HC Deb 16 May 1962 vol 659 cc1349-58

3.55 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to hackney carriages in London, to impose restrictions on the use of radio communication for hiring vehicles and on the description of vehicles for hire, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. In 1869, Parliament in its wisdom passed the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act, which gave the Home Secretary power to license hackney carriages in London and to prescribe conditions for their construction, maintenance, and so on. It also gave power to the Home Secretary to license the drivers of such carriages and to lay down conditions about their training, examination, and so on.

Hackney carriages are defined in the Act as passenger vehicles which ply for hire on the streets. It is of the utmost importance to remember that the Act does not apply to vehicles which may be hired in other ways. The 1869 Act, virtually unamended, is still law. It is, in fact, the law governing London taxis, although it was passed before the invention of the internal combustion engine and radio. It is out of date and defective.

Stringent conditions have been laid down under the 1869 Act regulating the size, the turning power, safety conditions, and so forth, of taxicabs. Conditions have also been laid down governing the training, knowledge and character of licensed drivers. It has been said in the course of the discussions which have been prompted by notice of my intention to introduce the Bill that the conditions are too stringent. I say straight away that that question will not be affected by the Bill which I seek leave to introduce. Whether the conditions are too stringent or not stringent enough is a question which can be dealt with by the law as it now stands. The Home Secretary has power to deal with this by regulations.

Whatever those conditions may be, I think that everyone in the House will agree with me that it is monstrously unfair to impose heavy obligations on those who are in the trade, whether they are owners or whether they make their living as drivers, whilst, at the same time, allowing unlicensed owners and drivers to take advantage of gaps and uncertainty in the law and inadequate penalties which the law now inflicts.

That is what is happening in London today. I may be asked what evidence there is of it. It is always difficult to give evidence of gaps in the law. In the nature of things, one does not know, simply because the law is deficient. It is within my own knowledge that in a number of cases those who have broken the law have been prosecuted and have pleaded guilty. They have made a statement in mitigation abusing the prosecutor. They have been fined 10s., which they have gone out and earned in the next few hours. The result of this is that taxi owners are not investing money on renewing their cab fleets and the drivers are anxious. They are losing morale.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

They are angry.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

They are angry. This is affecting recruitment, and, as I think every hon. Member knows, the consequence is that we are not now getting the taxi service which we would like to see.

Those who seek to promote the Bill propose four things. They propose, first, to define the expression "plying for hire". Although this expression is used in the 1869 Act, it is undefined and its meaning is extremely doubtful. If leave is given to introduce the Bill, a definition will be forthcoming. Secondly, they propose to bring the penalties up to the modern level, bearing in mind the changed value of money. The law provides maximum penalties of £2 and £5 at present, and the Bill proposes to increase them to the modern levels of £20, and £50 for second and subsequent offences. The Bill's third purpose is to give the Commissioner of Police power to license the use of radio in hire cars as well as in taxi cabs. Fourthly, it proposes to prevent unlicensed vehicles from calling themselves taxicabs or using various combinations of the words "taxi" and "cab".

The Bill will not touch upon the question of the size of cabs, or anything of that nature, or the number of cabs which may be licensed; those are matters for regulations, and there is already ample power in the Home Office to deal with the matter by regulation. Nor do we intend to interfere with car hire undertakings. We are concerned only with cases Where vehicles are hired by arrangement between the persons who wish to take them and the persons in the cars—hiring on the spot.

A great deal has been said in the Press and elsewhere about minicabs. The word "minicab" is certainly not a term of art; it is used to cover many kinds of enterprise. I am informed—and I believe that it is true—that there are now about 29 minicab companies operating in London. No doubt they vary widely in character. To the extent that the word "minicab" means a small car hired from a garage, whether by telephone or otherwise, it is not our wish to interfere in any way. We are concerned only with vehicles which ply for hire or use modern mechanical aids for the purpose of dodging the provisions of the law relating to plying for hire.

The promoters of the Bill have sought to publicise their intentions in advance, because they wished these problems to be discussed. That is part of the object this afternoon. In this morning's leading article in The Times I received somewhat avuncular criticism, which can be summarised briefly in the phrase, "My boy, you are quite right; the law needs amending. But you are going about it in the wrong way."

Like all good uncles who give that sort of advice The Times has had to suggest what would be the right way of going about it. That is the most significant feature of the leading article. It is put briefly and succinctly. It says: A better way of proceeding would be to extend the area of regulation so as to bring in the sort of services minicab offer … That means that the alternative is to give a general power to the Home Secretary to make regulations governing all hire car services. That is the plain meaning of those words, and nothing else.

That suggestion is far wider and far more drastic than anything suggested in the proposed Bill. If I had brought forward proposals of that kind, I venture to say that I would have had opposition from every quarer of the House, and a thundering leading article from The Times. In fairness to all those engaged in the London taxicab trade, and for the purpose of enabling the industry to provide a satisfactory service to the public, I hope that the House will give me leave to bring in the Bill.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Rubert Speir (Hexham)

As one who has promoted several Private Members' Bills, I fool that I ought to be the last person to oppose one. It is, therefore, with some reluctance that I rise to oppose the Bill. I ask the House to believe, however, that my hon. Friend's proposed Bill is not the innocent, harmless and helpful Bill which he has suggested. It is, in fact, a thorough-going "fuddy-duddies'" Bill. It is aimed almost entirely at minicabs and, worse still, it has been bred against a background of violence. I ask the House to consider whether, if it gives leave to introduce the Bill, it will not be condoning the use of strong-arm tactics.

Mr. Mellish

Most unfair.

Mr. Speir

As The Times says in the leading article which my hon. Friend has quoted, no one would quarrel with the suggestion that London's hackney carriage law stands in need of amendment. This is scarcely surprising, for the law and regulations on this subject were drawn up in Victorian days, nearly 100 years ago, when the motor car had hardly been thought of. The law was passed at a time when top hats were worn and carriages were drawn by horses.

Even today applicants for permission to obtain a licence to drive a cab have to fill in a form stating, among other things, whether they are applying for permission to drive a mechanically-driven or a horse-drawn vehicle. There are, too, all sorts of ridiculous rules and regulations about chassis and top hats.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth


Mr. Speaker

Our practice does not allow interventions in the discussion of an application under this Standing Order.

Mr. Speir

Anyway, I think that my hon. Friend would agree with me that it is high time that the wind of change blew through the Metropolitan Police Public Carriage Office. Although I have never had the pleasure of visiting that office, I can imagine what it looks like. It is probably festooned with cobwebs, strewn with horse bags, and with an all-pervading air of horse manure. Action is no doubt necessary, and legislation is certainly desirable, but I suggest that we do not want the piecemeal legislation which my hon. Friend is suggesting.

If my hon. Friend's Bill were allowed to proceed, far from helping London to get a better and more adequate taxi service, it would simply perpetuate the existing state of muddle and mismanagement, and would lead to London having an even worse taxi service than it has today.

Mr. Mellish


Mr. Speir

But because I criticise London's taxi service I hope that the House will not think that I am "gunning" for all London taxi drivers, or that I am saying that the present minicab drivers are incapable of improvement, or that their service could not be better.

Without doubt, London's regular licensed taxi drivers are, for the most part, the best in the world, and there is no doubt that the minicab companies and some of their drivers would be better off with some form of official supervision and control. But the Bill would not bring about any useful type of supervision or control. It would simply hamper the operations of the better type of minicab company.

It is an extraordinary thing that in the second half of the twentieth century there should, in London today, be 1,500 fewer licensed taxis than there were thirty years ago. The result is that with an increased demand—with more tourists flocking into London and with more business people here—it is always a struggle to get a taxi. If the Bill were to become law the situation would become even more intolerable.

The House should be clear about this: the Bill is aimed at the small man. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is designed to drive the minicabs off the street, and it would have that effect. The London taxi trade had a monopoly. It wants to maintain a scarcity of taxicabs. In these post-war years London's cab trade has had ample opportunity to get together and to plan a decent cab service for London, but all that it has done is to produce, publish and circulate, on a large scale, a booklet entitled, "The Case for the Stabilisation of the London Cab Trade". On page 6 of the booklet it has the presumption to say: The present number of cabs and drivers provides a satisfactory public service.

Mr. Mellish

So it does.

Mr. Speir

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) may think so, but the vast majority of Londoners certainly do not.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member has no right to speak for Londoners. He should go back to Hexham.

Mr. Speir

I trust that Parliament will not think so either, and will not allow the Bill to proceed.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member knows nothing about it.

Mr. Speir

I do not say that minicabs leave nothing to be desired, but I claim that they are worthy of encouragement. They are giving the public a service it wants. I can let the figures speak for themselves. One of the larger companies, although it has been operating for less than a year, has already completed over 600,000 jobs. Its vehicles have travelled over 12 million miles, and they have carried 1½ million passengers. It has done all this in under a year, and, I would remind the hon. Member for Bermondsey, in the face of the most bitter opposition from the hon. Member's union and from the worst elements in the London cab trade.

Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)

And without any regulations.

Mr. Speir

This company—Welbeck Motors Limited—and its drivers have had to put up with the most scandalous persecution in this so-called free country, which prides itself on the maintenance of law. In under a year it has had over 100 windscreens broken—smashed by bricks or ball bearings and, in one case, so the police say, by a bullet from an air rifle. Ninety-six tyres have been slashed. Thirteen vehicles have been badly damaged, including three overturned, and one burned out. Its drivers have been intimidated and assaulted, and it has had its telephones put out of order day after day and night after night.

The House has other and more important matters to consider and I will not seek to trespass on its time any longer. I conclude by repeating that I hope that the House will not allow the Bill to proceed. What we require is

not piecemeal legislation, but all-embracing, comprehensive, modern legislation, introduced by the Government. We do not want a Bill which will perpetuate the vested interests of a few.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 86.

Division No. 186.] AYES [4.13 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Holland, Philip Oswald, Thomas
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hollingworth, John Paget, R. T.
Bacon, Miss Alice Holman, Percy Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Beaney, Alan Hopkins, Alan Pargiter, G. A.
Benson, Sir George Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Parkin, B. T.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Paton, John
Bourne-Arton, A. Hoy, James H. Pavitt, Laurence
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H.W. (Leics. S.W.) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Bowles, Frank Hulbert, Sir Norman Plummer, Sir Leslie
Brockway, A. Fenner Hunter, A. E. Prentice, R. E.
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hurd, Sir Anthony Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Bullard, Denys Hutchison, Michael Clark Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Rankin, John
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jeger, George Reynolds, G. W.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Roots, William
Chapman, Donald Kelley, Richard Ross, William
Coulson, Michael Kenyon, Clifford Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver King, Dr. Horace Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Lawson, George Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Darling, George Lee, Frederick (Newton) Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Snow, Julian
Deer, George Lipton, Marcus Sorensen, R. W.
Delargy, Hugh Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Spriggs, Leslie
Dodds, Norman Loughlin, Charles Stanley, Hon. Richard
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stevens, Geoffrey
Edelman, Maurice MacColl, James Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) McInnes, James Stones, William
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mckay, John (Wallsend) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N.Ayrs.) Swingler, Stephen
Evans, Albert McLeavy, Frank Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Maddan, Martin Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Fernyhough, E. Maitland, Sir John Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Fitch, Alan Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Thornton, Ernest
Forman, J. C. Mapp, Charles Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Galpern, Sir Myer Marshall, Douglas Vickers, Miss Joan
Gammans, Lady Mellish, R. J. Wainwright, Edwin
Ginsburg, David Mendelson, J. J. Wakefield, Sir Wavell
Gough, Frederick Milne, Edward Webster, David
Gower, Raymond Mitchison, G. R. Weitzman, David
Gresham Cooke, R. Monslow, Walter Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Moody, A. S. Whitlock, William
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Morris, John Wilkins, W. A.
Harper, Joseph Moyle, Arthur Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Mulley, Frederick Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hart, Mrs. Judith Nabarro, Gerald Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Hayman, F. H. Neal, Harold Winterbottom, R. E.
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Zilliacus, K.
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Hocking, Philip N. Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Oram, A. E. Sir Hugh. Lucas-Tooth and
Mr. Partridge.
Barlow, Sir John Bishop, F. P. Cary, Sir Robert
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Black, Sir Cyril Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)
Biffen, John Butcher, Sir Herbert Cleaver, Leonard
Cole, Norman Kerr, Sir Hamilton Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)
Cooke, Robert Kitson, Timothy Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Curran, Charles Lambton, Viscount Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)
Dalkeith, Earl of Lancaster, Col. C. G. Seymour, Leslie
Dance, James Lindsay, Sir Martin Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Litchfield, Capt. John Spearman, Sir Alexander
de Ferranti, Basil Lubbock, Eric Stodart, J. A.
Drayson, G. B. McMaster, Stanley R. Studholme, Sir Henry
Eden, John Maginnis, John E. Talbot, John E.
Elliott, R.W. (Nwcastle-upon-Tyne, N.) Markham, Major Sir Frank Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Emery, Peter Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Teeling, Sir William
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Gammans, Lady Mills, Stratton Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Gardner, Edward Miscampbell, Norman Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Gibson-Watt, David Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr) Wade, Donald
Gilmour, Sir John More, Jasper (Ludlow) Walker, Peter
Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Morgan, William Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek
Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Neave, Airey Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Page, John (Harrow, West) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Peyton, John Woodnutt, Mark
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Pilkington, Sir Richard Woollam, John
Harvie Anderson, Miss Pitman, Sir James Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Hastings, Stephen Pott, Percivall
Holt, Arthur Proudfoot, Wilfred TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Pym, Francis Mr. Speir and Mr. van Straubenzee.
Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Rawlinson, Peter

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir H. Lucas-Tooth, Mr. Partridge, Mr. W. Edwards, Mr. G. Johnson Smith, Sir J. Langford-Holt, Mr. Mellish, Sir R. Nugent, Mr. Prentice, Sir W. Wakefield, and Mr. Webster.