HC Deb 01 February 1955 vol 536 cc1030-53

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Public Service Vehicles and Trolley Vehicles (Carrying Capacity) Regulations, 1954 (S.I., 1954, No. 1612), dated 2nd December, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be annulled. In moving this Prayer tonight, I am being consistent with the attitude which was taken during the Second Reading of the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1954, and with the Amendments which were proposed during the Committee stage of the Bill. The Regulations which were made under this Act and which we are now considering regulate the number of passengers who can be carried standing on public service vehicles and trolley buses.

When this matter was being discussed by the former Parliamentary Secretary with the trade unions concerned, certain indications were given to them as to what the final Regulations were to be. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding arose, or there was some confusion in the matter, but the Regulations now before us do not conform with the understanding the trade unions had as to the nature of these Regulations.

It is well to remind the House of the position which has arisen which has required these Regulations to be made. Before the war the number of passengers permitted to stand in public service vehicles was regulated by the Minister under the Road Traffic Act, 1930. During the war the number permitted, which had previously been five, was temporarily increased to 12, but it reverted to five in 1946. It was raised to eight in 1948.

The reason for the increase in wartime is quite obvious. There was a shortage of crews and of vehicles and there was a far greater amount of travelling to and from work, and it was necessary to provide for that emergency. But when the war was over, certain shortages continued and the increase to eight from the reversion to five was due to a shortage of vehicles and the difficulties which have consequently arisen. Hon. Members may remember that London itself had to draw from the Provinces to increase the number of buses in the Metropolis so that the shortages should be overcome.

Now the emergency has passed, and when it was decided that it would be desirable to abolish the Defence Regulations under which the numbers permitted to stand in trolley buses were fixed, it was decided that there should be one Regulation in the new Act so that there should be consistency. As I stated, there were discussions with the trade unions, and it was generally thought by the trade unions concerned that the Minister had decided to fix five as the maximum number of passengers permitted to stand in public service vehicles.

The trade unions are opposed to the practice of allowing any standing passengers at all. They have made their views clear to the Minister from time to time, but they accept that it is necessary in certain conditions to provide for the convenience of the travelling public by making a sacrifice in the views they hold. They were willing to compromise with the Minister by agreeing to five as the maximum number of standing passengers to be carried at peak periods and on other emergency occasions.

Unfortunately the Minister has presumably surrendered to pressure exerted by the operators who wished to have 12 as the permitted number, and he has decided to raise the limit from five to eight. The Regulations permit: … a number of standing passengers not exceeding one third of the number of passengers for which the vehicle, or in the case of a double-decked vehicle the lower deck, has seating capacity, or eight, whichever number is the less. The Regulations also apply to express carriages. This means that the normal buses or trolley buses which operate in London and the larger provincial centres, as well as in many rural areas, will carry eight standing passengers, which is three more than the number to which the unions were willing to agree.

It is regrettable that the Minister has taken this decision. There are many reasons why it is undesirable that there should be more standing passengers than is absolutely necessary, and there are three main reasons. First there is the consideration of the discomfort of the passengers. The larger the number of standing passengers, obviously the greater will be the discomfort of the majority. It is inconvenient and unpleasant to travel to or from work during the peak period in these overcrowded conditions, as unfortunately many people have to travel. Worse than that is the difficulty which confronts the conductor in collecting fares and having to push round the standing passengers. It is most difficult for him to collect all the fares in overcrowded vehicles. This has a serious effect upon the finances of the bus undertakings.

One of the greatest difficulties, even when there are no standing passengers, is to collect all the fares. That is because of the large number of fare stages, the short distances which many people travel and the very heavily loaded state of the vehicles. If there is an increase in the number of standing passengers, these difficulties will become far greater.

There is a third consideration of equal importance, and that is the safety of those who travel. The conductor has certain responsibilities to fulfil. Some are legal responsibilities covering the safety of his passengers, the starting and stopping of the vehicle and the boarding and alighting of passengers. If he is busy collecting fares, and has more difficulty in doing so because the bus is overcrowded, the conductor is not able to pay sufficient attention to his responsibilities on the back platform. Accidents tend to increase the more a bus is crowded and the less attention the conductor can give to the welfare and safety of his passengers.

Today figures were published in the Press showing that there has been a most unfortunate increase in the number of road accidents during the last 12 months; that we have had the worst year since 1934. The Minister should be concerned above all with the question of road safety, and in permitting an increase in the number of standing passengers, he is adding to the dangers on the road rather than diminishing them. We suggest that the Minister should give serious consideration to these factors before he acts upon these Regulations and permits this increase.

In addition to raising the permitted number, or fixing the maximum number at eight, which in effect raises the permitted number over that which prevailed pre-war, there is a provision under Paragraph 6 enabling the introduction of that horrible invention of recent times known as the "standee bus." The vehicle is as unpleasant as the name given to it. It is not constructed to provide seats for all those passengers which it would normally carry. Provision is made for seats for some passengers and standing room for others. It would normally be a vehicle carrying a large number of passengers at all times.

Experiments have been carried out in Cardiff and in other areas, and in no case has the travelling public taken well to this vehicle. I cannot understand why the Minister has permitted this new type of vehicle to be put on the. roads. It makes no pretence of providing comfortable conditions for the passengers. In introducing the standee bus, there is great danger that bus operators, faced with the difficulties caused by the high fuel tax and the cost of operating their vehicles, will take every opportunity of cutting down their unremunerative services and using fewer vehicles thereby.

They will take any opportunity of putting less comfortable vehicles on the road which will carry a larger number of passengers. Their excuse will be that it is necessary because of the high cost of operating their vehicles. I suggest that the Minister should not provide such an opportunity.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will let us know what he has in mind in relation to standee buses. Has he included the permissive paragraph in the Regulations in order to permit the introduction of these buses on a large number of routes in a large number of areas, or are there to be simply a few experiments? We should like to know his intentions, and what protection he proposes to provide both for those who travel in these vehicles and the drivers and conductors who have certain responsibilities under the Regulations. These responsibilities are not very fully stated, and before the House gives the Minister this blank cheque to introduce these most unhappily named and possibly unpleasant vehicles on the road, we should be told exactly what he has in mind.

I understand that there is no intention of changing the regulations concerning the permitted number of standing passengers in London vehicles, nor, as far as I know, is there any intention on the part of the London Transport Executive to introduce any buses which would have space for standing passengers at all times. There is an agreement between unions concerned and the London Transport Executive about the number of passengers permitted to stand, and that agreement remains in force. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, I suggest that on this occasion the Minister has gone against the views of unions: that there is no demand on the part of the public for the introduction of these standee buses, and that he will have to make out a very good case to justify the introduction of these Regulations before we can give them our support.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I beg to second the Motion.

It is quite clear that the question of standing passengers has been a very thorny one both with the public and with the two sides of the transport industry. The Transport and General Workers Union has been trying for many years to do away with the very undesirable practice of not supplying sufficient vehicles to enable the public to travel in comfort. We feel that the Minister, in going out of his way to try to increase the number of standing passengers in public service vehicles, is acting contrary to the public interest and to road safety.

Notwithstanding our opposition to the principle of standing passengers, we feel that if a national limit is to be fixed it should be at not more than five. It is quite clear that before the Minister of Transport prepared these Regulations he had consultations with both sides of the industry, but they are contrary to the advice tendered to the Ministry by representatives of the organised workers and represent a complete surrender by the Minister to the demands made by the operators.

As far as the organised workers are concerned, they have met to the extent of more than 50 per cent. the demands of the operators. Transport workers have said that they recognise that during the peak traffic period there may be occasions when it would be a hardship to people if a limited number of standing passengers were refused on the buses, and therefore, they entered into agreements with various undertakings, local authorities and private undertakings. In many cases there was an agreement between both sides of the industry for the carrying of up to five standing passengers at peak traffic periods.

I want the House to realise that this question of standing passengers is a very serious one, not only from the point of view of those engaged in the industry, but from that of safety on the roads. If we have overloaded buses and accidents occur, undoubtedly there will be a number of people seriously injured as a result, and we take the view that the policy of the Ministry of Transport should be to insist that, as far as is humanly possible, operating companies should provide such a number of vehicles as will enable the travelling public to be taken to and from their homes so that each is provided with a seat.

In regard to the difficulties of the conductors, during the Committee stage of the Bill to which my hon. Friend has referred, the extreme difficulties of conductors in carrying out their responsibilities to the general public were brought out very clearly, especially in the case of overcrowded buses. If a reasonable standard before the war was five standing passengers, with all our developments in the engineering world I should have thought that five would also be adequate today.

The difficulty of the men engaged in the industry is that they have certain responsibilities for the safety of their passengers and to the licensing authorities, and it seems to me that any action taken by the Ministry of Transport which will make it more difficult for conductors to carry out these responsibilities would really be a retrograde step. The conductor of a bus is responsible not only for the collecting of the fares but also for ensuring that the service is carried on in a way which is conducive to giving good service to the general public. After a lifetime of experience in the passenger transport industry, I have no hesitation in saying that the Minister has taken an entirely wrong course in trying to force upon the workers in the industry a system of carrying passengers in excess of the numbers which the organised workers consider are in the interests of the safety of the passengers themselves.

My hon. Friend referred to standing in buses. When the ex-Minister of Transport, now the Colonial Secretary, was discussing this matter in Committee, he agreed that the term "standee bus" was a very unfortunate and undesirable term. I am astonished that he suggested to the Committee that perhaps we might call them standing buses. It was most extraordinary that a responsible Minister of Transport ever contemplated that so-called standee buses should be accepted by the public. As an experiment, this was tried before and during the war, and in the main the authorities had to give up the experiment.

I appeal to the Minister and to the House. The travelling public is entitled to be provided with a standard of comfort in buses consistent with that in other forms of transport. To suggest that they should be pushed into buses irrespective of the comfort of others, irrespective of safety and any other consideration is a retrograde step of which the Ministry ought to be thoroughly ashamed. It is a complete surrender to the operating side of the industry. It would make the problem of organised labour much more difficult and would create dissatisfaction. It would create friction and all kinds of difficulties because of the problems it would present to those who have to carry out the responsibilities of operating these services.

For all these reasons, I hope that the new Minister will review the position and will at least reverse the view of his predecessor that we should regard the standee buses as buses in which the travelling public should stand. I hope the present Minister will at least try to provide for the travelling public the seats to which they are entitled.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) should have moved this Prayer and should have supported it with the arguments they have, because all those arguments were used when the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1954, was being considered in Committee. It is under Section 9 of that Act that these Regulations are made. Those arguments were fully answered—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—by the then Minister of Transport.

Mr. Ernest Davies

They still stand.

Mr. Wilson

The arguments seem to imply that the Minister is forcing some Regulations on the country, but, during consideration of the Measure, the then Minister said: I said that the regulation will be applied to the country as a whole, just as regulations under the 1930 Act applied to the country as a whole. In the London traffic area, the London Transport Executive and the men and women running the buses have arrived at their own arrangements, and that is a matter which I fully accept, but the law is for the country as a whole. If special arrangements are made by the workers with their employers in any part of the country, that is a matter for ordinary industrial negotiation. In other words, it is open to the unions to make such arrangements as they think fit and proper in any part of the country.

I would remind the hon. Members of something I said in the same debate.

Mr. McLeavy

I think the hon. Member ought to complete what the Minister said, for he deprecated any agreement for having five standing passengers in the provinces. He argued that the case of London was exceptional. By making that statement, he made it clear to the licensing authorities and to the owners of the services outside London that he would not back them up if they insisted on having so many standing passengers.

Mr. Wilson

Of course London is an exceptional case. London is an exception place with a very large population. I refer hon. Members to what I said in that debate to which I have alluded: I ask hon. Members opposite not to think solely in terms of the towns. It is all very well in a town to tell a passenger who cannot get on a bus, 'There will be another bus in 10 minutes.' Passengers in rural areas cannot be told that. Rural bus services are in a very critical state at present. They are diminishing rather than increasing. A passenger who cannot get on the bus when it comes may not have another bus that same day. He may not be able to travel till the next week."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 24th June, 1954; c. 53–7.] That was a factual statement about circumstances in the rural areas.

Rural services are not very prosperous at the moment. It is a very great hardship for people in rural areas to be told they cannot get on a bus. It is clear from these Regulations that rural areas are being borne in mind. I remind hon. Members of the proviso to paragraph 7: Provided that sub-paragraph (d)"— which is about carrying a conductor— shall not apply in the case of a single-decked vehicle … if the Licensing Authority have certified that in their opinion a conductor is not required on the particular service … Those sorts of services are the rural services, so it is evidently contemplated that these Regulations should have particular reference to rural areas. It would be useful if wider provision could be allowed for rural areas than in towns. It is natural that in towns, to which the hon. Members have referred, the unions should make special arrangements with their employers.

With regard to the standee buses, the greatest problem of road traffic at the moment is congestion, and, in particular, the problem of moving a large number of passengers by road who all want to get away at the same time. It might be almost impossible to get a large crowd away by ordinary bus service. It might very well be convenient to have some special buses which could help to relieve the situation at a certain hour. In those circumstances, a standee bus might be a very useful experiment.

I would certainly not advocate such a bus for ordinary services in most places, but any means which can assist in relieving congestion on the roads and provide greater convenience for the passenger should be welcomed. After all, it is the passengers who should be considered. A man might very well prefer to get home from a football match to waiting half an hour or more for a seat On a bus. [An HON. MEMBER: "Trains."] The best service for dealing with large crowds, of course, is a service employing electric or diesel-driven trains, but that is not always possible. The points which I have mentioned have been overlooked tonight by hon. Members opposite. They ought not to have been overlooked, since they have been made before.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I wish to put one or two points to the Parliamentary Secretary, but, first, I assure the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that all of us on this side of the House are just as much concerned as he is with the comfort of the passengers. Recognising that the major consideration should be the safety of passengers and that it is in the interest of the safety of passengers that we should consider whether or not there should be standing in buses, we also have to take into account the consumer needs of passengers. We, have seen throughout the years the exploitation of the use of vehicles, where passengers have been permitted to stand in quite substantial numbers until a limitation was put upon the practice. Fewer vehicles have been used because an excessive number of passengers could be carried and a company could make more profit at lower operating costs.

Mr. G. Wilson

The hon. Member is still talking about towns.

Mr. Wilkins

I could say something about country services. I do not agree with the hon. Member that, in the main. they do not pay. In Bristol, where we have had a dual service—a city service plus a country service—it has been the country service that has made the profits for the undertaking.

If we are to restrict the number of passengers who may stand—and I accept the argument to that effect—and if the number is to be limited at certain periods of the day, we have the responsibility for seeing that the service is adequate. I am not prepared to accept that, where they are still operating, private companies are prepared to make those services adequate. We as a responsible House should make it possible for the services to be run, municipal or national, so that adequate transport services, with seating accommodation only, is provided.

However, I rose not to make these remarks but to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for a fuller explanation of the meaning of paragraph 4 of the Regulations. Paragraph 4 says: Subject to the provisions of Regulation 7 of these Regulations, during the hours of peak traffic or in circumstances in which undue hardship would be caused to such passengers if they were not so carried, there may be carried on a public service vehicle … a number of standing passengers. I think the number intended is either five or eight. This definition is not nearly adequate. It cannot be interpreted properly by the general public. I do not have to use public transport very often, but I have had to do so during January to quite a large extent. I have in mind the picking up of passengers late at night.

Who is to interpret what are "circumstances in which undue hardship would be caused"? Is it an intending passenger who is denied the right to board a bus, or the conductor? One sometimes hears an altercation between people left behind by the last one or two buses and the conductors in charge, and some of them really have to be heard to be believed. Some of my hon. Friends may not like the concession in regard to standing capacity for a bus, but it would be in the interest both of the public and of the men who have to operate the buses to know that the buses must not carry more than a certain number and must carry up to that number.

A discretion seems to be permitted to someone. The Regulations do not say to whom, but we presume it must be the conductor, as he is technically and practically in charge of the bus. I do not see how we are to eliminate the argument between the conductor and a woman who is carrying a baby who, if she misses the bus, will have to walk a couple of miles. Who is to judge what is undue hardship?

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has thought about this matter, is able to explain what the Ministry had in mind in making these Regulations, and will look at them again with a view to more explicit wording so the travelling public and conductors may know their responsibilities.

What is meant by the term "half-decked" which is used at the bottom of the first page? It may be well known to the people in the industry, but to me it is very indefinite. Perhaps we might appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who no doubt understands the term "quarter-deck." I should like to know what a "half-decked" vehicle is. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us. I imagine it might be a bus used for transport between a city and an airport.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

The provisions of these Regulations might cause complications. Do they mean that there may be nine or ten people standing in a bus? Even so, there may still be the same disappointments. The fact is that the average bus has no room for eight standing passengers, and never has had. Even the largest buses and coaches do not provide sufficient space for eight standing passengers. I do not think the Minister has been reasonable to the organised workers who have the responsibility of administering these services. We have all seen the unenviable job a conductor has in collecting fares when there are standing passengers whether he happens to be a thin man or not.

I am not so much concerned with the actual collection of fares, although I must say that that seems to be one reason behind these Regulations. The average load is, I believe, 46 passengers, and to increase the number to 54 by allowing eight standing passengers means larger receipts. I am more concerned with other aspects. Conductors have been less particular about this standing rule in the Provinces than in London, but no conductor can adequately collect fares in a vehicle which has eight standing passengers. Nobody can travel reasonably if there are eight standing, especially if such passengers happen to be of rather larger proportions than myself.

There is another consideration. It is not safe. When one takes into consideration the varied obligations of the conductor, what is the position? He has to see that passengers alight and join the bus, and during peak periods he is very largely dependent on his driver. The safety of bus travel depends on the cooperation of the two men running the bus as a team. But if there are eight, or even five, passengers standing in the vehicle, then the driver cannot see what is going on at the back of the bus. His mirror is of no use to him in such circumstances, and it is from this point of view that I oppose these Regulations.

Those responsible in this industry are, I think, too generous in allowing five passengers. But it is outrageous to go to eight, for, quite apart from anything else, it does not permit safe travel. Let us remember that even allowing eight passengers to stand will not mean that people will not be left behind. So there is no argument there.

These Regulations do not permit drivers and conductors to carry out their duties, and if anything unfortunate should happen there would be greater tragedy because, with so many people standing, no one would be able to get out in a scramble. This is wrong from every point of view. It is wrong to have anyone standing, but if some people must stand, then those responsible for organising the industry should have persuaded the Minister not to ask for these extra powers but to limit the figure to what the trade unions were prepared to accept, namely, a total of five. This is a step which cannot reasonably be justified. I warn the Minister that, in the event of accidents to buses carrying eight standing passengers, the responsibility for the injury caused to the additional passengers will be his.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I start by paying tribute to those who have the difficult task of operating buses and recognising the excellence of the modern vehicles in which there is ample physical room for a good many more people than in the older buses. Bearing that in mind, there are a number of considerations which should be taken into account. First, the travelling public crowd upon the buses, rightly or wrongly, at peak hours, whether they be peak working hours or sporting hours. They must be considered, and I suggest that the additional number proposed can be carried in perfect safety in the modern buses. Their weight simply will not be noticed by the drivers.

On the question of safety, I agree that the conductor may face a difficulty, but it can be overcome if the bus takes a little more time at the stops. If people get on and off between stops, the responsibility is theirs. People may be reasonable or unreasonable, but when many want to get on a crowded bus, the extra eight who might be carried as standing passengers will be eight satisfied people as opposed to eight dissatisfied and angry people who might have been left behind.

This concession is not introduced for the purpose of obtaining more revenue. It is an effort to cope with the difficult problem which is met in large towns as well as in country areas where people travelling late at night want to catch the last bus. It was suggested that more people could be carried in the electric trains, but they are often crowded anyway. In any event, people appear to have a preference for bus travel on short journeys. If the travelling public is to be provided for as it should be, then this concession, which, after all, covers only the peak hours, should be permitted. There is plenty of room for the conductor to pass by standing passengers in the modern buses. For these reasons, I hope that the House will support the Regulations.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I agree with everything which has been said about the necessity for having satisfied bus passengers, but I disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) who thinks that eight people who are standing will be eight satisfied passengers. They would be very much more satisfied if they were sitting comfortably, as they should be.

These Regulations are designed to enable the bus operators to wriggle out of their obligation to the travelling public to provide an adequate service and give every would-be passenger a seat. I do not think that any wriggling can get them out of that obligation. It is unpleasant standing in a bus, however comfortable the seating may be. I cannot imagine that any passenger will be happy about standing if he knows that the bus operator ought to be at pains to provide him with a seat in the vehicle. Do not let us wriggle out of our obligation, nor allow bus undertakings to wriggle out of their obligation with that sort of story. We are responsible for the travelling public in this connection, and the House should not allow these Regulations to go through.

Mr. Doughty

Is the hon. Member suggesting that there should be buses to deal with the rush-hour traffic when there is no rush-hour traffic?

Mr. Champion

That does not happen to be my responsibility at the moment. That is a problem which the bus undertaking ought to tackle and overcome. The difference between three and five is not very great, and three was the figure suggested by the trade unions. I hope that they were properly consulted by the Minister.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) objected to our raising this matter again tonight, saying that it had been dealt with during the Committee stage of the Bill. It is true that we discussed some aspects of the matter during the Committee stage, but the hon. Member must realise that we did not then know what these Regulations were to be. Having seen these Regulations, it is our object to say what we think about them. It will be the job of the Minister to tell us why, after consulting the trade unions, he did not accept the reasonable point of view they put forward. It seems that, having consulted these very important people, he has ignored their submissions and has come to the House tonight to support these Regulations.

The hon. Member for Truro also pointed to the fact that Regulation 7 (1) makes provision for buses to carry standing passengers even without having a conductor on guard. That makes even worse the point we are making about standing passengers. It is very dangerous to have standing passengers on a bus when there is a conductor, but it is even more dangerous when the bus does not have a conductor to do his best to look after the passengers.

In Committee, I made the point that it is very much safer to be sitting than standing in a bus. If one is travelling in an aeroplane, there are safety belts to guard against any sudden stopping. That is a factor that we must also consider with buses. If a bus is in a collision, standing passengers will be thrown down just as easily as when a bus comes to a sudden stop. There is still the fact that the conductor's responsibility is largely increased by having standing passengers.

I want to raise a point about which storms of protest have been made in the House from time to time, and that is the question of delegated legislation by regulation. It is clear that the Act makes provision for the Minister to make regulations to control the number of passengers on public service vehicles and trolley buses. It says: (4) Any such regulations shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. The purpose of that was to enable Parliament to consider regulations made by the Minister. What the Minister has done with this power that has been given to him by the House is that, instead of telling the House what he had in mind about standing passengers, he has passed the buck to the licensing authority.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is it not also the case that because these provisions are made by regulation they can be altered from time to time by regulation without amending the Act, thereby saving the time of the House?

Mr. Champion

That, surely, is elementary. The Regulation says: Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this Regulation, a Licensing Authority may authorise, within their traffic area, any single-decked vehicle (other than a public service vehicle when being used as an express carriage or as a contract carriage) being a vehicle specially constructed or adapted for the purpose, The licensing authority here has to decide what is a vehicle specially constructed or adapted for the purpose, and the only instructions given to the licensing authority will be found in Regulation 7 (a) (b), (c) and (d), all of which appears to me to apply to the normal sort of vehicle that we all know and all understand, and not to a vehicle specially constructed for the purpose of carrying passengers in excess of eight.

It seems to me quite unjustifiable for the Minister in these circumstances to make such a Regulation, which passes on a duty of discretion to a licensing authority. This is the thing we are talking about here. This standee bus is a novel type of vehicle, and, although I have been interested in transport for practically the whole of my life, I admit to never having seen such a vehicle. But it is to be left to individual licensing authorities to decide, and without any guidance from Parliament or, as far as I can tell, even from the Minister, what is a vehicle specially constructed or adapted for the purpose of carrying more than eight standing passengers.

What might happen here is that we shall find the type of vehicle which is permitted by the licensing authority varying widely from area to area, some having a very much lower standard of safety than this House or the Minister—if he kept proper control—would in fact permit. The Minister is dealing with this now, though it is true that he did not deal with the Bill before it became an Act. The Minister who is now presenting these Regulations was one of the most outspoken Members in the last two Parliaments on this point of delegated legislation. I remember him, time after time, inveighing against the Government of the day and against this very point of delegated legislation. It is amazing that he should come down to the House with something which is not merely delegated legislation by regulation in the ordinary sense but goes on to delegate to a licensing authority. It is no wonder that Thomas Moore was once able to say, But bees, on flowers alighting, cease their hum, So settling upon their places, Whigs grow dumb. I would only say for "Whigs read" "Tories" in this case. I ask the Minister to withdraw these Regulations.

11.4 p.m.

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

In looking at these Regulations for the first time, I was struck by one curious anomaly, and that is that in paragraph (1), for the first time, I think, in any Act of Parliament, a child is defined as a person under 19 years of age. Under this Regulation, therefore, a man in the Armed Forces, possibly with service in Korea and wearing the Korean Medal, could be regarded as a child. That is stretching the bounds of youthful immortality a little too far, and I wonder if that is a misprint, because paragraph 3 refers to … a child who attains the age of 15 during a school term.… I should like to ask the Minister whether the figure 19 is seriously meant in paragraph 1, or whether it is a misprint.

In the case of newer buses, I very much approve of passengers up to the number of eight being allowed to stand, especially as paragraph 4 states that this number may be carried: … during the hours of peak traffic or in circumstances in which undue hardship would be caused to such passengers if they were not so carried.… I would point out to hon. Members opposite that those of us who live in country districts, especially those containing expanding towns, such as Bletchley, have had a terrific fight to get anything like adequate bus services, owing to the shortage of rolling stock and labour, and other difficulties experienced by operators. Very often the only means of communication between villages is a bus service of, at the most, two or three buses a week. People use them for shopping and other essential purposes, such as visiting friends in hospital, and to limit the number of standing passengers to that suggested by hon. Members opposite would inflict a very great hardship upon many people in country villages. I very much approve of these Regulations, which allow, in times of hardship or at peak periods, a maximum of eight standing passengers, and I sincerely hope that the House will pass them.

11.7 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

In moving this Motion hon. Members opposite have reiterated the protests they made at all stages when the Transport Charges Measure was before this House. For the completeness of the record. I should like to explain why these Regulations have been introduced and the background which has made them necessary.

Before the war, Regulations were made by the Minister of Transport of the time under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, in order to legalise the carrying in public service vehicles—which. for the sake of simplicity and clarity, I shall call buses—of up to five standing passengers. These Regulations applied only to buses, and only to stage services, and they limited the number to five or to one-quarter of the seating accommodation, whichever was the less. As a result of the conditions during the war, the Minister of War Transport made orders under Defence Regulation 70 which increased the number of standing passengers from five to eight, or to one-third of the seating capacity of the vehicle. These orders applied to trolley buses as well as to ordinary omnibuses and were introduced during the war to apply in war conditions.

Under the Socialist Government, these orders were revoked in 1946. After two years, it was found that the revocation created so much inconvenience that, as a result of representations made by almost all those interested in the matter, including the trade unions, the right hon. Gentleman who was then Minister of Transport reintroduced the same orders in 1948.

The reason we must have these Regulations at present is that under the Transport Charges Act, 1954, which has been referred to so often by hon. Members tonight, the provisions of the Act of 1930 which enabled regulations to be made for buses have been repealed. The Defence Regulation under which the exceptional regulations of war-time were made, which increased the number of permitted standing passengers in buses, and extended the same relaxation to trolley buses, lapsed on 7th December, 1954. For that reason, these Regulations have been made.

Therefore, when hon. Members opposite have spoken tonight as though some drastic change were being made which would change for the worse the conditions of transport in this country, they are—I am sure unintentionally—misleading the House. All that is happening is that a general system which was reintroduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) in 1948, and which was found to work extremely satisfactorily, is being continued under the Act passed last year.

Mr. Ernest Davies

When the hon. Gentleman says that it was found to operate satisfactorily, he is overlooking the fact that the trade unions suggested that it was not working satisfactorily and that they wished the maximum number to be five; also, does he not appreciate that in 1948 conditions were different from those of today in regard to the availability of rolling stock? There is no shortage of vehicles today.

Mr. Molson

The House has had an opportunity of hearing the views of the trade unions. I was going to deal with the matter later. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the conditions which apply now. I was going to say something about that, and before I conclude my observations I shall make some general remarks about the position of transport for the future when there is no question of shortage.

These Regulations are permissive. They are not Mandatory. They apply to the whole country. Anyone who has listened to hon. Members this evening will have noticed how different are the conditions which ordinarily occur to hon. Members who are speaking for London, or for the other great cities, with their special problems of heavy traffic morning and night, from the equally difficult, and perhaps pathetic, cases in rural areas. In the latter case, it is not a question of not being able to get on the third or fourth bus which comes along, but of waiting for the only one which will come and wondering whether there will be room on it.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Are there any rural areas in Derbyshire?

Mr. Molson

I am familiar with the problems of congestion when people are leaving factories, and with the problems of the lonely villages where people are anxious to make certain of getting home.

In making these Regulations, my right hon. Friend came to the same conclusion as was reached by his predecessor. It was on 13th of November, 1953, that my right hon. Friend, who is now the Colonial Secretary, informed the House that, after considering representations from all concerned, he had decided, under any legislation which might be available for the purpose, to continue the provisions enabling vehicles to carry eight standing passengers. After taking account of all the representations, two successive Ministers of Transport have come to the same conclusion.

I resent the suggestion that the conclusion of the Government is solely as a result of pressure brought to bear by one side of the industry. We are concerned to safeguard the interests of the workers in the industry. We are anxious to ensure that those who provide transport shall run it at a profit, and above all, we consider that both owners and workers are there to serve the interests of the public as a whole.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

The House is interested to hear the observations of the Minister, and we appreciate why the figure was increased to eight during the difficult war years. But would the hon. Gentleman say why it has been now found necessary to raise it to eight whereas pre-war it was only five? That makes the conditions worse now than pre-war.

Mr. Molson

I should be grateful to be allowed to deploy my arguments in the order which appears to me to be logical. We are not at present raising the number. We are continuing the number as it has been for a long time and as was established by the right hon. Member for East Ham, South in 1948.

Mr. Popplewell

I quoted a rise above the pre-war figure.

Mr. Molson

Before I sit down, I shall give reasons why I think that eight is a sound figure for all time.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) referred to the attitude of the trade unions and spoke about the buses for "standers" only. The purpose of the Regulations is to meet all the various requirements in different parts of the country. Experiments in some parts have justified the idea that there may be cases where it is desirable to transport people for short distances by standers' buses. I object to the expression "standee buses," it is "standers' buses." The Regulations provide that in suitable cases it shall be lawful for standers' buses to be used.

The hon. Gentleman was in error in supposing that it was left to the licensing authorities to decide what was a vehicle designed or adapted for this purpose. My right hon. Friend has issued a memorandum to the builders of the vehicles setting out the special requirements, and I shall be happy to send a copy to the hon. Gentleman. The memorandum was prepared in consultation with the trade unions. I wish to pay a tribute to the attitude of the unions in this matter. They have made it plain that they disapprove of standers' buses, but, with a fine sense of responsibility and public spirit, they have indicated that if their views are not accepted, they are anxious to contribute from their knowledge and experience in order that such vehicles may be suitable for the purpose, convenient for those operating them and safe for those who use them. Therefore, without accepting any responsibility for a decision of this kind, they have cooperated with the Ministry of Transport in the preparation of a memorandum of this sort.

I suggest that these Regulations are calculated to meet the general interests of all those who are concerned in transport. I do not rest my case solely upon considerations of shortage of vehicles or anything of that sort. I seek to rebut entirely the arguments that have been put forward by hon. Members opposite that it should be the aim and object of those who provide transport to provide enough vehicles to deal with the peak traffic morning and evening or at any particular time, owing to a football match or something of that sort, when a large number of people are desiring to travel at the same time.

I suggest that we have to face the fact that in the twentieth century there will always be peaks of traffic morning and evening and at other times. I am giving a good deal of thought and time to trying to do something about staggering hours in the way that has been advocated by the hon. Member for Enfield, East, but whatever we may do in that way, however successful we may be, there will still be a great many more people going out to work in the mornings and coming home to rest in the evenings than are travelling in the middle of the day.

It is extremely undesirable that we should even attempt to provide the necessary amount of transport to enable all those travellers morning and evening to have seats. In the first place, it would require the provision of a greatly increased number of vehicles. The drivers and conductors would have adequate employment only in the morning and evening. A great deal of capital would be sunk in the provision of the greatly increased number of vehicles. The result of that would be a great increase in the general cost of transport. At the present time, we are constantly receiving complaints about the great cost of transport. If it were decided to provide a large number of additional buses, it would mean that just at those times of day when there is the maximum of traffic—because there are private motor cars as well—there would be an increased number of buses upon the roads. The congestion in London and other great centres, which is one of the most difficult problems which my right hon. Friend is trying to tackle at the present time, would be made even more difficult than it is.

Therefore, the only common sense answer is that those who are going to travel at the peak times in the morning and afternoon must make greater use of the transport that is available. No one complains in the case of the underground trains, where there are no conductors, and where people get on and off as they wish to do. They choose to travel at that time and they put up with the crowding that takes place then. In the case of the buses in London, I think it is only fair and reasonable that those who travel at that time should expect to suffer from greater congestion than if they were travelling in non peak hours.

There is nothing in the Regulations which interferes in any way with the agreement, freely negotiated between the London Transport Executive and the trade unions, which limits the number of standing passengers who may be carried to five. In country districts, there is no such restrictive agreement in most places. As I have said, my right hon. Friend is under an obligation when preparing Regulations of this kind to try to meet all the diverse and various requirements of different parts of the country. These permissive Regulations enable a flexibility to be provided throughout the country which will enable all the different undertakings, whether operated by private enterprises or municipalities or the British Transport Commission, to make the best and fullest use of the transport which is available.

I beg hon. Members opposite again not to forget what has been emphasised more particularly from this side of the House—that it is not only a matter of congestion in great urban areas. These Regulations have to apply also in the rural districts. We consider it is of the utmost importance that, when that last solitary bus is leaving late at night, there shall be no legislative prohibition upon a humane conductor allowing a reasonable number of people to get on the bus. We believe that these Regulations, which are intended to deal with all the diverse conditions of the country, are widely conceived in the interests of those who work on the transport system, of those who provide the transport, and those who will use it.

It is most unreasonable of hon. Members opposite to suggest that these Regulations will result in increased profiteering by the transport systems of the country, when my right hon. Friend is greatly concerned at the inability of some of the transport undertakings even to cover their expenses and a number of my hon. Friends are making representations to us about the withdrawal of bus services in some of the most sparsely populated areas. We are not able to call upon private enterprise, or indeed upon the British Transport Commission, to provide bus services in lonely areas where they can be run only at a loss. If, by providing this additional flexibility, we shall be able to keep bus services going in lonely parts of the country we shall be best serving the interests of those who live there. Because I believe that the Regulations are soundly conceived, I hope that the House will not reject them.

Sir F. Markham

Would my hon. Friend say why under the Regulations a child is graded as a person under the age of 19 years?

Mr. Molson

That is how we meet the wishes of the Ministry of Education, and is, I think, a result of the raising of the school-leaving age and the facilities which are given to young persons to have what I believe is called further education.

Question put and negatived.