§ Order for Second Reading read. Motion made, and Question proposed,That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
As some Members have asked me what will be in order in the debate, it may be for the convenience of the House if I define the scope of the debate very shortly. The Bill would support a general discussion on the administration of British Railways, and the Commission's harbours, docks, waterways and shipping, but nothing about fares and charges, because those are otherwise regulated. There are also some minor provisions regarding London Transport, but they would not support a debate on London Transport. Clauses 38 and 65 can be referred to if any hon. Member wishes to refer to them. There is also Clause 60, which refers to the charges levied on the Fishguard and Rosslare service, and any hon. Member would be in order in speaking upon that subject if he so desired.
I propose to call the reasoned Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and I shall put it in the form of an Amendment to the 274 Question,"That the Bill be now read a Second time, "namely, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."That would enable the House to discuss not only the Amendment before us but anything else in the Bill which is in order along the lines I have suggested. If we can reach the Instructions by Nine o'clock, but not after Nine o'clock, i propose to select the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo),That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Part V.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That"to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while increasing the powers of the British Transport Commission, contains no provision for the equitable use of station forecourts by hackney carriages plying for hire.I have no complaint with the merits of the Bill, which, as I understand it, is concerned with the modernisation of the railways, but I have a complaint about the way in which the British Transport Commission conducts its business, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members share my views. We are faced with a dilemma. Although the House, through the Minister, controls questions of policy, it has no control over administration. In my judgment, one of the great weaknesses in the schemes of nationalisation, which have my wholehearted support, is that an aggrieved citizen has no right or possibility of redress without recourse to the somewhat cumbersome, and, I regret to say, expensive procedure of getting an hon. Member to block a Bill of this kind in order to draw the attention of the House to his grievance.
I hold the view that the most important function of the House of Commons is not to legislate but to redress grievances. At various stages in its history the House has fought and won the battle for control over policy, and it has control over financial matters, but it has let out of its control any possibility of overseeing administration. It is therefore with no apology that I draw the attention of the House to the grievances, which have persisted for many years, of those who earn their livelihood in the taxi-cab business.
275 My dilemma is not peculiar to me; the Minister surfers from it as well. From time to time Questions on the subject have been put upon the Order Paper and many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have sought to draw the attention of the House to these grievances, because many constituencies are affected. I have never done that. Although I became interested in this matter eight or nine years ago, I realised that it was not within the control of the Minister to say anything on behalf of the Commission.
In 1949, and again in 1950, I corresponded with the then Chairman of the Commission in regard to a matter which came to my notice through my concern for ex-Service men. The then hon. Member for Hull, North-West (Mr. Mackay), asked me to see some ex-Service men engaged in the taxi-cab business who felt that they had a grievance arising from the manner in which taxis plying for hire in the station forecourt at Hull were controlled. I thought that the hon. Member was right, and that the taxi-drivers were right, and from time to time they have written to me, confirming my view that there is no place in the British Isles where ex-Service men—sometimes disabled ex-Service men—who have sunk their gratuities in the taxi-cab business receive a less square deal than they do in Hull.
With the nationalisation of the railways we thought that the Commission would be more responsive to the rights of the individual than the railway companies had been. In Hull, the system of control had been going on for many years, right back to the days of the London and North-Eastern Railway, even before the last war. I believe that control systems have operated for many years in other places. There are many different systems, apart from those operating in London and Manchester, which are special cases, where there is a free-for-all, so that any taxi-driver can take a fare into a station forecourt and pick up another fare, and where queues are controlled. In those cases everything is controlled by the police and the railway authorities, and the system works quite smoothly for the benefit both of the public and the taxi-driver.
But outside London and Manchester the situation is chaotic. There is an 276 infinite variety of systems, and one does not complain about that because the kind of organisation that will work in Nottingham, Leeds or Sheffield, which are great centres of population, will be quite different from the kind that will work in some remote hamlet, where there is only one train a day and the demand for taxi-cabs is very small.
The Report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee on the Tenancy Taxi-cab System, to which I shall refer extensively, uses the word "agitation" in connection with the representations made by taxi-drivers who think that they have a grievance against the Commission and the way it controls them. Faced with an increasing number of Questions and letters on the matter, the Minister referred it to the Consultative Committee. This body is responsible to the Minister and is concerned not with taxi-drivers but with the travelling public, and only the travelling public. The Committee is a very able one, and it presented a very able Report. In its conclusions, it stated that the complaint that the present system does not provide an adequate service had not been made out, and the complaint that the Commission was unfair to taxi-drivers who were not licensed to ply in station yards could not be considered in regard to the terms of its remit.
Although the Minister had remitted to the Committee for consideration the complaints of the taxi-drivers, the Committee had to say, in reply, "We are not competent to express a view upon the allegations of the taxi-owners and drivers that they are not getting a square deal." That was the Minister's dilemma, the same as it is mine. The only thing the Minister could do was to get the matter investigated to the best of his ability. The only course open to him, as he is concerned with general policy and not with administration, was to send it to this Committee.
Of its terms of reference the Committee says:We were requested to report upon the policy of the Commission for dealing with this matter"—that is what is called the tenancy cab system in use on British Railways—and in particular whether we considered that this policy was likely to secure the best service to the travelling public.The Committee's finding was that it could not be bettered for the travelling 277 public and the taxi-owners concerned had very little to say. It made something of a point about the absence of complaints, and some of its findings were based upon the fact that the travelling public did not complain about the existing system. The Committee was perfectly clear about it and went on to say:we cannot be sure that the average traveller would think it worth while to lodge a complaint or would know where to address it.That is perfectly true. Many people who cannot get a taxi or who are annoyed about the taxi service may feel angry at the time, but when they get home and have a cup of tea they forget all about it.
Later in its Report the Committee says that it asked an association concerned with taxi interests whether it had complaints. This was in Yorkshire. The taxi association did what the steel owners have done. It went round to interview people to find out what they had to say. Then complaints were lodged with the Committee. Forthwith the Committee said that it could not take notice of those complaints because they had been canvassed. It is very difficult to know how in any circumstances the Committee could base its conclusions on the lack of complaints from the general public or, when those complaints turned up, whether they were valid.
It would be irresponsible of me if I dwelt too long on this subject. I ought to be constructive. The policy which ought to be adopted is one which is similar to that which operates in London under the provisions of the London Cab and Stage Carriage Act, 1907. Section 2 (1), which puts the matter very well, says:In the admission of cabs to a railway station, or in the treatment of cabs while in a railway station, the company having the control of the station shall not show any preference to any cab, or give any cab a privilege, which is not given to other cabs; and where any charge is made in respect of the admission of any cab to a railway station for the purpose of plying for hire therein, the charge made shall not exceed such sum as may be allowed by the Secretary of State.That is absolutely right and just. It is just the kind of principle that a newly nationalised industry should adopt. It should recognise that this is an occupation which has among its prime objects the desire to flourish and give good service to the public. The scheme would also enable those men who are engaged in that occupation to carry out their task com- 278 petently and to earn a reasonable livelihood.
It is clear from the evidence that was given to the Committee that the Transport and General Workers' Union, who are greatly concerned with this, took the very constructive attitude of saying that there ought to be this principle, but it ought to be controlled through reasonably strong and efficient cab owners' associations who would govern their own affairs and who would be strong enough, wise enough and public spirited enough to see that they were operating a public service and that they should do their best to operate it round the clock so that the traveller who arrived late at night would get as reasonable a chance of obtaining a taxi as if he arrived at more popular times of the day.
The British Transport Commission makes rather too much of this in reply to the questions and queries, as if the existing very unfair and chaotic system is the only means by which it can ensure a service to the public.
My constituency, as hon. Members know, is Dudley. We have not a very busy station in the borough. The nearest main line station is Dudley Port, which is the most windy, uncomfortable and decrepit station to be found anywhere in the British Isles. I defy contradiction on that point. It is a filthy place. Some time ago there was a fire there. Unfortunately, the fire was put out. In all the years I have been going there, long before I became a Member of the House, I do not remember seeing a taxi service. One of the recommendations of the Consultative Committee is that at stations like that, where the service is very limited, a notice should be displayed indicating the telephone numbers of taxi-cabs that could be called. That recommendation remains in abeyance at Dudley to this day. What is true of Dudley Port is true of very many stations, although I do not believe that there can be any other station in the British Isles which is so badly served as Dudley.
I am prepared to accept that the British Transport Commission, in its approach to this problem, is concerned, and must be concerned, with the public interest. These schemes were worked out in days when motor cars were few and far between. It is very interesting to see that 279 these tenancy agreements were born in the days of horses and carriages. The railway companies were concerned to see that the horse and the carriage were spick and span and possessed a reasonable amount of tidiness. These schemes have continued from that time onwards. I readily accept that this scheme was operating when the British Transport Commission took over. When the British Transport Commission is asked to look at the problems today—and it is continually asked by Members in all parts of the House—although it may kid itself that it is concerned with the public interest, as with all these great masses of economic pulp when they are not subject to the accountability of public opinion, it is really concerned with its administrative convenience.
The present schemes cannot be justified on the basis of fairness. There is something to say for them, I readily concede, on public need. The British Transport Commission should be concerned with being fair to all sections—the travelling public and those who serve it. It should also look for a square deal in terms of justice to the taxi-owners. I may mention the word "wisdom", because if they are not fair in the long run the public service is bound to suffer because the taxis which will come along will not be the best. If the point is ever reached —and it may well be reached quite quickly—when the public becomes more taxi-minded than it is at present, there will come a demand from other sections of the community for more taxis. It might express itself in the form of a less good service for the travelling public. If it were wise the British Transport Commission would look at the question of justice as part of the long-term service for which they hope and which they are required to give to the travelling public.
§ Mr. H, Hynd (Accrington)
Is my hon. Friend being quite fair to the Commission on this? I have a copy of the Report from which he quoted. After mentioning the suggestion of the Transport and General Workers' Union for an agreement, it goes on to say at page 5:the Commission have agreed with this in principle and they recommended to the regions …Should not the hon. Member mention that when he speaks of the proposals of 280 the Transport and General Workers' Union?
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sure it agreed in principle with the recommendations of the Transport and General Workers' Union, but it has done nothing about it [Interruption.] It is always difficult to be interrupted when other hon. Members are waiting to speak, especially about a point which has passed. I will come right away to acknowledge the work that was done by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), who called a conference a week or ten days ago in a room upstairs. He had the most remarkable gathering I have seen here since I have been in this House. There we had the opportunity of listening to a national officer of the Transport and General Workers' Union putting a point of view that carried the meeting with him.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not know about that. All I can say is that he spoke on behalf of his union, talked common sense, and carried the meeting with him. It may be that he was not a national officer of the union, but I hope he soon will be. He certainly spoke very well at that meeting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough well knows, because he was in the chair. The meeting came to the conclusion that the point of view put to them was reasonable. There were people from all parts of the country and all parts of the House, listening to what the speaker had to say, expressing the views of the union. It was clear that nothing had been done about that recommendation, and I am concerned here with something being done about it.
I will go into the merits of the case because it is only fair that I should do so. I want machinery throughout this industry to help humble citizens by giving them an opportunity of making their views known. The men for whom I am speaking are law-abiding, decent citizens They suffer from a great sense of grievance. I only came into this matter because I was concerned about the rights of the ex-Service men. That is how I stumbled into it. I went to a meeting at the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, and I am very glad that I did. If anyone tells me 281 that since the meeting the British Transport Commission has had a change of heart and has done something more than accept the case in principle, has done something about it, I shall be delighted.
I want the Minister to do what nobody has yet been able to do, which is to say that machinery exists whereby these men's legitimate grievances can be examined. I have heard only what they say, what the people who have come to me say, and what other hon. Members, who know much more about it than I do, have had to say. A substantial case has been made out. For my part, I have never put a Question down. I certainly accompanied the deputation. I was asked to, and I went.
I have also corresponded with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, and pretty rough treatment I got for my pains. I will weary the House by reading a letter which I wrote to the Chairman of the British Transport Commission on 2nd January, 1959. I referred to my correspondence in 1950 with the Commission about the taxi-cab arrangements at Paragon Station, Hull, and went on:1 regret to say that the matter was not resolved to the satisfaction of the ex-Service men who were seeking to earn a living by providing a taxi service for passengers.As I understand the position a firm had been given a cab stand licence for any years, and as business increased this firm was allowed to add to their fleet of taxis in order to cope with it, but the British Transport Commission did not appear willing to grant licences to firms other than the one which was already operating. I understand from a colleague that the same kind of difficulty exists at Reading; indeed, there are many stations where monopoly rights have been given and the British Transport Commission have felt unable to revise their policy.I wonder if you would be good enough to have a look at the position again and see whether it is possible to meet the legitimate requests of owner-drivers in Hull and, indeed, in other places, that they should have an opportunity of picking up passengers under licence. The previous argument used by Lord Hurcomb about the congestion in the station yard did not carry much weight at the time for obviously, it is possible to limit the number of cabs in the yard at a particular moment by providing stands outside and inside as, for example, happens at all the big London termini.It also seems to me all wrong that some stations should be open to any licensed cab owner who is willing to pay the necessary rent, while other stations are kept tied to one owner only. I would like to stress that I am not seeeking to dispossess the existing owner of his privilege of working from the station 282 forecourt, but I am suggesting that he should be allowed to pay rent, as should others, and the privilege of picking up in the forecourt would then be shared in the interests of the travelling public. This would also give the British Transport Commission a greater rental per annum. I shall be very grateful if you will let me have your comments.I think that is a reasonable letter and shows that while I was concerned with the general position I was, as my previous correspondence showed, mainly concerned with the position of the ex-Service men. Now let me read the reply I got from Sir Brian Robertson. It says:I am a little embarrassed by your request that I should re-examine the taxi-cab arrangements at Paragon Station, Hull, because strictly speaking I think this matter should be raised by one of the Hull Members, or alternatively I should perhaps let them know that I am replying to you, who have taken up the case of behalf of some of the drivers concerned.I make no complaint about Sir Brian Robertson's suggesting that there was some impropriety in my raising matters concerned with Hull, because I think 3 had made my position clear. Nevertheless, I think he was getting a little near the line in doing so. It is not the job of the chairman of any nationalised corporation to question the propriety of any action that a Member of Parliament takes in what he thinks is the pursuance of his duties.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair. How much would he relish it if any hon. Member of this House corresponded with the chairman of the British Transport Commission about something which exclusively concerned the hon. Member's constituency of Dudley? It is the chairman's duty to see that he does not offend the proper jealousies of other hon. Members who wish to safeguard the interests of their constituencies.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is a perfectly proper point. The hon. Member cannot have followed me for I was raising a matter which was not exclusively concerned with Hull. It was a matter of general concern. For arrangements in Hull was one of the worst I know. I made it absolutely clear that I was raising the general question and mentioned Hull as a particular bad case. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when I mentioned that the case of Hull was brought to my notice by Mr. Mackay 283 who was then Member for a Hull constituency.
§ Captain M. Hewitson (Hull, West)
Mr. Mackay never at any time represented the area which is covered by Hull station.
§ Mr. Wigg
It was Mr. Mackay who sent these people to me. If my hon. Friend considers himself aggrieved, let me point out to him that he came to my constituency, never consulted me, and spoke an behalf of Aims in Industry and took a fee for it. I would rather not talk to him like this, but he has got in range of my left-hook.
I do not think I acted with any impropriety, and I certainly had no memories of that instance in my mind, although of course they were called to my mind. I think the letter of Sir Brian Robertson was an improper letter. In raising the matter I am not concerned with my interests, because no hon. Member has any particular right of privilege in these matters, but it is a question of the privilege of the whole House. The point at issue is not the fact that I raised the question of Hull, but whether the House of Commons is the place where an aggrieved citizen can seek redress of his grievances. Let us not blur or fog the issue, that is the point. If I may, I will now deal with the question of the British Transport Commission—
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not think it matters much. It goes on to deal with the actual merits of the case which Sir Brian Robertson turned down, as he has a perfect right to. I am now arguing that this is dealt with on no principle at all that has any regard for the interests of the travelling public and the interest of taxi-drivers. In passing this Bill we are in danger of allowing the British Transport Commission to get itself into the state of mind in which it is concerned, as all these big organisations are, with what is administratively convenient. It is a process of thought that will go on. It goes on in the Army and any large-scale organisation. Unless there is a corrective, that is what happens.
There appeared in the Manchester Guardianon 11th February a very able 284 article on restrictive practices in the taxi-cab world and discrimination at railway stations. It was in the best tradition of the Manchester Guardian. It was objective, factually accurate and aroused no comment, until this morning when there appeared a letter signed by Mr. J. H. Brebner about the article. He said:The writer of your article on 'Restrictive Practices in the Taxi-cab World * has evidently been misled by taxi-drivers who claim that there is unfair discrimination.He argued that it is wrong to be influenced by the taxi-drivers and went on to say that the Central Transport Consultative Committee has recently carried out the most thorough examination into what he called the "tenancy cab system" at railway stations. Those words were not used by the Manchester Guardian but the title of the report drawn up by the Administrative Committee was:Tenancy Taxi-cab System at Railway Stations.He went on to say that the Committee said no complaints had been received from the travelling public, but he did not point out that no machinery existed for gathering complaints.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
My hon. Friend says that there is no machinery, but surely there is the Transport Users' Consultative Committee.
§ Mr. Popplewell
There is machinery available, but if people do not use it because they do not know about it that is their affair.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was quoting from a letter by Mr. Brebner, who used the argument. After all, he is a servant of the Commission. He is trying to illuminate the public mind, and his job is to be objective and fair. I say that he has got into the habit of mind of justifying the action of the British Transport Commission which has never at any point given any sign of being willing to investigate complaints of these taxi-drivers.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This really is not quite fair. There is a long report by the 285 Central Transport Consultative Committee, which went into this matter at great length. It is true that it says at one stage:On the other hand the absence of complaint is not of itself conclusive evidence that the service is satisfactory, as we cannot be sure that the average traveller would think it worth while to lodge a complaint or would know where to address it.Having said that, it goes on at great length to examine the complaint and then to find the complaint not proved. It is not fair for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) to say that Mr. Brebner or the Commission is not interested in finding out. Here was a machine and, because no one used it, it is not right to say that there is no machinery.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope the hon. Member will address me. I cannot hear him when he turns the back of his head towards me.
§ Mr. Wigg
I beg pardon, Mr. Speaker. I should have known better than that. My right hon. Friend was dealing with the point on which the Consultative Committee felt empowered to decide, namely, the question whether there was legitimate complaint from the travelling public. On that point, it says that it is satisfied that an adequate service is provided. That is not the point. The point on which complaints by taxi-drivers are centred is that the system is unfair to taxi-drivers. On that point the Committee said that, having regard to its remit, it was not able to take it into consideration.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Member has quoted a great number of things from the Report, but he has not quoted the most vital paragraph, paragraph iv in the conclusions, that:The Committees consider that by and large the arrangements at present in force work well and do not think that there should be any change in the existing arrangements with the licensees…It cannot go further than that.
§ Mr. Wigg
If the Committee were considering only whether the arrangements worked well from the point of view of 286 the travelling public, I should have no more to say, but the reason it was sent to the Consultative Committee, as the Committee makes perfectly clear in the opening paragraph, was that there was agitation among those engaged in the taxi business and many Members of Parliament who had sent to the Minister cases for investigation on the issue of unfairness. The Consultative Committee deals with complaints from the transport industry. It says itself that it is not concerned with the question of unfairness in the taxi industry. I am not raising this on the ground of whether it has worked well from the point of view of the travelling public. My case is that taxi-drivers and owners in general, and ex-Service men in particular, have no machinery whatever for ventilating grievances. I therefore seek to block the Bill because the House of Commons is the means whereby aggrieved citizens can get their grievances, not necessarily redressed, but at least ventilated. On the issue of unfairness to taxi-drivers, the Committee says it is not for it to take it into consideration because it is excluded from the terms of its remit.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
On the question of fairness to the travelling public, is it not the case that the Consultative Committee was furnished by the travelling public with a lot of signed statements which it rejected solely on the ground that they were solicited statements, whereas they were, like any market research, a perfectly genuine reaction of the travelling public which wished to complain to the Consultative Committee? Those statements were set aside.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is true. Perhaps it would have been better to read the Report from beginning to end. Page 6 reads:Only before the Yorkshire Committee at Leeds, and the East Midland Committee at Oxford, did any number of complaints emerge, and these appeared to have been specially canvassed, and, therefore, did not, in the Committee's view, possess very much significance.The hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) brought some Leeds taxi-drivers to the conference. They told me that they had been asked to produce evidence, so they went about obtaining it. When they got it it was said that it was specially canvassed. I could not see 287 what else they could have done, but the evidence was ruled out of order.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
On the question of interference, since my hon. Friend is following this line of argument and is expressing, quite fairly, the grievances of taxi-men, I should like to say that I come through Manchester every week. I do not represent that city but another part of Lancashire. There are four main railways stations in Manchester. Three of them, London Road, Victoria and Central, are at widely separated points, and the taxi-men have Manchester so sewn up that the corporation has failed to put on an effective bus service to link the three stations together. If we are discussing interference, we ought to have all these factors in the pot, because this is a big grievance for the Manchester public. It is no good theorising about these things. The situation is not as my hon. Friend is painting it.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have already said that Manchester and London were the two places in which there was a free-for-all. The situation in London is governed by the London Cab and Stage Carriage Act, 1907, under schemes approved by the Secretary of State. If Manchester wanted to promote a Bill, it could be equally well governed.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) is not here, because Liverpool is another example where this matter has been adequately handled by the local authority. There are other local authorities—Nottingham is one and Leeds another—which are most anxious to get control. This remit of the Consultative Committee is not the only one. This matter was sent to a working party of the Home Office in 1949. The findings of that working party, which are referred to in the Consultative Committee's Report, on the one hand, and the policy of the Transport and General Workers' Union, on the other, indicate the line that should be followed.
It is not possible to lay down any hard and fast rule for all parts of the country. The first thing that is necessary is that machinery should be brought into being 288 so that taxicab associations or organised bodies reflecting the opinion of taxi-cab owners and drivers should have access to British Transport Regions so that their point of view can be expressed. First, there should be some means whereby their grievances can be adequately ventilated, and it is important that they shall have confidence in that machine.
Secondly, in the larger centres of population, such as Leeds, Nottingham, Slough and Hull, an organisation should be called into being on a voluntary basis which would reflect local opinion. The local authorities and chief constables could be represented and schemes could be brought into existence which would guarantee a rota right round the clock so that the public is served and access to the forecourt is available, as at all the London termini. It is true that the forecourt of many stations in big towns is restricted. It is small and therefore the number of taxis which it could take is restricted. It should be possible, in co-operation with the local authorities, to have a feeder stand in the station which would feed the taxis into the station. What must be broken is the kind of monopoly which exists in Hull. This sort of thing is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable.
I have already spoken much longer than I intended, but I have had many interruptions and that always lengthens a speech.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not complain about interruptions. I simply battle on and do my best.
I should like to pay tribute to the kindness of the Minister in receiving the deputation. I am sure that he understands the point of view of these people. He knows that they feel very strongly about it and that they are not getting a square deal. It is very important that they should feel that their grievances are being noted and investigated, if possible, and that if anything is wrong it will be put right. I realise that the Minister is concerned with policy matters and is up against the difficult question of responsibility and accountability for administrative questions. But there is plenty of room for manoeuvre and good will. I still think that the contribution 289 of the spokesman for the Transport and General Workers' Union was very important, both to the conference upstairs and also when he saw the Minister. The constructive policies advocated by the taxi-drivers provide a ground for removing or, at least, clearing up a very difficult situation.
I conclude by again expressing my thanks to the Minister for the help which he has given.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is more than eleven years since my predecessor, who represented Eton and Slough, first raised this matter. Since then, it has become a national issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has referred to the conference which was held in the House ten days ago, at which representatives of the National Cab Owners' Association, the National Taxi-Drivers' Association, the taxi-cab section of the Transport and General Workers' Union and the taxi-cab section of the British Legion were present. In addition, there were local taxi-drivers' associations from all parts of the country.
There are 609 places in this country which are affected by the issue which we are raising, and we make no apology for raising it because we believe that a fundamental principle is involved. Our case is so reasonable that I shall not put it forward in a spirit of controversy. I say at once that we are not tied to a particular solution of the problem. All that we ask is that there shall be equity between the licensed taxi-cab drivers in the use of the station ranks.
The normal custom for taxi-drivers in the case of public ranks is to fill them by rota. As the first taxi is engaged, a second cab follows its place and others come in behind. There is, however, the exception of the ranks at the stations. I suppose that the railway stations are the busiest centres for taxi-drivers to pick up passengers, but at the 609 railway stations scattered about the country only a privileged few taxi-cab drivers are allowed to use the ranks. It is true that they pay a trifling rent of an average of 3s. a week per cab, but the chairman of the Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, 290 has told us that it is not the money involved which is the important issue to be discussed.
A great democratic principle is at issue here. The railways are a public service. I urge that as a principle of democracy there should not be privilege in association with that public service, and that in any locality all licensed taxi-cab drivers, as a matter of fairness and equity, should have an equal opportunity to use the station rank.
§ Mr. Brockway
If the hon. Member will forgive me, although my notes include the point which he has raised, and I will come to it, I wish to conclude my speech within a reasonable time and not to speak for long.
Perhaps I may illustrate the problem by the situation at Slough. In the forecourt of the station is a rank which only seven of the licensed taxi-drivers are permitted to use. The total number of taxi-cabs in Slough is 35. A hundred yards away from this station rank there is a public rank. Until recently, the cabs on the public rank have not been allowed to pick up a passenger from the station. If a passenger has arrived at the station with luggage, even though it may be a wet night, and the station rank has been empty, as is frequently the case, the passenger has had to carry his luggage the 100 yards to the public rank before he could get a taxi-cab.
The injustice, the stupidity and the daftness of that situation have been so great that after considerable agitation about it the Home Office appointed a Working Party on Hackney Carriages, which made the sensible recommendation that where there was a public rank near a station rank, when the station rank was empty it should be filled by rota from the public rank. That is the proposal of the Working Party, and this is now the first proposal which the taxi-drivers now make.
Their second proposal is that where there is no public rank to feed the station rank, arrangements should be made with the local authority by which the station rank can be filled on a basis of equity. 291 Even if a public rank is some distance away, in these days not only of the telephone, but of the radio service, it is a quite practical suggestion that vacancies in the station ranks should be filled in that way.
The third proposal, which both the House and the Transport Commission should consider, is that responsibility for the station ranks should be transferred to the local authority or to the watch committee, which is ordinarily responsible for the taxi-drivers' ranks. The Transport Commission could charge the local authority a rent for the rank on its property, but I have the authority of the taxi-drivers' associations to say that they would be very ready to reimburse the local authorities for that charge.
As I have said, it is more than eight years since I first raised this issue in the House. We have raised with two Home Secretaries and two Ministers of Transport and we have gone on deputation to Sir Brian Robertson. The view of the Ministers was that this was a matter of day-to-day management and not a matter of policy. I challenge that view. It seems to me that when we have a national service which denies democracy and equity to the general body of taxi-drivers, it is a matter of policy and not simply a matter of day-to-day management.
When we go to Sir Brian Robertson he tells us that this is a matter for the regional managers. Ministers shift it to the chairman of the Transport Commission and the chairman shifts it to the regional managers. None of them seems to appreciate that a problem of equity and democracy is involved. It was only after repeated Questions and more than one debate in the House of Commons that the subject was referred to the Consultative Committee, where, necessarily, because consultative committees deal with the interests of passengers and not those of the workers or of the taxi-drivers, the terms of reference were limited. The democratic principle which I have expressed, and fairness to taxi-drivers between one man and another, were ruled out. The only subject with which the Consultative Committee could deal was the interests of the travelling public. Even that was inadequate.
From experience, I have no doubt that the present system of limiting the use of 292 station ranks to a few taxi-drivers is also a disadvantage to the public. I have taken note of my last 32 visits to the Slough station. On 17 of those occasions, there has been no taxi whatever on the station taxi rank. On 11 of those occasions, there has been only one taxi and on four occasions, there have been only two taxis. From the point of view of the public, the limitation of these ranks to a few privileged taxi-drivers is also a great disservice.
I pass to the two main recommendations made by the Consultative Committee. The first is that when there is no taxi on the station rank, the passengers can be picked up from other ranks. My first comment is that that is unfair to the taxi-drivers on the other ranks. They may be in a public rank and waiting for hours; a taxi may come to the privileged rank, pick up a passenger, go away, come back and still have precedence over those who have been waiting at the public rank. It may be hours before a situation arises in which the taxi in the public rank has the possibility of picking up a passenger at the station.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Would not the reverse be the case in exactly the same way? One might have a taxi on the public rank picking up a passenger and coming back while a taxi in the station rank has been waiting an hour or an hour and a half for a train.
§ Mr. Brockway
Yes, but I suggest that stations are the busier points. There is also the fact that the privileged taxi-drivers pay a certain amount in rent and they would not do that if there was not an advantage. Evidence was given to us upstairs from many places of the much larger revenue which can be obtained if one has a privileged position on a station rank.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
A moment ago my hon. Friend was arguing the opposite to that. He was saying that there were no taxis on the station rank.
§ Mr. Brockway
Both situations can be true in different circumstances on different occasions.
The second reason for resisting this as a fair solution is that the drivers on the public ranks regard their services in this kind of way as just bolstering up the 293 privileged system, and they feel that they are made to serve the interests of the few who have privilege.
I now come to the second recommendation, and on this I will deal with the point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). The second suggestion made by the Consultative Committee is that if a comprehensive association is formed of all the taxi-cab drivers, which will assume responsibility for manning the station rank, the Commission will be prepared to negotiate with it on the basis of equity.
My hon. Friend asked whether those who man the station ranks have not certain duties to perform. Theoretically, they have. They are supposed to be on the station ranks. They are supposed to be there when trains arrive. In practice, that is by no means the case. It is certainly not the case in Slough.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
It is the case at terminal stations. At the main stations of Manchester—London Road and Central —the taxis are at the station all night, rendering a service to the public.
§ Mr. Brockway
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has helped to make my case. London Road Station, Central Station and Victoria Station, Manchester, have long been stations where there are no privileged ranks. The one station where there has been a privileged rank has been Exchange Station, but as a result of our agitation and our going on a deputation to the chairman of the British Transport Commission, even that station now has no privileged system.
The proposal of the Consultative Committee is that there should be a comprehensive association of all the taxi-drivers in the locality and that this association should take over the responsibility of manning the station rank, contributing something towards the rent, so that the Transport Commission would be able to deal directly with someone who was in control of the station rank.
I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will listen to what I am going to say. I believe that it is a fruitful idea which has been proposed by the Consultative Committee and I welcome it. I should like to know, however, whether 294 this association must be comprehensive. What is meant by "comprehensive"? Does it mean that all the local taxi-drivers must agree to join the association? If so, I suggest that it is unlikely that those who now have the privilege will agree to surrender it and become part of the larger association.
The majority of the taxi-drivers in Slough proposed an association of this kind, saying, "We will take the responsibility for running the station rank. We will have a rota of men who will be on duty all day and at night for excursion trains. We will have a telephone which will enable not only passengers who arrive at the station to use the taxis, but also passengers who want to come to the station." Naturally, the seven privileged taxi-drivers declined to become members of the association.
Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary very carefully consider whether the term "comprehensive" should not be used to cover a majority of the taxi-drivers of a locality? If a majority of the taxi-drivers in a locality agreed to become members of an association, would the Commission be prepared to recognise it?
§ Mr. H. Hynd
The wording is that in each area there should be an association of taxi-cab owners who would, in the main, be members of the union.
§ Mr. Brockway
I have not got the document in my hand at the moment, but the term "comprehensive" is, I think, used in it. It has certainly been used in the answers which we have received from the Commission and the Minister.
§ Mr. Brockway
I cannot point to it at a moment's notice, but the Minister will remember that when we met him on a deputation only last week "comprehensive" was the word which he used when we raised this matter. Naturally, we shall not get all the tax-drivers in a town-privileged and unprivileged to agree, and if we are to speak of an association with which an arrangement is made, a majority should be allowed to constitute that association. We ask that consideration shall be given to that point.
We also ask the Minister to consider with the Minister of Housing and Local 295 Government whether the ranks for taxi-drivers in stations should not come under the watch committee or local authority in the same way as the public ranks do.
Our third request is that after this debate the Minister shall use his influence with Sir Brian Robertson, the chairman of the Commission, to consider these matters with us again and to make a new approach to the whole problem.
This may seem to be a comparatively small matter, but I believe that there are involved in it real issues of democracy, justice and fairness between men and men. It seems to me to be the duty of Parliament to consider these issues in small things as well as in large ones.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I wish to oppose this Amendment. We have heard from the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) a great deal about the interests of the taxi-drivers but very little about the interests of the travelling public. I would suppose that the democratic principle for public transport is that transport should carry the public.
From my personal experience as a railway solicitor for twenty years, I can say that this is a very old problem. I would remind those hon. Members that these ancient tenancies, or privileges as they used to be called at one time, did not arise because of administrative convenience. They arose because the old, private enterprise railway companies considered that the paramount consideration was to look after the travelling public. After all, they were trying to make money out of them, and they had regard for the interests of the public, and any ancillary services which would attract the public they encouraged. They found from long experience that unless they made special arrangements with taxi-drivers, especially at the smaller stations, there was not an adequate taxi service to take people to and from the stations.
There were two considerations which used to be borne in mind, one of which no longer applies. One was that a regular cab service—and this dates back to the old horse cabs—should be maintained at all reasonable times to meet trains. The second was that the cabbies should be a 296 reasonable sort of people. In the early days cabbies were inclined to be of a rather rough type of person sometimes rather undesirable. They were sometimes drunken and ill-spoken. In order to have control over the cabbies the privilege, as it used to be called, was devised of allowing them to occupy stands at stations, and a small charge was made in return for the privilege which could be withdrawn if the cabbies did not behave themselves.
It is all very well for London and Manchester and other big cities to talk about "a free-for-all system". That may work there, but the vast majority of the towns of our land are not like London and Manchester, and even some quite big towns do not have stations with the same amount of access space available as have the big stations in the greatest cities. They have only a very limited space and it is becoming more and more limited because of the number of private cars.
More and more people are arriving at the stations or leaving them in their own private cars and the number of private cars is increasing. If the station approaches are cluttered up with waiting cabs at times at which popular trains arrive, and there are also so many private motorists trying to get into the station that no one can get into or out of the station yard, that is a big disincentive to people to travel by train. That is a consideration which must be paramount to the British Transport Commission. Therefore, it is very reasonable that it should limit the number of cabs on ranks at stations and in return give the people on the ranks some privilege.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
Surely, to limit the number of cab ranks is not quite the same as limiting the number of taxis which could go on the ranks from time to time?
§ Mr. Wilson
It is necessary to do so, otherwise the taxis come only at the times of the popular trains and at the popular stations.
The two principal stations in my constituency are at Truro and St. Austell, and the two principal trains are the up and down "Limited", as the Cornish Riviera Express is called. I feel that there would be a tendency for a number of taxi drivers to arrive to meet only these popular trains which are likely to carry a large 297 number of passengers, and not to meet early or late trains, so that passengers on those trains would not be able to get a cab at the station.
I have had a complaint from a driver at St. Austell that he was not allowed to go into the station yard. I took the trouble to investigate the case, and I looked at the site with the railway officials, and I had to admit that the railway people were perfectly justified. The station yard is used by buses as well as by cars, and it is very limited, and if there were more cab ranks there would not be room in the yard for the buses and the private cars. That is why the cab ranks are limited to certain cabs. I think that meets the hon. Lady's point.
I can tell the hon. Member for Eton and Slough that I know Slough Station very well. I have known it since 1928.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member is charging me and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), quite unfairly, with not being concerned with the public interest, but he has brought in as a basis of his argument the requirements of private car owners. Does he imagine that everyone travels by private car or goes to the station in a private car?
§ Mr. Wilson
Cars are being used more and more, and people arrive at railway stations by private car more and more, and they can cause a whole queue of taxis to wait there. That is one reason why it is necessary to limit the number of cabs.
If we limit the number of cabs we want to be sure that they will meet all the trains, not only the most popular trains of the day. Therefore, we limit the number of ranks and limit the number of cab owners who use them, so that they take the rough with the smooth and turn up at the station at unpopular hours as well as at the popular hours, and take their turn.
When there is a big taxi-cab association it is quite common for the rules to be observed. That is so in the South Coast towns. Of 711 agreements 27 are with taxi-cab associations mostly in South Coast resorts, where a large number of associations do control most of the taxi-drivers and are able to guarantee that there will be an adequate service and that the rules will be observed.
298 I believe I am right in saying that the British Transport Commission has given the general direction that when there are such associations and that when the existing licences run out—that is what they are: they are not really tenancies—then the new licences will be to the members of the local taxi association. Of course, when in any one place there are two taxi associations, as I believe there are in the division of the hon. Lady for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), and they are in rivalry and will not agree among themselves which is the official one, that places the railway authorities in very great difficulty.
I think that the Central Transport Consultative Committee was quite right in saying that the existing arrangements should be continued unless there is an absolutely clear case for altering them. However, in many rural areas if there were not individual agreements with individual taxi-drivers there would be no agreements at all, and a driver would meet an early, unpopular train, or not, as he felt inclined, according to the weather, and passengers might be left stranded on the station.
I hope that the Transport Commission will carry out one small, useful idea in its Report and publish the telephone numbers of taxi ranks so that if there is not a taxi at the station one can telephone to another rank.
I mentioned just now the station at Slough. I have known that station for many years. It is observed in the Report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee that if there is no cab on the rank it is the practice to call a taxi from another rank. I must say that that used to be so in the old days, and I should be surprised if it were not so now.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not know how long the hon. Member has been associated with Slough. I cannot swear to it. of course, but I should have thought that that had always obtained there; that if there is no taxi on the rank the porter calls one from the nearest rank.
Even what is recommended about the telephone numbers is quite common practice at a number of stations. To assist a passenger a porter or other member of the station staff, if there is no 299 taxi available at the station, telephones on the station telephone to the nearest cab rank to get a cab for a passenger.
I do not want to prolong my speech because I know a number of other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, but I do think that this Amendment is mistaken. I think it is mistaken that this Bill should be held up because of the alleged difficulties of a small number of taxi-drivers. I am sure that the Consultative Committee is right in saying that the present system is working well. I do not think there is any unfairness to the taxi drivers. My personal experience is that whenever I put forward a case the British Transport Commission looks into it, and if there is a reasonable vacancy it will allow any other taxi-cab driver to be added to the list, if there is room for him. I think that this Motion should be opposed.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I intervene only because the Transport and General Workers' Union has been mentioned a number of times tonight and it may be that the views of the union are not clearly understood.
I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that it is a great mistake to give the impression that those of us who have a special interest among our general interests, such as looking after the interests of workers, are not concerned with the interests of the travelling public. We are, of course, concerned to see that the people who arrive at railway stations, particularly those who arrive at awkward times, can get the service which they ought to be able to get when they arrive. Things have been said tonight which make it sound as though we are more concerned with the fairness between one taxi-driver and another than with the interests of the travelling public. That is not the position of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I want to make it plain that we are interested in the public having a service, because it is the business of our members to see that they have it.
Secondly, I want to make it clear that, whatever was said by Mr. Francis or anybody else, the Transport and General Workers' Union is not in favour of a free-for all at general stations. It may 300 be said that London and Manchester have a free-for-all, but at London and Manchester there is such a constant flow of traffic passing through that a free-for-all means that all taxi-drivers have plenty to do pretty well all the time. There are many stations where this is not true, and the Transport and General Workers' Union understands that.
Let us also make it clear that in the Transport and General Workers' Union we are in favour, on the whole, of regulations rather than general disorder based on the belief that it will be all right on the night, because sometimes it is not all right on the night.
Where do we come into this? We come into it by saying that if it can be arranged for the general public to get the service which it ought to have without creating a privileged class of taxi-drivers, then it ought to be arranged in that way. That is a better way than any other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has a good friend in me in many things if not in all things, and he ought not to make these comments about people reading documents before they come to the House. The fact that I have a document in my hand does not mean that I have not read it previously. My hon. Friend is apt to think that he is the only one who has read a document. That is not true. He believes that he is, and he gets a lot of fun out of it, but it is not true.
I believe that the Central Transport Consultative Committee went too far. I quote from page 12, paragraph 3, in which the Committee lays down the reasons for its views on remedy (d). The Committee says that it is a remedy which can operate and in fact does operate in ideal circumstances but that it is not suitable unless the conditions are met which are set out in paragraphs (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv). By the end the Committee has given the general impression that the method was such that it might have been the method for Utopia rather than the ordinary method.
We believe that there are many cases where there can be an association including a sufficiently large number of taxi-drivers for it to be reasonable to make an agreement with them and on the basis of that agreement to withdraw the privilege to any licensed drivers. On the other hand, if it is impossible to have such an arrangement, or if there 301 are two associations side by side and it its impossible to make an agreement with a sufficiently large number of them, then we of the Transport and General Workers' Union would not go so far as to say that in those circumstances the privilege should be withdrawn.
We ought to put the onus on the drivers themselves. If they want to get rid of this privilege, at least enough of them must organise. This has not been said clearly enough tonight. The Commission cannot withdraw the privilege without a sufficient degree of organisation among the taxi-drivers themselves, which is not a trade conducive to easy organisation. We all know what the job is like. Nevertheless, they must be willing to give up a certain degree of their freedom and their cherished liberties, in return for getting rid of the privilege. That has been the view of the Transport and General Workers' Union all the way through.
I was not present at the meeting which was held but I am told that many wild things were said. Mr. Francis thought it very important to do what he could to get the taxi-drivers there to face the problems involved. If the Transport Commission were to end these privilege arrangements we could go a long way to robbing the travelling public of a consideration which it ought to have, without making anybody much better off. In addition, there would be a lot of jostling when the good trains arrived.
We of the Transport and General Workers' Union support my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in using this occasion to raise this matter. It is a good thing that it has been used for the debate, and we are not at all hesitant about holding up the Bill. We are in agreement with my hon. Friend in saying to the Transport Commission that we think that this Report of the Consultative Committee errs too much on the side of pouring cold water on the idea of organisation, and that in fact there ought to be an attempt made to reach an agreement and to form associations. We do not support anybody who thinks that if that is not done there ought to be a free-for-all. A free-for-all does not appeal to us as a very good thing. On page 5 of its Report the Consultative Committee gives one example at Tonbridge where an attempt was made to reach an agreement and it collapsed because apparently 302 the local association was not in a position to do this.
I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to tell us that the Commission agrees in principle with the case made out by the Transport and General Workers' Union. I should like him to go a little further and to say that he and his Ministry will put some pressure on the British Transport Commission not to be as cold about this as the Consultative Committee but, in return for our sense of responsibility, to do what it can, in association with us and with anybody else who represents taxi-drivers, to form associations so that voluntary agreement can take the place of this specially created privilege. None of us likes an extra privilege. It is offensive. The man who has not the privilege feels that he has a grouse, and if the other man turns out at 2 a.m., the man who has a grouse knows nothing about it and never sees the other side of the penny. It does not stop him from going on with his grouse. It would, therefore, be a good thing to get rid of this extra-statutory privilege if we could. With respect, I think a little more pressure on the Commission is needed in order to shake it out of a certain coldness of mind towards what is required. It is not enough to say, "We are in principle in favour of it." A little active interest also should be shown.
I think I can say that we in the Transport and General Workers' Union have been very responsible. We have not, as we could very well have done, entered upon some sort of competition for membership. We could have gone a long way in the other direction and tried to bid for members on the other basis. We have taken a responsible position, without any rigid belief in the privilege which some of our members benefit from, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, a wide open belief in freedom for all. We are, I think, entitled to ask the Ministry to help us by putting some pressure on the B.T.C. so that it will show some warm keenness in favour of voluntary agreements in order to reduce this extra-statutory privilege which everyone, I think, agrees should go.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I confess that my main interest in the Bill originally was directed not so much to what it omits, but to what it contains. I felt 303 rather drawn by some of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who suffered a good deal of all-round fire this evening but who, I think, needs no frontal attack. I am saved a good deal of trouble by what has just been said by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who very fairly put the arguments of the two sides with which the House has become quite familiar.
I will add only one general point for the attention of the hon. Member for Dudley. There is really no new principle involved here. The British Transport Commission is not the only body concerned with the principle at stake here. I spend a good deal of my time arguing the same principle in relation to local bus services. The same sort of situation arises. The bus services which are required by Statute to give a service in rough and in smooth on good routes and bad, on routes which lose money and on routes which make money, like, very naturally, to be protected against the odd, miscalled "pirate" who may try to come in to skim the cream from the market, but who is not prepared to do the difficult end of the job. A similar principle is involved.
In that case, there are, under Statute, licensing authorities which deal with the problem. For the edification of the hon. Member for Dudley, I will add that this procedure was established in 1930, under an Act of Parliament passed by a Labour Government. I suggest, therefore, that the broad principle which has been under discussion here has a respectable history and background, and it is acknowledged not only in relation to taxi-cabs, but in relation to other services, also. If someone is to provide a service for the general public, in good times and in bad, at good hours and at awkward hours, some kind of control must be observed. In this matter, the British Transport Commission, which did not of its own volition seek possession, as I understand it, of the forecourts and immediately adjacent areas which it now has, has certain obligations to fulfil. The Commission has my sympathy in that matter.
I hope that one or two hon. Members will go along with me when I say that I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dudley singled out a letter from Sir Brian Robertson, the chairman of the British 304 Transport Commission, for criticism. I should like to put on record that, in my experience, Sir Brian, who receives some rather awkward letters at times from both sides of the House, deals very fairly with them all. He is in a rather equivocal position. It is by no means easy for the chairman of what is sometimes a controversial body to answer all Members of Parliament in a manner which is both fair to his own organisation and fair to us. I suggest that he does a good job on the whole, and that the hon. Member for Dudley was a little less than fair in singling out that letter and speaking of Sir Brian as he did.
I earnestly ask the hon. Member for Dudley and his hon. Friends not to delay unduly this Measure, if they can possibly avoid it. I admit that I have an interest. A great deal of the Bill concerns modernisation, particularly modernisation in south-eastern England. The Bill really illustrates the vicissitudes of modernisation of British Railways. It is difficult enough physically without political elements entering into it as well. Although I accept that, under any Administration, the railways would have to come to the House to seek Parliamentary authority for the sort of matters contained in the Bill, it is unfortunate that what is, in the main, a Measure designed to advance the modernisation of the railways—behind which all hon. Members stand—should be mixed up with one or two extraneous issues. I say that without for a moment denying the absolute right of hon. Gentlemen to raise this point.
The Bill enshrines some very urgent matters. There are within it provisions which must go through if—thinking of my part of the country now—the quarter of a million people who are looking forward to an improved, modernised electrified system in south-eastern England, are to be given the means of travelling to and from their work. It is not too much to say that some of the plans herein contained govern the lives of those quarter of a million people who travel to and from London from Kent.
The winter is a very rough time for the commuter. Many are seized with a mood of despair, and the morale of those in this region, which part of this Bill is designed to cover, is very low. The Commission faces the frightful problem of bringing these very large numbers of people into London at the peak hours. 305 In addition, we have an enormous electrification scheme, which has caused some unwonted delays. These travellers have lately received explanations from British Railways, and the main item in one of the latest pamphlets asked, "Late trains —who's to blame?"
I know that the hon. Member for Dudley would not like to have blame attributed to him for either directly or indirectly holding up this very important Measure. The urgent need is to cut the time as much as possible; to cut the number of winters during which the people have to travel on the present rather wobbly system. We do not want to waste an unnecessary day, or an unnecessary week. With luck, we shall have 75 miles of line in Kent electrified by June, and the whole job finished by June, 1962. There will then be 235 miles of line modernised at a cost of £45 million. That is what part of this Bill is about.
Some of us are now getting very excited about our motorways, but those concerned with them seem to be able to get on with their works on a vast scale without having to come to this House for powers. We should, I think, seek to make this Bill the platform for a single legitimate issue, and to remember that for the quarter of a million people of whom I have spoken this railway system is a lifeline. British Railways did not build the 100,000 additional houses built in that region since the war, but they have to face the colossal transport problem involved in this great social movement, and I would be sorry if we were not ready to give the Commission the powers it seeks.
This should not be a political exercise, and I hope that we shall end this debate by giving British Railways the permission necessary to do this most urgent job.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
I agree with the hon. Member for Ash-for (Mr. Deedes) in hoping that nothing will be done to delay the passage of the Bill, but I should like to add to what has already been said about taxis at railway stations, since the position in my constituency is rather peculiar.
I also agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he said that we should 306 have in mind, principally, the travelling public. On the other hand, no one has proved that the present set-up gives the travelling public the best possible service, nor that there is not a better system.
Like others of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have been interested in this subject for some considerable time. I went some time ago with the deputation that saw the chairman of the British Transport Commission, and since then several Questions have been put to the Minister of Transport. I shall not say anything about the Report of the Consultative Committee—it has already been dealt with—except to point out that all the parties concerned were not consulted, and my own taxi people feel bitterly because their evidence was not called for.
Both in this House and elsewhere we have had evidence that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction, but about one thing let us be very clear. For the taxi men, it is a case of the "haves "versus the "have-nots", because to those who have the privilege to ply for hire at them the stations mean a steady income.
As long as a few taxi-drivers are allowed to ply for hire at the stations whilst others are not allowed to do so there will be this dissatisfaction. All taxi-drivers, of course, want to share in the business at the stations. I share the fears of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper when he said that if there were a free-for-all it might not work; but it works in some places. It works in London and in Manchester, and I cannot see why something that works in Ma. Chester should not work in Leeds
§ Mr. D. Jones
My hon. Friend must remember that there is a tremendous cross-termini traffic in Manchester and London which does not exist in most other cities.
§ Miss Bacon
It exists to a great extent in Leeds, about which I was speaking. In any case, I do not suggest that we should have a free-for-all, because the taxi people have expressed themselves willing to organise a rota system and an all-night service. We should take this opportunity to see whether a system of that kind cannot be established.
Mention has been made of the peculiar position which exists in Leeds, where there are two well-organised associations of taxi-drivers the members of one of 307 which are admitted to the stations and the members of the other are not. Far be it from me to take sides in this matter as between one association of taximen in my constituency and another, but the Minister is quite well aware of the difficulty. The money is paid in bulk direct from the association to the British Transport Commission. I believe that it costs £600 to ply for hire at the City Station and £300 at the Central Station.
The important point is that the association which is the privileged body, and not individual taxi-drivers, can determine the amount of the membership fee which will be paid by its members. The Minister knows that the membership fees are in excess of the fees paid for the privilege of plying for hire at stations. I hear that the entry fee to the association costs £10 per cab, with £30 per cab per year membership fee. That is very much in excess of the 3s. a week paid in most other parts of the country where the arrangement is made between the British Transport Commission and the individual taxi owner.
It has been suggested that there are two associations which are at daggers drawn, but there is far more to it than that. The association which is given the privilege of plying for hire at the stations can determine who shall be members, and it can keep the membership as small as possible. In this case, it is not the Commission which determines how many taxis should ply for hire to serve the public but one association of taxi drivers within the city. That is a very different matter.
The whole situation leads to ludicrous results. For instance, a taxi-driver can take a person into a station. He can drop the fare, but he cannot take somebody out of the same station. There was a case not long ago in Leeds, and I know that there have been other cases in Newcastle, where a taxi-driver was brought before the court on a charge of trespassing. On that occasion he was given a conditional discharge. Mention has also been made this evening of places where taxis cannot enter to serve queues of waiting people.
I believe that the Report of the Consultative Committee is far from clear. It says:At Leeds, complaint has been made by one association of taxi-owners against another association… The Yorkshire Consultative 308 Committee made particularly careful investigation of Leeds because there appeared to be at first sight some sort of personal monopoly of the licences by the chairman of one association,That is because there has been an allegation that at one of the stations the privilege was not in the name of the association, but in the name of one person in that association, and he could determine who would ply for hire.
This Report goes on:On investigation, the Committee were satisfied that there was no evidence of any abuse of this kind.But the Committee stopped there, and does not go on to say what the position is. A little further on, on page 7, it says:' The railway management is satisfied that the present system works well, and that it could not be improved.That is not the view, the Report goes on to say, of the town clerk, but the Yorkshire Committee, after a most thorough investigation, did not see any reason for changing the present system. Therefore, we have the position in which the town clerk, who represents, not the taxi-drivers or a particular association of taxi-drivers, but the City Council, which represents the interests of the people of Leeds, is in favour of a change but the Yorkshire Consultative Committee says that no change is necessary.
I believe that the taxi-owners and drivers are in the mood to try to work some other system, and I hope, therefore, that after there has been this opportunity of debating the matter this evening, we shall have some action by the Minister, through the chairman of the British Transport Commission, to see whether we can have some better system at the stations.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
I am sorry to keep on this taxi-driver case, but I should like to make three short points.
I think that there are none of us who support the taxi-drivers who would not agree with the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that order is heaven's first law, and that we do want that order. I think that I would go even further than he. He puts the onus on the taxi-drivers to produce a better system than the privilege system, whereas I think that we would all say that the privileged system has the onus on it to produce evidence that it is not only the best way of producing such order but also the only good way.
309 One hon. Member has asked what are the obligations on somebody who pays Ihis money to the Railway Executive, and, of course, the answer is that they are really quite unenforceable. In point of fact, what is happening is that the privilege system means that a man is buying the cream off the market. He is really in a position to make his money during the week much more quickly and much more certainly, and also in the position of not having to wait in these very long and dark hours when the travelling public want somebody to be on the stations.
§ Mr. Pitman
It is very hard to catch him up at all. I was present at the meeting upstairs, and I support the right hon. Member for Belper, whose union, I believe, was represented, and put the case quite fairly for order and discipline. It was perfectly clear to everybody there that the present system is made to work only because the non-privileged drivers are propping up the deficiences of the existing system. Such non-privileged drivers needed to make their money, and they were prepared to turn out when the other men, having made their money, were not really pulling their weight in the dark hours of the night. I would say that, clearly, in principle, a system which enables somebody to pay money for the privilege of creaming the market must inherently be wrong, and that the onus of proof is on it to show that it is the right way of doing it, and not the other way round.
Secondly, I would say that one thing that has come out clearly is that these consultative committees are eyewash. They are there to justify that which is administratively convenient for the boards, or whatever it is, that are put up. [HON. MEMBERS:"NO."] The whole approach of these consultative committees, and the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has mentioned the Yorkshire Consultative Committee, has been to "pooh-pooh" this right from the very beginning.
I have seen for myself the information which was laid before the consultative committee at Oxford and rejected. The taxi-drivers there went to the long queues and saw people who had been waiting for over an hour. Those people wrote their evidence, it was sent to the consultative 310 committee, who turned it down out of hand, saying that it was solicited. How can a consultative committee get information about how the public really feels except from market research? The committee is failing in its duty if the members sit on their chairs and merely expect the public to write in to them if they have anything to say. That is not the way the public behave, and a consultative committee should know this.
We hope that the Minister will do something to provide a well-ordered system which is not based upon privilege.
§ Mr. Popplewell
As the hon. Gentleman has made a point about the consultative committee, will he, in fairness, make the point clear that no complaints have been received except from Members of Parliament? Secondly, it was the British Transport Commission which pressed the Central Transport Consultative Committee to do something, and that committee set up a special working party to investigate the position. Hence the inquiry, so that other people could say what complaints had been received. No complaints have been received.
§ Mr. Pitman
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is a very good example of that whited sepulchre. It is a good example of refusing to accept information. It is just not true that the consultative committee had not got the complaints. It said that this was not unsolicited information and would not even look at it.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Along with everyone else who has spoken, I have no desire to hold up the passage of the Bill, but I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I did not state the Liverpool case, because I have three railway stations in my constituency. I am in rather a privileged position, because I am representing the Transport and General Workers' Union in this matter. I am also representing the Taxi Owners' Association and also the licensing authority, because I am deputy-chairman of the Liverpool licensing authority.
We have been trying to get this matter straightened out since 1949. We have had deputations to the British Transport Commission. We have had representations from the Town Clerk's Department of the local authority. In Liverpool, we 311 have 300 taxi-cabs licensed. The maximum number of taxi-cabs which can ply for hire in the three railway stations is 87. We have just over 500 licensed taxi-drivers, so that we can be certain there will be sufficient taxis on the streets for 24 hours if necessary. Some licensed taxi-drivers pay 3s. a week for the privilege of going into the railway stations. The rest of the taxi drivers are very disturbed about this, because they have no way of deciding through their association who shall fill any vacancy which may be created. That is done by the railway authorities.
The licensing authority has said that it would be prepared, through the hackney carriage department and the hackney carriage inspector, to take responsibility for seeing that the stations were always fully taxied whenever trains arrived. There is exactly the same position as Leeds. We have taxis picking up passengers outside the city, bringing them into the stations, putting them down and then, although there may not be another taxi in the station, not being permitted to pick up passengers at the station.
That is an instruction of British Railways in Liverpool. We have been contending that when one of these taxis arrives at the station and sets down a passenger, when the driver puts up his flag he should be able to ply for hire We have been told that that is wrong and that it is not permitted, on private railway property, to pick up a passenger from a train, unless the taxi driver is paying his 3s. a week and is one of the 87 taxi drivers able to wait at the station.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
That point is dealt with on page 10 of the Consultative Committee's Report, which the British Transport Commission has accepted. The Commission has explained the position.
§ Mrs. Braddock
I have read the Report. I was one of those who discussed the matter with Sir Brian Robertson. I gave him this information and I pointed out what the position was. It is all right having these things on paper, but when they do not work in that way, someone ought to take the responsibility for issuing an instruction.
The Liverpool Watch and Licensing Committees have said that if the three railway stations will accept taxi ranks in the stations, our inspector of hackney 312 carriages from the licensed ranks outside the station will see that there are always sufficient taxis available on the ranks in the station to meet the needs of the travelling public.
Liverpool is a busy centre and there are constantly incoming trains for connections with ships. Many people arrive by train to depart for places all over the world and there are visitors from abroad and passengers from London Airport. There have been many occasions when I have arrived by train, from London particularly, when there has not been a taxi-cab in sight and when the porters have grabbed people's luggage and run into Lime Street to the taxi rank there with the travellers following behind.
That may result in an additional tip for the railway porter, but that is not a procedure to be recommended. There should be taxi ranks immediately inside the station. There are plenty of taxi ranks in the centre of Liverpool. We have just rearranged them right round the city because of the change of traffic control. Every one of the men has said that he is prepared, along with the hackney carriage inspector, who is an official of the Watch Committee, to take responsibility for seeing that at all times there are sufficient taxis on the stations when necessary. That will be done by arranging that when a taxi driver sets down a passenger in the station he will go to the back of the queue and be called into the station by the inspector, thus keeping the permitted number of taxis on the station taxi rank.
There has been deputation after deputation since 1949, especially to the District Passenger Manager at Lime Street Station. The last occasion was in 1955. In Mr. Speaker's words, for the sake of greater accuracy I will read the note about that meeting which came from the town clerk's office in December, 1955.At the request of … District Passenger Manager of British Railways, a meeting was held in his office on the 5th December, 1955, to consider arrangements for an improved taxi service at Lime Street Station. The meeting was attended by several officials of British Railways representatives of the Taxi Owners' Association, Chief Inspector … of the Hackney Carriages Department, and … the Assistant Town Clerk. After considerable discussion—the District Passenger Manager—indicated that certain arrangements would be introduced, on an experimental basis, as from the 1st January, 1956, but the Town Clerk understands that the Taxi Owners' Association 313 were subsequently notified that the proposed arrangements could not be introduced following instructions from the London office of the British Railways Executive.If the Minister will take the responsibility of saying that the stations should be open I can give a guarantee that there will never be any shortage of licensed taxis on the three railway stations in Liverpool.
As long as this business goes on the men are upset. Some of the men can earn large sums because they are privileged; others, because they cannot go on to the stations, just have to manage. We have restricted the number of taxi-drivers to just over 500 when we have 300 cabs licensed so that there will be a better opportunity for the men to earn a decent living. That has been done in agreement with the Transport and General Workers' Union and with the Liverpool Taxi Owners' Association. I hope that some steps will be taken, if only for a trial period, to see how this system works and to get reports on how it works. The present system has been tried for years. Let us now try the other way. If it does not work properly, we should be perfectly justified in suggesting that an alteration should be made.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I do not want to follow the remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) in detail. She has made a very powerful speech, and I can only conclude that those who are responsible would be very ill-advised not to take careful note of what she has said.
There are three short points which I want to make. First, I profoundly regret that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) should have selected Sir Brian Robertson for such a personal attack. I do not believe that I am misconstruing him in any way when I say that he suggested that Sir Brian was claiming for himself such a degree of constitutional authority as to usurp the job and powers of Mr. Speaker himself. I think that such a charge levelled against such a person is one of the most surprising, unreasonable and unfair charges that I have ever heard in this House. I do not believe—I do not want to be unfair to him—that it is his desire to be unfair at all, but I think that he has been exceedingly so in this instance.
314 The two other points that remain for me I want to make as clearly as I can. What are we here to do in the House of Commons? We are not here to do the job of the Commission. I think that if we are to tell the Commission what is fair and what is unfair, what serves the travelling public and what does disservice to the travelling public, we shall be getting very far away from our proper task.
When Parliament criticises a nationalised industry of this kind—I recognise that this is not a party matter—it should be careful to see that the criticism is constructive and is not of a kind which goes too much into detailed management. I do not think that we can say that the Commission has not fully considered the case which has been made against it. That is one charge which we should probably be entitled to make if it were justified.
This House cannot and should not tell the Commission how it should carry out this task. It should recognise that the Commission does not have to provide and administer a taxi service. It is up to the Commission to make arrangements which it considers most convenient to provide for the needs of the travelling public. Throughout this discussion there has been a tendency to ignore again and again the needs of the public. Far too often we have tended to ignore the needs of the users of the transport system. We do a very ill service to the Commission and to the transport industry in general if we insist upon trespassing on ground which manifestly is not the province of the House of Commons.
I repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech: I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dudley should have levelled these charges at Sir Brian Robertson, thereby adding to his difficulties and in no way contributing to their solution.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Unlike the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), I have no complaint about this grievance having been raised in the House today. This is the place for grievances to be raised, whether on behalf of taxi-drivers or the public, and in such a Bill as this it is legitimate for any hon. Member to raise such a grievance. But I hope that my hon. Friends will not take their objections too far—certainly not into the Division Lobbies, because the Bill is designed primarily to set in motion many 315 of the important works for which some of us have been pressing for some time. It will deal not only with the electrification about which an hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke, but with works at Colchester, Holyhead and other places in Yorkshire—[Laughter.] I mean in other places as well as in Yorkshire. It would be a great pity if anything said this evening held up a Bill which all hon. Members want to see put through and enforced as soon as possible.
Some of the complaints which have been raised seem to call for more investigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) spoke as though a small group of taxi-cab drivers or owners were operating a racket at the railway stations in Leeds. These complaints have been gone into fairly thoroughly by the Central Transport Consultative Committee, and I disagree strongly with the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) who drew the conclusion that consultative committees are nothing but eyewash. The Report of that Committee has not been given the credit that it deserves.
One complaint raised today, for example, was to the effect that if there are no cabs in the station there is no service for the public. The Report points out that it is the duty of the station staff to call taxi-cabs from outside if necessary, and since that Report has been adopted by the Commission, thereby becoming the Commission's recommendation, that is the system which should be operated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East also said that if a taxi-cab goes into a station and drops a passenger there, it is not allowed to pick up another passenger if it is not licensed to use that station. That point again is specifically dealt with in the Report. The Report goes on to say that there is nothing to prevent that driver from picking up another passenger. As I said before, the Report has been adopted by the Commission. Therefore, that complaint need no longer be raised. The suggestion of the Report, following on what was suggested by the Transport and Genera] Workers' Union that if these drivers would join an appropriate organisation they could reach agreement with the Commission, is a very fair and just one and ought to clear up the whole matter if it is used properly.
316 My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said several times that there was no machinery for such grievances to be brought forward. In order to justify that remark he ought to have shown that the British Transport Commission had refused to meet any of the people concerned. I did not hear him say that it had refused to meet them. In my opinion, there is an open door for any legitimate interest to make a complaint to the Commission, particularly if they are in an organised body and go through the proper channels.
Most of the other points that I intended to make have been made very eloquently by other hon. Members. Therefore, I finish, as I began, by saying that while it has been a good thing that these complaints have been ventilated this evening, I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed passage in order that we can provide the modernisation and employment which we all want to see.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Like several hon. Members, I think it is very important that the Bill should proceed into law successfully. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) pointed out, a large section of the Bill deals with the modernisation programme of British Railways. Few of us can have any doubt today that the progress of that modernisation is of tremendous importance.
I expect that hon. Members on both sides of the House have seen some forecast of probable developments of the railway system in the United States. It is anticipated that in the next fifteen years or so a major portion of the American railway system will disappear altogether. They have decided, rightly or wrongly, that with the conditions of their country there will be no need in the foreseeable future for the sort of railway system which they have today. In other words, they are going on the road and into the air. We in these islands have decided that that cannot be our immediate future. We have decided rightly or wrongly— and I think rightly—that we will never have available the sort of land which we can use for airfields and roads on the scale they can in such a vast country as the United States. With such drastic things happening in another part of the world, the need for the acceleration of 317 this modernisation programme becomes apparent.
I should like to comment on one or two unfortunate omissions from the Bill. We are giving power to the British Transport Commission to do important works in many parts of the country. I hope that my hon. Friend will note my disappointment that there are no proposals in the Bill relating to the South Wales Docks, which are the property of the British Transport Commission. I had hoped that the British Transport Commission would come forward at this time with some ambitious projects for expanding the Docks, particularly at Barry and Cardiff, and transforming them into general cargo docks. We have a tremendous problem before us in that part of the United Kingdom if we are to make those ports into general cargo ports. If the British Transport Commission continues to assert, as it has in the past, that provided we find the traffic it will provide the installations, I reiterate what I have already said in a memorandum which I submitted to the Minister of Transport, that they are putting the cart before the horse. Give us some of these installations and we will then be able to go out for the cargoes.
Also I can assure my hon. Friend that we are all pleased that modernisation is progressing so visibly in some parts of the country, including the south-east, but there is a feeling in many parts of South Wales in the industrial part that they are not getting their fair share of modernisation. There is also a fairly widespread feeling that, as that part of the country includes South West Wales which has particular difficulties, there is a case for concentrating some of the modernisation in the south western part of Wales.
After making those relatively short points, I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give serious consideration, in conjunction with the British Transport Commission, to the difficulties of South Wales and of South Wales ports and the need for expansion and modernisation there, as elsewhere. The need for modernisation, wherever it takes place in the United Kingdom, is paramount, and I hope that the Bill will pass speedily into law.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
No one could possibly deny the importance of the issue raised in the Amend- 318 ment which was so eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway): I must confess there is a danger if we keep talking about this Amendment that we shall fail to see the Bill in true perspective. I would urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I feel sometimes that we do not fully appreciate the immense task undertaken by the British Transport Commission. In a letter to the Sunday Timeslast weekend Sir Philip Warter pinpointed some of the difficulties when he indicated "that a great part of the fixed equipment of British Railways is at least 100 years old and is totally inadequate to deal with modern requirements. This position is the direct result of a long period of neglect and financial starvation, and that is why a large-scale programme of modernisation is now necessary. A great deal of the money has to be spent on civil engineering such as on signals and telecommunication work, apart from the more readily visible re-equipment with electric and diesel locomotives and modern coaching stock."
There is an understandable public clamour for punctuality and greater efficiency. Both are highly desirable, but they will not be achieved until many of these reconstruction schemes are brought to completion. The Government are not free from blame for the delay which has taken place. I can recall the disappointment of Lord Hurcomb and those of us who sat with him on the Joint Council when Government policy brought the capital investment programme to a standstill. Sir Brian Robertson has inherited this situation, and he must experience a sense of frustration when we show reluctance to help him to expedite the programme.
The employees of British Railways have a number of legitimate grievances, but they are not using them as a lever to hinder modernisation. British Railways superannuitants have special grounds for resentment owing to grossly inadequate pensions and the refusal of the B.T.C. to come to their aid. The cost would be infinitesimal compared with the expenditure envisaged in the Bill, but these people do not ask us to be obstructive about the Bill.
319 With regard to the Amendment relating to taxi-cabs at stations, it is not only unfair but manifestly wrong to dismiss as "eyewash" the Report submitted to the Minister by the Central Transport Consultative Committee, which was a summary of two other reports. We should remember that these are three absolutely independent bodies open to receive criticism from the public at all times, that they have met in various parts of the country, have advertised their meetings and have indicated their willingness to consider any serious complaint. Hon. Members who have not had the opportunity should seek a copy of this Report and consider it on its merits.
I listened with the greatest interest to the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool. Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). Her speech was a complete contradiction of a paragraph in the Report relating to Lime Street Station, Liverpool. The Report states:Lime Street Station, however, has only one approach road, with a very narrow skewed entrance through which both incoming and outgoing streams of traffic have to pass, and the North-Western Area Committee, among whose members is the Chairman of the transport committee of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, reached the unanimous and emphatic conclusion that the Town Clerk's proposal would be a disastrous one for passengers.
§ Mrs. Braddock
The point my hon. Friend has forgotten is that there are taxis which can go into the station. The suggestion being made by the Hackney Carriage Committee is not that there should be a lot more but that there should be a taxi-rank inside the station fed from a taxi-rank outside, irrespective of anyone paying 3s. a week for that privilege. There are taxis which go in at the moment.
§ Mr. Morris
I can follow that, but the point I am making is that the evidence admitted to the Minister by this Committee makes it quite clear that it is impossible to meet the wishes of my hon. Friend as expressed in the terms of the Amendment. On page 8 of the Report it is said:We asked the National Taxi-Car Association for details of any complaint made to them by members of the public of instances where the provision of licensed cabs had proved inadequate to supply a demand for taxis in stations but where unauthorised cabs had been 320 prevented from satisfying such demand, and whether they had approached any of the Railway Regions concerned regarding these matters.The Commission received no reply and no specific answer to either of the questions.
It seems to me that all the complaints which have been mentioned this evening can be dealt with by the B.T.C. The door is open and general managers in various regions have been instructed to re-examine the position. I feel convinced that hon. Members who are so worried about the taxi-drivers should not vote against this Bill merely on those grounds. If they do, they must realise that they are voting contrary to the interests of public policy and dealing with a very great matter in a manner which can only be described as irresponsible. If their purpose tonight is to ventilate the difficulties of taxi-drivers, if I may say so without being thought presumptuous, they have done so extremely well. I hope they will be content with that and will leave the B.T.C. to examine the proposals made and give this very important Bill a Second Reading without a Division.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) that we do not want to delay the Bill. The sooner we stop the sort of inhumanity practised on the traveller to which the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred, the better.
Having said that, I must say that I find myself wholly on the side of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I think that he was quite right to raise this question of the allocation of taxi-cabs to stations. I hope that it will be solved along the lines suggested. I fully share his view that this is an occasion—one which does not arise too often—offered to us when we can ventilate the views of constituents about matters concerning a nationalised industry. I do not do this in any hostile spirit to the industry, but it is useful to those in the industry to know what is being thought and to have suggestions put before them. I am sure that they will not mind that being done.
I want to put one or two points which concern my constituents, not individually, but as travellers. The first is that the main gateway to Orkney and Shetland is 321 by air from Aberdeen. In winter, the bus for the only aeroplane to Orkney and Shetland each day leaves at 8.15 in the morning. The train from the South varies at weekends, but it gets in about 7.30 a.m. Unfortunately, that train is often late and, therefore, travellers miss the plane, whereupon they are compelled to spend at least one night in Aberdeen, and, if they are unlucky not to get on the plane the next day, they may have to spend two nights. One constituent of mine actually spent three nights.
To spend three days in Aberdeen by force majeureis extremely trying. This matter affects not only the British Transport Commission, but B.E.A. Unfortunately, I find that there is such cut-throat competition between these nationalised industries, that to get them to alter their schedules to fit in one with the other is like an irresistible force against a resistible block. Somehow, we have to extend the time at Aberdeen unless the trains can be made a great deal more punctual. I have taken this matter up with Sir Brian Robertson and I have had a most courteous reply from him. He has been most helpful and has arranged for information to be sent forward when trains are late. But I hope that when, next winter, schedules are reconsidered, this difficulty may be looked at.
Secondly, and, I believe, rightly, the Transport Commission now insists that unless one gives up a sleeper 24 hours before it is required one has to pay for it. I have no objection to that in general. But many people who come from the North find that the plane does not fly and are, therefore, put to extra expense through no fault of their own. It is a small point, but it happens continually and if the point of view of the users is looked at I shall be grateful.
The last point upon which I wish to touch directly arises out of the plan for redeveloping and reconstructing the railways. I think that it is the experience of many hon. Members, probably chiefly as a result of the reconstruction programme, that trains are late. The last three trains which I have travelled down from Scotland on have been substantially late. One, in fact, was two and a half hours late. Very often as soon as one gets on a train one is told by the guard or conductor that the train will be late. 322 I agree that this is due largely to the reconstruction programme which we all want to see go forward, but it causes immense difficulty to people who have appointments and connections to catch, and so forth.
On certain occasions, particularly at weekends, there is a regular re-routing of trains, because repairs are being carried out on northern lines and it is known before the train starts that it will be an hour or two late. This is put up on boards at stations, but as far as I know it is not published in any other way. I appreciate the difficulties, but would it not be possible, so long as this goes on, to publicise the lateness of trains? Would it not be possible for the B.B.C. to make an announcement that the Scottish train will be late, possibly an hour late, because it is re-routed so frequently on Sunday nights?
§ Mr. Grimond
That is a good practice. The hon. Member for Ashford referred to the bulletin of the Southern Region, which is an extremely good step in the same direction.
There also seems to me to be a tendency to feel that while reconstruction is going on nothing can be done to old stations until they are pulled down. They are in a terrible state and are very difficult to keep clean. The travelling public may be chiefly to blame here, because they make a fearful mess of many of them by scrawling all over them. The Transport Commission might, through publicity, say that it will get on with reconstruction and new stations will come, but in the meantime it should do its best to keep up the appearances of the old stations and to wash and clean them if the public will co-operate.
The scrawls on the walls of a station which I regularly use are such that one is reluctant to let children go into the waiting room. The staff clean them off to some extent, but they are put back. This causes bad public relations. Is it not possible to make general use of publicity and public relations to point out to the public the difficulties under which the railways are still working owing to the importance of getting on with reconstruction and the need, in the 323 meantime, to keep the old equipment and carriages in as good a condition as possible.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
This is the annual Bill for the Transport Commission to bring before Parliament the various measures that require Parliamentary authority for the works to be done in the coming year. This year we have broken new ground in discussing almost throughout the evening what is not in the Bill rather than what is in the Bill. I cannot see any objection to that, Mr. Speaker; no doubt, if we had been out of order you would have told us. Certainly, the constitutional device of grievances before Supply is one which has been echoed here throughout the centuries.
We have had a lively debate on that account. If we finish by getting the Bill at the end of it and the Commission's affairs being unimpeded, we cannot complain. We might, in fact, say that we have had some interest and liveliness as a result of the intervention by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). However, I thank particularly the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), both of whom reminded us of the great importance to the Commission of the schedule of works in the Bill. It is vital to the Commission's programme in the coming year for its Modernisation Plan. Whatever criticism we may have of the Commission and its affairs, we all want that Plan to succeed.
I will, of course, take note of the other points of grievance that were ventilated by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). His point concerning punctuality is one that I have already taken up with the Commission on previous occasions to ask whether it is not possible to re-schedule trains when it is known that there will be interference with the time-table. I am told that although the Commission does the best that it can, there are times when the unexpected happens. I will certainly bring to the attention of the Commission the points raised by the hon. Member.
324 To turn to the main subject which we have been debating tonight, it was my job and privilege to receive the delegation of Members of Parliament and representatives of the large gathering of taxi-drivers who assembled upstairs about ten days ago. I recognise that there was weight in the complaint of hon. Members, and I recognise that the taxi-drivers who were present made a strong case for themselves. I could not judge the merits of the case; I was not in a position to do so and, constitutionally, I am not able to do so. After hearing hon. Members, however, I undertook to see the chairman of the Transport Commission to ascertain what could be done to meet these grievances. My right hon. Friend agreed to this course.
Consequently, I saw the chairman of the Transport Commission. I explained to him the grievances that I had heard and the weight given to them by hon. Members. The chairman of the Commission asked me to leave no doubt in the minds of hon. Members that he reaffirmed his acceptance of the Report by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, including the point, made tonight by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), concerning the making of agreements with taxi associations.
The chairman of the Commission told me that last September he had instructed his regional general managers to implement those arrangements where possible and as existing agreements lapsed. No one would expect him to abrogate existing agreements. After I had spoken to him he agreed, in order to expedite the matter, to call for reports now from his regional general managers to find out what progress they were making. It will inevitably take time for these things to be implemented.
The chairman has had an exchange of letters with me, and he would like me to make it absolutely plain, first of all, that he is always ready to see right hon. and hon. Members on any complaint which they may have on this or any other matter and will do his best to sort matters out and put them right. If I read a short passage from his letter on this subject, it will, I think, give an indication about the other part of the matter which hon. Members may wish to hear:I would invariably pay first regard to the views set out in the Report of the Transport 325 Users' Consultative Committee. Subject to that proviso. I should be prepared to see whether anything could be done at a particular station to meet complaints from the taxi operators",and then he says that, over a number of years, the Commission has managed to do a certain amount. The Chairman will do his best, and he assured me that, despite all the difficulties which hedge this thing around, he would be ready at any time to see hon. Members to discuss individual cases. I believe that that is the best that can be done.
As regards the general merits of the case, I feel, first of all, that I should make plain—I think this is generally accepted, except, perhaps, by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) that arrangements between British Railways and taxi-cab owners are primarily a matter of day-to-day management. They really are not policy matters for the Minister. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dudley for accepting that. It was, of course, because of the entirely practical situation about which a number of hon. Members on both sides were worried that my right hon. Friend 18 months ago asked the Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee to investigate the complaint. The Committee made the Report which was published last July, of which we have all seen copies.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) I will say that it was a good Report. The Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee, which was responsible for it. asked each of the regional committees to go into action and collect the facts upon which the Report could be made. It really was a comprehensive Report. I want to leave no doubt at all in the mind of any hon. Member that my right hon. Friend and I have every confidence in these committees. They have a most difficult job to do. They have in their membership men and women who voluntarily give their services for the good of the community in a most unenviable task, which takes a (rood deal of time, and they do it extremely well. I hope that it will be some consolation to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath when I tell him that the general manager of the Western Region, I think it is, who was responsible for the arrangements in Oxford, did, as a result of those representations about which my hon. Friend complained, authorise additional taxis to 326 go on the rank there afterwards because he thought that there was weight in the complaint
To the hon. Member for Dudley I say that we really feel that we can rely on the Report in regard to travellers' complaints. After all, as the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) rightly said, travellers' complaints could come in at any time during the past 10 or 12 years since these committees have been set up. If there were a serious body of complaint about travellers' needs, I am quite certain that the consultative committees would have heard about it.
I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley—the Report itself acknowledges it, and that is the reason why the hon. Member raised his grievance tonight—that the Transport Users' Consultative Committee was not looking at the grievance of taxi-drivers. As regards travellers' needs. I hope I have made the point that I believe that the Report was quite reliable. Inevitably, by its constitution, the Committee would be looking only secondarily at the complaints of taxi owners and drivers. For the Commission, of course, that is right.
I welcome the support given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), on his own behalf and that of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and that of other hon. Members, to the proposition that the Commission's primary job is to cater for the convenience of travellers. I believe that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides accept that that must be so. It is the Commission's statutory duty. If, at any time, it made arrangements with taxi-drivers or taxi-drivers' associations that neglected the interests of travellers, I am quite certain that, whatever complaints I might hear tonight, I should hear very many more from other Members on that account. We all agree that the Commission must look, first, to the interests of the travelling public; and that it has been doing.
I was very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for giving us his interesting account of how the system grew up, and for arguing the general merits of the case. There is no doubt that it has served reasonably well. Having made the priorities clear— and I believe that they are generally acceptable—I would certainly wish to see 327 the fairest possible arrangements made as between taxi-drivers, and I am quite certain that the chairman of the Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, would wish to see the same. His letter broadly indicates that—
§ Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Commission is prepared to accept the Report. Would he make it clear whether that refers to the whole Report, or to just this point? I ask, because if one looks at page 10, one sees an indication that the staff of small stations will be encouraged to give the telephone numbers of private taxi-drivers when no other vehicle is there. If that is so, an instruction will have to be issued, because when I was chairman of a local departmental committee I was asked to use my good offices to stop the men doing that, and to threaten disciplinary action if they did so, because these men were paying to come in.
§ Mr. Nugent
The Commission has made a reservation about that. What the Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee recommended was that in small stations there should be pinned in the waiting hall the cards of the various taxi-drivers, so that travellers could see who was available. The Commission foresees difficulties there because, even at small stations, there is usually some arrangement for a taxi-driver to serve the station.
The Commission is, therefore, reluctant to agree to this as a general arrangement. It may be suitable in some places, but the Commission feels that it should not agree to it as a general principle, as it would make difficulties for itself. It prefers to go by the arrangement of telling the booking clerks to pass on the necessary information to travellers. The Commission agrees with the spirit, but does not want to be tied to the form.
That brings me to the point I want to make. Hon. Members have readily recognised that there are over 700 stations where agreements of this kind are in force and, inevitably, the conditions vary. At one end of the scale, we have arrangements such as those at London or Manchester, which have been referred to, where, because of the huge volume of traffic and the interchange between the different stations, it is possible to have 328 a free-for-all and, in the main, the travellers are well served.
At the other end of the scale, we have the small stations where traffic is irregular, where it is far more difficult to make sure that there is always a taxi in attendance, and where some much more ad hoc arrangements have to be made. Again, in some towns it has been possible to form organisations of taxi-drivers or taxi-owners strong enough to make an agreement, and to establish the necessary degree of discipline to work a regular, reliable service for the station. I do not think that I used the word "comprehensive" which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough suggested. It may be that he has heard it in some other connection. It was not one which was running in my mind.
It is entirely a practical matter that the organisation should be strong enough so that, in the words of the right hon. Member for Belper, it can impose discipline and get its members to work a rota in a reliable way. Where that can be done, the Commission is quite ready to make an agreement with the organisation. I can certainly put it on record for the Chairman of the Commission that he is very happy to co-operate wherever that can be brought about. When I listened to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) making her cogent case, I could think of absolutely no answer to it, but I am sure that Sir Brian Robertson will be able to do so when he comes to talk with the hon. Lady. Anyhow, I feel that it is not for me to enter into the details of this case.
Conditions vary tremendously, in physical lay-out, the size of towns and local organisations, from one station to another, and it would be possible to secure solutions only if the general principles as laid down by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee in a general spirit are applied as far as they can be to individual stations. This will take time to do, but I hope that hon. Members, looking at this in a responsible, objective way, which I am sure they will, will see the balance, when they apply their minds to particular questions, in the necessity, first of all, to serve the travellers' interest and be quite certain that it is properly served and then see what, with what scope is left, we can best do to meet the interests of taxi-drivers.
329 But however hard the Chairman of the Commission tries, he will never satisfy all the taxi-drivers all the time. It simply cannot be done. As the right hon. Member for Belper said, by the very nature of things many taxi-drivers are extremely independent. They want to go on their own. They will not come in, and yet they complain if they do not receive the benefits which others receive.
I hope that hon. Members will accept the broad assurance that I have been able to give tonight that the Chairman of the Transport Commission accepts fully the principles involved here, that he is anxious to see them applied—but it will take time—that he is willing to see individual Members and discuss with them individual problems and see what best can be done to obtain arrangements which are fair between one taxi-driver and another. If hon. Members accept that in that spirit, I think that we shall gradually correct the injustices, if they exist in some places, and get a system in which everybody can feel complete confidence.
I should like to close by thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House for the spirit in which the debate has been conducted. I feel it in my bones that, whatever may have been said, we want the Transport Commission to know that it goes out from here tonight that we want it to have every help that we can give it. We want it to have the benefit that these works can give it, which the powers for which it asks can give, and we want it to go ahead with our blessing and support in this great modernisation scheme, and we want to assure the chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, that he has the confidence of all of us in doing an extremely difficult job and that we shall wish him every good wish in carrying it out for the benefit of the whole community. With that, I hope that the House may be willing to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.