a Debate on Third Reading.

Mr. Renton

I am criticising the limitation of the words, "every passenger station." I am criticising the fact that the position is strictly confined.

My last point is this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, hon. Gentlemen have been very patient in listening, but we have been very disappointed that we have not had the value of their contributions, except for that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), who made such a very surprising speech. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Select Committee, and one of the longest Clauses in the Bill is Clause 28, which is for the protection of Nottingham Corporation, and which was added on the Committee stage. I presume that the hon. Gentleman did have something to say about it then, and I should have thought that, instead of making the very bewildering statement that he could not understand the Opposition, he would have been on his feet welcoming the fact that the Opposition had given the fullest possible opportunity for this Bill to be considered and amended by the House, an opportunity which he very rightly seized for putting in a very long Clause running into four and half pages for the protection of his own constituents.

I want to say that we are here amending the criminal law of the land in a Private Bill, and that I feel is wrong in principle. It is especially wrong when we find that it is a criminal law which, on the figures given, is being invoked more and more as every month passes. We all deplore in any form the defrauding of the railways, and we have to protect the railways, whether nationalised or not. With that I fully agree, but when Parliament is imposing penalties and altering the criminal law of the land, this is not the medium by which it should be done.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.