HC Deb 12 December 1956 vol 562 cc578-83

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, where in any part of the United Kingdom the charges payable for hackney carriages are fixed by byelaws, the charges so payable may, with a view to off-setting the increase in duties under this Act, be increased beyond those permitted by the byelaws by such amounts (not exceeding in total sixpence for any one journey) as may from time to time be authorised by resolution of the authority having power to vary the byelaws; and any additional charge may be recovered in the same way as the fare allowed by the byelaws.

(2) A copy of any resolution giving, varying or revoking authority to increase charges under this section shall be deposited at the offices of the authority by whom the resolution is passed, and shall at all reasonable hours be open to public inspection without payment.

(3) Any power to increase charges under this section shall come to an end at the expiration of a fortnight after the day on which an order of the Treasury under section one of this Act comes into force.

(4) Any increase of charges under this section shall be disregarded in determining whether or not any byelaws relating to hackney carriages are or have been complied with or a vehicle is or has been used in accordance with such byelaws.—[Mr. Deedes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This Clause is designed to meet the difficulty to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) called attention last week on the Ways and Means Resolution, and to which several hon. Member alluded on Second Reading. As matters stand, taxicab fares outside the Metropolitan Police District are fixed by local authorities by means of byelaws. To authorise an increase necessitates new byelaws. That procedure is protracted. It cannot be done normally in less than three to four months and it cannot be done in a minimum of less than six to eight weeks, and that process would have to be repeated when the increase was lifted.

As the Committee will be aware, fares for taxicabs in the Metropolitan Police District can be fixed by order of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary. He can make an immediate increase in fares and can cancel them quickly. My right hon. and gallant Friend has received representations from the London taxi interests asking for an increase of 6d. That application is now being urgently considered.

This new Clause enables the byelaw-making authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to make temporary increases in taxi fares without the byelaw procedure. Subsection (1) prescribes the limit of the amount which can be authorised, i.e. 6d., for any one journey. It is not practicable to make the limit a fraction of the existing fares, as conditions vary from one area to another. The Clause gives the local authority power to make the same increases for all journeys or to make a sliding-scale, with an upper limit of 6d. per journey. It gives them reasonable power to deal with the increased cost of petrol, which works out at about ld per mile for a taxi.

Subsection (2) requires that a copy of any resolution granting an increase shall be open to public inspection, and subsection (3) provides that any increase in fares shall end a fortnight after the increased duty ceases. The whole Clause can become effective as soon after the Royal Assent as a local authority clan meet to pass the necessary resolution.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

We welcome the proposed new Clause. When the Ways and Means Resolution was going through the House, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) called attention to this aspect of the taximen's problem. We are very pleased that the Minister has speedily taken note of it and has brought forward a solution.

Almost every hon. Member accepts the necessity to save the taxi industry from disaster. The proposed new Clause is a small but useful contribution to that end. Taxi fares are fixed in most areas outside London by byelaws made under the Street Traffic Town Police Clause Act, 1847. Parliament has for centuries taken an interest in legislating for hackney carriages. Section 68 of that Act empowers local authorities to make byelaws upon matters affecting hackney carriages, including fares. The law governing byelaws is in the Local Government Act, 1933. The local authority makes the byelaw and sends it up for confirmation by the appropriate Minister, in this case the Home Secretary. It is quite a long procedure.

What happens in the case of taxis is that local taximen put forward their claim for a rise in fares to the local watch committee. If they convince the committee, it drafts a byelaw which goes to the council for approval. When it has passed the council, it goes up to the Home Secretary, but before sending it the local authority must give in the newspapers one month's notice of its intention to do so and must make copies of the proposed byelaws available to its citizens. When the Home Secretary confirms the byelaw he can fix a date for its operation. If he does not, it comes into operation one month after confirmation. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it may take up to six weeks for the taximen to get the increase. I would estimate the time at about three months; it may take considerably more.

I need not argue the need of the taxi-men for swift action to cover the increased expenditure on petrol imposed by the Bill. The proposed new Clause will enable them to be granted power to charge an amount up to 6d. per journey to offset the increase by simple resolution instead of by the cumbersome making of a byelaw. The maximum is 6d.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Deedes

Sixpence a journey, not 6d. a mile.

Dr. King

Sixpence a journey.

The Chancellor is to be congratulated on this Clause, whatever we may think about the rest of the Bill, but I would remind the Committee, the Chancellor and the Government, that this will not solve the problem of taximen. Taximen in my town have just come to the end of the long chain of the procedure I have described in getting byelaw permission to raise taxi fares in Southampton to compensate for other rises in the cost of living which took place earlier. The additional duty which is being imposed presents them with the problem of getting customers to meet the double increase that they have to make in fares. A mere increase in fares will not solve the problem. If they are to survive it will only be if they get an adequate supply of petrol.

I hope that the thoughtfulness which has prompted the Chancellor to give us this new Clause will also be shown by the Minister of Fuel and Power when he decides on the ration he is to allocate, and that between them the two Ministers will rescue the taxi industry from disaster.

Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)

I wish only to detain the Committee a few moments to say how pleased I am that the Chancellor has introduced this new Clause. As the Joint Under Secretary said, and as was said by the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), this Clause deals with the question of taxi proprietors, which I raised with my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary when he outlined the details last week. It will also enable them to secure an immediate increase in fares to counter rising operating costs. It is imperative that taxi proprietors, particularly owner-drivers, should secure an immediate increase: otherwise, they would be in grave danger of being forced out of business.

I shall not relate again the procedure over byelaws to which a taxi proprietor is liable under existing legislation, since that has already been dealt with, but it is quite clear that legislation is needed so that these very necessary increases can become immediately effective. With the minimum increase in the price of petrol and the reduced mileage which will become operative on 17th December, when petrol rationing applies, the taxi proprietor will be faced with a serious threat to his livelihood.

First, there is the increased price of petrol, which increases the fuel cost of each mile they run. Secondly, the reduced mileage arising from petrol rationing reduces the number of miles over which overhead expenses of operating a cab can be spread. That further increases the cost per mile run. These outgoings, the overheads, insurance, road tax, meter hire, maintenance and depreciation run at £6 or £7 a week for the average cab, costing perhaps £1,000. With the overall mileage, which may be cut by a third or even more, it is obvious that the cost of overhead charges per mile run will be trebled.

I should like my hon. Friend to tell the Committee whether the new Clause is intended to cover the increased cost of petrol only, or whether he is satisfied that the additional 6d. on each journey will cover the rise in petrol costs and in overheads brought about by the reduced mileage.

Mr. Bottomley

In giving a welcome to the new Clause it is not my intention to prolong the debate, as we have important matters following it, but I should like to support the hon. Member for Test (Mr. J. Howard) in asking whether the 6d. per journey is to cover petrol or overheads.

The Joint Under-Secretary said that in London an application has been made and that the Home Office is considering whether to agree to increasing the amount to 6d. If it is done for London it puts London in a favourable position compared with the rest of the country. This is pertinent to my argument although not strictly in order. In the Medway towns the allowance for taxicabs is 45 gallons a month; in London, it is 120 gallons a month. In the Medway towns, and in provincial cities generally, the drivers can do only one journey and then usually they have to return empty, whereas in London the drivers often get a return fare, which means that their liability is not so great.

Will guidance be given to local authorities so that maximum allowances may be given? Indeed, consideration might be given to seeing whether the figure should be increased beyond 6d. None of us wants increased fares but, equally, we do not want to see these businesses, many of them one-man businesses, disappear. There is a need for their services, especially in my constituency, where their are many sailors who want to get home quickly when they get week-end leave.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that probably the best way out of the difficulty would be to give an extra petrol allowance to balance the shortcoming?

Mr. Bottomley

I have already made representations about that.

Mr. Deedes

The increase is designed to cover the cost of petrol only. As I pointed out in moving the Motion, the increase ends automatically within a fortnight of the duty being reduced, which I think makes that point self-evident.

On the second point, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the allocation of petrol is not a matter directly for me or my right hon. and gallant Friend, but I should like to say that it is true that the London taxi is in a slightly different position compared with those elsewhere. In the Metropolitan Police District the taxicab can be dealt with by my right hon. and gallant Friend. The rest are dealt with by byelaw-making authorities. In London, it is estimated that the proportion of the total milage for which taxis are engaged at present is 60 per cent. I do not know how that compares with journeys in the provinces.

I put that against the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, that the London taxi is occupied whenever it is on the road. That is not quite true.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment: as amended, to be considered Tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 37.]