§ 7.30 p.m.
§ As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already announced what Amendments I have selected: No. 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and No. 2, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6. Amendment No. 3 k not selected.
§ Clause 1.
§ (POWER TO REGULATE FARES FOR NON-OBLIGATORY JOURNEYS.)
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1 in page 1, line 11, at end insert:', provided that for any such journey which exceeds six miles the fare shall be not less than double the amount which the meter shows'.This Amendment is a very simple one, as the words show. I have tabled it so that the Home Office can give some indication of its plans for the exercise of its powers under Clause 1. I do not think that it is entirely satisfactory for us to leave complete discretion in the matter in the hands of the Home Office, without any indication of how the power is to be exercised.
Mr. Speaker, I am wondering how I am to get any reaction to my Amendment, bearing in mind that there is no Minister from the Home Office present on the Government Front Bench. It is extraordinary to see two Ministers from the Scottish Office sitting there to deal with the London Cab Bill. I cannot believe that either will reply to this debate, detailed though their knowledge may be of the affairs of the Metropolis. Before I conclude my brief remarks, I hope that someone from the Home Office will appear to reinforce the large contingent from Scotland.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
I can assure 1006 the hon. Gentleman that we will take a careful note of what he says. We shall do it with great sympathy, since we have to travel in London taxicabs all too frequently and very expensively. The hon. Gentleman must forgive my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has been detained for a short time.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is very unsatisfactory to have a Minister of State listening to me moving my Amendment, rather than someone from the Home Office. His remarks indicate a lack of sympathy with the problems of taxi drivers in Greater London, which is all too evident in Government spokesmen these days. It is evident, too, in the Bill, which does not go nearly far enough to help London cab drivers to get over some of the problems which have been drawn to the attention of the Government— [Interruption.] I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary has appeared at last and will be able to listen to what I have to say.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
In the past, I have had cause to complain about Scottish Ministers not being in the Chamber. It is surprising to find not only the Minister of State but the Secretary of State for Scotland here for a debate which does not affect them.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is fantastic to see no one but Scottish Ministers on the Treasury Bench and, indeed, Scottish Tory hon. Members on this side of the House—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As an English-man, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to come back to his Amendment.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I was trying to give the Under-Secretary of State a little time to reappear, because he rushed into the Chamber, grinned across at us, and disappeared again. That is most extraordinary behaviour, and I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to miss the very important remarks which I wish to make.
§ Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) should be a little lenient. I would remind him that he only just "made it" himself. A little later, and his Amendment would have fallen.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That indicates that my timing is a good deal better than that of the Under-Secretary of State. I was watching the annunciator to ensure that I did not miss the chance of moving my Amendment. As soon as I saw the previous business appear on it, I obtained a copy of the Amendments to this Bill which I needed to make my case.
However, I cannot wait any longer to say why this Amendment should be made, in spite of the fact that the Under-Secretary of State has not reappeared. I hope that—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is here now."] I see that the hon. Gentleman is now with us. Perhaps I might start again and explain why it is necessary to make this Amendment rather than leave the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 1 as discretionary as they are at present.
Many taxi-drivers feel that Clause 1 will be used as a means of hitting at their pockets. Once we give these powers to the Secretary of State, it may be that he will prescribe fares which are so low for journeys longer than six miles that it will be impossible to make a living out of these Operations. Taken in conjunction with Clause 2, where the Secretary of State has power to make journeys longer than six miles obligatory, taxi-drivers could be forced to go to Orpington or to London Airport for a remuneration which would not give them a living wage.
The Minister of State for Scotland indicated his prejudices when he said that frequently he has been overcharged for the journey from London Airport. That is the case with only a small minority of taxi-drivers who have exploited the Situation there, but it is not true of the vast majority who are only too pleased to take hon. Members to London Airport from the House or from London Airport to the House at a reasonable charge. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, he must have a distorted idea of what should be charged, unless of course he was looking back to prewar days when the cost of operating vehicles and of petrol was much less than it is today.
Although the hon. Gentleman says that he has a lot of experience of taking taxis in London, I doubt if he knows anything about it. He cannot be aware of the stringent regulations imposed by the Metropolitan Carriage Office with regard to the inspection of vehicles and the 1008 requirement on taxi-drivers to undergo medical examinations and tests of all kinds which make it a difficult and onerous occupation. Those facts should be taken into account in determining the level of fares.
As a reasonable estimate, I think that we should write into the Bill that for any journey over six miles the fare shown on the meter should be doubled. Taking the journey to London Airport as an example, it would mean that the fare would be £3. I know that it is recommended that the fare be £2 15s., and that that is the figure displayed on notices which one finds at the Airport. However, when one considers the increasing costs imposed on taxi-drivers, I think that £3 would not be an unreasonable fare. Certainly if I were coming from London Airport to the House, I should be happy to pay £3, and I think that that is the view of the majority of people who use taxis for that journey.
If a taxi-driver is asked to go all the way to Orpington where, generally speaking, it is quite impossible to get a return fare to the centre of London, £3 would not pay him. If one takes into account all journeys of longer than six miles, double the amount shown on the meter is not at all unreasonable.
Another point in favour of the Amendment is that it would mean no alterations to meters. On Second Reading, an hon. Member pointed out that when decimal currency comes in, a further alteration to taxi meters will be necessary. That is to happen as soon as 1971, and it would be highly undesirable to have two changes in the mechanism in such a short time, thus imposing a great deal of work on the Metropolitan Carriage Office and on the cab drivers.
Between now and 1971, wherever the Secretary of State exercised his power under Clause 1, he would do it merely in the sense that double the fare shown on the meter would apply. It means no alterations. The passenger looks at the meter, does a simple piece of arithmetic, and knows what he is to be charged. Similarly, it is easy for the driver to tell the passenger how much he has to pay, there can be no dispute about the fare, and no mechanical alteration of the meter is necessary.
If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept my Suggestion, perhaps he will 1009 at least agree that there are taxi-drivers in Greater London who have expressed grave anxiety about the Home Secretary's intentions in interpreting this Clause. They see his reluctance to come forward with a positive figure during the proceedings on this Bill as an indication that his views will be harmful to them. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to say that the Home Office accepts my Amendment, I hope that he will give the House a concrete idea of what his Department has in mind.
§ Mr. Woodnutt
This is a ridiculous Amendment and I hope that the House will reject it, because we should not go to such detail in a Bill.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), much as I respect his attitude and his worthy intentions in defending the taxi-drivers of London, which I also wish to do, talk in an airy fairy way about £3 being a reasonable fare to London Airport. I should not think he has ever travelled out to London Airport if he thinks that is a reasonable fare, because dl the taxi-drivers in London are prepared to do it for £2 10s.
I suggest that it would be much more reasonable to leave the question of what the fare should be out of the Bill. It should be left for the Home Secretary to sort this out with the trade, and have graduated meters—and there should be graduated meters. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will repeat the assurance which he gave in Committee on that point, so that a fair fare is agreed between the Home Secretary and the cabbies. To say that it should be double or treble is a lot of nonsense. One cannot put this sort of idea in Acts of Parliament. I hope that the House will reject the Amendment and leave it to the good sense of the Home Office and the trade to work out what the scale of fares should be.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)
First, I owe the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) an apology for not having been in my place when he started moving his Amendment. I congratulate the House on proceeding with is other business with such remarkable rapidity. I hope that we will do the same on our present business.
1010 I cannot accept the Amendment, partly for the reason which I thought was well put by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt). In Committee I gave an assurance that when the new rates for the longer journey are prescribed, arrangements will be made to ensure that they are automatically recorded on the meters in the same way as rates for journeys of up to six miles. This is the Home Secretary's intention.
Secondly, it is only right that the Secretary of State should be able to negotiate with the trade before any rate is fixed. This is properly a matter for negotiation with the proprietors and others who represent the interests of taximen, as well as those who represent the interests of the passengers. I gave an assurance in Committee that the Secretary of State will have these consultations. Since 1869 the Secretary of State has had unfettered discretion to determine what should be the rates of Charge for journeys within the compellable limit, and there seemed to be no ground for restricting that discretion because in future it will be exercised in respect of rates of Charge for longer journeys.
Apart from the question of principle—
§ Mr. Ennals
I will give way in a moment.
Apart from the question of principle whether it is or is not right to try to prescribe the amount that should be paid in an Act rather than by negotiation with the Secretary of State, I think the principle that the hon. Gentleman submits would lead to the maximum amount of difficulty. His Amendment says,provided that for any such journey which exceeds six miles the fare shall be not less than double the amount which the meter showsTherefore, a passenger who travelled six and a half miles, just slightly over the six-mile limit, for which the charge would be, let us say, 15s., would have to pay about 32s. 6d. This would appear to be unreasonable. It would not only be unreasonable for the passenger, but it would lead almost inevitably to argument and debate between the passenger and the taxi driver.
It may be that the hon. Gentleman intended to suggest that the double fares 1011 would come in after the six-mile limit, but this is not the effect of his Amendment. Why he should suggest that it would be less confusing for the passenger to know other than what the meter says, namely, that he should pay double the fare, I cannot understand. It seems to me far better that the meter should properly record the amount that he is expected to pay, whether he has travelled six miles or more.
§ Sir E. Errington
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there is a difference, which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), between going out to London Airport, where there are opportunities to come back with fares, and going to Orpington or anywhere further away from the centre of London, where there is no chance of getting a fare back?
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ennals
It is for this reason that, as was pointed out in Committee, while the Bill gives to the Secretary of State power to extend the compellable limit, this is a power which he hopes not to use and which, therefore, is not obligatory upon the taxi-driver. He is not obliged to undertake a journey of that dimension.
§ Mr. Woodnutt
I remind the Minister that he gave an assurance in Committee that we would have graduated meters. Therefore, this Amendment is a nonsense, because it says that the fare should be double the amount which the meter shows. If we are to have graduated meters we cannot have a section of the Bill saying that someone will pay double the amount, because the meter will show the correct amount.
§ Mr. Ennals
That serves only to emphasise the case that both the hon. Gentleman and I put forward, and I hope that the House will agree to reject the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 2.
§ (POWER TO INCREASE LENGTH OF OBLIGATORY JOURNEYS.)
§ Mr. Ennals
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 15, at end insert: 1012(4) Before making any order under this section the Secretary of State shall consult with such bodies appearing to him to represent the owners and drivers of cabs as he considers appropriate.The effect of this Amendment is to require the Secretary of State to consult with bodies representing London cab owners or drivers before making an order under Clause 2, which gives power to extend the six-mile compellable limit.
I gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) in Committee that the Government would consider further whether something might be written into the Bill to make mandatory the right of prior consultation which it had already been stated that the Secretary of State would carry out before making an order under Clause 2.
The new subsection (4) has been so framed as to leave it to the Secretary of State to decide which bodies he might consider appropriately representative of the trade for the purpose of consultation. This follows the normal pattern for such provisions.
The Amendment is a genuine attempt to give some form to the views which have been expressed on both sides, not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston but also from spokesmen on the Opposition benches. I hope that they will agree that this is a genuine attempt to meet the points that were made.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
We welcome this Amendment. As the Minister has said, it goes all the way to meet the points made by his hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) and supported on this side.
I would add that he is right in framing the Amendment in such a way as to give to the Secretary of State discretion as to who he should consult. This I fully accept. The only point I want to make is that in this trade the bodies consulted in the past may at some future date, or indeed now, have ceased to be the only bodies representing the interests in that trade.
I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that as the years go by it will be part of the discretion of the Secretary of State to look at the various bodies who claim to represent various interests in the trade, and that he will keep an open mind 1013 about whom he consults when he operates the Amendment, which I thoroughly Support.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I do not think that anyone would object to what is in the Amendment, but there is one point which was mentioned in Committee which is not covered by it. In Committee I asked the Minister whether he would consider representing the consumer interest in this connection, and indeed in others. It seems to me that the Bill is an example of the consumer rot being consulted.
The Amendment says that the Secretary of Stateshall consult with such bodies appearing to him to represent the owners and drivers of cabs as he considers appropriate.Why is there no representation of the consumer interest? In Committee the hon. Gentleman said that the Secretary of State himself represented the consumer interest. It seems to me that this is stretching a principle just a little too far. One knows that other Ministers consult representatives of consumer interests in other respects. Why cannot the Secretary of State do it in this connection? Presumably the right hon. Gentleman does not even use taxis, since he is driven a round in an official car.
It is possible, and reasonable, for other Ministers to consult the representatives of consumer interests on other subjects. It would be possible to do this through local authorities in the area. Indeed, it would be peculiarly appropriate to do it in London, because outside London the decision is made by local authorities and not by the Secretary of State. It seems at least reasonable to say that the G.L.C., the borough Councils, and other local authorities within the area should be consulted. I have yet to hear a good reason why they should not be. Not only do they not have the power of decision which such authorities have outside London, but according to the Amendment they will not even be consulted.
There is a second way in which consumer opinion could be consulted. There is no reason why there should not be a public opinion survey among the users of taxis, or among people generally within the area. I think that this would be peculiarly appropriate in the context of 1014 the distance of travel. It would be a simple issue. Any user of a taxi could say whether he found the present distance convenient, or inconvenient, or whether he would find some other distance more convenient. It would be a simple matter of having a public opinion survey.
The danger of Consulting only owners and drivers of taxis is precisely the danger which might arise in any other sphere. If we were to consult only employers' associations in connection with the prices and incomes policy, or if we were to consult only the trade unions in connection with it, considerable trouble would arise.
There is another opportunity for dealing with this in another place, and I suggest that the Government should consider inserting some words to show that they are prepared to consult the consumer, as well as the producer, of the service.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I agree with most of what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has just said. I do not agree entirely with him about the practicality of a public opinion survey, because if the question is asked, "Do you want cheaper taxis?", obviously 99 per cent. of the people questioned will opt for a cheaper Service.
I agree that consumer interests should be consulted. I do not believe that the Home Secretary will be in a position to represent the consumer unless he makes some effort to try to find out what responsible consumer organisations believe. I therefore join the hon. Member for Nottingham, West in hoping that when the Bill goes to another place some extra words will be inserted to make sure that the consumer's voiced is heard.
§ Mr. Ennals
I cannot give the assurance that in another place we are likely to recommend any change. This will be for the noble Lords in the other place, but there are two points which I should like to make. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said, the Secretary of State represents the interests of the Community.
I was once criticised for referring too frequently to the Stamp Committee. As is well known, part of the purpose of 1015 establishing this Committee is to look into theOperation, structure, and economy of the taxi cab and private hire car trades in London, to consider the respective rôles of the two Services, and the carriage of passengers in London, and the statutory controls needed for their safe and efficient Performance, and to make recommendations.The Committee is not drawn from the trade, but from those who represent the consumer. The Committee may make recommendations which go beyond a number of provisions in the Bill. I cannot at this stage offer any hope that at a later stage in the passage of the Bill there will be any further Amendment.
§ Mr. Worsley
If it wishes to do so, will it be within the remit of the Stamp Committee to recommend that responsibility for licensing taxis in London should He with the G.L.C., instead of the Home Department?
§ Mr. Ennals
The Committee's terms of reference are very wide. It is asking for evidence from individual consumers. Some hon. Members may have read the letter in The Times inviting the public to give their views. The views of the G.L.C. and other representative bodies have also been asked for. If, in the light of these representations and considerations, the Stamp Committee were to make this recommendation, my right hon. Friend would give serious consideration to it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4.
§ (PROHIBITION OF THE DISPLAY OF CERTAIN SIGNS OR NOTICES ON PRIVATE HIRE-CARS.)
§ Mr. Ennals
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 39, leave out from beginning to ' "private' in line 13 on page 3 and insert:(b) which consists of the words ' for hire', or the form or wording of which is in any other way such as to suggest that the vehicle on which it is displayed is presently available to take up any passenger wishing to hire it, or would be so available if not already hired.
§ (2) No advertisement—
- (a) indicating that motor vehicles can be hired on application to a specified address or telephone number, being the address or telephone number of premises in the metropolitan police district or the City of London; or
- (b) on or near any such premises indicating that motor vehicles can be hired at those premises.
§ (3) Any person who—
- (a) drives a vehicle in respect of which subsection (1) of this section is contravened or causes or permits that subsection to be contravened in respect of any vehicle; or
- (b) subject to subsection (4) of this section, issues, or causes to be issued, an advertisement which contravenes subsection (2) of this section,
§ (4) Where a person is charged with an offence under paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section, it shall be a defence to prove that he is a person whose business it is to publish or arrange for the publication of advertisements and that he received the advertisement in question for publication in the ordinary course of business and did not know and had no reason to suspect that its publication would amount to an offence under that paragraph.
(5) In this section—
' advertisement' includes every form of advertising, whether in a publication or by the display of notices or by means of circulars or other documents or by an exhibition of photographs or a cinematograph film, or by way of sound broadcasting or television, and references to the issue of an advertisement shall be construed accordingly;
§ I understand that it might be convenient if, with that Amendment, we take Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.
§ These three Amendments go together. The effect of the first Amendment is to extend the scope of the Clause in two quite separate ways, first, by generalising to some extent the restrictions on what may be displayed on vehicles, and, secondly, by imposing parallel restrictions on the use of certain words in advertisements.
Perhaps I might take first those parts of the Amendment which relate to what may be displayed on vehicles. It proposes to delete subsection (1,b) and subsection (2) which deal with the prohibitions on the use of variants on the word "hire", and to replace them with a new
Paragraph (b). This repeats the previous absolute prohibition on the display of the words "for hire" when Standing alone, and then proceeds to generalise the restrictions previously contained in subsection (1,b, ii) and subsection (2), so as to prohibit the display of any sign or notice,
the form or wording of which is in any other way such as to suggest that the vehicle on which it is displayed is presently available to take up any passenger wishing to hire it, or would be so available if not already hired.
This meets the point made in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzraan), who tabled an Amendment to the Clause.
§ The specific references to variants of the words "hire" or "hired" previously contained in paragraph (b,ii) have been dropped. I submit that they are superfluous now that the prohibition has been generalised so as to apply to any word which is misleading in the way set out in the latter part of the new paragraph (b). The Amendment does not meet the point covered by the second Amendment proposed by my hon. and learned Friend in Committee and I do not need to refer to that now.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ I move on to the part that deals with advertisements, which was a matter of considerable controversy in Committee. At the conclusion of our debate I said that I would reconsider the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. The Amendment extends Clause 4 so as to apply to advertisements, and provision is made for a new subsection (2,a) which makes it an offence for any advertisement which indicates that a motor vehicle may be hired on application to an address or telephone n amber in London—that is, the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London—to include the word "taxi" or "cab" or any combinations thereof with other words unless the vehicles to which the advertisement relates are licensed cabs or, if not, the advertisement makes it clear that they are not.
§ There is parallel provision under paragraph (a) for advertisements displayed on the premises where vehicles may be hired to be subject to the same restrictions, even if they do not include a London 1018 address or telephone number, and this new restriction on advertising would affect the signs displayed in telephone boxes or in any other way, and therefore require that in such an advertisement it should be made clear whether or not the firm advertising was licensed as a hackney carriage operator.
§ The device of relating the prohibition only to advertisements carrying a London address or telephone number has been adopted to get around the difficulty to which I referred in answering the hon. Member when he originally proposed his Amendment, namely, that without some limitation of this kind the prohibition would affect provincial private hire car firms advertising locally. This would enlarge the scope of this part of the Bill in a quite unjustifiable way. The Bill deals with London problems, and it is neither desirable nor appropriate to extend its scope outside London, where we have no official knowledge that this problem even exists, although hon. Members have told us that many such problems do exist outside the London area. In any case, outside London local authorities who are responsible for the licensing of taxis already have wide powers to deal with this kind of problem in local legislation.
In the Amendment we have sought to define the word "advertisement". When the hon. Member moved his Amendment in Committee I referred to some of the difficulties that would arise without a definition. That is why we have sought to define the word. It is defined in the new subsection (5) as including
every form of advertising, whether in a publication or by the display of notices or by means of circulars or other documents or by an exhibition of photographs or as cinematograph film, or by way of sound broadcasting or television …
§ It will not apply to the trade name of a firm written up over the firm's premises, because that is not an advertisement, but advertisements displayed on those premises and incorporating the name will be caught in the same way as they would be if displayed elsewhere. By the same token a bare entry in a telephone directory will not be caught, although advertisements appearing in the same directory will be. The Amendment is designed to apply to misleading advertisements. Neither a name written up over the business premises nor a bare telephone directory entry is properly an advertisement soliciting 1019 custom, and it is only with the latter that the provisions is intended to be concerned.
§ The Amendment also deals with penalties, and the new subsection (3,a) repeats the relevant penalty provisions of the existing subsection (3) in relation to the offence of displaying a prohibited sign on a vehicle. Paragraph (b) makes Provision for the appropriate offence of issuing or causing to be issued an advertisement which contravenes the new subsection (2). The penalties will be the same for either offence.
§ The House, and especially those who were members of the Standing Committee, will probably agree that in this group of Amendments I have gone a long way, on behalf of the Government, to meet the arguments which were so cogently presented in Committee. It will be recalled that at the conclusion of our debate on an Amendment dealing in part with this subject I gave assurances to the Committee that I would look sincerely at the points that had been argued. I refuse to go as far as the hon. Member's Amendment, which would in my view have quite unfairly restricted the rights of private hire firms to advertise in fields in which they have every bit as much right to do their business as have taxi firms.
§ The proposal might have denied private hire car firms the use of titles and names which may have been theirs for years, and might have put a number of them out of business. This would have been very unfair, although I know that some people in the taxi trade would have been happy to put them out of business. This is not the purpose of the Bill.
§ We have attempted to strengthen still further the protection that we have given to taxi-cabs against private hire firms masquerading as taxi cab firms. Now they must make it clear in any advertisement that they are not licensed hackney carriages. This means that there is less likely to be a misunderstanding as to the conditions or obligations that have been undertaken by the private hire car firms, which are not licensed in the same way as are hackney carriages.
§ I submit that I have carried out to the full the assurances that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) in Committee after a long and constructive debate.1020
§ Mr. Woodnutt
In view of the Amendment, does the Minister consider that this restriction on advertising now brings these firms within the relevant sections of the Companies Acts, and that it would be illegal for a Company to include the word "cab" or "taxi" in its name if it did not operate licensed taxis, and would make it subject to Board of Trade disapproval?
§ Mr. Ennals
I would hesitate to give a definitive answer to that question, which is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, but the Companies Acts deal with companies, and does not necessarily apply to all firms. Even though it might affect some it would not bite on all firms.
§ Mr. Worsley
The Government have come all the way to meet the substance of our Amendments in this case, and the Minister will find that he has a contented Opposition. Indeed, I venture to hope that the Government will follow our advice in other matters of greater moment. If they do they may find they will get on rather better. All I say in welcoming the Amendment is that it meets the substance of what we were arguing in Committee and it puts what we were trying to put much better than we could have put it.
It is different from the Situation in Committee, when the Minister was resisting us with all the powers at his command because, he said, the Stamp Committee was sitting, and if we moved the Amendment that we were then discussing that Committee would go home. I hope that he can assure us that the Committee has not gone home, but will continue its consideration of these important matters. On that amiable note I welcome the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ennals
I think that the hon. Member will recall that in Committee I said that the Stamp Committee might feel that it would be reasonable for it to go home if the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member and his hon. Friends were carried. I can assure him that even though he has welcomed the wisdom of the Government Amendments, the Amendment which we have discussed does not contain any of the serious dangers which were inherent in his Amendment, which I was strongly resisting. I think 1021 that the Stamp Committee will feel well satisfied with the result of our deliberations.
§ Mr. English
This is an extraordinary Amendment. I am sorry to discover that this is a case of two Front Benches ganging up to do something which is quite ridiculous. This proposal is an attempt to delete the word "minicab" from the English language in London— [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at all."] Of course it is. What is being said here is simply that one must use no word eluding the word "taxi" or "cab". The official title of the vehicles which we call taxis—the term of art in law, I believe —is hackney carriages, but the original Act is so out-dated that no one uses it.
What is actually said is that none of these advertisements shall include "taxi" or "cab"… whether in the singular or plural and whether alone or as part of another word, unless the vehicles offered for hire are licensed cabs or the advertisement makes it clear that they are not.So one will be allowed only to use the word "minicab"—and this in London and nowhere else—provided only that one stipulates "minicab which is not a hackney carriage". Presumably, one should say, "taxi which is a hackney carriage". This is extraordinary—
§ Mr. Lubbock
If one put at the top of the advertisement, "Private car operators", that would be within the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. English
That would be, but the word "minicab" has now sunk into the English language. I suppose that Parliament can do anything, but this is an extraordinary attempt to delete a word which people commonly use. One will not now be able to refer in any advertisement simply to a "minicab", although every Citizen of London knows perfectly well that a minicab is not a taxi in the normally accepted meaning of the word. In other words, it is not a hackney carriage and a taxi is.
One will now be able to mention only "minicab, not being a hackney carriage". One will have to use a phrase instead of this common word. I do not know of another instance in which Parliament has tried to delete a word from the English language and replace it with a phrase, 1022 and that only in one city. Therefore, the Amendment is ridiculous in this sense.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made great play on a previous Amendment with the fact that he would consult the owners and drivers of taxi-cabs. Has he consulted the owners and drivers of private hire cars? Has he consulted the Board of Trade, in view of the fact that it is responsible for the Consumer Protection Bill, dealing with misleading advertisements generally and not, in particular, and on the principle that the advertisements should simply tell the truth and not use an incorrect phrase? Has he consulted the advertising interests?
Since he is so keen to consult the interests of the producers, has he consulted the Board of Trade and the advertisers—either through the Advertising Association or the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising—and have the owners and drivers of private hire vehicles been consulted? This is an extraordinary Clause, especially when Parliament is about to consider a Consumer Protection Bill, dealing with all misleading advertisements. To see this one Clause on this one industry in this one city relating to advertisements of only one sort and attempting to delete this word from the English language, is quite extraordinary.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Lubbock
, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham West (Mr. English). I am in the unusual Situation for me of agreeing with the two Front Benches. The advertisement provisions in the Amendment are an improvement on the original. To eliminate the use of the words "cab" and "taxi" either by themselves or in any combination is a step towards ensuring that the public are not misled into thinking that these vehicles are something which they are not.
Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say about the use of the word "minicab" having become ingrained in the English language, it is an undesirable word, because it does not give a correct description of the vehicles. They are no longer small. Most are Ford Zephyrs, or similar vehicles, so the prefix "mini", at any rate, is misleading. The word "cab" is equally misleading, because it implies that these vehicles are likely to ply for 1023 hire. Many of them have done so and it is only because it is so difficult to find evidence which will stand up in a court of law that there have not been many prosecutions of these people.
The first part of the Amendment, concerning the display of words on the vehicle, is not nearly so satisfactory. Although you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not been pleased to call the Amendment which I tabled, it might at least be possible to draw the Under-Secretary's attention to the alternative to his Suggestion. If one is trying to prevent private hire operators giving the public the misleading impression that their vehicles may be stopped on the street and taken as taxis to a destination, one must examine carefully any signs whatever.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that these vehicles sometimes have illuminated signs displaying the company's name and telephone number above the roof, from which anybody might be entitled to assume that it could be stopped, like an ordinary taxi, and taken to his destination. The new wording of subsection (b) seems to mean that there would be nothing to prevent this hypothetical private hire firm from displaying not only its name and telephone number on this illuminated sign, but also other words which were calculated to mislead.
One or two examples occurred to me as I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. It would be perfectly in order for this hypothetical firm to carry on an illuminated roof sign such words or phrases as "minicar", "minitax", "taxy", or "taxee". Therefore, the wording of the Amendment does not go nearly far enough. What is the point of these illuminated display signs at all, if they are not meant to indicate that these vehicles may be hired on the street? It is obvious to me—I know this from my own experience and from the stories told me by taxi drivers—that a member of the public sees a vehicle, his attention is drawn by the illuminated sign and he hails it and takes it to his destination—a practice which, as the Under-Secretary knows, is highly illegal but extremely difficult to prove in practice.
Therefore, why have we not prohibited the display of all these signs and not just those which contain the offending 1024 words "for hire" or anything suggesting that the vehicle can take up any passenger wishing to hire it?
This Clause will cause many difficulties in courts. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West is a lawyer —
§ Mr. Lubbock
Well, he took a law degree, although he has never practised. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can define a limit within which words might be said to indicate that a vehicle is available for hire. I would not care to say what words might give this impression and what might not.
The only words substantially concerned in the Clause are the words "for hire" and those which I have mentioned. "Taxi" or "cab" are not affected by the Amendment, because they are in subsection (1).
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I think that the hon. Gentleman is misreading the Clause with the Amendment. Subsection l(a) will remain in the Bill and will, therefore, effectively prohibit the use of the words "taxi" and "cab" from being displayed on any vehicle.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I said that we were not altering subsection 1(a) but were adding a new paragraph (b). I pointed out the sort of variations that would be perfectly legal to be displayed on illuminated signs, such as leaving the "i" off the end of "taxi"—I mentioned this on Second Reading—or by spelling "taxi" with a "y" or "ee". These variants would be legal and I want to know why the Minister will not adopt the simpler Solution which I have proposed. In other words, no signs should be displayed on private hire cars.
To adopt this Suggestion would not damage the business of hire car firms, because we are allowing them to advertise within sensible limits. If these signs are displayed, I fear that the public will be incited to halt these cars on roads and make their drivers commit the offence of plying for hire. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give this matter further thought. It may be too late for him to amend the Bill at this stage, but I trust that it will be amended in another place. I hope that the Minister will see the wisdom of the advice I have given and alter the Bill accordingly.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the expedition and skill he has shown in drafting these new provisions. We had an extremely robust debate on these matters in Committee upstairs and my hon. Friend has amply lived up to the assurances he gave on that occasion. He promised to look at the suggestions made to him in Committee, and he has certainly done so.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has made some interesting suggestions and has illustrated the difficulty of drafting provisions to cover all eventualities. I agree that such matters as illuminated signs and other variations make it difficult to legislate in this sphere. Certainly a great deal of difficulty might arise from the proposed new paragraph (b), which contains the words:… which consists of the words ' for hire', or the form or wording of which is in any way such as to suggest that the vehicle … is presently available to take up any passenger wishing to hire it…".The reference there to "the form of wording" makes one wonder whether that Provision would apply to, for example, numbers. Would it apply to signs? An illuminated coloured triangle inside the vehicle—perhaps on the windscreen— night denote that the vehicle was for hire. When we discussed this matter in Committee hon. Members pointed out the difficulties facing us in legislating for these eventualities.
The wording of the proposed new subsection (2,a) seems better, but I wonder whether "advertisement" covers numbers. Certainly, "advertisement" represents an endeavour to get something over to the public, and I therefore prefer its use, although when the subsection goes on to refer to an advertisement not… indicating that motor vehicles can be h red on application to a specified address or telephone number, being the address or telephone number of premises in the metropolitan police district, or the City of London …".I am not sure whether that refers to, say, a telephone kiosk where cards are displayed, the place where an advertisement is displayed or the vehicle itself. This may take into account the point which the hon. Member for Orpington has in mind about an advertisement being placed in a lighted dome on the roof of one of these vehicles.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman must read paragraph (a) with the words following at the end of subsection (2), that is:No advertisement…indicating that motor vehicles can be hired on application to a specified address or telephone number…shall include the word ' taxi' or ' cab '…".
§ Mr. Ellis
That intervention shows the sort of deep water in which we are swimming when legislating in this sphere. For this reason, I trust that the Minister will explain how wide he considers the Amendment goes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), who is unable to be here, would, I am sure, be pleased to have seen these Amendments being tabled. My hon. Friend has done a tremendous amount of work in this matter, in consultation with the Transport and General Workers' Union. Although we have asked the Minister a number of searching questions, I assure him that we appreciate the immense complexity of this subject, for not only is it necessary that we make the law; we must ensure that it can be enforced. While it is true that the legitimate car hire firm has a place, we must ensure that it obeys the law and that the law can be enforced.
If we were to consider every variant of every type of sign that could be used… with every type of symbol and advertisement that could be thought up…we might spend years on this one aspect of the subject. Indeed, I suppose that tyres could be painted in certain colours. The Minister has made a first-class attempt to try to solve this difficult problem.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am sorry to find that, once again, I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and against almost every other hon. Member who has spoken so far. If I needed anything to convince me that the hon. Gentleman was right, it was not so much his speech—although I agreed with it—but the complexity of the Minister's remarks and of the Amendment. It seems that when we must go into these difficult verbal contortions in an attempt to provide a service to the public, we are really getting to the point of some lunacy.
I am not anxious to see taxi-drivers subjected to unfair competition, partly 1027 because I have a large number of taxi-drivers in my constituency—although, alas, few hackney cabs are plying for hire in my area—and partly because, if they are subject to unfair competition and the number of hackney cabs goes down, the public as a whole will suffer.
On the other hand, when people are trying to provide a service to the public— as I think everyone has acknowledged the private hire car firms attempt—it cannot be right, in order to redress the balance for the cab drivers, to make the private car hire people offer their Services, as it were, in secrecy. There must be a better way of protecting the competitiveness of the cab drivers than to lay down that it is perfectly legal for a car hire firm to insert a small card in a telephone kiosk—and so often the telephones in the kiosks do not work that one has little reason to go into them to look for the cards—but not to have a card displayed on the windscreen of the car.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. English
I thank the hon. Member for his support, but is he aware that other local authorities get round the whole difficulty by taking the same powers over private hire vehicles that they have over taxis?
§ Mr. Goodhart
That would be a legitimate and sensible way of redressing the balance between the cab owners and the private hire companies. Let there be rather fewer restrictions on cab drivers than there are at present on private car hire operators, but let us not try to redress the balance by making secret the service offered by the private hire car people. I am against the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), that these people should not be allowed to have on their cards the telephone numbers of their firms. Such cards are a perfectly legitimate means of letting strangers to the area—who, perhaps, are those most in need of these hire cars—have some idea of how to get in touch with the firms. To adopt the hon. Gentleman's idea would mean that the public as a whole would suffer, while the cab drivers themselves would derive no benefit.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that private hire car operators can still leave cards in telephone kiosks, and 1028 can advertise in any other manner they choose, as long as they do not use the word "taxi" or "cab", whether in the singular or the plural, or whether "owners" is another part of the word? Within those limitations they are still absolutely free to put advertisements in the newspapers or cards in kiosks.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
One of the Committee's main debates on Clause 4 was whether plying for hire or advertising, as it were, from base, was the more important issue. Plying for hire is already illegal. I know that the law is not observed in every case, but that is a matter for the police. The present object is to make the Situation as between the car hire operator and the taxicab operator fairer than it is now. Although the Amendment might have gone further in certain ways, I am sure that it goes a long way to meet the requirements of the trade.
The Stamp Committee has to some extent been derided, but that Committee is examining the whole issue in a much wider way altogether and will report later. In the meantime, although the Bill seemed to be introduced as a sort of mild interim Measure, it now has a merit of its own. I am convinced that as an interim Measure, it will be heartily welcomed by the taxicab trade.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I represent a number of owners and drivers in the taxi trade in my constituency and on their behalf I would like to say how grateful they will be to the Government for the Amendment. It is necessary to give the licensed taxi trade a measure of protection. I appreciate what the Under-Secretary has said—that this is not a Bill to deal with the whole problem in this connection—but it is right, proper and fair at this moment to include a provision which gives the licensed taxi trade what is intended to be the monopoly use of the words "taxi" and "cab".
Whatever the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) may say, that does not worry me in the slightest. The public know perfectly well what a taxi or cab is. They know that it is a licensed taxi or cab. If people are misusing those words, they should not be 1029 allowed to do so to the detriment of other people's legitimate interest.
To give an example of the sort of thing which has happened, I came across a case a year or so ago of a firm which made it its business to get a list of names of owners of private cars who used their vehicles for their business and for recreation and other purposes. The intention was that they should earn money in their spare time by bringing the cars into the organisation and collecting money by operating simply as taxis and nothing else.
Clearly, if the Cream of the trade is to be taken off in that way, it is grossly unfair on those who have to pay substantial sums of money for the purpose of buying and keeping taxis which have to comply with the limits of the licence and, even more particularly, to those who drive taxis and who have to spend anything up to a year learning their trade before they can earn any money. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to give this special privilege to those who are licensed. The Amendment does not in any way go beyond what is necessary. It does not seem to me that it can do any damage to the legitimate hire-car trade. For that reason, I welcome it and I thank the Government.
§ Amendment agreed to.