HC Deb 17 July 1963 vol 681 cc532-5

3.47 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal certain obsolete provisions of the law relating to hackney carriages in the Metropolis. My experience as a member of the Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to consider consolidation Bills has confirmed the view that I have held for many years that our Statute Book is cluttered up with obsolete, unnecessary and superseded Acts or parts of Acts which ought to be removed so that a clear picture of the law as it stands in respect of any particular matter should at least be available, if not understandable, without unnecessary and obsolete matter having to be waded through before the legal position can be ascertained.

It is bad enough if the wording of the Acts frequently makes the picture of the effect of the Acts obscure even to lawyers, but to have the additional trouble of wading through numerous provisions which are no longer applicable is an unendurable burden for the lawyer as well as for the layman. On occasions, when Acts are being considered by this Consolidation Committee, it is extremely difficultand sometimes impossible to know whether they come within the term "obsolete" or "unnecessary".

Today, a report has been issued from this Committee which states that the Committee is of the opinion that it cannot complete consideration of the Bill in the current Session. The reason for that was that the lawyers differed as to what was obsolete and what was unnecessary, with the result that the Committee itself was unable to decide the issue in such a way as to be able to consolidate the Acts, and, consequently, after three or four sittings, of a fairly long period each, it could not come to any decision. The result is that the time of the Committee has really been wasted because it will have to start afresh in the coming Session.

I believe that we should try to remove by legislation these obsolete or unnecessary provisions so that we may have, at least, an idea that there is not an absurdity in many of the Acts as they exist today. I am, therefore, asking for leave to introduce a Bill to repeal certain provisions of the law relating to hackney carriages in the Metropolis which I consider to be obsolete or unnecessary. The Bill will deal with some absurd provisions which remain on our Statute Book and which are out of date.

Some time ago, the driver of a taxi in one of our towns was charged under Section 62 of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, for leaving a taxi-cab, which, of course, was a hackney carriage, unattended in a side street where, apparently, there was no traffic of any kind which could in the slightest way be obstructed or interfered with. To his amazement he found that the law as it stands at present enables such proceedings to be taken. I propose to give an extract from an Act which is on the Statute Book, and which I would ask to be repealed, which applies not only to London, but to Leicester, part of which I have the honour to represent, and to which a provison of this nature ought not to apply.

Section 62 of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, reads as follows: If the driver of any such hackney carriage leave it in any street or at any place of public resort or entertainment, whether it be hired or not, without some one proper to take care of it, any constable may drive away such hackney carriage and deposit it, and the horse or horses harnessed thereto, at some neighbouring livery stable or other place of safe custody; and such driver shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding twenty shillings for such offence; and in default of payment of the said penalty upon conviction, and of the expenses of taking and keeping the said hackney carriage and horse or horses, the same, together with the harness belonging thereto, or any of them, shall be sold by order of the justice before whom such conviction is made, and after deducting from the produce of such sale the amount of the said penalty, and of all costs and expenses, as well of the proceedings before such justice as of the taking, keeping, and sale of the said hackney carriage, and of the said horse or horses and harness, the surplus (if any) of the said produce shall be paid to the proprietor of such hackney carriage. There is no hackney carriage in the Metropolis today which has either a horse, or harness, or the trappings which could be impounded under this Act. This applies in other towns. The driver was charged, but, of course, when the case came before the court, it realised the absurdity of the position and it was dismissed. This indicates how nonsensical it is to leave dead wood of this nature on the Statute Book. In London, the only hackney carriages that are licensed have no horses, and this applies, of course, in many towns.

In addition, there are quite a few amusing provisions which remain on the Statute Book, and which, incidentally, after I had given notice to introduce the Bill, I saw referred to in an interesting book, "Taxi", by a writer called Levinson. He says, for example: I think it was a glaring omission on the part of the Home Office lawyers not to have made ample provision for a cab driver in that respect. meaning that he had, by nature, to relieve himself.

But perhaps, I'm wrong. Some of the older taxi-drivers swear that somewhere tucked away in one of the Hackney Carriage Acts is a regulation that allows a taxi driver to urinate against his cab. There are different schools of thought is to how this should be done. The Home Office can be very concise about these things. Some taxi-drivers say that if is legally permissible to urinate against the nearside of a taxi and others say that it is an offence to urinate anywhere except against the spare wheel. That is among the other regulations.

This same taxi-driver went to Bow Street to lodge a complaint. His cab was left outside Bow Street Police Court and he was threatened—I am not sure that he was not actually summoned—for having left his cab there while he went in for this purpose for only a few minutes, because the Act provides that he should not leave his cab unattended.

I want to refer to one other Act, the Public Health Act of 1936, which says: It is an offence for the taxi-driver to carry a corpse or a person suffering from an infectious disease"— and in the next breath it says that he can. Thin man challenged any lawyer to make head or tail out of the Abstract of Laws which, incidentally, is handed to every taxi-driver, and I hope the Home Office will take note of this. He said that he read it four or five times, but still does not know what it means. Here is the wording: It is an offence for the driver of a public conveyance knowingly to convey a person suffering from a dangerous disease—smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, i.e. membranous croup, erysipelas, scarlatina or scarlet fever, or any of the fevers known as typhus, enteric, relapsing continued or puerperal, and other infectious disease to which the Act has been applied by the L.C.C. or a sanitary authority. That seems clear enough. But then it goes on to say: The driver of a cab may refuse to convey a person suffering from a notifiable disease until paid a sum sufficient to cover loss and expense incurred in having the vehicle disinfected. Needless to say, the taxi-driver was not quite sure whether he had to disinfect the individual himself or disinfect the cab, or whether he had to ask the person whether he was suffering, for example, from venereal disease before he took him into his cab. Consequently, he is placed in a very difficult situation.

There are many instances of this, and it is high time that we did something about it. Many examples could be given and before we submit any Acts to the Consolidation Committee, for example, let alone to the public itself, we should decide in this House what it is unnecessary to retain and what is entirely unused. Consequently, I am seeking leave to introduce my Bill with a view to perhaps persuading the Home Office and other Departments to go into the Acts as they stand at present, and to introduce a Bill for the repeal of certain Acts, or provisions of Acts, which have gone into desuetude, without leaving it to the Consolidation Committee to decide in cases where lawyers have already disagreed about the possibility of dealing with them by such committees.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Barnett Janner, Mr. Percy Holman, Mr. Frank Tomney, Mr. James H. Hoy, Mr. Arthur Skeffington, Sir Myer Galpern, Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, and Mr. Marcus Lipton.