§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is sometimes possible, in moving the Second Reading of a Bill, to begin with a brief and yet comprehensive explanation of the general purpose and scope of the Bill before dealing with the Clauses one by one. That is not usually so with a miscellaneous provisions Bill, and it is certainly not the case with this Bill, which is a very mixed bag. Most of the Bill is, I hope, uncontroversial, but I cannot claim that in respect of Clauses 1 and 2 and, perhaps, Clause 9.
The chief and urgent need for legislation on these subjects is the Government's wish to get rid of wartime emergency legislation and to replace it by Acts of Parliament constitutionally passed. It is this which obliges us to legislate on matters which cannot be other than controversial. I have been surprised, since I have been in the Ministry of Transport, to find how diverse are the rules of law governing different forms of transport 1703 which compete for the same passengers. This has usually arisen out of the history of different periods when different kinds of vehicles were introduced and the different ways in which they were managed and owned.
While I should never advocate uniformity for its own sake, believing, as I do, that variety can result in competition and is extremely valuable, there are cases where such diversity is inconvenient and apt to result in injustice. I hope to show that Clauses 1 and 2 deal with the case where a common system of control of charges is desirable.
Motor buses—or, to use the legal phrase used in the Bill, "public service vehicles"—are now the most common form of public passenger transport. Some are owned by the British Transport Commission, some by non-statutory undertakers, and some by statutory undertakers. Clause 1 deals only with these statutory undertakers: that is, those who operate under a private Act of Parliament; a great many of them are local authorities.
Usually, these private Acts fixed maximum charges, either so many pence per mile or whatever might be approved by the Minister of Transport. So long as prices were relatively stable before the war, there was seldom need to vary these maxima. Since 1939, however, costs of transport, like the costs of everything else, have risen, and the Minister has increased the maximum permitted charges under Defence Regulation 56.
Apart from the statutory authority under which they operate, these motor bus operators were also required, like all other bus operators, to obtain licences from the licensing authorities, and these licences fixed the fares that were to be charged. Because of this dual control, successive Ministers of Transport made a practice of referring the issue for advice to the chairmen of the licensing authorities. The revised charges which the licensing authorities were prepared to put into their licences were those which they recommended the Minister to approve, and he almost invariably did so. This dual control is cumbersome and unnecessary.
We wish to take the opportunity of ending wartime regulations to repeal all the provisions of private Acts of Parlia- 1704 ment which restrict fares or fare stages, and give to the licensing authorities the sole jurisdiction in this matter. This is done by Clauses 1 and 14. It has the further advantage of putting statutory undertakers in exactly the same position as non-statutory undertakers running buses who may be in competition with them. That seems to us to be fair and, at the same time, it simplifies the whole matter.
Trams, generally speaking, are an older form of transport than buses, and there has been a general conversion from trams to trolley buses. There are at present 42 statutory undertakers, of whom only 10 still run trams. Of these 42 statutory undertakers, 38 are local authorities and four are companies. These undertakings are not required to obtain road service licences under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, in respect of trams and trolley buses. Therefore, the licensing authorities have no jurisdiction over their charges which, until 1939, were limited only by the statute under which the statutory undertakings operated. There was not, therefore, that dual control which existed in the case of buses and which we seek to end under Clause 1.
This system of statutory limitation worked all right in the pre-inflationary age, but when costs began to rise the procedure for obtaining an increase in fares by private Act of Parliament was cumbersome, slow and costly. Since 1939 the Minister of Transport has had power under Defence Regulation 56 to authorise increases. Successive Ministers have thought it wise, before authorising these increases, to arrange for a public inquiry into each application.
Many of these statutory operators also run buses, and they applied simultaneously for increased bus fares which, as I have already explained, had to be approved by the licensing authority. It was obviously convenient for the two applications to be heard at the same time and by the same individuals, or at any rate by one of them. It was, therefore, the custom of successive Ministers of Transport to ask the chairman of the licensing authority to inquire into the tram and trolley bus applications and to advise him on what action he should take.
In this way the practice has grown up under Defence Regulation 56 of the public—that is, the local authorities, the ratepayers' associations, the trade unions and 1705 the rest—having an opportunity of appearing at a public inquiry and being heard if it wished to object to the proposed increase in fares. Since we are now proposing to end the operation of Regulation 56, the House will have to decide whether to go back to the pre-1939 system or not.
I am only too conscious that this is a rather complicated matter, so perhaps I may recapitulate what I have said about the meaning of Clauses 1 and 2 and, in so doing, give an imaginary example. Let us suppose—and there are many cases of this kind—that Blacktown municipality is a statutory undertaker and provides bus, tram and trolley bus services for that town and neighbourhood. It finds it necessary to increase its fares. The licence under which it runs its buses is conditional upon charging the fares laid down by the licensing authority so that Blacktown must apply to the licensing authority for permission to charge higher fares. It is also precluded by a private Act of Parliament from charging more than so much a mile, which was probably fixed in pre-war days. It must apply, therefore, to the Minister for his authority under Regulation 56 to increase its charges.
When the licensing authority is considering what increase to authorise under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, its chairman is invited by the Minister to advise him what increase he should authorise under Regulation 56. At the same time, he is asked to advise the Minister separately what increase for trams and trolley buses the Minister should authorise under the Regulation.
The House will see that the legislation is somewhat confusing and deals with these competitive types of vehicles, or should I say co-ordinated types of transport? I am most anxious, ft I can, to carry the Opposition with me on this particular point. Indeed, I will make a further concession if I may in the interests of conciliation. I would describe this as being integrated even though the integration is dependent upon this ingenious contrivance by the Minister of Transport in having three separate inquiries conducted at the same time by almost the same people.
§ Mr. Molson
This procedure has been practised by all Ministers of Transport, including the Minister in the late Socialist Government.
The licensing authority has, in fact, become an expert authority for coordinating charges. After careful consideration we have come to the conclusion that this Bill ought to give statutory authority to that simple procedure. Clause 2 makes the licensing authority the authority for fixing tram and trolley bus fares just as Clause 1 makes it the authority for fixing fares in the case of buses.
I am sorry that this simple solution does not wholly commend itself to all the statutory undertakers. The Association of Municipal Corporations originally suggested that the licensing authority should make a once-for-all review of the existing statutory maximum and that, thereafter, any operator wishing for an increase should promote a private Bill in Parliament. Such a procedure would be, as I have said, cumbersome, slow and costly. Other local authority associations recognise that and agree with us that tram and trolley bus fares should be dealt with by the same authority as deals with bus fares.
They say, however, that the licensing authority should fix only a maxima and not the actual fares. We carefully considered this proposal, because we should like this to be a non-controversial and agreed Measure. We also considered most sympathetically a somewhat similar suggestion made by the Scottish Counties of Cities Association that the licensing authorities should determine only a maxima for buses run by municipalities within their own boundaries as well as trams and trolley buses.
I have had a message today from the Association to say that it has abandoned its proposal in respect of buses, so it no longer opposes Clause 1 of this Bill. It maintains its view about trams and trolley buses, and, consequently, remains critical of Clause 2. I should like to say how much I appreciate its kindness and consideration in letting me know this afternoon exactly what its attitude was.
My right hon. Friend received a deputation from that body and gave very close personal consideration to the proposal because he hoped to find that this would be a compromise which would, at the 1707 same time, reconcile the interests of the travelling public and of private enterprise undertakers with the freedom to the greatest possible extent of the local authorities. We regretfully came to the conclusion that such limited control would not adequately protect the public interest, nor would it necessarily prevent unfair competition. Fare stages vary much in length, and a downward taper in the fares per mile almost invariably operates in the case of the longer journeys. This means that a maximum fare of so many pence per mile leaves the operator a wide scope for discrimination.
To the argument that local authorities are popularly elected and will, therefore, necessarily consult their ratepayers' interests, I have to point out that these municipally-owned and managed transport undertakings often go far outside the boundaries of the local authority concerned, and they are also often in competition with private bus companies which are subject to the much more rigid control of the licensing authorities.
It is an unworkable proposal that the control of services should be terminated at a geographical boundary where the service itself does not, in fact, end. In taking this view we are fortified by the Report of the Thesiger Committee. I hope that, after due consideration, the House will come to the conclusion that the proposals in Clause 2 of the Bill are fair and reasonable to the local authorities, will preserve a fair balance between them and their private enterprise competitors and will protect the interests of the travelling public whether inside those boundaries or outside.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
It would seem that great injustice might be done to get uniformity. For example, Glasgow has tried to prevent too much use of buses because of congestion and danger in the city, and has tried to encourage the greatest possible use of the trams. It has been public policy in Glasgow to encourage tramways traffic and to keep the buses for longdistance and speedier transport purposes. The Minister states that he intends to ensure some degree of uniformity. That may mean that the local policy to which I have referred may have to be completely upset because the tramways will have to charge the same fares as the buses do, 1708 and this will drive thousands of people to the buses, which will make the roads of Glasgow impossible for traffic. That makes the move for uniformity a desperate measure.
§ Mr. Molson
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I am saying. I am asking the House to agree to uniformity to this extent, and this extent only; I am asking that the licensing authority, after a public inquiry at which all interested parties will be able to appear, should fix what fares are to be charged in respect of buses, trams and trolley-buses.
I am not in the least asking that there should necessarily be uniformity as between the fares of these different forms of transport. What I am proposing is that this matter should rest with the licensing authority, an authority which was originally set up by a Socialist Government, the powers of which were greatly extended by a Conservative Government, and which was found by the Thesiger Committee to have worked extremely satisfactorily over the last 24 years.
The example given by the right hon. Gentleman shows how very wide the discretion of the local authorities is at present. The fact that many of those who use the transport system provided by the Glasgow Corporation are not ratepayers in Glasgow and that they are trying to plan in this way the use of different kinds of transport shows how desirable it is that an independent and expert body should be able to decide what fares should be charged. What the right hon. Gentleman has said sounds to me very reasonable, in which case I am sure it would appear equally reasonable to the licensing authority. All that the right hon. Gentleman has said tends to confirm the argument that I have put before the House, that in these very difficult and complicated matters it is desirable that the licensing authority should fix the fares.
I now come to the other Clauses on which I hope to be able to go much faster and which, I hope, will be very much less tedious to listen to.
The House will remember that in the Transport Acts of 1947 and 1953 full provision was made for future charges on the British Transport Commission's railways and inland waterways. The 1709 procedure was for schemes to be prepared by the Commission and submitted to the Transport Tribunal, which would then hold a public inquiry and approve the schemes with or without amendment if it thought fit. Clause 3 applies the same charges schemes to the independent railways and inland waterways, which I am sure the House will regard as being only fair. Clause 4 provides, in terms, that these schemes may at a later date be amended.
As to Clause 5, the House will remember that one of the great reforms of the 1953 Act was that the railways were freed from the statutory provisions relating to equality of charges, undue preference, and so on, which dated back to the legislation of early Victorian times. For reasons which I need not repeat, the House decided to free the railways owned by the Transport Commission from those restrictions. Clause 5 extends a similar freedom, subject to the same restrictions, to the independent railway and inland waterway undertakings.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The House would be interested to know what these independent railways are. Do the remarks of the hon. Gentleman refer simply to the Mumbles Railway? What independent railways are there today?
§ Mr. Molson
There are a few independent undertakings, and my right hon. Friend will later answer the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Molson
Clause 6 establishes a general procedure for the revision of charges made by statutory independent undertakers of special kinds, such as the harbours, ferries, bridges, and so on.
Clause 7 confers upon all independent statutory harbour undertakings which are included under Clause 6 the power to make charges in respect of seaplanes which use their property. Clause 8 revokes Regulation 56 of the Defence (General) Regulations as soon as the Bill becomes law, but it gives validity to all charges in existence at that time which have been authorised by the Minister under the Regulation.
I now come to Clause 9, and I ought to mention that some local authorities have expressed their opposition to the 1710 proposal in this Clause. In the regulation of standing passengers there is at present much the same diversity between buses, trams and trolley-buses which I had complained about in the case of fares. Under the 1930 Act my right hon. Friend has power to regulate the number of standing passengers in buses. He has general temporary powers under Defence Regulation 70, which is due to expire on 10th December this year. He has exercised these temporary powers in respect of trolley-buses, but not in respect of trams. We propose that the Minister should have the same power over trams and trolley-buses as he has had over buses since 1930. This also follows the recommendation of the Thesiger Committee.
Clause 10 enables the Minister to simplify the annual accounts and returns which the independent railway undertakers are now required to present and prepare under the Railway Companies (Accounts and Returns) Act, 1911. Clause 11 requires a little more explanation. When the railways were derated in 1929 to the extent of 75 per cent, it was the intention of Parliament that they should pass on this relief to certain kinds of traffic, particularly coal, milk and livestock, by which British industry and agriculture would obtain a measure of relief.
This matter has a long and extremely complicated history into which I hope I shall not be expected to go. The British Transport Commission has been freed from the obligation to pass on the benefit in respect of its undertakings as from 1st January, 1951. It is obviously only fair that the same terms should now be accorded to the independent railway companies and canals.
Clause 12 deals with expenses. It makes the usual provision that any administrative expenses incurred by the Minister shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament and any fees received by a licensing authority shall be paid into the Exchequer. This is virtually common form, but we do not expect that the operation of the Bill will require any increase in the staff of my right hon. Friend's Department or any increase in administrative expenditure.
Clause 13 is the usual interpretation Clause. Clause 14 provides for the repeal of various statutory provisions which have 1711 to go to clear the way for the provisions of this Bill. The enactments repealed are set out in the Second Schedule. I am afraid that the First Schedule is long and apparently rather complicated. It sets out the procedure which the licensing authorities are to follow when dealing with tram and trolley-bus fares. It prescribes as nearly as possible the same procedure as is followed at present by licensing authorities in respect of buses.
We had hoped at one time to avoid this long Schedule and to provide that the procedure should be the same as under Section 72 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, but since tram and trolley-bus services do not require road service licences, the fares could not be attached to a licence as conditions to be observed under the provisions of that licence. For that technical reason it has been necessary to prescribe the procedure in full.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman made the point that this would not involve the Minister in any extra cost for staff. Will that apply to the Commissioners? Presumably they will have to have a staff to deal with all these details. Will it apply to the local authorities who, in turn, will have to deal with all these details? If there are to be maxima for trams somebody will have to deal with the charges. The local authorities and the Commissioners will have to go into the figures to make their judgment. Has the Minister estimated what increased staffs will be involved, and whether all this is necessary?
§ Mr. Molson
I should not like to make a prophecy. I can only make a forecast. We do not think it is likely to add in any way to the cost or complication of the procedure.
As I tried to explain, at what I fear was almost wearisome length, my right hon. Friend has been obliged to authorise higher maxima and successive Ministers of Transport have invited the chairman of the licensing authority to hold a public inquiry on their behalf and then to advise them. Public bodies of all kinds, incorporating local authorities, trade unions, ratepayers' associations, and so on, have appeared at these public inquiries and under the Bill we intend to incorporate in permanent legislation a slightly simplified form of the procedure which has been in operation since 1939.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I clear up one point to avoid a good deal of discussion? Am I to understand that a Commissioner is simply to decide the maxima, as he has done up to now, or is it the intention of the Bill that he must go into the details of fare charges at all stages in connection with trams just as he does at the moment in the case of buses? Will not that be a more complicated procedure?
§ Mr. Molson
He will go into the matter in detail under the proposals of this Bill. He will not merely prescribe maxima, but fares. That has been done under wartime procedure and, therefore, there will be no additional complicated procedure as a result of the passing of this Bill.
I apologise for the length and tedium of my speech, but I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if I set out in detail what these somewhat complicated procedures involved.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I think that the House should congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on sticking so closely to his brief and reading it so well, but I was a little shocked when he was unable to inform us to what three of the Clauses of the Bill apply. Clauses 3, 4 and 5 are rather long Clauses dealing with the independent railways and inland waterway undertakings, but the hon. Gentleman was unable to tell us what independent railways still exist. I hope that his right hon. Friend the Minister will succeed in being briefed between now and his closing speech, so that we can be informed on that point.
The case which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has made is one which can certainly be considered as legitimate and one which will probably commend itself to the House, but we have a certain doubt about the reason for introducing this legislation at this juncture. The only reason which, in effect, the Parliamentary Secretary gave for introducing this minor legislation at this stage was that it is proposed to get rid of war-time regulations of which we all desire to dispose as opportunity arises, but there is a question of priorities. When legislation of this nature comes to us from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, we wonder why certain other legislation, which has been promised over a long 1713 period and which in our view deserves priority, has not yet appeared. I refer, for instance, to the road safety legislation, for which we have been waiting for the last two years. There is also the new Highway Code which also we have been pressing the Minister to produce, but which is still held back. I think the Minister will be faced with further legislation to amend some of his past legislation, notably the 1953 Act.
I should like to ask the Minister why, after the appearance of the Thesiger Report with its large number of recommendations, many of which are uncon-troversial and acceptable to both sides of the House, he should decide to introduce this particular legislation. It deals with only one aspect of that Report, and why does he not wait until he can bring in a general Measure dealing with all the matters on which legislation will be required to implement those recommendations of the Report which the Government propose to carry out? It would have been better, and would have saved the time of the House and enabled more important legislation to be produced, had the Government waited until the larger Bill was ready.
The Thesiger Report appeared only last November and, no doubt, there has not been a very long time in which to prepare all the legislation, but this has been rushed forward for some reason which is not quite clear to us, and I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary was sufficiently convincing about it. I agree with him fully that the Thesiger Report did give a complete endorsement to the licensing system. That is very gratifying to us on this side of the House, as it was the minority Labour Government, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) as Minister of Transport, which introduced the 1930 Act. It is satisfying to find that the Thesiger Committee not only endorsed that, but also did not make the political recommendations which the Minister had been hoping it would make and which we suspected were the reasons for appointing the Committee.
The present system, with which Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill deal—which obviously are the most important Clauses— was explained by the Parliamentary Secretary. As he stated, it is reasonable 1714 to seek uniformity in dealing with municipal buses, trolley-buses and trams. It can be argued it should be the same for all public service vehicles, whether operated by public or private undertakings and all should be brought into a uniform system. On the face of it, that is acceptable and desirable, but one has to take into account the fact that not exactly the same conditions of control prevail in the case of municipalities as in private undertakings. It is necessary to take their susceptibilities into account.
As the Parliamentary Secretary admitted, local authority undertakings are controlled by democratically elected councillors, as a rule through their transport committees. There is, therefore, a control over those undertakings and checks upon the fares which they charge which do not exist in the case of private undertakings, or would not but for the licensing authority. I do not think that aspect can be swept aside quite as lightly as was attempted by the Parliamentary Secretary.
I hope that if this Measure goes through the licensing authorities, when considering applications by municipalities, will remember that those applications come from the democratic bodies answerable to their ratepayers, who are the consumers, as it were. The applications are not made until there has been full discussion in the appropriate committee and in the council itself. They have to take the utmost care, for political reasons if for no other, not to demand higher fares than are absolutely necessary. Otherwise, ratepayers and users of the transport undertaking would take action in regard to the councillors, who are answerable to them.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
Is not the danger also that local authorities, for those same political reasons which the hon. Member mentioned, might fail to demand high enough fares to run a service economically?
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, but there is a limit to the extent to which a municipality can accumulate a deficit and draw on the rates. Under various statutes it is not possible to draw on the rates to meet a deficit on transport undertakings. Admittedly, on occasion that safeguard has been got round, but by and large transport undertakings over a period must 1715 make ends meet. I suggest that if this Bill goes through the licensing authorities must realise that the applications have been fully sifted before reaching them. Therefore, they should not have to go into the matter in so much detail, or give the local authorities so much trouble in regard to detailed information as in the case of private undertakings.
When we reach the Committee stage, it might be as well to give a little more consideration to the proposals put up by the municipalities. The Minister has been very courteous to those who made representations to him. The municipalities, as far as I understand, favour the method of the licensing authorities fixing maximum fares chargeable per mile and, within those maxima, they wish to be free to fix their own fares and thus to have greater flexibility than is proposed by the Bill. There is something to be said for that. I am not saying that we on this side of the House have necessarily made up our minds finally on this. I see all the arguments in favour of uniformity, but I also see the case which the municipalities have made and their desire for flexibility. I suggest that between now and the Committee stage the Minister might give further consideration to this matter and we might have further discussion on it then.
In this connection, I suggest that Scotland is in a special position. The conditions which apply to the operation of their transport undertakings—I am now referring to trams and trolley-buses in Glasgow and the three other Scottish cities—are different from those which apply in England; and it may be that there is a case there for special consideration. I feel that we might discuss that in much greater detail during the Committee stage.
Before leaving Clauses 1 and 2, I wish to say that I like the idea of eliminating the Minister from the fixing of these fares. I am not referring particularly to the present Minister, although in many ways we should, in any event, like to eliminate him. One of the faults of the 1930 Act is that it leaves too much power in the hands of the Minister, irrespective of what party he represents, in the matter of appeals. I understand from these two Clauses that the right of appeal to the Minister and the same appeal machinery 1716 still exists, that the Minister still has the final say.
I am not sure that I agree with the findings of the Thesiger Report on this matter, from which there was one dissentient. I am not sure that an alternative system of a transport tribunal or some other arrangement to eliminate the present system whereby the final decision rests with the Minister might not be desirable. I suggest that because I suspect that on occasion decisions have been made by the Minister, in regard to appeals after he has used the machinery provided. He appoints an inspector for the purpose, receives his recommendation, which he has a perfect right to accept or reject. His decision as to whether to accept or reject it has sometimes been based on political consideration.
I should be perfectly content to admit that that has applied to Ministers from 1930 onwards, that a Minister has that flexibility. He is in a certain position and it may well be that he is not able to act in an entirely judicial capacity. Since this Government came into power there has been the Northern Roadways case, which I should be out of order in going into at this stage. That is a case in which one suspects that such considerations entered into the decisions which were finally taken.
The only other Clause with which 1 propose to deal is Clause 9. The Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly hurried over the other Clauses because there is nothing controversial in them; they are merely machinery Clauses, and we have no comment to make on them at this stage. On this side of the House, however, we have serious doubts about whether Clause 9 is necessary and desirable. In the first place, I do not know why it is in the Bill. The Bill deals with fares and charges and the like, and the subject matter of Clause 9 is really extraneous to it. It is true that the Title of the Bill is the Transport Charges, &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and that that can cover a multitude of sins. Why control of the number of persons permitted to stand in vehicles should be included in the Bill is something which I do not understand.
The Clause empowers the Minister to make regulations regarding standing passengers. The Parliamentary Secretary explained that the position is at present 1717 that the numbers are regulated under Defence Regulations, but I understand that if those were repealed we should revert to the pre-war position whereby the number was fixed under other regulations made under other legislation. The maximum number of persons permitted to stand in buses pre-war was five on the lower deck of a double-deck bus, whereas under the war-time regulations which now operate the maximum number permitted is eight. If (he Defence Regulations were repealed the permitted number would be five.
§ Mr. Molson
I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. I think he failed to notice that I said that in the case of buses the Minister of Transport has power under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and that it is only in respect of trams and trolley-buses that he has not power at present under permanent legislation.
§ Mr. Davies
This Clause applies topublic service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles.Therefore, the Clause is introduced for the purpose of controlling those types of vehicles. If the Parliamentary Secretary is correct, that is an added reason why this Clause need not be included in the Bill, because I understand that he has the power to make regulations under certain other legislation with regard to buses. But if this Clause were not included, he would not be able to increase the maximum number from five to eight, eight being the maximum number now. I think he will find that that is correct.
I do not see why we should not revert to the pre-war maximum figure. Why is it necessary to have any standing passengers in buses today? So long as standing passengers are permitted, there is a temptation to the operators not to provide services of sufficient frequency or an adequate number of vehicles to cope with the additional traffic which offers at certain periods of the day. It is the obligation of the undertaker to provide sufficient equipment to carry the traffic which desires to be carried, but so long as there is provision for the undertaker to carry that traffic without providing the necessary vehicles, he is tempted not to provide them. It is a known fact that because of this ability to increase the numbers of passengers carried on buses at certain times the frequency on certain unremunerative 1718 services is not as great as it could be or as great as the existing rolling stock permits. After all, the permission to carry standing passengers was introduced for an emergency. That emergency has now passed, a greater amount of equipment is now available, and there are other ways in which this problem of the peak traffic can be tackled.
Just before the Easter Recess, we had a short debate on this matter, and I do not propose to repeat the arguments put forward on that occasion, but, unless the traffic congestion is relieved and there is an increased staggering of hours and an increased road programme, it will be necessary to carry large numbers of standing passengers. It is not fair to the drivers and the conductors to overload their buses in this way. It increases the danger of travelling—the road safety factor comes into it—and it should be brought to an end as soon as possible. Then, again, there is the suffering which the traveller has to endure at the end of his working day.
Clause 9 also provides for what have become known by the rather horrible-designation of "standee buses." A standee bus is specially constructed to provide a large amount of standing room in addition to a certain amount of seating capacity. I believe that it is the: Minister's intention that a standee bus shall provide for 50 per cent, seated passengers and 50 per cent, standing passengers.
We on this side of the House disapprove of the introduction of standee buses. We do not consider that they are necessary. What is the justification for their introduction? Why must the travelling public put up with increased discomfort when going to and from work and on other occasions? Why must those employed on these buses, particularly the conductors, have their working conditions made more difficult, because with standing passengers in a bus it is obviously much more difficult to collect fares and to cope with the other responsibilities inherent in the job? It is inevitable that, with the jolting and jerking of these buses when they change direction or stop or start suddenly, standing passengers will be thrown hither and thither.
Who is going to certify these vehicles, and what is going to be the protection against increased danger? How are the 1719 passengers going to be protected, and how can we ensure that an excess number of passengers are not carried? Are the conductors' responsibilities going to be looked after? These buses will certainly add to their troubles.
What are the Minister's intentions regarding the regulations provided for in Clause 9? I understand that at one stage of the consultations which the Minister had before this Bill was introduced the intention was to revert to the pre-war situation and to allow only five standing passengers. But in reply to an hon. Member on 13th November last, the Minister said that the regulations would provide for eight standing passengers. Is the Minister going back on the assurance given to those whom he consulted, and particularly to the trades unions? If so. why, and what are his intentions in this connection?
When we come to the Committee stage, we shall probably put down some Amendments to this Clause with the purpose of limiting the number of standing passengers which can be carried. We shall also ask the Government to accept an Amendment requiring the regulations to be subject to an affirmative Resolution and not to a negative Resolution.
We are not proposing to divide against this Bill tonight. As I have stated, it is largely a non-controversial Measure. I have referred to the few Clauses of the Bill with which we are not in entire agreement, and I hope that, following today's debate, the Minister will look at some of the points that have been raised, and will consider whether some Amendments cannot be made when we come to the Committee stage. I ask him particularly to consider again the position of the municipalities, to see whether, in Scotland, some special exemptions cannot be made, to consider whether this Bill is the right place for this Clause 9 or whether further consultations should take place before such a Clause is included—and if not, whether he will consider amending it.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I welcome this Bill, which, in the main, implements the recommendations of chapter 11 of the Thesiger Committee's Report. As the hon. Member for Enfield East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has said, certain recommendations of that Committee 1720 and certain things it did not recommend were controversial, but I do not think that chapter 11 contained anything controversial or to which either side of the House could raise any objection.
Notwithstanding the objections made by the Municipal Passenger Transport Association, the Committee's recommendations were very moderate. As was pointed out in the Report, trams are a declining form of transport, and trolleybuses are also to some extent declining— or at any rate are not likely to expand. While no strong justification may arise to reverse the decision made in 1930 by bringing such services wholly within the licensing system for public service vehicles, there is undoubtedly a case for certain specific matters relating to trams and trolley-buses to be treated in the same way as public service vehicles.
As the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, the present position is very complicated. This has, of course, all arisen out of the long history of trams and trolley-buses. Trams, when originally introduced, followed the precedent of the railways by being established under private Acts. Each Act empowered the statutory undertaking to charge up to some maximum amount. Incidentally, many of these private Acts also contained a provision enabling the Minister to enforce some revision of charges within the maximum. That was all very well in pre-war days, when costs were fairly steady, but rising costs during and since the war have made all these maxima entirely obsolete. At present, in almost every case, the Minister has authorised fares in excess of the maximum under Defence Regulation 56
If a statutory undertaker wishes to increase fares for buses, trams and trolley-buses he must apply to several authorities. He must apply to the licensing authority with regard to buses and to the Minister in respect of trams and trolley-buses. If, however, the buses are also subject to a maximum under an Act which has been exempted by Section 72 (7) of the 1930 Act he again has to go to the Minister for permission to go beyond the maximum charge. As the general policy of Her Majesty's Government is obviously to do away with Defence Regulations, this position really cannot continue.
1721 The Thesiger Committee has also given very good reasons why Section 72 (7) of the 1930 Act should be repealed, but if nothing else is done the statutory undertakers will find themselves thrown back on the very cumbersome procedure of the Private Bill. I do not think anyone really wants that situation to arise. Everyone agrees that a change is necessary. I understand that at the moment the municipalities would like the licensing authority to lay down the maximum and to give them flexibility under that maximum.
That would perpetuate the difference between buses and trams in favour of trams—which are a declining industry. If it is not intended—as the hon. Member for Enfield, East says it is not—that the municipalities should subsidise the trams at the expense of the ratepayers then I do not see what the object of such a distinction is. If they do not propose to do that I do not see why they are anxious to maintain a distinction between buses and trams.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not possible that the cost of petrol might rise, whereas, if I may again take Glasgow as an instance, where an electricity station was built before the war, electricity costs might not rise. Is there any reason why ratepayers should be called upon to pay more merely to bring about uniformity between the trams and the buses?
§ Mr. Wilson
There is nothing to make the licensing authorities insist that the same charges should be paid for different forms of transport. If electricity is cheaper, presumably the licensing authorities will bear that in mind in deciding what charges are appropriate to electric trams rather than buses which are dependent upon petrol. At any rate, it seems to me that the provisions of this Bill carry out two of the three main provisions of chapter 11 of the Thesiger Committee. We can understand why the third one is not in the Bill. The proposal is of rather a different nature and might be more appropriate in another Bill But, at any rate, it seems to me quite reasonable to carry out two of the three proposals in that chapter.
There is only one other point that I want to raise, and that relates to the exact significances of Clauses 3, 4, 5 and 14 (4). Those are all the Clauses relating 1722 to the independent railways and the inland waterways. I understand that these Clauses are intended to apply the benefits of the Transport Act, 1953, as to the greater flexibility of charging, and so on, to the independent statutory inland waterways and to the independent statutory railway undertakings.
I should like to endorse the question of the hon. Member for Enfield, East as to what is an independent statutory railway undertaking. He suggested that it was the Mumbles Railway. I submit that it could not possibly be the Mumbles Railway. It does not seem to me that the Mumbles Railway is affected by this Bill at all. The Mumbles Railway is certainly nota railway of the nature of a tramwaywithin the definition of this Bill, because the Mumbles Railway, although it may look like a tramway and has a double decker car, is nota light railway laid wholly or mainly along a public carriagewaywhich is the main definition of the railway, and I doubt whether it can be said to beused wholly or mainly for the carriage of passengersbecause it carries a large amount of goods traffic, or at least it used to.
I doubt whether the Mumbles Railway is an independent railway within the meaning of Clause 3 (1) of this Bill because it defines an independent railway in this way:This section shall apply to—(a) any independent railway undertaking, being a statutory undertaking and not being an undertaking carrying on only…and then it gives a list of other things. My recollection is that at the time of the passing of the 1947 Act there was some difficulty about the Mumbles Railway with regard to charges, because it was found that the 1947 Act did not apply to the Mumbles Railway, and neither did the Act of 1921.
The Mumbles Railway is a very interesting historical case because it is one of the oldest railways, if not the oldest railway, in the country and it preceded the Stockton and Darlington railway by many years. As far as I can recollect it came into being by reason of a series of private transactions and not a statute. I just wondered whether the effect of these 1723 Clauses could be looked at and whether we could be told what they apply to. If they do not apply to everything that they are intended to apply to, perhaps they could be revised at a later date.
I think those are all the points that I wish to raise. All the other points are entirely non-controversial. It is perhaps useful that there are provisions in the Bill which relate to planes landing on the water in harbours. It is a curious little point, which might be useful in certain cases. On the whole, both sides of the House should welcome the Bill.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said that it was the policy of Her Majesty's Government to abolish the Defence Regulations, but I would remind him that it is also their policy, judging from the speeches they made when they were in opposition, to endeavour to give greater autonomy to local authorities, especially in matters of local government.
The hon. Member said that the maxima were outmoded and outdated, but I wonder whether he was confusing the issue, and really wanted a steady figure. The maxima must surely alter from tune to time, and when local authorities seek to secure the right to raise their own fare stages under those maxima—
§ Mr. G. Wilson
The hon. Member must have misunderstood my remarks. I said that the maxima already laid down in the large number of private Acts are obsolete because they were all brought into force a very long time ago. They can be changed by other private Acts, but that is a slow and cumbrous procedure. If we are thrown back upon the private Acts it will take the municipalities much time and money to get them altered.
§ Mr. Hannan
I do not deny that they have the right to ask for an alteration of the maxima.
I want to deal particularly with Glasgow and the Scottish position. In 1952, Glasgow Corporation sought and received permission from Parliament to raise the maximum fare from Id. to 2d. The Parliamentary Secretary said that private and provisional order procedure was slow, costly and cumbersome, but it is part of the case of local authorities that if they 1724 wanted to raise or adjust fares they could do it in a matter of weeks at present, whereas if, as is contemplated by the Bill, they have to apply to a licensing authority it may be six or nine months before such permission is granted, by which time they may incur a deficit running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly began by saying that he wanted to be conciliatory, and made special reference to the attitude adopted by the Scottish Counties of Cities Association in its discussions with the Minister. He was good enough to say that he was grateful for the information which had been conveyed to him this afternoon, but he did not go on to say whether he was now prepared, in return for the Association's agreeing to leave buses under the control of licensing authorities, to give further consideration to its point that although trams and trolley-buses should remain under the control of licensing authorities in respect of the maxima, local authorities should nevertheless be allowed, locally, to arrange their own stage fares.
It has gone some way to try to meet the Minister's point of view in this matter and it agrees, on the whole, with the purpose of the Bill. It is according to the ordinary course of negotiations that when one side gives way it expects a quid pro quo. We have not had that from the Minister so far, and I hope that he will actively consider the possibilities of giving it before the Committee stage. No doubt he will.
I hope now to be allowed to develop the case as the Association has it. First of all, we appreciate the purposes of the Bill, the tidying up, and so forth. However, both sides recognise that in achieving uniformity we may be inclined to go too far. Therefore, we have to ensure that, in tidying up, we avoid the tendency to over-centralise and do more than necessary. The Scottish Counties of Cities Association made strenuous representations to the Minister, especially about tramways and trolley-buses. The existing position regarding the fares and the licensing of transport vehicles operated by local authorities is that the bus services are controlled by the licensing authorities for public service vehicles, whereas the tramways and the trolley-bus undertakings are authorised and governed by local Acts which themselves prescribe the maximum fares. The Parliamentary 1725 Secretary did not pay sufficient regard to that point.
The Bill proposes that the tram and trolley-bus fares shall be such as are authorised by the appropriate licensing authority. Glasgow and the other Scottish cities, while agreeing to that feature, that it should decide the maximum, want the right, which has been their right for certainly 30 years—
§ Mr. Hannan
But it was modified by the 1930 Act. They want the right to raise fares. The Association, when first considering the Bill, was decidedly of opinion that there should 'be no restriction on their existing powers in regard to transport undertakings, and thought the proposals ought to be opposed, but it was faced with the fact that the Minister wanted all three forms of transport to be under the licensing authority. It agreed that should be so regarding the buses, but expected that the other two forms should be left to the local authorities.
I come to the position as it is in Scotland. There are special features there relating to local authority transport undertakings that do not exist in England and Wales. For example, there is not the same element of competitive transport within Scottish cities that exists in most English and Welsh boroughs. Glasgow, by statutory right, has almost a complete monopoly of passenger transport services within the city boundaries.
Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee have virtually a monopoly as a result of agreements between the local authorities and the private operators, and the agreements exist even with the nationalised undertakings. The main purpose behind the agreements is to ensure that the public using a private or national service are not prejudiced by those vehicles being filled by short-distance travellers, who are adequately provided for by the local authority transport. That is the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) endeavoured to make earlier.
Three forms of transport are being dealt with here. In Glasgow, we have all three. In the other three cities there are only the two forms. The existing machinery for fixing the fares for the three forms of transport is, very briefly, as follows. First, the Scottish local 1726 authorities operate within a maximum rate per mile as laid down in local Acts. That was a penny per mile before the war and as recently as 1952, by provisional order, was increased to twopence. If they desire an increase beyond that statutory maximum they obtain power from the Government to promote a provisional order. This arrangement has worked satisfactorily over many years.
I remind the Minister that the discretion enjoyed by local authorities in the matter of fixing tramway fares has existed since the inception of tramways over 50 years ago. The Glasgow tramway service is famous throughout the world. It is true that the tramway systems in this country are diminishing in numbers. Certainly, the figures suggest that. But a power station has been built at Pinkston and £11/2 million is being spent on developing it and if the Bill is passed and the local authority is deprived of its rights in these fares, it can be prejudiced in other directions.
Moreover, the matter has been examined from time to time in the past, and in 1936 a Select Committee recommended that trams should be brought under a licensing authority, but Parliament decided to make no alteration. Why do the Government now wish to exercise this authority in a form of transport undertaking which is tending to diminish —in a type of transport which may be non-existent in the country in a few years' time?
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not the case that Glasgow also has an underground and the Cathcart circle, within Glasgow, also in competition with these other forms of transport? Is that not also a part of the transport system which will require co-ordination?
§ Mr. Hannan
It is true that there is a Glasgow underground which is managed by the local authority—its most recent acquisition—and that there is the "Cathcart circle" of British Railways. Either the Bill is not going far enough in this respect or it would be better to leave the tramways and trolley-buses alone. The arrangement has worked satisfactorily for the trams for the past 50 or 60 years.
Turning to the buses, before the war the traffic commissioner did not have a clearly defined right to fix a scale of fares. 1727 All he did was to take steps to ensure that there was no abuse and that fare scales were co-ordinated where competitive systems or services existed.
In response to representations, the Minister was good enough to send a very full reply to the Association, and in that reply he indicated that, as to Clause 2,I have given anxious thought to the views expressed to me so strongly by the various associations representing tram and trolley operators and I have been impressed by the strength of the arguments put forward.He said that nevertheless strong arguments had also been advanced in favour of the proposals and he said,It seems to me that the best course is to proceed.…He said that in the course of this debate he will give certain reasons. We are very anxious to hear the counter reasons which dissuade him from accepting the admittedly strong arguments of the operators in Scotland.
So far as trolley-buses and trams are concerned, the local authorities argue that these are local services which are administered by the locally elected representatives who know the local circumstances best, that they are acting within the confines of the city, and, moreover, that to achieve uniformity and simplification is one thing, but when it is proposed to encroach on what are, after all, democratic processes, further consideration might be given to that point of view.
Since Parliament itself has all along, by means of the provisional order procedure, accepted the principle of a mileage rate for tramways and that powers have to be vested in the licensing authority, surely that might be restricted to the fixing of a mileage rate instead of a scale of fares, and as trolley-buses are largely replacing tramcars, the same form of fare fixing should apply. That would mean that instead of the local authority applying under the local government procedure to the Minister to fix the maximum mileage rate, the licensing authority would do it.
I conclude by again asking the Minister further to consider the Scottish County of Cities Association's representations. He may not be aware of it, but I am informed that there are only about 3,000 tramcars left in the whole of Great Britain. The figure some time ago was 9,000. Of that 3,000, one-half are in 1728 Scotland and one-third in the City of Glasgow. With that deterioration and slowing up—there is certainly no development taking place in tramcars—is it worth while, in the time that is left, to go to all the trouble in this Bill of adopting a new procedure, when the tramways and the local authorities concerned will have to make up their minds—and they are evidently doing so—that trams have to go? I think that this is a matter for further consideration.
If the Minister must proceed with the Bill, will he, on the question of moving them into the licensing authority, consider the point that while the three may be subject to the licensing authority in respect of maximum fares, in regard to trolley-buses and trams, which are still one of Glasgow's proudest possessions, authority to arrange for local stage fares will be left with them? This may appear to be a Committee point, but we feel so strongly about it that I hope that the House will forgive the insistence with which the local aspect has been put.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I intervene to deal particularly with Clause 2. I am sure that every Member of the House has very great respect for the local authorities and their transport undertakings and would not wish to do anything to detract from their autonomy in this respect. There are, however, two things to be remembered in considering this Clause. The first is that there are many other undertakings in this country which are not owned by the local authorities but which are, in fact, subject to the fixed rate procedure of the licensing authority. The other point is that it seems in fairness the same rule should apply to all.
On the point that local authorities would like the maximum fare settled instead of the actual fixed rate, it seems to me that there are two dangers about this. One, which has already been mentioned, is that some local authorities might be tempted artificially to lower their fares within the maximum and for the time being at least to draw upon any reserves or upon the rates, thereby constituting unfair competition with private enterprise. That suggestion has already been made.
There is another danger also. Consider the opposite extreme. A local 1729 authority which has a monopoly in its area—this applies to all kinds of undertakings—is tempted to go to the maximum, not necessarily justifiably, but because it can be obtained, in order to keep the transport undertaking in good order and to be of assistance to the rates.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
A local authority is not allowed to subsidise the rates from its transport undertaking.
§ Mr. Cole
It would not be a question of subsidising rates. It may be for other purposes—perhaps the rebuilding of garages, for example. At any rate, the danger is there. I admit that the greater danger of the two is that of charging less than the maximum, but when a maximum is fixed there is a temptation for anybody who has the service available to make use of the maximum if he so desires.
There is another awkwardness in what the local authorities are suggesting. Let us visualise an authority which has been working under the maximum procedure for some time and then desires a further increase, having already reached the maximum which it can charge under the licensing procedure.' It applies to the licensing authority for a new maximum. The licensing authority is likely to look much more carefully before agreeing a new maximum—not a new fixed rate— for which a local authority is asking, and for this reason.
If a local authority makes a case for a fixed rate, the evidence either will or will not support the case. But a maximum must always be something in the nature of a prophecy. The local authority has to make out a case that in the next two or three years it will be necessary for the fares to rise to the suggested maximum rate. Any member of such a licensing authority would look very carefully, and, therefore, would look far longer, at such an application, and the whole procedure would be much more involved in fixing a new maximum as distinct from a fixed rate.
The point which has been made in regard to Glasgow applies, presumably, to other places also. My hon. Friend made it plain that there is no suggestion in the Bill that differential rates for different transport services run by a local authority could not continue as at present. Nothing in the Bill says that a local 1730 authority's tramway fare stages must be the same as its bus fare stages. Therefore, the point about the cheapness of electricity vis-à-vis petrol does not apply. I am sure that licensing authorities would have regard not only to the policy of a local authority, such as Glasgow, which we respect, but also to the necessary factors—the age of trams, the amount of capital still outstanding, and all the rest —in deciding upon the fixed rates which the tramway and the bus undertaking run by the one local authority could obtain. On the whole, the procedure for fixing this rate would be better and more desirable than that for the maximum rate.
We are, perhaps, making rather heavy weather of this issue, in all the arguments there have been both on previous occasions and again today. I do not believe there is any case for treating buses owned by local authorities differently from trams and trolley-buses. The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) said that the tramways were on their way out. As we know, with the possible exception of London, the trolley bus certainly is not on the way out, and still forms a large volume of public transport. Leaving aside for the moment the argument about Clause 2, I am sure that no Member of the House would wish to perpetuate a system embodying at least two different methods of fixing, for the same travelling public, the rates which a tramway or a bus operator could charge for carrying passengers. For that reason, I hope that the Bill will be acceptable to the House and will be given a Second Reading.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I venture to intervene in this debate, after a somewhat prolonged absence from the House, because Edinburgh, part of which I have the privilege to represent, is very much opposed to bringing trams under the procedure proposed in this Bill. I am rather surprised that the Minister has introduced this scheme and has failed to take into consideration the suggestions made to him by the Counties of Cities Association.
The matter is rather confused, and the Government want to use the opportunity of dispensing with Regulation 56 to sort out this confusion and try to introduce some uniformity. That is a very desirable aim, but surely if uniformity is to 1731 be introduced into the procedure it should be democratic, and if it is not it is a bad thing to do. So far as I know, in Scotland there has never been any objection to 'the procedure under which local authorities decide their own fares for the different tram stages.
There is no demand for this scheme. Why, then, should we take from the local authorities powers which they possess? I should have thought that to be bad from a democratic point of view. The Joint Under-Secretary of State used the argument that this method would prevent unfair competition, but that problem does not exist in Scotland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) explained, there are already satisfactory arrangements in all the Scottish cities to avoid that kind of thing. The arrangements have been working for a very long time, and the difficulty to which the Minister referred has never arisen in any of the Scottish cities.
The Joint Parliamentary Undersecretary used as his second argument that it gave better protection to the travelling public. In Edinburgh we have had some experience in recent years of trying to make representations to the licensing authorities against increased charges. Our experience has been that there has not been very great satisfaction about that. The Minister said that it was possible for representative organisations to approach the licensing authority to present their case. But it is possible to do that with the local authorities. It is possible to send a deputation to a sub-committee of the transport committee and to put the case against higher fares. I believe that the members of the transport committee are far more likely to give greater consideration to such a case because they have to go to the electorate in the following May, whereas the licensing authority is not directly responsible to the electorate. That safeguard is a much better one than the safeguard proposed under this procedure.
The local authority has far more information about fare stages than has any licensing authority. It knows the local difficulties, the type of district to be served, and the desirability of introducing fares to meet the needs of its own citizens. That expert knowledge lies with the local authorities in a much 1732 greater degree than it does with any licensing authority.
For these reasons, I appeal to the Minister again to consider the Scottish position. Not a single argument can be adduced in favour of changing it. Nobody wants a change, so why should it be changed, particularly if a change will damage present democratic processes? I urge the Minister to give very serious consideration to the representations by the Counties of Cities Association and to see whether he cannot make some provision in the Bill in Committee in order to exclude at least trams from the provisions of Clause 2.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
It was not my intention to make any observations on the Second Reading of the Bill until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) about Clause 9. I welcome the Bill as a whole, and I particularly welcome Clause 9 because of the progressive effect which it may have generally on the state of traffic in this country. If the Clause passes into law, from now on the Minister will have power to… make regulations with respect to public service vehicles.…"—the tram-cars and the trolley-buses— as to… the number of the seated passengers and standing passengers respectively whom any vehicle is constructed or adapted and fit to carry.…The assumption of the hon. Member for Enfield, East is reactionary in relation to traffic policy in this country. He assumed that henceforth every vehicle was to be permitted to have only five standing passengers. In other words, he wanted there to be only five standing passengers, and he stated that it was his hope that in the near future there would be no standing passengers of any kind in any public service vehicle. He was, therefore, advocating a future in which in trams, trolley-buses and buses and on the underground we would no longer have any standing passengers at all.
Owing to the needs of the public in different parts of England and Scotland, it may well be that we shall desire to have more standing passengers and not fewer. We may desire to have vehicles which are adapted solely for standing 1733 passengers. I want the House, the Minister and the Minister's advisers very carefully to consider the proposal which I now put forward briefly for a wide use of other vehicles designed to carry people who wish to stand.
We have, first of all, to bear in mind that a large part of the community, when their working hours are over, are bent on one intent only, and that is to get home as quickly as possible. I do not for a moment accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion; I do not think that they would all necessarily want to travel in comfort sitting down if they could get quicker and cheaper transport by standing up. That is manifest to any of us who travel in the rush hour and see the people going home; if they can get on the underground trains at all, they will cram themselves in the doorways in order to get home a minute or two earlier.
The second point we have to consider is the need to reduce the number of buses, trams and trolley-buses running at peak hours. If we can get more people into a smaller number of buses and trams during that period, the better it will be.
Thirdly, we have to consider whether, if people are prepared to stand and we can introduce transport in which they can stand, they could not be carried more cheaply if they were prepared to put up with a certain degree of discomfort in order to get home quicker.
I invite the Minister and the House to look at the position, in France, for example. There practically the whole of the provision in the underground system is for standing only. If one travels in Paris in the Metro one finds there is practically no seating accommodation and a great majority of the people stand. It is also interesting to note that everybody pays the same fare however far the journey, and as a result of that very considerable transport costs are saved because there is no need for a conductor. Also in the tramways in France there is a special platform designed for standing passengers only.
It seems to me that it might be possible to design or adapt public vehicles in this country to enable part of the vehicle to be reserved for standing passengers. I commend these suggestions, and for this reason it seems to me that it is important that there should be discretionary power in the Minister, where there are 1734 vehicles adapted for that purpose, to enable him to make recommendations that there shall be certain vehicles in which a greater number of people than five or eight are able to stand, if that class of vehicle is expedient or desirable.
I therefore strongly protest against the argument which was adduced by the hon. Member for Enfield, East, who was asking us to say that we should have complete uniformity, that there should be only one sort of bus, trolley-bus or tram and only one type of vehicle should be permitted to have five standing passengers. I think that that is reactionary. Now that new means of transport are evolved almost every day, we must look to the future and we must consider whether it is not possible to save transport costs by having a vehicle which one enters at the front, paying the fare on entry before taking a seat, and of which a suitable part is reserved to provide for standing passengers only.
These things must come. They may or may not be opposed by certain sections, including conductors, but there will be always room for a class of bus without a conductor. For all these reasons it is eminently right that this matter should be invested in the Minister, to give him full scope to do what he thinks right in accordance with the Clause. Very much for that same class of reasons, the balance of the rest of the Bill is admirable in its effect.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
It is important that the points which have just been made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rhys-Davies) should be answered at once. The hon. Member referred to a statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). In dealing with the point of enabling transport undertakers to use vehicles which provide half of their space for standing passengers, the hon. Member dragged in the question of the Metro and the underground system to bolster up his argument. He will see how patently absurd that is when he reflects on the fact that in the underground railway system we are assured of certain safety considerations.
It surely must be accepted that here we are dealing with an entirely different form of transport from the point of view 1735 of safety. If one attempts to relate to that subject the Clause in this Bill which deals specifically with public service vehicles on the road and one attempts to permit 50 per cent, of the passengers to stand, obviously entirely different safety considerations enter into the matter. It is very important that the Minister should bear that in mind.
I have brought with me a summary of the reports of the licensing authorities. The Minister will have noted that in the report for 1952-53 this trend seems to be creeping in. It is authorised by the licensing authorities, possibly without reference to the Minister, but I do not think that is provided for in present legislation. This trend from various areas for licensing authorities to permit the use of vehicles which, I believe, do not provide the safety which I think ought to be the concern of the authority responsible for permitting these vehicles to use the roads, is being introduced to reduce costs in certain areas. The question of the "standing buses," as they are termed, comes up again and again in these summaries.
I agree that in many areas where undertakers are suggesting to licensing authorities that they are dealing with routes which are not productive of very great profit there is a case for examining means whereby their costs may be reduced. But this suggestion is surely not the only one by which costs might be reduced. The summary of the various licensing authorities is full of suggestions from various areas which would lead to economy without sacrificing the enormously important factor of safety. I suggest that when the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet contrasted standing on the Metro or the Underground with the type of service we have come to demand from people operating road vehicles in this country was to a considerable extent disregarding that factor of safety.
I wish to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend in relation to the question of undertakings operated by municipalities. In opening the debate the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the position in regard to trams and trolleybuses today. He and other hon. Members have completely ignored the fact that the powers of operating a maximum fare per mile have been used quite satis- 1736 factorily for a long period by local authorities in widespread areas when their costs were on a fairly stable basis.
I took note of the objections raised by hon. Members opposite that if we gave too much flexibility to a local transport authority in these matters it might mean that their fares might be driven so low by the transport committee that ratepayers might be subsidising a transport undertaking. That is possible, but transport committees have made very large contributions to rates all over the country from the profit of their undertakings. This cuts both ways and, certainly where competition exists within the local authorities' areas, I cannot imagine that the fares would be driven to an uneconomic basis.
A point which has been raised in the debate is the difficulty which is encountered by a local authority which has to face an application to a licensing authority, and possibly a public inquiry. I wish to make it clear that such applications by such undertakers who are responsible for trams and trolley-buses would never have come about at all, as most of them were operating within the maxima laid down by private Acts, but for the fact that costs and prices rose enormously and those maxima were exceeded. Until that time arrived, however, those undertakers were operating within a flexible schedule of fares and charges which enabled them to give a service to the public without there being a need for the making of applications such as I envisage under the Bill.
I would direct the attention of the House to the undoubted fact that many of the public inquiries demanded by present legislation, and called for by local authorities, have concerned application for increases in bus, trolley-bus and tram fares, and I know cases of such inquiries having occupied 10 months and, on one occasion, even 14 months. I know of another case which went on for 10 months during which time the local authority undertaking was getting further and further into financial difficulties. That is surely a consideration to which the Minister should attach some weight.
I have a very long experience, extending over 20 years, of local authority control of transport undertakings working within a maximum laid down. Those with experience of that procedure recognised its usefulness, and the fact that it 1737 enabled a transport authority to make its fares and charges flexible within the area for which it was responsible. As a general rule, publicly-owned motor buses, trolley-buses and tramways, did not compete with one another on the same routes. They were operating on different routes and at different fares.
That was certainly the case over a long period, and I do not see why that flexibility should not continue. Even within small towns operating costs in various districts may vary very considerably. There is therefore, a case for permitting a local authority to continue to operate within a maximum fare per mile, enabling it to operate a flexible system of fare charges which will meet the convenience and purse of the people which the local authority represents.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I wish to draw attention to a local point which has a rather significant national bearing. The city boundary of Nottingham has recently been extended because of new housing estates. With that extension, we have also had the intrusion into the new city perimeter of quite a number of private road operators, who have been permitted to pick up passengers in what were previously non-permitted areas. These private bus companies are permitted to pick up passengers within the city limits, and because of that we found that when the city corporation requested permission to reduce the fares on its trolley-buses and other buses operating on those routes, it was denied that permission because, it was claimed, of unfair competition with the private operators.
We visualise that when the provisions of this Bill become law and there is an increasing incursion of private operators within city limits, and the power to determine fares is transferred from the city authority to the licensing authority, every time the city desires to reduce its fares the private operators will oppose the application. As I have said, on each occasion that we applied to lower our fares we found the private operators opposing the application.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that if they do that and if the matter comes before the licensing authority, there would be no 1738 factor more paramount in the mind of the licensing authority than the one he has just mentioned.
§ Mr. Harrison
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that that is what would happen, but my complaint is, in point of fact, that on each occasion that we have requested permission to lower fares the licensing authority has refused that permission. That is just the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman thought might have occurred and just the opposite of what we thought would be the position. On each occasion the licensing authority turned down our application. I wanted to bring these local facts to the attention of the House and particularly to the attention of the Minister.
We in the transport industry feel that Clause 9 is designed to limit the number of standing passengers and not to make that number unlimited as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. We believe that it is intended to limit, to regularise and control the number of standing passengers, and we shall be very interested to hear the Minister's comments on the Clause.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
We have had a short, but very helpful, debate, and I think it would be consistent with the wish of both sides of the House if I confined my remarks to a very few words. I will not go again over the ground that has already been covered, but will confine my few observations to one or two points that remain comparatively unanswered. I need hardly add that when this Bill gets to Committee upstairs, I shall be very ready to explain in greater detail any outstanding points that hon. Members may raise.
As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made plain, this Bill is part of the programme of getting rid of our emergency legislation and, where necessary, of substituting some permanent legislation in its place. That is the main answer to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). Where, in fact, we have the benefit of the advice of the Thesiger Committee on some of the aspects dealt with by the Defence Regulation which is being abandoned, it is surely only common sense to profit by the Thesiger Report. That does not mean 1739 that we do not attach equal importance to other aspects of that Report with which at the moment it is not appropriate to deal.
Secondly, we are of course anxious, both in the interest of Parliament and the proper discharge of our business and in the interest of local authorities, not to force people into the promotion of private legislation when the same objects can be achieved in another way.
I should like again to join with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in thanking the local authorities associations for the understanding and co-operation which they have shown. If I mention in particular the Scottish Counties' of Cities' Association, it is not that other bodies such as the Association of Municipal Corporations and others have not been equally 'helpful, but that I had the benefit of a long and interesting talk with the Scottish Counties on a memorandum prepared by them, which was very novel, and obviously designed to try to arrange a co-operative solution.
Various hon. Members, such as the hon. Gentleman for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), have spoken as if the consequence of this Bill will be a long delay in regard to increasing fares —or indeed of reducing fares—on tram and trolley-bus undertakings. They have suggested that the provisions of Clause 2 of this Bill would necessarily take a great deal longer than any alternative procedure. To revert, however, to the pre-war procedure of obliging 42 statutory undertakers to come to Parliament every time they want a fares increase authorised would indeed involve not only very costly but very prolonged legislation.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is not the only alternative but it is one of the likely alternatives.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) on what, though not a maiden speech, is the first he has made since his return to the House following an accident. He did mot seem to realise, however, that some change is in any case made necessary by the impending lapsing of the Defence Regulation. When he says that, in 1740 Edinburgh they say, "Why should we have a change?" the answer is that there is bound to be a change of a kind because of the lapsing of the Defence Regulation.
The hon. Member for Maryhiil made a very persuasive speech, and I must confess that he is an admirable advocate. His speech was very impressive but when he spoke nostalgically of the tram undertakings in Glasgow having had about 50 years of complete local autonomy in this field, I think that he overlooked the fact that for the last 15 years it has in fact been the Minister in Whitehall who has had the final word in regard to tram and trolley bus operation. The old pre-war system of private Acts and maximum fares worked very well indeed and enabled operators to work successfully within their maxima during a period of what the hon. Member for Carlisle described as a period of stable prices, and when quite often—impossible though it may appear today—there were actual downward fare changes.
But the old system of private legislation is no longer so suitable now that we live in less certain days. As I have already pointed out, we have, over the last 15 years, been dependent on the Minister and the use of Defence Regulation 56. I think that we are all agreed that we cannot revert entirely to the pre-war situation. No one, I believe, would argue that that would be desirable.
It has been suggested to me that we should have the same authority—the licensing authority—controlling all fares on buses, trams and trolley vehicles, but that in the case of trams and trolley vehicles the fares they should authorise should be maximum fares. At the moment, under the Defence Regulation, I fix maximum fares on tram and trolley bus undertakings, but in practice, as we all know, these maxima are actual fares. In London, on the advice of the Transport Tribunal, maximum fares are fixed, We all remember the phrase "fares not exceeding," but these are expressed as, for example, "for two stages 2d., for four stages 31/2d."In practice, though those are the maximum fares, they are the actual fares charged.
What I have been asked to authorise is an entirely different matter. I have been asked to fix the maximum rate of pence per mile. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary explained very 1741 clearly to the House the consequence of the wide differences in stages and the consequence of a tapering system on long distances, and why such a maximum control would not really give the licensing authority adequate control over the fares. It would give what I think we are all anxious to avoid—the illusion of control without the practice, and over a large part of the undertaking there would be virtually no control.
I have been very interested in the arguments which have been put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I have been particularly impressed by some of the arguments advanced from Scotland. I am quite prepared to deal with this subject in Committee and to listen sympathetically to all the arguments which may be put forward, and in the interval between now and the Committee stage to have certain consultations on that one aspect of the problem. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with that assurance.
As I was about to speak a moment or two ago, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. J. Harrison) raised a point which, he said, though mainly of local importance, was of national importance as well. He was in part, I think, effectively answered by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I cannot but believe that there must have been other considerations in the minds of the licensing authorities on this point. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that if he turns to, I think, paragraph 313 of the Thesiger Report, he will find the situation dealt with there where an extension of city boundaries bring within the city area a district that may well have been served by a private operator in previous years.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about the incursion of operators into the city limits, it may be—I do not know the details of these cases—that the city has itself been forced to an incursion into an area hitherto served by private operators. The conclusion of the Thesiger Report on that aspect is that, while recognising the desire of local authorities to provide people with transport services in new estates, the area concerned has frequently been served for years by another operator. Where such a conflict of interest arises, it appears to us that the public interest is best served if the rival 1742 claims are fully argued before the licensing authority which will decide each case on its merits.
I think that perhaps as it is primarily a matter of local concern, the hon. Gentleman might be prepared to wait until the Committee stage and then deal with it in detail. If he likes to send me certain details in advance. I shall come better equipped to deal with the matter.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member for Enfield, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) both asked about the independent railway and waterway undertakings. Neither of them, despite the fact that this Bill was published some weeks ago, can have looked at Clause 13, the interpretation Clause. Clause 13 states that "independent" in this connectionmeans not forming part of the undertaking of the Commission.I will send both hon. Members a long list of the railways and inland waterways to which Clauses 3, 4 and 5 would apply and, though this list includes the Mumbles Railway, it is not by any means limited to that historic railway, the very dramatic celebration of which I hope to attend in a few weeks' time when I visit South Wales.
I have been asked a number of questions about Clause 9. I shall be very ready to go into greater detail on the merits of this Clause in the Committee stage, but it would be as well to remember, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet reminded us, that the travelling public also have their rights in regard to the convenience of standing passengers.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
Is the Minister going to answer the question I put to him about five or eight standing passengers?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I was just going to refer to it. It is to deal with the convenience of the travelling public, especially at peak periods, that experiments are being made with the construction of a special type of bus designed to carry far more standing passengers than at present. It seems to me highly desirable that this should be done. I join with my hon. Friend in the belief that many people would prefer to get home faster standing 1743 up than be long delayed for the pleasure of sitting down. If these experiments are to be successful, it is desirable that I should have authority to allow for a greater number of standing passengers than I am disposed to allow in other public service, tram or trolley vehicles.
The procedure in regard to these new experimental vehicles will be for my technical officers to say what, in their view, the vehicles are qualified to carry, and for the licensing authorities to determine the circumstances in which standing passengers may be carried. In regard to the more conventional types of vehicles—trams, trolley vehicles and omnibuses—I must, however, remind the House of my statement of 13th November last, when I said that I proposed to make fresh permanent regulations with respect to public service vehicles which would continue the present limit of eight standing passengers on motor buses, and I went on to say something about the proposed special construction vehicles.
§ Mr. Davies
Is it not a fact that when the consultations took place with the trade unions the former Parliamentary Secretary gave them an assurance that the number of standing passengers permitted was to revert to five?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think there was a genuine misunderstanding at that time as to the intentions of the Government in this field, and it was in order to make the position quite plain that I made my statement in November last.
I hold to the view that though this was a war-time requirement, introduced in order to improve transport facilities during the period of the blitz, there are still very strong reasons why it should be continued. As the House will know, the 1930 Act gave me power to fix the number of standing passengers in buses. I have no permanent power in regard to trolley-buses or trams. Defence Regulation 70, which will lapse in December, has been used to give certain powers in the field of trolley-buses. We propose that this regulation shall not be renewed, and under the Bill we are taking power to amend the 1930 Act so that the new regulation will deal with all forms of passenger conveyance—buses, trolley vehicles and trams. It is my intention that we should continue the maximum limit of eight to which Defence Regula- 1744 tion 70 raised the previous limit of five in 1948. I hope that that statement also answers the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, East.
It is a maximum which is proposed, but in all these things we must see how we go along, and allow for changed circumstances. With these observations, and the undertaking I have given, I commend the Bill to the House with all the more confidence because I think I can say with conviction that it is very unlikely to put a serious charge either upon public or local funds.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.