§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill deals with three separate and entirely distinct problems concerning the London cab trade. The first is powers to regulate the rates of fare for journeys within the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London and to extend the maximum length of journey which cab drivers are obliged by law to undertake. The second is a relaxation of some of the restrictions on where cab drivers can park their cabs; and the third is the prohibition of the display on vehicles which are not licensed to ply for hire of certain kinds of signs and notices which can mislead the public to facilitate illegal plying for hire. There may not seem to be a common thread between those three provisions but, in fact, there is, because I hope to show that all three in their different ways will help to protect the cab trade and the travelling public.
All these proposals have been discussed on the London Cab Trade Consultative Committee, the standing advisory body set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in March, 1966, to provide a forum for discussion of matters affecting the trade. Represented on it are all sections of the trade—the proprietors, the owner-drivers, who have their own association, and the journeymen drivers, who are represented by the cab section of the Transport and General Workers' Union.
It is my pleasure at this point to pay tribute to the contribution which those representatives of the London cabbies have made in the discussions which we have had about their problems in the Consultative Committee. They have shown great patience at a time when feelings were running high among their members. It was an excellent example of responsible trade unionism paying off.
Those discussions in the Consultative Committee have been, and, I am sure, will continue to be of value in helping 787 towards a greater mutual understanding between the cab trade and the Home Office and of their problems and our problems. Two of the proposals in the Bill flow directly from proposals raised by and discussed with the trade on the Consultative Committee, namely, the provisions for the relaxation of parking restrictions, for which the union can fairly take most of the credit since it first brought them to our attention, and prohibition on the use of misleading terms which may be conducive to illegal plying for hire, in which, I might add, all sections of the trade had an equal and often forceful say. I shall have more to say on these points later.
I come first to the regulation of fares for longer journeys. As I expect hon. Members know, under the existing law a cab driver when plying for hire is under a statutory obligation to accept any hiring, provided that it is for a journey within the Metropolitan Police district or the City of London of not more than six miles or which takes no longer than an hour, and the fare is what goes up on the meter, neither more nor less, except, of course, for the tip. For journeys beyond what we might call this compellable limit, however, the driver does not have to accept the hiring. If he accepts it he can, to put it bluntly, charge what he can get. This has been the system for the better part of 100 years and, by and large, it has worked very well.
I should indeed like to pay tribute to the vast majority of taxi drivers who do not abuse this privilege. They are prepared to take up forlorn wayfarers at all hours of the day and night and deliver them to obscure destinations in remote parts of the Metropolis and to exact a perfectly reasonable toll for doing so. I dare say that there are a good many cab drivers who nowadays are even more hard-pressed than usual, running a sort of delivery service for those sensible drinkers who have left their cars behind.
May I say in passing that we have in London possibly a taxi service which, while not perfect—nothing is—compares very favourably with that in any other city in the world, but there is unfortunately—and we must admit it—a minority, I think a small minority, of taxi men who are less than helpful to the passenger who has a long journey to make. 788 Most of us have come across one from time to time, although it is, on the whole, strangers to our country and to London who are most often the victims. Where there is no prescribed rate it is, perhaps, a misnomer to talk of overcharging. Instances abound, I am afraid, of charges being levied that are so exorbitant sometimes as to amount to a clear abuse of this traditional freedom for the driver to negotiate the fare for the longer journeys.
I should like to say a special word about the plight of visitors from overseas who sometimes fall victim to this overcharging, and I do so partly because it seems to me a particularly shabby thing to do, to treat the helpless stranger by trading on his trust and ignorance, and perhaps one who is not only a stranger to our country but to our ways, and partly because in its small way it does quite a lot to damage our tourist industry, for often the first real contact which a visitor has with the people of this country is when he gets into his first cab at the airport. I do not like to think how many such visitors have had their first impressions of Britain and the British permanently soured by having to haggle with one of this deplorable minority of rapacious taxi drivers. It is only a minority—I want to emphasise this—but the amount of damage which that minority can do to this country's image abroad and to the well being of travellers at home is disproportionately great, and we have decided to put a stop to it. I may say, with satisfaction, that all responsible taxi drivers are with us. They care for their good name, and they rightly resent the damage to the reputation of the trade as a whole which can result from the activities of the irresponsible minority.
We are, therefore, taking power in this Bill to enable the Home Secretary to prescribe the rates of charge for all journeys in London irrespective of whether or not they are hirings which the cab driver is obliged to accept. Appropriate rates will be prescribed as soon as possible if Parliament passes this Bill. The right to refuse to undertake these longer journeys will remain unchanged, but, as a safeguard, we are also proposing to give the Home Secretary power to extend the six-mile compellable limit itself, either generally, or for journeys to or 789 from a particular place. But this is a power we intend to hold in reserve, and it will be used only—I would like to emphasise this—only if a substantial number of drivers seek to defeat the object of the new regulation of fares by refusing to accept hirings for these longer journeys at all, and even then—I can give the assurance to the House—the trade would be fully consulted before any action was taken.
If I can now turn to the restrictions on parking—
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that, would he say why he has not put into the Bill the terms he intends to use to do away with this abuse? Because we could then have assessed how successful they would be. Would it not have been better to have put everything into the Bill rather than to give himself power to make Orders?
§ Mr. Ennals
I do not think so, because we do not want to make Orders unless it seems necessary to do so. Our hope undoubtedly is that there will be the co-operation of taxi drivers who will in fact be prepared to undertake the additional journeys. It is only if they do not, and if the problem arises, that we will, after consultation with them, use the powers which the Bill will give to the Home Secretary. I do not think the House would want us or feel it necessary at this stage actually to make an Order or to include it within the Bill.
I should like now to turn to the restrictions on parking. This is the second problem with which the Bill deals. It may almost be called a domestic problem of the trade, for it concerns taxi drivers' meals. As the law now stands, cab drivers are not allowed to park their vehicles except at the ranks from which they ply for hire. Some of these ranks have refreshment shelters attached, and the drivers of cabs at the tail end of a rank are allowed to leave their cabs and go off and eat, but there are not really enough of these ranks and even if there were power to appoint more, which, for technical reasons that I need not go into now, there is not, the right place for a rank is not necessarily the best place for refreshment facilities. This is a problem which has caused a good deal of inconvenience to taxi drivers 790 who sometimes face prosecution for parking offences for failing to be in attendance with their vehicles.
The cab trade came to us and asked what we could do about it. We have tried to find the answer for them. We have decided to lift the absolute prohibition on parking to the extent of allowing cab drivers to use any on-street parking areas designated or authorised by Order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967. This, of course, includes parking meter bays. I hope that this will help to ease the pangs of the hungry driver and also, incidentally, help the equally hungry lunch-time traveller by cutting down the time his potential transport has now to waste, with his flag down, finding a place where he can lawfully leave his cab while he takes his own meal. This part of the Bill I think will be helpful to the general public as well as to the driver.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, there are other instances of difficulties created for taxi drivers by these parking restrictions, as, for example, where one wants to stop outside a shop and help somebody in and out with goods and has to leave his taxi unattended, even on a yellow line, for a certain time. Does Clause 3 take account of this as well?
§ Mr. Ennals
It does not make provision for that. This is a matter which hon. Members may wish to raise in Committee, if we have one, but if not, it is certainly the sort of problem which can be looked into by the Departmental Committee which, as the hon. Member will know, has been set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look at the whole range of other problems affecting the trade and which are not touched, as I shall mention later, in this Bill.
Finally I come to the part of the Bill about the proposed restriction on the terms displayed on private hire vehicles. This is part of the wider problem of illegal plying for hire. As the House well knows, this is a very contentious issue which has led to a good deal of ill feeling and frustration, and this is one of the problems which was first raised on the consultative committee and raised in a very constructive and helpful way.
791 It was put to us by the cab trade that the terms "taxi", "cab", "hire" are so entirely associated in the minds of the public with the notion of a vehicle which is allowed to ply for hire in the streets that, if these terms are displayed on private hire vehicles, which are not in fact allowed by law to ply for hire, the passerby may be misled into expecting that a vehicle displaying them can be flagged down on the spot. We accept the force of this contention, and that the practice is open to objection as being conducive to illegal plying for hire, and, incidentally, as amounting to unfair competition with taxis.
In this connection, the then Minister of State at the Home Office gave an undertaking as long ago as 1961 that the Government recognised that the licensed cab trade was entitled to protection in return for the burden imposed by the standards of honesty, safety and efficiency required of cab drivers and their vehicles under the licensing system. He pointed out that this protection against illicit competition was provided by the prohibition on unlicensed vehicles plying for hire. We stand by the policy enunciated in 1961, but, unlike the previous Administration, we intend to do something about it. The object of these proposals is to make illegal plying for hire on the part of private hire vehicles more difficult, by prohibiting the use of some of the devices that help to make the offence easier to accomplish. For it is, as I have said, only licensed cabs that are allowed to ply for hire in the streets.
The Bill accordingly imposes an absolute prohibition on the display on vehicles other than licensed cabs of the words "taxi", "cab" and the phrase "for hire" when used in isolation. We have, indeed, gone a little further and prohibited the display on such vehicles of any variants on the word "hire" if used in a notice or sign that is so framed or set out as to suggest that the vehicle is available for hire on the spot.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
There is a problem arising from that. Many so-called taxi companies advertise themselves in telephone directories, the Press and elsewhere as having taxis for hire. A person calling a taxi by tele- 792 phone would be astounded to see a cab arrive which was not a licensed taxicab. Has my hon. Friend ever considered the possibility of extending the provisions of the Bill to include advertising in directories and elsewhere?
§ Mr. Ennals
The trade itself has urged that we should do that. It has suggested that we should go further than the Bill proposes and place some restrictions on advertising. We have decided that it would not be proper to do this, and certainly not in the Bill. The Bill is taking steps which will strengthen the law about what is already illegal, namely, plying for hire in the streets. There is nothing illegal about a private hire firm and the right of an individual to phone and book a vehicle in advance under private hire arrangements. This is no doubt one of the questions which will be considered by the Departmental Committee which has been set up by my right hon. Friend and which, incidentally, is holding its first meeting on Monday. There may have been and may still be suggestions that we should wait for its conclusions before taking any action. My right hon. Friend thought that that would be wrong and that there are perhaps non-controversial but none the less very important steps which we can take now. However, this is not one of them.
§ Mr. Lubbock
If the existence of neon signs on vehicles makes it easier to commit the offence of illegal plying for hire, why not prohibit the signs altogether instead of limiting the provisions relating to them to certain words appearing?
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall have to look at that in terms of the interpretation of the Bill. As I have said before, it is clear that words which suggest that a vehicle moving along a street is offering itself for hire, or signs on the vehicle which say so, whether neon or otherwise, will come within the terms of the Bill. If it is clear that such a sign has been worded, framed or illustrated to suggest that the vehicle is available for hire on the spot, that is precisely what the provisions of the Bill are designed to cover.
As I have said, I admit that the objectives of the Bill are only limited ones, but they are no less valuable for that. If we can give some immediate easement to the trade in these three connections, it is worth doing. I hope that the House 793 will welcome the Bill on that basis and give it a Second Reading.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I ought, first, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend on having persuaded their colleagues to allow time for this Measure to be brought before the House. Everyone knows how difficult it is to fit in even modest pieces of legislation such as this. They are to be congratulated on bringing it in.
It is not for lack of prodding by the trade that something like this has not been brought up before. The trade has been very active for many years in pressing for certain changes in the law, and it is my impression that the pressure has been stepped up recently and that many people outside the Home Office have been taking a considerable interest. For example, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has had a series of meetings this summer with all sections of the cab trade, which have been urging that certain things should be done. He fully supports their efforts to secure changes in the law.
The hon. Gentleman referred to this as a modest Measure which only does some of the things for which the trade has been pressing. I get the impression that it only does some of the things which he would like to see done. Nevertheless, half a loaf is better than no bread, and we welcome what is being done in the Bill as far as it goes.
If I may, I will go through one or two points in the Clauses, as the hon. Gentleman, did because there are certain matters about some of them which cause me a little concern.
As he explained, Clause 1 gives power to prescribe fares for the hire of cabs anywhere within the Metropolitan Police area. He said that new arrangements would be brought in as soon as possible. I believe, although he did not mention it, that those arrangements will include some provision to increase the fare chargeable over the statutory distance of six miles, perhaps to double the fare for any journey in excess of that or to double it for that portion of the journey in excess of it. This will require consultation and, in the end, the alteration of all taxi meters fitted to vehicles. I would urge 794 him to make certain that any alteration proposed is made as soon as possible and sooner than we are accustomed to find the Home Office doing things.
If the Home Office has a reputation for anything, it is for being very slow. If it is very slow in this, I fear that we shall run into difficulties. The agreement of all sections of the trade about precisely what should be done is likely to take a little time to reach. Then, if it is a question of altering meters, I understand that the National Physical Laboratory has to be brought in to give its views on the way in which meters are to be set up. After that, all the meters have to be changed.
If, as I suspect, there is some thought that fares may have to go up, that will take more time.
The consideration of whether fares should be increased in the past always seems to have taken at least a year. If it does in the future, and no decision is arrived at on altering meters to make the extra charge until it has been decided whether a fare increase should be granted, it appears that we shall have a year's delay, and then another year's delay to change all the meters. That will bring us to the end of 1969 or the beginning of 1970, by which time the trade will have to be thinking of changing the meters all over again to take account of the introduction of decimal currency.
I urge the Home Office to move with slightly more than its accustomed speed in making a decision about the operation of Clause 1.
The hon. Gentleman explained what he has in mind in Clause 2. He gave us to understand that all the powers contained therein would be held in reserve and would only be operated if there was difficulty with the longer journeys which cab drivers are not at present obliged to undertake. We all know the difficulties at London Airport and that something should be done to try to bring malpractices there to an end.
I have one fear about the operation of Clauses 1 and 2 together. If the right hon. Gentleman increases fares in the way that I believe he intends for longer journeys and if, at the same time, he makes it obligatory for drivers to make journeys of, I think it is, 17 miles from here to London Airport, which is a very long way, one consequence will be that 795 the journeyman driver will not get so much benefit for himself out of these longer journeys as he does now. I am not talking about the driver who charges a fantastic sum; I am talking about the perfectly respectable driver who strikes a reasonable bargain with his passenger to take him to London Airport.
It is not unusual for a figure of 55s. or 60s. to be charged for a journey to London Airport although the meter probably only goes up to about 30s. The difference between what is shown on the meter and what the man gets he keeps for himself. If the whole thing is charged on the meter he will get a good deal less, but will be obliged to do the journey.
If he is to get less on what are felt to be the cream jobs, which do not happen often, I have a feeling that the journeyman driver will approach his employers and say that he wants a slightly bigger share, and the employers, I am certain, will say that they cannot afford to give it to him. They will probably go on to say that not only can they not afford to give it to him, but they can hardly afford to run their cabs at the moment because of the present level of fares, established about three years ago, since when there have been not one or two, but three increases in the cost of petrol.
If these two Clauses are brought into operation the effect will be to make even stronger the pressures for a general increase in cab fares. The hon. Gentleman may have already taken this into account—I hope he has—but he did not say anything about it in his speech. I must emphasise that I have no knowledge whether this will happen, but I have done a little simple arithmetic in my head and it seems to me that it will be almost automatic, if these Clauses are brought in, that there will be an immediate request for higher fares throughout the whole range of taxi-hirings.
§ Mr. Ennals
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there is likely to be an increase throughout the whole range, or is he dealing with the question of beyond the six-mile limit?
§ Mr. Atkins
I think it will be very likely throughout the whole range. The information that I have is that it is 796 difficult for the owner of a taxi, whether he employs a driver or drives it himself, to make a good living at the moment because his fares were prescribed three years ago and he has had to absorb all manner of increases, but most particularly the cost of petrol. I would have thought that consideration is likely being given at the moment to a request for an increase in fares, and I think that this will precipitate it.
I was about to ask the hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that he would not bring Clause 2 into operation without the fullest consultation with the trade, and he has given it. This is extremely important, because it is a matter which affects the livelihood of all people in the cab trade.
Clause 3 is obviously a sensible one and requires no comment. Everyone has to leave his place of business for a time—even Members of the House from time to time have to leave their seats for various reasons—and it seems sensible to allow taxi drivers to get out of their driving seats for a few minutes without running the risk of prosecution.
The hon. Gentleman said that Clause 4 is an attempt to stop vehicles, other than licensed cabs, plying for hire. One of the difficulties and one of the omissions from the Bill, which is a pity, is that there has not been, and still is not, so far as I am aware, any legal definition of "plying for hire". We all talk about it and perhaps think that we know what we mean, but there never has been a proper legal definition of what "plying for hire" means. I had hoped that we should get that in the Bill. We have not got it, but let us hope that the Committee, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will try and solve this point, because it has been outstanding for a long time and needs clearing up.
It seems to me—the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) brought this point up—that by this Clause the Government acknowledge that it is wrong for a vehicle to be described as a taxi or as a cab by means of any kind of writing on the vehicle. If that is so, surely it is equally wrong for a vehicle to be described as a taxi or cab by means of writing anywhere else.
There are two obvious courses of action open to the hon. Gentleman which 797 I hope he will be able to tell us he will take. The first concerns the London Classified Telephone Directory. If one looks, as I did yesterday, in the section headed "Taxis", there are long lists of firms apparently offering a taxi service. Some of them do, and, if one rings them up, one will get what everyone understands to be a taxi; that is, a vehicle of a certain type of construction, driven by a man of known ability and safety, properly insured, properly inspected, and with all the safeguards that we have come to expect of the London taxi. But a lot of the firms under this heading are not offering any such thing. It seems to me that there is something missing here, because the man who does not know the difference between one firm and the other, as most of us do not, does not know what he is getting when he engages one of these vehicles.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that in Section 46 of the Companies Act there is a requirement that can be enforced to require a company to abandon the use of a misleading name. In its context, what difference does the hon. Gentleman think that the use of this Clause might make?
§ Mr. Atkins
The hon. Gentleman is about one minute ahead of me. Reverting to the London Classified Telephone Directory, it seems to me that the Home Office should consult with the Post Office to see whether it cannot persuade the Post Office to abandon this habit of listing under the heading "Taxis" a whole lot of firms which do not supply anything of the sort, but supply vehicles of a different construction, with drivers unqualified to drive taxis, perhaps in some cases, for all we know, not properly insured, and certainly not properly inspected. Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will consult with his right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General to see if anything can be done about this?
The other action which he can take has just been mentioned. About four or five months ago, the Government took power in the Companies Act, 1967, to deal with the very case that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) mentioned. Section 46 of the Companies Act gives them power to direct a 798 company to change its name if it gives a misleading impression of its activities. When I first saw the Bill I was surprised to find that there was no reference to a power of this kind, and then I realised that it does not need to be there because the Government already have it. I would like an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that the Government intend to operate the power which they took only four months ago.
I would like, finally, to ask the hon. Gentleman about the independent committee of inquiry to which he referred, and which was announced in the House on 9th June this year. When the Minister of State announced the setting up of this inquiry, she said:… my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to proceed at once to the appointment of an independent committee which would be charged with the task of inquiring into the operation, structure and economy of the taxi cab and private hire car trades in London and to consider the respective rôles of the two services and the statutory controls needed for their safe and efficient performance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June 1967; Vol. 747, c. 1565.]That statement was generally welcomed, but nothing seems to have happened. That was five months ago, and all that has happened since is that a week or two ago the names of the members of the committee were announced. This is another example of the Home Office not moving as quickly as we would like it to do. When will the committee get on with its job?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am glad to hear it, because, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill contains only some of the matters which need to be dealt with in relation to the London cab trade. We hope that the other matters which will arise out of the findings of this Committee will be brought before us in the not-too-distant future. I am glad to hear that at last the committee is to get going, and I hope that it will approach its task with a sense of urgency.
I repeat that we welcome this modest Bill, and that we will do nothing to impede its progress.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
In essence, this debate has been concluded, because there is nothing left for anyone 799 to say, but that is not going to prevent me from adding a few words to the discussion.
I have had a marginal association with the negotiations which have led to the Bill. Scratching my recollection, I find that I made a Second Reading speech for the Bill on 9th June of this year. That is on the record, and there is very little that I need add to it, but I want to say a few words of commendation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. They have been accused of lethargy, obstructionism, and general bloody-mindedness—I take it that that is in order in the sense in which I use it—and this is undoubtedly true when one looks at the Home Office over the last 30 years, because this problem has been with us for that length of time.
It began to emerge in 1936 and 1937, and over the years successive Home Office Ministers made pronouncements roughly in accordance with the views of the trade. More statements have been made in the House, and outside it, about the cab trade, which wholly accord with the views of those who work in it, than about any other subject, but the people who negotiate for the cab trade have had a series of unfortunate experiences.
As we know, the Home Office is a peculiar Department, and our experience—and I use the pronoun because, although my association with the cab section of the Transport and General Workers' Union has been rather a short one, extending over only three years, I feel that I have lived with this problem for about 90 years—over the years has been that as soon as we have persuaded a Home Office Minister that our views are right, that Minister has been promoted, shifted to another Department, or disappeared into oblivion as the result of a General Election. This has happened time and again.
I have here a long list of statements made by previous occupants of my hon. Friend's office. The intentions were good. There were clear statements of intent. It was said that a welcome would be given to any Bill which was presented, but in every case the Minister concerned just disappeared. He was either elevated or virtually abolished. At last we have three Ministers who have managed to 800 stay the course, thank goodness, and we have in the present Home Secretary a statesman who is almost unique in politics today, in that he made a promise, and kept it within six weeks, and therefore all the fiery words which I have used about the Home Office, and which I shall repeat in future about other matters with which the Department deals, can be taken back. I speak with the support of the cab section of the T. & G.W.U. when I say that we have nothing but praise for a Home Secretary who gave a promise to the consultative committee and kept it. All past misdeeds are temporarily forgotten, but not for long.
I am speaking for the cab section of the union. Another organisation has today issued a duplicated letter in which it talks about the Bill being presented by a dictator at the Home Office, without any kind of consultation. This is an absolute lie. There has been consistent consultation, and people intimately involved with the cab trade know this to be so. Members of the consultative committee have been listened to. These other people outside, who not only do not sit on the committee but have no right to be there, have no right to make lying accusations in circular letters addressed to hon. Members. There has been consultation, and I am speaking for at least one-third of the people on the cab trade side of the consultative committee.
There were many points that I wanted to make, and many questions that I intended to ask about the Bill, but by sheer good fortune all the questions have been asked and answered. The points which I wanted to make are essentially Committee points. I am glad to have the agreement of the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins), whom I am tempted to call my hon. Friend, that the Bill needs tidying up in Committee. There is, therefore, no need to dwell on this aspect of the matter any longer, but I would like a very firm assurance from my hon. Friend that nothing will be done under the terms of Clause 1, that no Orders will be presented to the House to implement this Clause, unless and until there has been full and adequate consultation with the trade. This is something about which the trade feels very strongly indeed.
801 Dealing with the general purpose of the Bill, I am tempted to reply to the usual weekly essay which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) puts on the Order Paper. He talks abouta … victory by a vested interest … over a Department of State ",and seems to be accusing those who are in favour of the Bill of engaging in a gigantic conspiracy to enforce a restrictive practice. This comes rather oddly from an hon. Member who before he came here was a member of the best-organised restrictive practice in the country, the legal profession. Technically it is an organised restrictive practice, and so it should be.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am not, and never have been, a member of the legal profession.
§ Mr. English
No. I obtained a law degree, but I have never qualified, or attempted to qualify, as a member of the legal profession, and I am not a member of it.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I withdraw my remark, but I will now defend the right of the legal profession to constitute itself as a restrictive practice, as I fully intended to do.
Most of us who come here, whatever our previous profession, acquire a certain knowledge of the law and a certain skill in advocacy, but we are not permitted to practise in the courts, except in one rather disastrous set of circumstances, when we are permitted to conduct our own defence. It is quite right and proper that this should be so, and that only qualified medical practitioners should practise medicine. I wish sometimes that the same restriction could apply to journalism, but this is perhaps impossible.
I see nothing wrong in a trade like the cab trade insisting that, because its members have to know London, have to pass certain very severe tests, have to drive in a vehicle that passes certain standards and, in other words, have to become skilled craftsmen, amateur competition presents all kinds of dangers, referred to in the debate on 9th June. 802 There is nothing wrong at all in this. Members of the trade accept these restrictions and regulations and, in return, as successive Home Secretaries have pointed out, they are entitled to a certain measure of protection.
The kind of protection is embodied in some legislation, it will be added to by this Bill. I welcome it simply because it is a Bill. I have a far better Bill which I would have attempted to present had I have been successful in the Private Members' Ballot. This Bill meets many of the objections of the cab trade. It will remove at least two major grievances which have been presented to the Home Secretary over the years, and it has come rather quickly when one considers when the promise was made to the Consultative Committee.
The Bill needs tidying up and will be tidied up. Most of all I believe that, because we have the Maxwell Stamp Committee, because we have the consultative committee, because we have this as a first instalment on what the cab trade will require, this House has opened the doors to a complete reform of the cab trade which will satisfy consumers as well as the trade. This is the opening of the door, and it is rather important that it should be opened now.
Reference has been made to responsible negotiators dealing with the Home Secretary. In this case responsible negotiation has paid off. Those of us who take an interest in the cab trade have been subjected over the last two months to a barrage of insults to the effect that we are completely useless. This we can take, but there is also an undercurrent of thought, which is becoming all to prevalent in our society, that this House is totally useless. We can take the insults, they are part of our profession, but this growing trend of opinion that the House is totally useless is dangerous now and is potentially dangerous.
By giving the Bill a Second Reading and tidying it up, we can demonstrate (a) that responsible negotiators can deliver the goods, and (b) we can give a smart reply to the growing numbers of our critics outside this House by showing that, properly used, this House can also deliver the goods—and the goods will be delivered in part this morning.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)
I will not add much to what my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) has so adequately said about the Bill. I welcome it, particularly Clause 2, giving the Secretary of State power to exclude certain journeys from the six-mile rule. I particularly welcome the Clause giving him the right to prescribe fares. I have in mind, as do other Members, the appalling scandal at London Airport. I have been caught on this many times and it no doubt gives a poor impression to overseas visitors.
It is a shocking state of affairs when upwards of 100 drivers out at London Airport bring thorough discredit to a very respectable trade which otherwise is operated by very respectable men. I do not know whether the House realises the extent to which these people at London Airport abuse this badge that they should be honoured to wear. I am surprised that the Minister was so moderate in his references to them.
They sit there, playing gin rummy all day, with the idea of getting only three fares into London for about £3 15s. to £5 a time according to how they reckon they can fleece the unwary potential customer. They are work-shy, they bring discredit to their trade and are disliked by the rest of the cab drivers. This also means that upwards of 100 cabs are out of action at a time when they are badly needed in London.
I use London Airport a great deal and feel that the two-way traffic should equate—there should be as much demand for taxis from London Airport to London as there is from Central London to the airport. At the moment, the cabbies who go out there and sit there all day, and tear out with an empty cab to get another fare, are protected by a byelaw of the airport which stops any other cab which has put down a passenger from picking someone else up unless it goes to the end of the rank.
If this byelaw was abolished, and we will have to do this to make sense of this proposed legislation, it should be possible to operate the journey to and from London Airport entirely on the clock. We all realise the fairness of a cabby having to charge, say, double the clock when it is a normal distance in 804 excess of six miles because he does not get a fare back and he is doing twice the mileage necessary for the journey. If this byelaw at London Airport was abolished, and any cab taking a passenger in was permitted to take one back to London, there would be a very quick turn-round. I am sure that the cabbies would be more than satisfied if they had a fare to the airport and one back at the standard fare.
It is a pity that the Government have not written into the Bill what they intend to do at London Airport, and I hope that we will do this in Committee. I trust that the Government will consider this favourably. It is fairly clear cut what should be done. Why bother about doing it in an Order afterwards? Let us put it in the Bill.
There are the problems of the other journeys, other than to the airport, over six miles. It is clear how this should be dealt with. A cabby must have approximately twice the clock. Why do we not just legislate to that effect and institute a system of graduated clocks, so that after six miles the increased fare is automatically shown? Whatever one is purchasing it is psychologically bad if people see a price advertised and are then asked for something in excess, even if they have done the deal before they get in the cab, which they usually do.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise that if this was put into the Bill, and if, at a later stage, on the basis of consideration and consultation, it was thought that what was in the Bill was wrong and was not meeting the situation, it would be necessary to come back to the House again, not simply to require a new Order but to amend the Bill. This is why it is done by Statutory Order, which, of course, requires a decision of the House, but it is not part of an Act.
§ Mr. Woodnutt
I realise these problems of detail and that everything cannot be included in the Bill, particularly as prior consultations are necessary, but this problem at the airport is so clear—all the cabbies to whom I have spoken seem to agree—that it should be possible during Committee stage to discuss this with them and to table an Amendment which would put this provision into the Bill—
§ Mr. Ridley
Would my hon. Friend not agree that it would be important to 805 have a notice at the airport giving the rules, so that foreigners arriving for the first time have some means of discovering how to get a taxi to London and what they should pay?
§ Mr. Woodnutt
There is a notice there, I understand, but it is not very accessible unless one knows where it is.
I am concerned about the terrible impression on people who are told that a fare is so much and see 30s. or 32s. on the clock at the end of the journey. We should have graduated clocks so that people pay what is on it and do not have to make a deal with the cabby.
I am also pleased that the London taxi trade is to be given this protection against unfair competition. The London cab driver is the most highly qualified in the world, especially considering that, to qualify for what they call "the knowledge" with the police, they spend 15 months or two years learning every little street in London and the shortest distances between them. They attend monthly and fortnightly and weekly for these tests. This demands a most retentive memory and makes them far better than the cab drivers of Paris, Tokyo, Rome, or any other major city. It is rarely that a cab driver does not take one straight to one's destination without looking up a gazetteer or asking where it is.
They deserve this protection, but I hope that the Minister will be very careful about the prohibition of the phrase "for hire". I agree with the Bill, but I hope that he will not give way to requests to extend this prohibition, because others who run genuine private car hire businesses, for which there is a demand, must have some word by which to describe themselves and I can think of none but "hire". This is recognised by the Government, because in the first sentence of Clause 4(4) they refer to them as "private hire cars".
I welcome the Bill. This legislation should have been introduced before.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
It is the Home Office that I propose to attack and not the cab drivers. Apart from being incorrect about my former profession, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond 806 Fletcher) will find that he may have misjudged what I will say about cab drivers or their representatives who have, amongst others, produced this Bill.
Several hon. Members have said that they did not wish to make Committee points and others have made Committee points. I propose to make a pure Second Reading point. This is the only place in which that can be done, since once this Bill has been given a Second Reading we are governed by its scope in Committee and its scope is ridiculously limited, which is entirely the responsibility of the Home Office.
Of course, I do not mean the present or any past Secretary of State, but I am referring to one of the most conservative Departments of State in Her Majesty's Government and I suggest that the Home Secretary, who wishes to act as a reformist Home Secretary, should consider this subject as needing reform. The law on this subject goes back to the days, one year before Dickens became a member of the Press Gallery, when the House was lit by candles, a police force was just being introduced into the Metropolis and it was felt that a cab driver might be driving his passenger towards a gang of thieves as a highwayman or an accessory to highway robbery.
The Act was passed at the same time as the great Reform Act was going through the House, so even at the time the House hardly considered the Bill at all. I will quote one passage from the debate of the time to show some of the attitudes then prevailing and to prove that my Motion has some point. It reads:Colonel Sibthorpe hoped the proposed change would procure clean and wholesome carriages, and civil and honest coachmen. If any thing was likely to produce cholera morbus in London it was the filthy condition of its hackney-coaches. A more disorderly set of men, more miserable vehicles in the shape of coaches, or more wretched horses, could not exist than at present afforded the only means of conveyance in this great metropolis. He had some knowledge, on this subject, as he had paid 251 in fares in the course of six weeks ".That shows a considerable knowledge, when one considers the value of money those days.
I could go on, but do not wish to weary the House with the whole of the existing legislation mentioned in the 807 present Bill. After all, only one Clause of the Act of 1831 is amended by this Bill. Clause 3, among other things, makes an entirely reasonable Amendment to Section 35 of the 1831 Act. I agree with the Under Secretary that it is obviously ridiculous that that Section should have stayed as it is for more than 130 years, but surely it is equally ridiculous that some of the other sections of that Act will stay as they are not merely for the same 130-odd years, but, apparently, for even longer.
One case was given to me, through one of those acts of providence which happen occasionally, by the taxi driver who drove me home late last night. This is a particular instance in which, even my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston will agree, it is the cab driver who suffers from the existing law. Section 43 of the existing legislation, the 1831 Act, says:… in case any person shall actually pay to the driver of any hackney carriage, whether in pursuance of such agreementabout the fare—or not, any sum exceeding his said proper fare, which shall have been demanded or required by such driver, the person paying the sum shall be entitled, on complaint against such driver before any justice of the peace, to recover back the sum paid beyond the proper fare …".It goes on in great detail. This can be interpreted quite simply. If, as is known to happen, someone offers a substantial tip in excess of the proper fare for a particular service like getting somewhere quickly and then changes his mind after paying it and goes to the court, what redress has the cab driver? This is what can happen to cab drivers, as I am sure my hon. Friend agrees.
The interesting point is that no hon. Member has yet mentioned that the Home Office has it entirely within its power to amend the Act of 1831, for the very good reason that in 1949 the Home Office set up a working party to look into all legislation relating to hackney carriages, not only in London but also in the provinces. That Committee met from 1949 to 1954 and it produced three reports, two of which—those relating to London—I have here. Those Reports go through the whole of the law in detail.
808 The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) quite rightly raised the question of the state of the law in respect of plying for hire. One of these reports is devoted largely to a discussion of the law on the subject of plying for hire. What has been done about it? For example, the working party commented that the Clause in that Act which I mentioned a moment ago was obsolete. Then why not have a Clause in the Bill which simply repeals the Clauses said by the working party report to be obsolete? It would be simple. The work has been done by a group in the Home Office.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Has the hon. Member noticed that the Long Title of the Bill has been drawn in such a restricted manner that an Amendment of the kind he suggests could not be tabled?
§ Mr. English
I was coming to that point. That is precisely the trouble, and it is why I am addressing my remarks on Second Reading, because I and other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who, I realise, has made a considerable study of the matter, would otherwise be precluded from making points of this character in Committee.
I will not weary the House with the details, but in the Act of 1831 we have provisions for stage coaches and provisions for the feeding of horses by the police when they take away a cab which has been improperly parked. In 1831, it was possible for the police to take away a cab which had been improperly parked, but then, of course, provision had to be made for feeding the horses. That is the kind of law with which we are dealing. It is interesting to note that the 1831 Act and the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847, which is the provincial Act, in part for the same purpose, also applied at one time to public service vehicles. In many cases the very same Clauses applied. But in 1930 the whole of the legislation about which we are talking was swept away in respect of public service vehicles by a Road Traffic Act introduced by the Ministry of Transport.
It seems to me that the first step which should be taken is to stop considering cab drivers as possible criminals, as they were quite rightly considered in 809 the 19th century, and to stop considering their vehicles as possible communicators of disease, as was the situation in the 19th century, and simply and solely to consider the whole matter as one of passenger transport. The proper place for the whole subject is the Ministry of Transport. That is what the Bill ought to have done—include a simple Clause that the whole matter be transferred from the Secretary of State to the Minister of Transport.
I sincerely hope that the Transport Bill, which it is rumoured the Ministry of Transport is to introduce, will not omit this particular form of passenger transport when it deals with passenger transport. We cannot consider individual forms of passenger transport in isolation. An illustration is the complaint of cab drivers about private hire drivers. That illustrates that we cannot consider hackney carriages in isolation from private hire vehicles. The distinction between private hire and public service vehicles is simply one of a difference in the number of passengers. We cannot set out categories. We must consider passenger transport as a whole.
Turning to what the Bill does, as distinct from the innumerable things that it does not do, we find that it provides for the prohibition of the use of the words "taxi" or "cab" by private-hire vehicles. This arises from the complaints of unfair competition. Let me make it plain that to a substantial degree I agree with the cab drivers when they talk about unfair competition. But the Bill will not cure it. We shall not cure the unfair competition by telling the private hire driver that he must not ply for hire in the streets, when he knows that he may be privately hired. A hackney carriage has permission to ply for hire, but one can telephone and engage it as a private hire car and then it would not be governed by any of these rules. It would he a private hire vehicle. I do not say that necessarily the state of the law about hackney carriages is the same in every part of the United Kingdom, but it seems to me that we are saying, "A taxi driver can also be a private hire vehicle driver, and that does not matter, but a private hire vehicle driver cannot be a taxi driver". The unfairness of the competition in that sense is not in the direction mentioned by the Minister.
810 Let us turn to the situation of the private hire vehicles and the respects in which they are genuinely an unfair form of competition. I agree with every word which has been said about the qualifications of the licensed hackney carriage driver. They are admirable and excellent. It is undoubtedly unfair competition that the private hire vehicle drivers are not subject to the same requirements. We say that a bus driver must have a public service vehicle licence and that a hackney carriage driver must be adequately qualified. Nobody may drive a locomotive on a railway even without being adequately qualified. Why should any person in business carrying passengers for money, and driving them to their possible danger, not also need to be adequately qualified for that purpose, which is a higher degree of requirement than that placed on the driver who is merely driving to his own danger?
Cab drivers are subject to unfair competition in that way. To illustrate how negative, conservative and recalcitrant the Home Office has been, let me point out that the Home Office has done nothing whatever about this matter in London whereas many local authorities in the country, by private Bills, have amended the old Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 and similar legislation in order to cover private hire vehicles. Usually, they have a standard form Clause which covers most such vehicles but excludes, for example undertakers where a man is driving for a particular purpose which is not primarily passenger transport—in the living sense, at least. The local authorities have been better, more progressive and more reformist than the Home Office in this respect. I wonder why?
Here we have a great Department of State sitting on its egg of 130 years, and what does it produce in the end? An addled one. Many of the taxi drivers criticise Clause 4 because it does not go far enough. In this form it never can go far enough. It is just tinkering with the problem to say, "You cannot call a vehicle a taxi if it is not a hackney carriage". We use the term "hackney carriage" because in 1831 they were driven by horses. What is required is a complete reform of the law.
The Minister proudly said that on 26th October his right hon. Friend has set 811 up a committee to consider the problems. He never mentioned that there had been a committee in 1949. I agree that the terms of reference are not the same. The terms of reference of the new committee are wider and better, including the whole issue of private hire and the economic of the trade, whereas the previous committee was largely restricted to the law. But the reports of the previous committee could have been used to get rid of the ancient and obsolete laws on which work had already been done. All that was necessary was to give the report of the working party to a draftsman and say, "Get on with it." This could have been done in 1954, or even earlier in respect of some parts of the report. For 13 years—this is not the usual 13 years—the Home Office has been sitting on the thing like a hen brooding over its chickens. Poor little things. They have not been kept very warm.
I come now to the interesting question: why has the Home Office suddenly produced this Bill? It had not bothered for 13 years to do anything about its own working party's report. It had not bothered for 130 years to do anything about the legislation which the Ministry of Transport dealt with 37 years ago and which local authorities in other parts of the country dealt with at various times in the past. The Home Office not having bothered to do anything about the existing state of the law, it is reasonable to inquire why it has suddenly produced this little Bill and why, as the hon. Member for Orpington has suggested, it has restricted this little Bill to such a restricted little purpose.
In considering what is actually in the Bill, I first have a point to make to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston. He was quite wrong in what he said about my use of the term "vested interest". I used that term in the Motion in its normal strict meaning. No one can deny that cab drivers have a financial interest in what is, after all, their main source of income. They are perfectly entitled to have a vested interest.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher
Is not my hon. Friend aware that, on this side at least, the term "vested interest" has pejorative connotations?
§ Mr. English
That may well be so, and I think that it is possibly true of the other side of the House, too. I recall many hon. Members of all parties saying that they wished to get rid, for example, of restrictive practices. I recall that being said by hon. Members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. Let us consider some of the restrictive practices in the matters now before us. I have no objection to anyone having a vested interest. We all have vested interests. Each hon. Member sitting here, presumably, has a vested interest in continuing to sit here, though it is an interest put in doubt at each General Election. Similarly, every cab driver has a vested interest in being able to earn his living.
Furthermore, I have no objection to the cab driver's trade union making representations on his behalf. I would do the same in their position. Cab drivers are well aware of the antique state of the law in this connection; they have to live with it. Equally, I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston and officers of his union are concerned about the problem, and excellent men they are. But, if they are perfectly well aware that the law needs reform, why has not the Home Office taken the opportunity to do something about it?
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher
Does not my hon. Friend realise that it is impossible to get through a revolutionary transformation of the law on a Friday morning? In trade union negotiations, one cannot always achieve the ultimate which one wants. One has to settle for what one can get at the moment.
§ Mr. English
I would like to hear of a Member of the House prepared to stand up and oppose a piece of legislation which included the repeal of the Section of the 1831 Act which provides for the feeding of hackney carriage horses by the Metropolitan Police.
§ Mr. Ennals
Would not my hon. Friend think it surprising, and would not other hon. Members think it surprising, if a Bill came forward which did that and only that? Would it not be thought that the time of the House was being wasted?
§ Mr. English
That is not the point. I am merely pointing out that the Home Office has considered the whole of our obsolete laws on these matters and then, for reasons of quite legitimate pressure by a trade union on behalf of its members, has done something about certain provisions only. They could have taken all the other provisions as well, putting matters right almost by a single Clause providing that substantial parts of the 1831 Act and other 19th century legislation were repealed.
Alternatively, if the Home Office did not feel itself able to do that—one can understand that, after 130 years of effort, it may find things somewhat difficult—it could, as the hon. Member for Orpington has suggested, draft the Long Title of the Bill in such a way as to enable the Standing Committee to do it. The hon. Members for Orpington and for Merton and Morden and the rest of us here this morning have considerable knowledge of the law on this subject and could produce suitable Amendments if the scope of the Bill had been wide enough. As on the Finance Bill, we could have put down new Clauses repealing some of the antiquities of the present legislation.
This has not been done. I behoves us to ask why. This Bill has come in before the foreshadowed Transport Bill, which the taxi drivers at least believe may include something which could transfer control from the Home Office. Again I ask, why is this Bill so limited in its purpose now?
There are other things which are wrong. Not only is the Bill defective in the ways I have mentioned, but the committee set up on 26th October is supposed to deal with the whole of the reform of the law. As it is another Home Office committee, we have not much hope of anything being done, so long as the matter remains under Home Office control, but there it is nevertheless. However, this committee is allowed only to deal with these matters in London, the principle being that London is different from the provinces. I cannot understand why, and I wonder whether the Home Secretary wishes to found a London Nationalist Party, in the hope of having more success.
814 I asked the Home Office why the terms of reference of the committee were so restricted, and the reply I had was:It would, we think, be inappropriate to burden this particular Committee with the task of examining the need for revision of the provincial hackney carriage law".Not only inappropriate, but it is, in fact, unnecessary, as that has already been done by a Home Office working party. The reply went on:The circumstances of London are in many respects different from those of provincial cities and towns, and we should in effect be asking the Committee to consider two separate problems. This we do not wish to do.The statement that the provinces are different from London is unarguable. Provincial towns are smaller. They do not have traffic from London Airport and from main line railway stations, or hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In fact, there is less trade for taxis in provincial towns, not more. One would, therefore, imagine that taxi drivers in provincial towns would be subject to less restriction in order that they might make an honest living. However, if the Home Office did something about the provincial law, they would find that this was not necessarily the case.
Again, I remind the House that conditions vary between different parts of the country, and the laws of each local authority may well differ from others because many of them, as a result of earnest and progressive endeavours made locally, have swept away some of the 19th century legislation. However, in many towns in Lancashire, for example, or in the Midlands, there are strict obligations on a taxi driver as regards the distance which he is compelled to go on the meter. There are places where he is both obliged to go within the whole local authority area and eight miles beyond it and obliged to do that on the meter, only after that coming to the question of a contract fare.
If taxi drivers were obliged to cover only a reasonable area of Central London and eight miles beyond, we should never have got into the trouble which we are discussing today. I do not suggest that taxi drivers in London should have to cover the whole of the Metropolitan Police District or the Greater London Council area and eight miles beyond. But it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of the trade is within a given area.
815 The law in London is quite different. It is here that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) did not realise the wrongness and badness of the principle on which it operates, because the law in London is that if the journey is beyond the six-mile limit the taxi driver can charge the contract amount. The point is that, to a large extent, it depends just where the six miles are. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight said that for a journey of over that distance it was right and just that the taxi driver should be able to charge double fare, because he would come back empty. But he will not return empty if the six miles is in the centre of London, as it may well be.
The provincial principle is that within a defined area and for a distance outside the boundary of that area, the journey must be metered. That is a quite different principle, and a much better principle. We all agree that if someone asks a taxi driver to take him to a destination in Essex it is highly likely that the vehicle will have to return empty, and the driver will therefore want a double fare. But if one asks a taxi driver to go six miles within the central area of London, perhaps stopping at various places for the passenger's own purposes, it is hardly likely that that taxi will return empty, as it is still in the same central area. Nevertheless, if the journey is over six miles the present law says that a contract amount can be charged.
Since we have mentioned the minority of cab drivers at London Airport who misuse the existing rules, I would also wish to recognise that in such circumstances many honest taxi drivers do not charge over the metered amount for the distance they have gone, although legally they can. On the other hand, some do so. For a quite short journey in the central area of London I have been charged a completely absurd amount. On the other hand, some drivers forego the full legal charge. As in many other things, it depends on the man. The opportunity could have been taken to insert a provision of this kind in the Bill.
The other thing that I dislike about Clauses 1 and 2—and I think that I have shown that I dislike them for good reasons—is that they give complete discretion to the Home Secretary. They do 816 not say what should be the case in place of the old law, but simply that the Secretary of State can vary what was the case in a particular way. The Minister told the hon. Member for Merton and Morden that this would be done by negotiations, but the negotiations would not be only with one particular group. I have no objection to negotiations being conducted with an interested group, such as a trade union, a taxi cab owners' association, or whoever it may be, but at some stage I want to see the consumer considered.
Let us consider another peculiarity of London conditions. Another respect in which the private hire driver is said to be unfair is in using an ordinary car. The present taxi cab is said to cost £1,300. That is quite an unnecessary amount for a quite unnecessary vehicle, but this is one of the things prescribed by regulations laid down in times gone by. Things have since changed.
It is not generally known that there are two approved types of hackney carriage, only one of which is used by the overwhelming majority of owners. They do not like the other type, though it keeps out the draught better than does the vehicle in which we normally travel. The cab that is normally used is a most inconvenient vehicle. Its design makes it almost impossible for one to communicate with the driver either to give a change of direction or to guide him.
To communicate, one has to crouch on the floor. One cannot speak from the seat, because then the driver cannot hear. With one type of vehicle it is extremely difficult to see whether it is for hire, though that is quite easily seen with the type not commonly used. Why subject drivers to this limitation? We want fair competition, but not fair competition by making everyone use this atrocious vehicle.
Has the Home Office ever carried out a survey of public opinion on taxis? Has it ever sought public opinion on the simple question: "Do you prefer to travel in an ordinary saloon vehicle as distinct from a London taxi cab?" It may be that the majority of the public prefer the present vehicle, in which case I, as one of the minority, will have to suffer it, but has the Home Office ever consulted public opinion?
817 I have heard innumerable complaints about the peculiarities of the London taxi. We are told that we have the best cab service in the world, and though that may be true of the drivers it certainly does not apply to the cabs. Yet this unnecessary, unwieldy, ugly, inconvenient vehicle is foisted on the taxi owner by regulations made by the Home Secretary. Have we any guarantee that he does not use his further powers under this Bill and can use them in a similar way?
There is something very odd about the activities and inactivities of the Home Office over the past 130 years. It has not altered the law. It has thought about altering the law, but it has done nothing. It now introduces a modest alteration to the law, but does not incorporate the recommendations of its own working party except in the one respect of seeking complete permission to do what it likes after consulting, presumably, the taxi drivers.
I believe that in Committee we should look at that matter quite carefully. We ought to consider whether this is a matter, not for a Department involved in criminal justice and the like but for the Ministry of Transport, responsible for traffic, road safety, and the comfort and service of passengers. That is the proper place to deal with this sort of legislation.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Metaphorically, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has gone well beyond the six-mile limit and is now out in the wilds of Buckinghamshire somewhere beyond London Airport. I agree with many of the points he made in an interesting speech, and particularly with what he said about ancient legislation. Looking through one finds reference to only one or two Acts brought in after 1900. We have the London Hackney Carriage Act, 1831, the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act, 1869, and the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847. I shall not recite them all—there are a number of them—but I very much endorse what the hon. Member said about clearing up all this ancient legislation, and his strictures on the Home Office for its failure to take this opportunity to do so.
818 My particular complaint is about the narrowness of the drafting of the Long Title, which means that in Committee hon. Members cannot put down Amendments in the sense advocated by the hon. Member. This is an unwarrantable restriction on the rights of the House of Commons, particularly when the Home Office knows perfectly well that there are hon. Members who would have put down Amendments in this sense had they been able to do so.
I have had considerable correspondence with Home Office Ministers—as, I expect, the hon. Member has, the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), and other hon. Members—and I should like to know from the Home Office spokesman—and this is another question to be added to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West as to the motives for the introduction of this Bill at this moment—why the Department has thought it necessary to restrict the Long Title so narrowly.
My next point refers to the speech made by the hon. Member for Ilkeston. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member has had to leave the Chamber for the time being, because I must say that I thought that his attitude to London taxis was extremely complacent. He said, and I have heard him on this subject before, that if we leave everything to the Transport and General Workers' Union it will take matters up with the Home Office and will, in the end, arrive at a satisfactory solution. He was rather scathing about the Licensed Taxicab Drivers Association, which was recently formed for the very reason that the Transport and General Workers' Union, in the opinion of many taxi drivers, had not been looking after their interests properly.
I cannot say it to his face as he is not present now, but I am sure the hon. Member will read the debate afterwards. The very fact that thousands of taxi drivers have joined the L.T.D.A. is proof that the Transport and General Workers' Union is not looking after their interests adequately. This Bill, far from meeting all the points which have been raised with the Home Office by the legitimate representatives of taxi drivers, goes only a small way towards doing so and leaves many other matters uncovered.
§ Mr. Ellis
In his strictures about the Transport and General Workers' Union, of which I have the honour to be a member, would not the hon. Member agree that the difficulty is that so much legislation is going through the House of Commons? If we had a broad Bill there would be a limit to what we could do about the need for legislation. Would he agree that the trouble has been getting legislation through this House and that hon. Members associated with the Transport and General Workers' Union have done their very best—
§ Mr. Lubbock
I agree that there is difficulty in finding time for legislation, but the Home Office has introduced this Bill and put only one or two matters in it which are of concern for taxi drivers. The Home Office could have used the opportunity to remedy many other grievances which it knows there are at present. When one talks to taxi drivers one finds that complaints range over a much wider field than is covered by this Bill. I do not think the hon. Member for Ilkeston is entitled to say that the T. & G.W.U. has done everything it can for taxi drivers and to suggest that we should sit back and congratulate ourselves on a splendid piece of legislation.
My union, A.S.S.E.T., which I think would not agree with the treatment meted out to taxi drivers, would have taken far more militant action. As the Minister will know, the L.T.D.A. is not the first such organisation that has been formed. In a letter I had from the London district secretary of the cab section of the T. & G.W.U., reference is made to the number of organisations which have been formed because of the failure of this union to take action on behalf of its members. I should have been rather diffident about admitting this if I were that gentleman. I would not publicise to the world all the occasions on which taxi drivers have not been represented by the organisation and that others have had to be formed.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
The hon. Member referred to the L.T.D.A. and said that licensed taxi 820 drivers have joined it. Does he know what the actual membership is?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I can let the hon. Member know that later. I know that it runs into four figures because I have been given the number by a constituent of mine who is a member of the new organisation. Because I have not the papers with me at the moment, I will write to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Ennals
Will the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) take it from me that one of the principal reasons why the Bill is being brought forward today with the measures that it proposes going a good way to meet the needs and feelings of taximen, is largely due to pressure brought to bear recently by the Transport and General Workers' Union through the proper consultative channels?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I have no doubt at all that the Transport and General Workers' Union has done something—
§ Mr. Lubbock
I do not want to be too derogatory, but I think its efforts have resulted in a very small Bill. If its pressure had been more successful with the Home Office, we would have had something more comprehensive than there is before us at the moment. The Bill does not deal with many of the difficulties which have been drawn to my attention.
I shall not weary the House with a long catalogue, but I underline this because no one so far has said how very much inferior in position taxi drivers are compared with those operating so-called minicabs. The London taxi driver has to fulfil the following obligations and characterisations. He must be over 21 years of age, of good character. He has to prove that to the Public Carriage Office, showing discharge papers and that kind of document if he has any. He has to give two character references. He has to have a medical examination when he applies to be registered as a taxi driver, another at the age of 55, another at 60 and another at 65. If he continues to drive thereafter, he has to have an annual medical examination.
He has to pass a knowledge of London examination. I think the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) said 821 that this took 15 months, but I understand at it never takes less than 18 months, and sometimes longer than two years. Many applicants do not manage to pass. He has to pass an examination on knowledge of suburban London as well as the centre, and he has to pass a public carriage driving test. It has been known for a candidate to go through all the other tests but then to fail in the last. He has to have a badge which he wears constantly while he is at work, and he is a subject to a fine of £10 if he does not do so.
I could go through a long list, but I will not weary the House because I am sure that at any rate the Minister knows the enormous list of qualifications which a man Las to have to enter the taxi driving trade. Compared with that, a person who drives a so-called minicab has to pass no examination at all. He may be an epileptic or a criminal. He might have been convicted of a dangerous driving offence. There is nothing to stop a man who was so convicted setting himself up as a minicab driver and taking passengers on journeys in London.
I wrote to the right hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) when she was Minister of State at the Home Office and pointed out all the differences to which I have referred. She explained the reason for the differences between licensed taxi drivers and those who drive these other vehicles. It was a most extraordinary explanation. She said that in the case of private hire operators and drivers of so-called minicabs the member of the public can ring up and order a car from a known firm and make whatever inquiries he chooses about the status of the firm, the qualifications of its drivers and the competence and reliability of the whole concern.
Is anyone who hires a minicab to say on the telephone, "Please do not send me a criminal. Make sure that he has had a medical examination in the last five years", and so on? This is carrying the doctrine of caveat emptor to a ridiculous extreme. If anyone sees a firm advertising private hire or a minicab serservice and telephones for a car he is entitled to assume that the driver is not a criminal, an epileptic, or suffering from a heart condition and that he will drive in a reasonable manner. There is no way in which he could check this, even if 822 he asked the question on the telephone, because the firm would be bound to say, "We employ only reputable people of good character". There is, therefore, no reason for the difference in treatment which we know exists between licensed taxi drivers and the operators of minicabs.
I should have thought that it was time that we dealt with this matter and that we did not need to wait for another inquiry to be set up, as the Home Office has done. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West mentioned that there was an exhaustive inquiry in 1949, the results of which are in the pigeon holes of the Home Office and which have not been acted on. I thought that it was not necessary to set un a new committee, although I was prepared to go along with this proposal since there appeared to be some evidence of a desire on the part of the Home Office to reach a solution.
However, I am very disturbed about the speed, or lack of speed, with which the Committee has begun to operate. The hon. Member for Merton and Morden pointed out that the announcement was made on 9th June and that the words "at once" were used by the Minister of State in the House when she spoke of the inquiry. Yet, when I made inquiries at the end of October, I was told that the members of the Committee had not been appointed, and it was not until 26th October that their names were announced to the House. No information could be given to me on that occasion about when the Committee would meet and how it would take evidence. It is only because of this debate today that the Minister took steps to ensure that the Committee began to meet so that he would be able to announce in answer to an intervention that there would be a meeting on Monday. If it had not been for today's debate, I doubt whether that would have happened.
§ Mr. Ennals
It was the Government who decided that there should be a debate this morning by introducing the Bill. The debate has not been initiated by a Motion of criticism or censure. Since the hon. Gentleman has pointed out that the Committee was announced in the House only on 26th October, I should have thought that the fact that it is meeting 823 so soon would be something which he would welcome rather than criticise.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I do not call that very fast. If the Committee was set up on 26th October, I should have thought that it would not take it until next Monday to hold its first meeting. If it was possible to make the announcement on 9th June, surely that was not the first time that the Home Office thought about the inquiry. Why could not the Department have invited the members of the Committee to serve at that time and announce their names to the House instead of saying afterwards in correspondence to me and no doubt to other hon. Members who made inquiries about the progress in this matter that it was important to ensure that the right people served on the Committee so that it could do its work properly and thoroughly? It is amazing that the Home Office Ministers were not able to tell the House on 9th June that they had invited the members to serve and that they had consented to do so.
There is some lack of appreciation in the Home Office about the urgency of the problem. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, West said, it has been in existence for 130 years, whereas in other Departments, such as the Ministry of Transport, action has been taken to deal with related matters and local authorities have introduced private Bills in the House and yet we are still plodding our weary way along and nothing happens. The inquiry of 1949 was not the first; there was one before the war. Therefore, the Home Office cannot possibly say that this is a new problem.
There is still great disquiet among taxi drivers to which my attention has been drawn by many of them who are constituents and who feel that this Committee may be another method of procrastination by the Home Office to avoid introducing proper legislation, as so frequently happens with committees of this kind. I hope that the Minister will tell us today that the Committee is meeting regularly and that we shall have a guarantee from the Government that its report, when produced, will not be shoved into the pigeon holes, like the report of the 1949 Committee, but that legislation on its recommendations will 824 be introduced as soon thereafter as possible.
I turn now to the Bill. It is difficult to know what to say because of the limitations of the Long Title; and the fact that one will not be able to deal in Committee with many grievances I find rather inhibiting. I cannot see much point in referring to them in a Second Reading speech if I am not thereafter to be able to table Amendments. Clause 1 concerns London Airport. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that whatever is done by the Secretary of State must be done after consultation. I should have thought that that could be written into the Bill. Even if it is the Minister's intention to have consultations—I expect that he will say that when he winds up—it would be reassuring to taxi drivers to see that point explicitly in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) made an extremely good point when he referred to the introduction of decimal currency in February 1971. Whatever solution is found to the problem of meters and the possible differences in rate beyond the six-mile limit should take into account the fact that our currency will be completely changed in February 1971. It will obviously be extremely wasteful if two changes occur more or less one after the other. However quickly the Government act—and I would endorse everything which the hon. Member for Merton and Morden said on this point—it is likely that if they introduce interim changes the introduction of decimal currency will mean a further change in a few years.
It occurred to me as the hon. Gentleman was speaking that since there will be 6d. differences between one fare and the next and 6d. is not an amount which can be changed into decimal currency, an alteration not only in the amount shown on the meter but in the mechanism itself will be necessary before February, 1971. That is a complicating factor which I am sure the Minister would like to take into account.
On the question of the length of obligatory journeys, I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight when he said that he was worried that the power was left entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State and that it might be used 825 arbitrarily in future in a way which was injurious to the interests of the drivers. I should like some clarification of the Secretary of State's intention in connection with Clause 2.
Clause 3 deals with the relaxation of restrictions on the parking of cabs. I made the point which I wished to raise in an intervention. The Minister said that he was not sure whether this Clause would deal with taxis which have to stop temporarily, perhaps for a few minutes, on yellow lines for reasons which are in the interests of the passengers. The driver may want to help an old lady out of the taxi and into a house or assist a shopper in carrying parcels to the taxi, and he might have to leave the taxi unattended for a while. If Clause 3 does not already cater for this situation, I should like to see it expanded to do so.
I am not happy about Clause 4, because I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. As I pointed out to the Minister, if his view is that the display of neon signs on a so-called mini-cab is an invitation to the public to hire it, it applies to any neon sign. I should like to see all of the Clause after subsection (1) struck out and am, words displayed on a neon sign prohibited by the Bill. I cannot believe that the minicab proprietors will not get round this provision by finding an alternative form of words slightly different from those specified in the Bill but which will be perfectly legal unless we do as I suggest. As I read Clause 4, the word "tax"—"taxi" without the "i" on it—would be permissible. I dare say that all the minicab firms which use the word "taxi" in their advertising and in the signs which they display on the vehicle will cross out the "i," which will get round the Clause.
As to the illegal plying for hire which we know takes place, I find it disturbing that no action is taken under the existing law. Ideally, one would like to have a proper definition of "plying for hire", because this matter seems to be in doubt. I have pointed out to the Home Secretary that a definition was given by the Lord Chief Justice in the case of Rose v. Welbeck Motors. I have been waiting since 9th October for an answer to that letter and also to my query about why, in a case in which an offence was alleged to have been committed in circumstances similar to those in the Rose case, the 826 police refused to take action. It would have been useful—again I come back to the question of the Long Title—had it been possible to put down an Amendment to the Bill to define what is meant by "plying for hire".
I conclude by asking the House to imagine what London would be like without our taxi service. As the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight said, we have the best taxi service of any capital city in the world, but unless we take action in the near future we will be in danger of losing it. The taxi trade is not flourishing. Many people in the trade are either going out of business or are thinking of doing so because it is not remunerative and they are suffering from the effects of the unfair competition to which all hon. Members who have spoken have referred.
I hope that the inquiry which has been set up will proceed rapidly with its work—although I am not satisfied with the rate of progress so far—and that at the end of the debate the Under-Secretary will guarantee that when the report of the inquiry is received, the Government will introduce legislation soon thereafter.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I wish to refer to some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) concerning the Bill, as well as to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), who is well able to look after himself. When considering the previous legislation on this subject, it may well be felt that the Home Office could have done a rather bigger job, introduced more sweeping reforms and dealt with the subject more comprehensively.
The need for legislation has been brought to the fore because of the situation which arose after the war when mini-cabs invaded the London streets and competed on unfair terms. References have been made also to London Airport, and I have no doubt that there is cause for anxiety. Issues of that kind have made the Home Office bring forward this legislation because, over the years, these questions have caused great concern and alarm and have forced themselves on the attention of right hon. and hon. Members.
827 There is no doubt that, far from being complacent, we would like to have seen a Bill of wider scope. I feel, however, that it will be possible to make something of the Bill and I hope that in Committee we can further strengthen it. Nevertheless, it goes a significant way to deal with the major evil of the minicab.
I thought that there was a tendency for my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West and the hon. Member for Orpington to be so condemning in their attitude that they were in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I hope that in Committee we will have the benefit of their advice, because I believe that we can do something within the scope of the Bill to improve the lot of our cab drivers.
Some of us on this side of the House who have associations with the Transport and General Workers' Union have been giving detailed attention to the Bill. The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) referred to the Companies Act and the part that it can play. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will direct his attention to what has been said and give us some answers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) referred to the fact that certain advertisements and signs were not covered by Clause 4 of the Bill, which prohibits the display of certain signs or notices on private hire cars, and pointed out that it will still be possible to advertise in directories and other publications. Section 46 of the Companies Act, 1967, contains the provision thatIf, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, the name by which a company is registered gives so misleading an indication of the nature of its activities as to be likely to cause harm to the public, they may direct it to change its name.Apart from the Bill, that legislation is already on the Statute Book. In Committee, when hon. Members wish to enlarge the scope of the Bill, they will need to know how it is proposed to interpret Section 46 of the Companies Act. I would welcome any comments that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can make about this.
The Companies Act refers to activities which are of such a natureas to be likely to cause harm to the public".828 There is a danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston has said, that the public will suffer if we allow the present situation to continue. It is, therefore, important that the provisions of the Companies Act should be applied as soon as possible and that we should be given expert advice and interpretation in this matter so that in Committee we will know how the existing legislation fits in with the Bill.
I wish to refer to what has been the rôle of the Transport and General Workers' Union in this matter. The hon. Member for Orpington used words to the effect that the union had not pressed hard enough and that it was its own fault if rival organisations had sprung up. I regard those remarks as unfair. We all know what happens when evils or difficulties occur in a comparatively small sector. The House of Commons is concerned with legislation for the country as a whole and, obviously, the Government have their priorities. The result is that Bills such as the one which is before us today, although they are important to a certain number of people, are not accorded the highest priority.
We are discussing this Bill on a Friday. Our usual dilemma is that a Bill which attempts to do too much is regarded as being unsuitable for a Friday, when we usually discuss Private Members' Bills, which have to take their place among the more important Bills and things which take most of our time for consideration.
This is the dilemma, and when I heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington say that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston was complacent, I really thought that this was unfair, because over a long period of time we have, and none more so than my hon. Friend, devoted a great deal of time to this legislation. As for organisations which spring up, naturally when there is an injustice like this people are impatient. They want to get things done. This sort of thing happens in political parties, it happens in trade unions, it happens in employers' organisations. No matter the amount of hard work going on, and it may be that hon. Members see a Minister every day about a matter, none of this is known outside, and people outside get impatient, and worries and troubles spring up. We should make it 829 quite clear this morning that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston has played a very significant part in this legislation, as have other hon. Members, not always in the Chamber, but upstairs and in many parts of the building.
§ Mr. Lubbock
No doubt the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) and others have been prepared to do a considerable amount of hard work on this problem, but I do not think they have achieved very satisfactory results.
§ Mr. Ellis
I did not take that to be the gist of the hon. Member's remarks earlier. I think that when he reads what he said he will see that they could give the impression which I had, but if the hon. Members say what he was saying is what he has just said, I accept his assurance.
Nevertheless, it is true that a great deal of work has been done and we are now able to put something useful on the Statute Book. It will not be the be all and the end all; there is more work to be done. We accept that, but we believe that this will be a very useful Measure to clear up some of the anomalies in this situation in which many of our colleagues are being asked to compete on unfair terms.
I hope we shall have a good Committee on the Bill and I hope we shall be able to strengthen it where it needs strengthening, and I hope that at the end of the day we shall have a Bill which will be worth while to the many taxi cab drivers to whom tribute has been paid today.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I intervene only for a short time, and I do so because I am concerned about what I think is the most important part of the Bill. It has been rather interesting but a little irrelevant to hear whether the Transport and General Workers' Union has done more to produce the Bill than some other unofficial organisation.
I particularly want to refer to Clause 4 and to the general public. In the various statements made during this debate, which one hon. Member—I think the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher)—said was quite un- 830 necessary after the first two speeches, there has been no reference at all to the public. I would be grateful if the Minister would be kind enough to let us know what is the number of the taxi cabs authorised, and the method adopted to have them authorised, because I do not believe that putting "For hire" or "taxi" or "cab" or anything of that sort on a vehicle will in any sense limit the use, by trying to define it in such a way as to ensure that the minicab and the private hire cars do not unfairly compete.
My experience very often when I seek to get a taxi cab is that I am informed that the taxi rank has no cab available, but that a minicab can be had. Before the Bill is passed, and the committee reports, we ought to know exactly how and on what basis these cabs are licensed, because the ordinary law of supply and demand is the only way in which this minicab position can be adequately and properly dealt with. No amount of verbiage or absence of verbiage on vehicles will deal with that.
Leaving aside the question of London Airport, my experience, coming as I do quite a lot to the various stations, is that, with the exception of certain times, there is a quite inadequate supply of taxis. At almost any of the big terminals there is a queue with no vehicles available. I do not know whether that is right or wrong, but it is a matter which is of great importance when we are considering restrictive legislation over the private hire cars, because as long as they fill what is a demand by the public then it is almost impossible to prevent their being used, and used almost in contravention of any legislation.
I would be grateful if the Minister would be kind enough to say on what basis the licensing of taxi cabs is, the way in which they are licensed, and will tell us the numbers which are available in the Greater London area. Without consideration of that, all the various forms of words on taxi cabs will be valueless.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
A number of references have been made to rather serious omissions in legislation on this aspect of the London taxi trade. 831 Frankly, I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by simply dwelling on them. I thing that it is as well today at least to welcome the beginning of a move in this direction. It is a modest beginning, but, nevertheless, we welcome it.
I must say that I was a little surprised that the Bill was published so very soon after the setting up of the committee of inquiry. Nevertheless, if the Home Office is prepared to do something in advance it is to be welcomed. At the same time, I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will not take this little Bill as a reason or an excuse for not introducing much wider legislation, which is certainly needed in this sphere in the trade, and this, I should say, is one of the fears, which are probably shared by many taxicab drivers in the London area.
To me, reading the Bill, it appears that the Secretary of State was induced to introduce it mainly by the complaints which have been coming in for some long time, and complaints which are rightly founded, of the overcharging on journeys over the six-mile limit, particularly on the journeys to and from London Airport. That is what the Bill is about, mainly. Other than dealing with this problem, the Secretary of State has thrown in one or two sweeteners, which I will come to in a moment.
The position about the traffic between the centre of London and London Airport can be overstated. There are rogues among taxi drivers, just as there are in every section of the community, though I hope that there is none in the House. However, the rogue taxi driver is greatly resented by the trade, which realises the damage which is being done. I heard the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) pay tribute to the London cabby, but, if a certain part of his speech is taken out of context, it may do a great deal of harm.
The hon. Member referred to the hundred cabbies who hang about London Airport waiting to pounce on unsuspecting foreigners flying into this country. He painted them as so many birds of prey—rather strange birds in that they are gifted in the game of gin rummy. There they are, waiting to do immeasur- 832 able harm to the foreigner's first impression of this country.
It is true that most of the traffic between London Airport and the centre of London consists of people coming from abroad. But the position must be kept in perspective. The American or other foreigner who comes in finds it difficult to distinguish between a legitimate taxicab and a minicab, which I submit is making far more out of this trade in the London area than the licensed cab.
Some time ago, I received a letter from a constituent of mine who is a taxi driver. Among the many cases which he cites, he says:I was setting down at the Hilton Hotel when a car"—he describes it as a private minicab and gives the number—pulled in and set down a foreign lady and gentleman, charging them £4 from London Airport. When I remarked to the doorman what I had seen, his comment was that it is happening all the time.I do not doubt that for a moment, so it would be fairer to keep the situation in perspective and not put the blame entirely on one section of the trade.
Turning to the Bill, Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State wide powers to prescribe fares over and above the six mile obligatory journey. There can be no complaint about that, but, as the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) said, the success or otherwise of the Home Secretary's action will depend on consultation with all sections of the trade, proprietors, owner-drivers and journeymen. A member of the third category will suffer a great diminution in his earnings if a very careful estimation of any revised fare is undertaken. In this matter, I welcome the assurance of the Minister that this consultation will take place.
That brings me to Clause 2, which depends very much on the Secretary of State's success or otherwise with Clause 1. Unless a cab driver is satisfied that he will have a fair remuneration in any revision, it is possible that he will make things rather difficult. The Minister should not underestimate the ingenuity of the London cabby.
Again, there can be no complaint about Clause 3, because it is something which the cab trade has wanted for a 833 long time. This has been achieved, and I am s ire that it will be welcomed.
We have heard a lot about Clause 4, with much of which I agree. This addition to the Bill will not make a lot of difference to the legitimate taxicab trade and the so-called minicab operators. I only hope that during Clause 4 will be extended in Committee to cover almost every eventuality. After all, a car does not have to bear any wording to indicate that it is plying for hire. I have seen cars hearing telephone numbers or illuminated coloured perspex domes which people seem to recognise as an indication that the vehicles are for hire. I agree that these are Committee points, and I hope that they will be dealt with there.
It is obvious from the recent lobbying that there is a great deal of discontent among London cabbies. Many are leaving the trade, and they are not leaving because they are making a fat living out of it. I hope that there will be a comprehensive and rapid review of all sections of the trade and that, following it, within the lifetime of this Parliament, extensive legislation will be introduced to deal with all aspects of it.
§ 1.27 p.m.
Sir Douglas Clover (Ormskirk)
I feel rather like the man standing outside a theatre with other people walking up the road and getting in front of him in the queue for taxis. I nearly went out of the House some time ago and got a private hire car. That is half the problem that we are dealing with today.
I want to make four brief points. To begin with, I do not understand the speeches which we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that this has to be a simple little Bill because it is what is known as a Friday morning Bill. If that is the case, why was it not agreed to take the Second Reading on the nod and send it to a Second Reading Committee? There is no reason why a Bill has to be a simple little Measure because it is taken on a Friday morning or deals with a subject which basically is non-controversial.
I want to refer again to the situation at London Airport, but not only to draw attention to what has been said by nearly every hon. Member about excess 834 charges by a group of cabbies at London Airport. I agree that the practice must give the nation a bad reputation, although cab owners at a lot of international airports are not exactly souls of discretion about what they charge a weary passenger getting off a plane.
What I find very disturbing, however, is something which I do not suppose many of us encounter, because not all that number of hon. Members stay at airport hotels just outside the airport. I have discovered that unless one is about as big as I am no porter will take one's luggage across to a taxi to drive you to one of the nearby hotels, because they will have his life for it if he does. One can understand why. The chap is at the head of the queue, I put my case into his vehicle, he drives me to my hotel, gets his half-crown, and he is now at the back of the queue. If he stays at the head of the queue he gets an opportunity of a £3 15s. journey into the West End of London. Therefore, there is enormous temptation for these chaps to refuse small local journeys. The hon. Gentleman might get his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to look into this. There should be unexpected checks carried out and one or two people lose their licences, because that is the only salutary way to bring some discipline back.
My next point concerns hire cars. Hire cars have not grown up by accident. I am a great friend of the cabbies of London. For 40 years I have used taxis excessively—perhaps I should have walked more—and spent a lot of money on them. However, I have found that on many occasions I just cannot get a taxi. I live in Westminster. After midnight, if I ring up the taxi services, I am invariably informed, after waiting about five minutes, "We are very sorry, but there is no taxi available in your region." So I then ring up for a private hire car and I have one round within five minutes.
Why do the taxis not come? Because after midnight the whole of Westminster is like a desert—it is empty. Why should a cabby want to come to Westminster for one solitary fare, when, if he is up in the West End, he is picking up fares all the time. But the private hire car will come out and pick up people in these isolated areas. The result is that increasingly one is inclined to ring up 835 private hire firms before ringing up the taxi firms, because of the better service.
If one wants to be certain of catching a train the chance of getting a taxi off a rank is so uncertain that one usually finishes up by leaving one's case at the door of one's flat, taking the risk that someone does not steal it, and going round the streets trying to find one. After doing that on several occasions, knowing that there is a private hire firm nearby, one rings up and they have a car there invariably within five minutes. If the taxi ranks are empty for hours in the day, as many of them are, it is inevitable that these private hire cars are filling a public need, and it is the duty of the Home Secretary to ensure that that need is met.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), and I am sorry that he was not here when I paid tribute to the London cabbies. But if the London cabbies, through no fault of their own, are unable to give the service that the public needs, inevitably there have to be a lot of private car-hire services doing the same job.
I do not want to detain the House for more than a few moments. I am not an expert, and I would not like what I am about to say to be taken as any more than a suggestion, but the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) read out all the conditions that a licensed cabby and his vehicle have to meet. It seems to me that a vehicle that plies for hire, with the indication that it is plying for hire, that is, by putting on "taxi" and so on, should carry out the conditions and obligations laid down in the Hackney Carriage Act, but that there is no reason why a firm should not advertise in the Press its telephone number and the fact that it is running a private hire car service. It does not mean that the firm can go touting in the streets; it has to do its business on the telephone or by pre-arrangement. If a firm wants to ply for hire, let it do so, but its vehicles should have to comply with the same conditions as taxis, and, if they do, jolly good luck. If they do not, then they can only operate as private hire cars which cannot be booked on the street.
836 If someone wants to catch a train and be quite certain of having a car at the door at a given time and can only be certain of that by doing it through a private hire firm and not from a taxi rank, the private hire firm is doing a good job. Equally, if someone wants a car late at night in an area which is not profitable to the taxis and the private hire firms think it is worth while and can provide the service, then that also is a good thing.
We should give those who are roving on the streets the condition that they have to carry out certain rules and regulations and, if they do not, that they can only ply for hire over the telephone. If the hon. Gentleman would look at it in that way he would not go far wrong.
I do not want to detain the House. I hope that nothing regrettable will be done about the London cabby, because he has been a great friend to a lot of people for a very long time.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
I am glad that as a London Member I have been given the opportunity to make a comment on a Bill that describes itself as the London Cab Bill. In saying that I intend no disrespect to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mr. Ennals), Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), Nottingham, West (Mr. English), Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), and Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw), who have already made valuable contributions.
As a London Member I view the Bill with mingled feelings of approval and disappointment. Approval certainly, because I welcome everything that is set down in the Bill. It is quite a short one but, so far as it goes, I welcome it. However, I could not avoid some feeling of regret that so much had been left out. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I feel that there is a great deal that could, with advantage, have been included in the Bill. I also noticed the cunning way in which the long title has been drafted so that in Committee it will not be practicable to introduce the measures to which they referred and which I agree are desirable.
With respect, in their absence, I think it important not to make exaggerated 837 statements about the perfectly genuine grievances that are felt. For example, the hon. Member for Orpington referred to thou sands of taxi drivers leaving the Transport and General Workers' Union and joining the L.T.D.A., but, when he was courteous enough to give way, and allow me to put a question, it emerged that he did not know what the number was, though he thought that it was about 1,000. As I say, it is important not to exaggerate these things.
I do not want to comment too deeply on what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West said, as he is not here, but I venture to say that I do not find the London-type taxi cab to be an inconvenient vehicle. The hon. Gentleman is of a more slender build than myself, and that may be significant, but I find the London-type taxi to be one of the few vehicles into which I can get with comfort, and this is a great thing to me. It seems quite a sensibly designed vehicle.
There are two categories of grievance, if I may so describe them, that might have been in this Bill. The first, on which I do not want to dwell in too much detail, is the question of the old-fashioned laws which still apply to London-type taxicabs, and which we are bringing up to date in the Bill to only a limited degree. I do not understand why more has not been done, because the facts have been before the Home Office for a long time. What reason can there be for not doing more to repeal, or to bring up to date, some of the distinctly old-fashioned regulations which for many years have governed the operation of taxis in the London area?
The second aspect is the clash which, in recent years, has developed between the taxicabs and the private hire car operators. I agree very much with the remarks of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who said that he saw no reason why he should not ring up a private car hire firm if he finds this more convenient than trying to get a taxi. I, too, see no reason why he should not do so provided that reasonably similar conditions apply to both.
The London taxi driver has to undergo very careful examination and detailed testing before he can drive, but the private hire car operator does not. The 838 London-type taxi has to be regularly and carefully inspected, whereas a private hire car does not. The fares which a London-type taxi may charge are carefully regulated, but this is not so for the private hire car. There are innumerable regulations, some of which I think could be swept aside, but some of which are reasonable which apply to the London-type taxi, but not to the private hire car. This is unfair competition. Provided that they are operating on equal terms, there is no reason why the hon. Member for Ormskirk should not ring up a private hire car firm if he finds it more convenient.
The inequality, the unfair competition, is not being rectified to any significant extent in the Bill. It is being done only to a partial extent, and I am forced to wonder why. After all, as other hon. Members have said, on 9th June this year it was announced that a committee was to be appointed to go into this question. We now learn that it is not to have its first meeting until next Monday. I consider this to be rather leisurely progress on a subject which is causing taxi drivers a great deal of anxiety and concern. It seems unfortunate that quicker progress has not been made on this admittedly thorny subject so that the Bill could include more proposals to deal with these problems.
I wonder why, in particular, the Bill has been brought in now. I can understand that there has been pressure from the T. & G.W.U. representatives on the consultative committee. I am delighted to hear this, but the result of their pressure does not appear very manifest in the Bill. I say this, not to suggest that pressure has been absent, or weak, or feeble, but rather that there must have been some resistance to it. Why has just this little Bill been brought forward now?
We are told that there is constant pressure on the legislative programme, and that it is not easy to find a place for any particular Measure. I am forced to wonder when the next opportunity will arise for us to deal with a Bill about London taxis, which will include some of the subjects to which I have been referring, not only the old-fashioned laws, but the conflict between taxis and the private hire cars. It is desirable 839 that we should deal with these problems, but when will the next opportunity arise to do so?
We have an opportunity to tackle these problems now, and it is regrettable that this is only a half-Measure. I can only hope that a further opportunity will arise, because, owing to the drafting of the Long Title, that opportunity is not with us now. I hope that the Committee to which reference has been made will put forward some proposals to deal with these problems.
In considering further proposals on this subject, the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) suggested, rightly I believe, that the Home Secretary should consult his colleague the Postmaster-General about the advertisements which appear in telephone directories. I agree with that, and venture to suggest a further consultation. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should consult the Lord President of the Council, because in the Palace of Westminster, in fact in the middle sentry-box in New Palace Yard, there are advertisements for minicabs. This was the subject of a Question which I asked, but I got no change out of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should consider whether this type of advertisement is desirable.
I submit that that may be one reason why the hon. Member for Ormskirk sometimes finds difficulty in obtaining a taxi. As I know very well, taxi drivers resent coming into New Palace Yard to pick up hon. Members when they know that we are displaying, and consenting to, an advertisement inviting us to ring up a private car hire firm, a firm which competes with them, but not, as I have tried to show, on equal terms. It is not surprising that taxi drivers feel resentful about this, and, as I said, it may be one reason why the hon. Member for Ormskirk finds it more convenient to approach a private hire car firm. There is, of course, no reason why he should not do so, provided that the same conditions are applied to each organisation. How nice it would have been if the Bill could have done something more than it is doing to bring about that equality.
840 I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill so far as it goes, but I regret that it does not go further.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The Bill is a timid and miserable Measure. Nevertheless, it shows some animation in the recesses of the Home Office. Looking up the records, I find that on 13th April last I asked what action was being taken to protect London taxi cab drivers from unfair competition by minicabs, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Home Department replied:Possible amendments of the law to restrict opportunities for illegal plying for hire … are being considered …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1967; Vol. 744 c. 222.]Having asked the Question on 13th April last, it is a delightful surprise to discover that as quickly as today the Government have redeemed their promise; that within a few months the pledge has been kept, and legislation has been introduced.
On analysis the inadequacy of the Bill becomes manifest, because Clauses 1 and 2 give the Minister permissive powers. We do not yet know how these powers will be exercised. All we know is that an assurance has been given—and in this respect I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—that there will be consultations with the parties affected by Clauses 1 and 2.
As to Clause 3, I do not think anyone could possibly object to the abolition of the restrictions on the parking of cabs. This is a step that could and should have been taken years ago. It strikes the average member of the public as being very odd that it should take so long to bring about any improvement in the law relating to taxi cabs in London. Despite all the handicaps, we have the best taxi cab service of any capital city in the world, much better than New York, for example. When I was there recently it was my misfortune to hire a cab, the driver of which was not able to take me to the United Nations building. That takes a little bit of doing. Another taxi driver did not know where a certain number in Madison Avenue was and suggested that I should get out of his cab and into another, the driver of which might have a little better knowledge of the geography of New York. How the taxi cab drivers of London maintain their cheerfulness 841 despite all the difficulties to which they are subjected is really beyond me.
If the only concrete purpose of this Bill is an attempt to deal with unlicensed vehicles, then I must say to my hon. Friend that the part of the Bill dealing with this is most inadequate, because I do not see how it will impede the operation of these unlicensed cars. I have a suggestion to make. If Clause 4 goes through in its present form there will be endless opportunities for evasion, and there will be long drawn-out legal arguments in the courts which will serve no useful purpose. Only last night I saw what was obviously a minicab deposit some passengers, no doubt legally acquired, or possibly legally acquired, at a certain address in the West End. The car remained stationary for a minute or two, then a couple walked up to it and hired it on the spot. How did they know that it was a minicab?
There was no sign saying "hire" or "for hire" or anything containing these wordswhether alone or as part of another wordto quote the words in the Clause. All that distinguished this car from other private cars was the fact that the telephone number was placed on the top of the car and lit up. In every other respect it was exactly like an ordinary private car. Under the terms of the Bill it will be quite legal for a car equipped in that way, showing the number on the top, to carry out operations in London. It is very easy, just by showing an illumination of some kind on the top of the private car, to indicate that the car is for hire. Even if there is no telephone number on the sign it is still easy.
I would suggest that if my hon. Friend really wants to nip the illegal plying for hire on the part of private cars in the bud, the simplest way is to ban the display of any sign or notice whatever on that car. There is no reason to limit the ban just to the word "hire" or anything like that. Any private car which has a light on top, apart from a police car which has a blue light, should be suspected as being a private car plying for hire. I hope that in Committee it will be possible to simplify that part of the Bill because it will be very much easier to operate by the police if one does not have all these subtle termino- 842 logical distinctions and provisions in Clause 4(1,a) and (b).
We must be thankful for small mercies. We hope that this may be the precursor of better things to come. Heaven knows how long it will take for the Committee, which is to meet on Monday, to produce its report. Much of the work has already been done for it so it should not take long to produce really sweeping recommendations. In any event, I hope that it will not take another four or five years before producing some kind of report which will enable effective legislation to be put on the Statute Book, solving once and for all, in a permanent fashion, the problems of the taxi-cab trade in London. With this qualified approval, I welcome the Bill. It would be much improved if my hon. Friend accepts the suggestion that I have made about the banning of signs on private cars.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I have many hundreds of taxicab drivers in my constituency. I have heard London taxicab drivers described as being the best in the world, or the best of any city, and I suppose that I had better not emphasise the point otherwise it might be thought that I am making an electioneering point, but they do deserve tremendous credit for the work they do. For a long period I have had occasion to make representations on behalf of taxicab drivers in my constituency because they felt a real sense of grievance. They have felt that the competition that they have sustained with the mini cab was quite unfair and unjust. My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has outlined some of the difficulties.
Undoubtedly when one has the taxicab industry running taxicabs under very stern regulations, subject to very stiff examinations before they are allowed to go on the roads, it is not right that other firms should be allowed to run these mini cabs in very unfair competition. My hon. Friend suggested that Clause 4 might be tightened up. I welcome the Clause as being a real step forward in trying to remedy the grievances of taxicab drivers. No doubt it will be looked at in Committee to see if it can be tightened up.
843 I am a little afraid of what my hon. Friend said about the possibility that it might invite considerable discussion and, perhaps, a number of cases in the courts. I hope that he is not trying to prevent hard-working members of the Bar from earning a living in this direction. I do take the point, and the Clause might be looked at very carefully to see if it can be tightened up. Certainly, any indication on any vehicle by lighting or otherwise to suggest that it is a cab for hire is something that will still render competition unfair for taxicab drivers.
I am very pleased to see that the Home Office has so expeditiously honoured the promise made by Labour to look at these grievances of taxicab drivers and to try to remedy the matter in the way set out in Clause 4. I hope that it will be tightened up in Committee, but I give a general welcome to the Bill.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. O. J. Robinson (Walthamstow, East)
I had not intended to intervene, first because, having listened only to the opening speeches and one or two others, I thought that all that could be said on the Bill had been said, but I have been provoked by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) who, I am sorry to see, has had to leave, particularly about the display of an advertisement in the Palace of Westminster yard. The venom with which he attacked it made me think that it was an advertisement of a very different nature.
That advertisement clearly illustrates the need for the Bill. I would like to recount my own experience in hiring a car on one of those nights that Parliament decides that normal means of transport should not be available to Members. I live and my constituency is outside the boundary within which taxi-cab drivers are willing or compelled to go and, therefore, when I need a car to go home I must, first, summon a taxi. Then I have to ingratiate myself with the driver to persuade him that it might not be a great hardship to go slightly beyond the six-mile limit. If after some humming and hawing, he condescends to take me, we then have to wrangle over the price to be paid for the privilege. I am not a bargainer, but 844 on one occasion when I thought that the demand was so exorbitant even I had to say no.
I was very grateful then that there was available the telephone number of a private hire car service which I could use and I felt no shame in using it, since it enabled me to go home comfortably, speedily and for a reasonable fare. I am not criticising the trade. I know the difficulties of an unremunerative return journey, but a more reasonable attitude from that cabby would have resulted in benefit to us both, but not the exorbitant one which would have resulted had I agreed to his proposal.
The Bill will make my task much lighter and let me look with even greater pleasure on having to be in the House so late at night that I must go home by private car. It will enable the Secretary of State to direct that the outlying district in which I live shall be within the London area. The fact that it has been in London for many years and in the Metropolitan Police District for as long as I can remember seems to have had no impact on the cab trade. This will enable my area, which is a London area, to be one in which I can boldly approach a taxi driver and say, courteously but firmly, "Wanstead, please". He will have to say, "Certainly, sir". He may slam the door a little harder than usual, but he will do it, and I will at least not have to bargain with him over the fare.
The only doubt which will then remain will be over the amount of the tip and I freely confess that I am putty in the hands of a taxi driver in that respect. I have never yet been able to summon up the courage to give what I would regard as a reasonable tip, but which he would look at disdainfully. Therefore, these two problems will be solved, leaving only that unpleasant task, which might be solved as it was in another place upstairs.
Very little comment can be made on Clause 3. The relaxation of the restrictions on parking are right. A taxi driver, like any other driver, should be able to park his vehicle and leave it freely, if he can find a space, to go for a meal or any other, purpose. I have some regret about the Clause, because it may lead to the passing of a custom which has so long been a feature of the London scene—a taxicab flag covered with a 845 glove. If it means that this and other antics of the trade, like the wearing of numerous waistcoats by drivers, which I believe is going out, are to pass, I shall regret it, even if it is for a necessary cause.
I think that everyone accepts that Clause 4 is necessary to distinguish clearly between the taxicab and the private car hire service. People who are restricted and guarded by all kinds of regulations should not face the prospect of other people taking advantage of those restrictions by not conforming. A private car hire service should have the greatest possible standards of safety and should not lag behind the trade in any way. People should be aware that, when they enter a cab, they have the guarantee of Regulations laid down by law and can rely on a safe and speedy journey.
I do not suggest that this is not necessarily applicable to the private service, but the indiscriminate use of words and phrases like "taxi" and "for hire" should not be allowed. I welcome this provision.
Other hon. Members have expressed their disappointment with the various omissions from the Bill and I would add a similar plea. We are discussing in this Clause a display of private hire car notices, neon signs, and so forth. I plead that, at some time when the Bill has been considered, we should decide to remove advertisements from taxicabs. Hitherto, I have been delighted at being able to enter a cab and sink back in comparative luxury and leisure without having my attention distracted by advertisements. The Bill now seems determined to have advertisements on every occasion, at every minute of the day and in every place. I plead for the solitude of the interior of a taxicab, which has, I am told, a number of useful purposes.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Gentleman needs the leave of the House to speak again.
§ Mr. Ennals
With the leave of the House, I would like to reply to this extremely constructive debate.
846 It is satisfactory that so many hon. Members have spoken, showing something of the interest in and the importance of the Bill. I welcome the very constructive speech by the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins), which encourages us to think that we shall have a fairly easy Committee stage, though we shall, of course, look seriously at any points raised, either by him or by hon. Gentlemen on this side who have also made constructive speeches.
I pay tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), who has on many occasions, in countless Questions to my right hon. Friends, raised subjects of concern to taxi men and to the industry with which he has such a close contact. He has raised constructive matters on the Adjournment. I pay tribute to his work in preparation for the Bill and in representing the interests of the taxi men as put forward by the Transport and General Workers' Union.
It was, perhaps, unfortunate that the intervention of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) cast some slight on the rôle of the union in this situation, and I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw) sharply responded. The union has played a very responsive rôle during this period. It has come forward with constructive proposals, and I know that it welcomes the Bill.
Constructive speeches have also been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), Brixton (Mr. Lipton), Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and Waltham-stow, East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson) and the hon. Members for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) and Aldershot (Sir E. Errington). It is encouraging that a number of London Members have taken part in the debate. They have shown their knowledge of and interest in the problems with which the Bill, in part, seeks to deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East is right: many hon. Members may gain a benefit from the extension of meter rates beyond the six-mile limit, particularly if they live on the outskirts of London. It may be particularly welcome, too, to hon. Members who do not anticipate the snarl of traffic 847 which occurred on a certain memorable occasion some months ago.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to the London taxi drivers, and I endorse those tributes. I represent a constituency well away from London, but I live in London, and I find that the vast majority of London taxi men are helpful, efficient and cheerful and remarkably good at finding their way to out-of-the-way places. Sometimes when I have used a taxi in another city in the world and have asked for a particular destination I have been taken to the other half of the city. It may be that I am at some disadvantage linguistically, but it is remarkable that the London taxi man seems to understand all forms of language. Some respond with certain forms of language which indicate the cheerfulness and sense of humour of the London taxi man.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
Would my hon. Friend permit me to intervene at this late stage in the debate? It is probably an appropriate stage in view of his comments on the linguistic difficulties which face some of us who come from the remoter parts. Would he indicate what the Government have in mind for taxi owners and drivers in other parts of the United Kingdom? In spite of my accent, I represent Luton and an area of South Bedfordshire where there is very strong feeling on this subject and—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understand the hon. Member's concern, but the Bill deals with the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London.
§ Mr. Ennals
My hon. Friend has, however, made the point, and I assure him that I will come to it in the course of my speech. He has shown great patience to wait until this moment to make that interjection and I know that he will continue to be patient and will wait for my explanation at the point at which it arises in the natural construction of my speech.
I was paying tribute to the London taxi men and to the standard of their driving. We live in an overcrowded city, which is one of the reasons why we have so many problems to face, some of which are faced in the Bill. Not only have London 848 taxi drivers an extraordinary knack of knowing the shortest and quickest way from one place to another—it is not always the nearest—but their standard of driving is higher than that which I have experienced in some other cities of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) spoke about the vehicle. I find the majority of London taxis very comfortable, and I do not know what is my hon. Friend's objection to them. They are draughtless and they easily accommodate four persons. The vehicles are almost invariably well maintained. I wonder how many hon. Members present have found themselves stuck in a London taxi which, because of lack of maintenance, has broken down.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That is almost impossible, as they are subject to an inchby-inch inspection at the Public Carriage Office.
§ Mr. Ennals
I was about to say that this was so. They are obliged to maintain their vehicles at a very high level. It is therefore a tribute not only to those who inspect them but also to those who maintain the vehicles.
References have been made to over charging. Some people refer to rapacious taxi drivers and to unscrupulous people waiting at London Airport. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, who is not in his place at the moment, gave the impression that there were hundreds of taxi men sitting in wait for unsuspecting passengers at London Airport. It is because there is this small minority of taxi men that part of the Bill is being introduced, but it is a very small minority and anything that we say in criticism of them does not form condemnation of the vast majority of taxi men.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt), I would point out that he emphasised that it was a very small minority.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight did say that it was a small minority, but when one refers to hundreds one gives the impression that 849 it is a rather larger minority than is in fact the case.
There has been discussion about the consultation leading up to the Bill. That is an extremely important aspect not only of preparation for this Bill but of the discussion of the welfare of taxi men and customers in London. In 1966, the Home Secretary established the London Cab Trade Consultative Committee which was designedto provide machinery for joint consultation on matters affecting the well-being and efficiency of the London cab trade, including the consideration of proposals for amendment of the law but excluding applications for increase in fares and the day-to-day exercise by the licensing authority of the functions delegated to it and by the police of their responsibility for traffic control and law enforcement.The Home Secretary provides the chairman. The Deputy Commissioner of Police and all three sections of the trade are represented—proprietors, journeymen drivers and owner-drivers. Representatives of other Government Departments attend meetings as and when necessary. That is very helpful, particularly when we consider points such as those which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West concerning relations with other Departments.
§ Mr. English
I thank my hon. Friend for his description of the consultative committee. Will he say how many members of it represent the consumer interest?
§ Mr. Ennals
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary himself primarily represents the consumer interest. If my hon. Friend, who made an extremely interesting, erudite and learned speech, showing the depth of the researches he has made into this subject, will wait patiently, I shall come to questions of the consumer interest. He was quite right to say that, in making any change in legislation, it is important not only to look after the interests of the trade but also to look after the interests of the consumer.
§ Sir E. Errington
Is this committee responsible for making recommendations regarding the number of taxis in London, or is that done in some other way?
§ Mr. Ennals
No, that is not its responsibility. I noted that the hon. Gentle- 850 man put a question to me about the number of taxis. If he also will show the same patience as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West—
§ Mr. Ennals
No, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will show the same patience, as I want to come to that point in due course.
I was dealing with the question of consultation. I had said how significant it was that the London Cab Trade Consultative Committee had been established, and I was about to emphasise again, as I did in opening, that its contribution is a valuable one. Much that is contained in the Bill is the product of the consultations and debate which have gone on within the London Cab Trade Consultative Committee.
The next stage was the announcement by my right hon. Friend—
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
Before leaving the question of consultation, will my hon. Friend deal with two matters which occur to me in this connection? First, does the consultative committee deal with such matters as the supply of telephones for calling taxi cabs, about which I have had representations to the effect that the Post Office is diminishing the number of telephones available for this purpose and thus diminishing facilities for obtaining a taxi as opposed to a private hire car in the manner which has been described?
Second to what extent does the consultative committee apply its mind not merely to the present situation but to the future situation which may well arise, having regard to the reports—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a very long intervention. Perhaps he will keep the second point till later.
§ Mr. Ennals
I hope that I may be able to anticipate the second question to which my hon. and learned Friend was about to come. His first question was to ask me whether the London Cab Trade Consultative Committee had responsibility for the provision of telephone boxes.
851 The answer is, "No". My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General is responsible for the provision of telephone boxes. He has to take some account of the profitability of the use which is made of a particular telephone box, and, while it is true that there have been a number of telephone boxes closed because there has not been much demand for them, the question is one which has been discussed by the consultative committee. It was raised by some of the taxi men themselves, who were concerned to ensure that they had adequate telephone provision.
I think that I am right in saying that there has been, or there is shortly to be, consulation with the Postmaster-General to see that this question is properly looked into both in the interests of the taxi men, who need to receive calls, and also in the interests of the consumer, who wants to know how he can get hold of a taxi in the same way, as is already clear, as he knows how he may get hold of a private hire car.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
How does one consume a taxi? This expression is causing a great deal of irritation here, notwithstanding the sort of food which we get in the refreshment room. Are they not passengers, not consumers?
§ Mr. Ennals
I have already referred to the great sense of humour of the taxi men. It seems that my hon. Friend can very well rival them in repartee.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) was about to raise another question, which I think I can anticipate. He asked about future considerations. The London Cab Trade Consultative Committee will continue to provide joint consultation in areas where there can be joint consultation. Essentially, it is a representative body. As I said in opening, the Consultative Committee will continue, though my right hon. Friend has now established the Departmental Committee on the London Taxicab Trade.
There has been some criticism of delay regarding this announcement. The hon. Member for Orpington thought that there had been unreasonable delay between the moment of announcement that a committee was to be established and the committee getting under way. It is most 852 important, if we establish a Departmental Committee like this, to ensure that we have the best possible membership. It must be frankly said that there has not been an independent inquiry of this nature for a very long time, although there have been Home Office studies, which I shall refer to when I come to some of the interesting points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West.
The Departmental Committee is an independent committee, and it includes people of considerable note drawn from many sections of national life. It was most important to secure the right person as chairman. If we were to rush forward, because of pressure from hon. Members—I do not say irritable hon. Members but hon. Members naturally anxious to urge action on the Government—we could well make a mistake in appointing a committee either with the wrong chairman or with a non-representative membership.
When my right hon. Friend persuaded Mr. A. Maxwell Stamp to accept the chairmanship of this independent committee, this was seen as an extremely successful move. It was then necessary to consult him about the other members to serve on the committee in order that we could be sure that all interests were represented. Apart from Mr. Maxwell Stamp, the committee includes Councillor H. Cubitt, Professor A. Day, Mr. S. Hill, Mr. O. A. Kerensky, Miss A. Scott-James, Councillor J. L. Walker and Mr. R. G. A. Youard. It is a very representative committee.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I agree that these are eminent people, but the problem is not one which arose on 9th June when the right hon. Lady made her statement in the House. As Ministers knew that there was great dissatisfaction among taxicab drivers, why had not steps been taken by the Home Office to see that these people were asked to serve on the committee before the announcement was made?
§ Mr. Ennals
I think that, to some extent it allayed the concern which had been expressed in the House for hon. Members to know that such a committee was to be established. If we had waited —clearly, it would have been several weeks—before we had been able to 853 announce the membership, the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members would have been pressing very hard.
§ Mr. Ennals
It was important to know that the Home Secretary had taken a decision and that the Departmental Committee was to be established. The next stage was to announce its membership. Immediately thereafter, preparation was made for the committee to start its work, and, as I told the House earlier, it is to meet on Monday to prepare the basis of its work.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend says that the members of the committee are representative, but as it was not stated in the Answer of 26th October, will my hon. Friend state, of whom, individually, the members are representative?
§ Mr. Ennals
This is not a committee in the sense that it includes official representatives. Its members are not representatives of the Home Office, of other Government Departments, of the police or of the cab trade, but they have great experience in business and in trade union affairs. A journalist is included, as are local councillors who, indeed, represent the interests of those whom my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) said I must not call consumers. I shall in future talk of the individual taxi user or passenger. This is very much a committee which has at heart the interests of passengers, which I am sure is what the House would want.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins
Can the Under-Secretary confirm that his right hon. Friend has impressed on all members of the committee that they must not go about their work in a leisurely way, because there is a considerable degree of urgency in their consideration?
§ Mr. Ennals
I can give that assurance at once. My right hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the members of the committee the importance of their task. Indeed, I do not think that they would have agreed to do the work unless they had realised that it was important. It would not, of course, be proper for the Home Secretary to give them detailed instructions on how they were to do their work, and when their meetings were to be held. This is an independent committee, but I can assure the hon. Gentle- 854 man that its members are aware of the urgency of the matter. Further, they will read that in the House, there have been a number of criticisms of what is not in the Bill, and references to aspects of the taxi business with which it does not deal. These matters will be looked at by them.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
If I may say so, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has shown quite remarkable powers of anticipation in answering my second question, which I had not fully asked. Perhaps I may now complete the question so that he can pursue his answer to it. I was seeking to find out to what extent, if at all, the consultative committee or the departmental committee he has described will consider the possible future situation in London if the time comes, as has been suggested, when there might be a drastic restriction in the amount of private motor car transport allowed in the centre of London and, consequently, a greater need to use taxi cabs and similar vehicles?
§ Mr. Ennals
I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for intervening so that I may answer his important question in greated detail. It might be helpful to the House to know the full terms of reference of the committee which was announced by my right hon. Friend on 26th October. The committee isTo inquire into the operation, structure and economy of the taxi-cab and private hire car trades in London; to consider the respective rôles of the two services in the carriage of passengers in London and the statutory controls needed for their safe and efficient performance; and to make recommendations.I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that the committee will be taking a great deal of evidence. It will certainly expect to receive evidence from Ministries concerned. It would be most surprising to me if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport did not wish to submit evidence for consideration by the Committee. I have little doubt that the Greater London Council, which has in London a special responsibility for traffic control and traffic movement and must be well aware of our problems will, as it and its predecessor have done over the years, be looking to the future; and that all the problems of traffic movement and management in the Greater London area will be brought to the attention of the departmental committee at 855 the right time. This evidence will be of great importance, and I have no doubt that it will be considered very seriously by the committee.
It might be useful now to make some comments on the Clauses and on some of the points made in this debate. Clause 1 deals with the extension of fares beyond the six-mile limit. I was asked by the hon. Member for Merton and Morden about meters. It will certainly be necessary to allow time for meters to be adapted. This has to be done whenever there is an increase in fare. I cannot be specific about how long that will take, but the need for speed will be very much borne in mind. The firms that make the meters and adjustments to meters will be consulted. The need for reasonable speed is very much in our mind.
On behalf of my right hon. Friend, I can undertake to consult the trade before fixing the amount. This procedure has been followed on previous occasions when there has been any increase at all in fare.
I was asked for further asurances about Clause 2. We see this as giving a power we need to have available but which we honestly hope it will not be necessary to use. I can only repeat my earlier assurance that the Government intend to hold this power in reserve, but it is necessary to have it as a safeguard against any concerted attempt by taxi drivers to defeat the object of this part of the Bill by refusing altogether to accept hirings for the longer journeys. There is no question of the Government having any immediate intention of extending the limit, or of doing so without full consultation with the trade.
Clause 3 deals with the relaxation of parking regulations, and has received support from all parts of the House. It obviously puts right an anomaly. Taxi men have quite clearly been much inconvenienced by the present admittedly archaic regulations, and we felt that they should have some relief. A taxi driver is as much entitled to have a rest for his meal as is any other member of society, and the present restrictions are unreasonable. I am grateful to the spokesmen at the taxi trade who made this representation. The hon. Member for Orpington was particularly concerned with whether this provision would affect the right of the cab driver to park on some other 856 place for the purpose of picking up or setting down.
The Bill is concerned with the removing or easing special restrictions imposed on taxis only under hackney carriage legislation. There is no question of exempting taxis from the general road traffic Acts, which are a matter for the Minister of Transport. The Bill will not affect that situation.
Clause 4, although I do not say it is necessarily the most important Clause, has aroused great controversy and has produced many constructive points in the debate. It tries to protect the taxi man from any attempt which may have been made, may now be made, or may in future be made, by private hire companies to ply for hire against the law. I made clear in opening the debate that if they do so that is in any case against the law. We do not need to take action to make it illegal for a private hire company to ply for hire.
Hon. Members have asked for a definition of "ply for hire". I cannot give a very satisfactory definition. We have always considered, and this has been considered by a number of Committees, that it is extremely difficult and not practicable to give a definition. It is rather like the elephant, which can be recognised when it is seen. A private hire vehicle which, in movement along a road, stops in order to take up a customer of whom there has been no prior notice, is acting as if it were a taxicab and this is against the law.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Will the hon. Gentleman look at the case I mentioned, Rose v. Welbeck Motors, in which the Lord Chief Justice made a remark which might constitute a definition of plying for hire?
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall pay attention to the wording used by the Lord Chief Justice. I have not got it before me, but I will give thought to it and perhaps correspond with the hon. Member about it.
A number of points have been made by hon. Members about the nature of signs and, exen more important, the proposal that this should be extended into advertising. It was necessary to take action about signs. Although some points may be raised in Committee concerning the actual definition in the Bill, I can assure hon. Members that my right hon. Friend and I will look at the point made about the terminology.
857 When a vehicle is moving about the streets the use of the words in the Bill may suggest that it is available for hire on the spot. It is in fact plying for hire, but there is no question of a vehicle plying for hire when it is sent in response to an advertisement in a telephone directory. This is a different question. If an hon. Member wishes to hire a car and telephones saying that he wants a car to be at a particular place at a particular time, that certainly is not plying for hire. It certainly is legitimate within the area and the purpose for which private hire firms exist.
The provisions in this Clause are not designed to deal with private hire firms except so far as their activities can illegally act as competition with a taxi man in plying for hire. We have indicated by the very fact that we have brought the Bill forward and by what I said in my introductory speech that we recognise that there is unfair competition. This, I think, is recognised by every taxi man in London. Their views have been strongly represented through the union and also from the owners; from all sections of the trade. There has been a form of unfair competition. The Home Secretary decided that it was essential that we should take immediate action.
While we accept the need to protect the licensed cab trade from unfair competition by private hire vehicles which illegally ply for hire, it must not be taken that the Government regard all the activities, or indeed the existence, of private hire cars as amounting to unfair competition. As the Home Secretary said in reply to a Question, we accept that there is a part which both taxis and private hire cars can properly and usefully play in providing a service for the travelling public. It is precisely for the purpose of determining what those respective rôles should be that the departmental committee has been set up.
§ Mr. Ellis
Will my hon. Friend say something, because this is important before we get to Committee, about the existing legislation in the Companies Act regarding misleading names and titles? It will be interesting to know how that legislation is interpreted. It has a direct bearing on Clause 4.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am not in a position in this debate to give an authorised interpretation of Section 46 of the Act. This matter will, of course, be under consideration by the departmental committee. It may be that it is a matter which my hon. Friend may wish to raise in Committee, but I am not in the position now—I think it would be unwise to try—to formulate words which would act as an interpretation of the meaning of that Section.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Before my hon. Friend leaves Clause 4, as the question of the meaning of the expression "plying for hire" has been raised, will he give attention to the concluding words of subsection (2) of the Clause:vehicle … presently available to take up any passenger wishing to hire it, or would be so available if not already hired."?Is that intended to mean something different from plying for hire? If it is the same, why does it not say so? If it is different, what is the difference?
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall have to seek to give an interpretation of those two phrases when we reach Committee stage.
Clause 4 covers the subject which has raised the greatest interest in this debate. I have explained that it was one of the principal purposes of the departmental committee which is now starting its work to look at the relationship between the private hire firm and the taxi firm to see what their respective rôles are within the future provision of transport for the travelling public in London. It may be that from the report of that committee will flow other legislation. It is not for me to anticipate that. It is not for me to anticipate what will be the conclusions of this very representative committee. My point is that the Bill does not anticipate the deliberations of the independent committee, which no doubt will make recommendations which may lead to legislation.
It was the feeling of my right hon. Friend—and I warmly supported it because I knew the view of the trade—that things needed to be done now and that to wait until we had the Committee's report and then do everything all at once—to have the sort of revolution which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West obviously wanted and deal with all the problems which exist within the hackney carriage legislation—would 859 have meant further delay, and there was no time for further delay. There were pressures for action, and we have acted quickly. It must be very rare that a Government announces its intention to introduce legislation and it is then introduced as quickly as the Home Office has introduced this legislation.
I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West, to whose erudition and knowledge I pay tribute, should give a nagging and niggardly reception to a Bill which both sides of the House warmly welcome. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, "Very good". I thought that his speech, also, was niggardly in its welcome of the Bill, and I am glad that he is in his place to listen to what I am saying.
§ Mr. English
Is my hon. Friend saying that I am a revolutionary for suggesting that the provisions relating to horse-drawn cabs should be replaced? The revolution was in transport, not in me.
§ Mr. Ennals
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. He will recognise that throughout the debate I have attempted to be scrupulously fair. Fortunately, the majority of speeches have been speeches of tribute, which I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, when there have been criticisms, I have said that I do not agree with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West said that the Bill did not tackle many of the manifest obscurities and anomalies in the hackney carriage Acts. He took us through what I think he called 130 wasted years. The term "13 wasted years" has come to be accepted readily on this side of the House as applying to a period of our political life which, happily, has come to an end. But my hon. Friend went ten times as far, and often it is a revolutionary who seeks to go ten times as far as a reasonable man.
I agree with my hon. Friend, however—it cannot be denied—that some, and I would say many, of the provisions of the hackney carriage Acts, dating back over the centuries and formulated in language which the House cannot understand today, deal with a situation totally different from the present day 860 situation. Some of the hackney carriage Acts were introduced in the heyday of horse-drawn cabs. They have become out of date and some of them are little more than obscure.
It is a pity that we do not have longer for this debate, because had we not been anxious to get on to other business there would have been opportunity for hon. Members to bring before the House research of the sort which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West did in showing some of the obscurities, absurdity and almost irrelevance of past legislation. The corpus of law on this subject needs tidying up, but I think most hon. Members would agree—this is where I disagree with my hon. Friend—that tinkering about with it in a piecemeal way would do more harm than good.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
Apart from the piecemeal nature of the legislation which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West criticises, is there not also some danger in a piecemeal geographical approach to this problem?
§ Mr. Ennals
Although my hon. Friend does not represent a Welsh constituency he brings to the House all the fervour of the Welshman, and we welcome it.
§ Mr. Ennals
I respect your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.
The departmental committee has been specifically charged with examining the statutory controls to be exercised over taxis and hire cars, and this will include all kinds of statutory restrictions, not just the licensing control system. The departmental committee will deal with issues which could not be touched on by the Bill. It is a major job.
There has been reference to the Home Office report in 1949. I understand that this was an internal document. It was not published, as I have no doubt the report of Mr. Maxwell Stamp's Committee will be published. The former report was in 1949–18 years ago. While my hon. Friend would say that it is reprehensible that those who were in government following the 1949 report did not introduce legislation, it would be unwise simply to formulate legislation on the basis of a document prepared and published in 1949 when we must consider the 861 situation as it is today. The pressure of London's traffic as well as some of the archaic legislation which we have in-herited are just the problems which will be looked at by the departmental committee.
§ Mr. English
I am sorry to deny my hon. Friend's statement. It illustrates how ill-served he is. The report was not published in 1949. The committee was set up in 1949. It produced a first and second interim report, the second being in 1953. The final report was produced in 1954. It was published in the sense that it was in reply to a Question in the House on that date—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. His intervention cannot be a second speech.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Speaker. I apologise if I have said even one word which is not strictly correct. I will look into the matter. If what I have said is not correct, I tender my apologies to my hon. Friend. I do not think that the point is fundamental. The fundamental point is that that report, whenever it was published, will be brought to the attention of the departmental committee. But, although it was published in 1954, which is still 13 years ago, it would not suffice as a background document on which the Government could bring forward the sort of comprehensive legislation which I know my hon. Friend wishes to see introduced. It is because the job is so great, because the years have passed and so much legislation is so old, that the committee has an important job to do. My right hon. Friend having established the committee, however, we must now leave it to get on with the job, the committee knowing, as we do, that there is urgency and great importance in the task that the Home Secretary has set before it.
My hon. Friend asked why the terms of reference of the departmental committee did not cover parts of the country other than London. Both the system of statutory control over taxis and the operational problems of taxis in London have special characteristics that do not arise elsewhere. London is a capital city 862 and a huge city. Some would say that it is too huge, but that is not a problem for the Home Office. London is a capital city and a huge city, and to this extent it is unique.
It does not follow that the problems arising in London or the solutions which the Committee may propose for them will necessarily have any relevance to the problems of taxis elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Obviously, however, when the Committee eventually reports, the question of whether and to what extent the solutions which it proposes may have a wider relevance to the country as a whole will be considered.
I should add that local authorities, with their responsibility as licensing authority for hackney cabs, have in many cases made a number of changes to meet their local requirements. I do not think that any of us in the House would wish to impose a common pattern which might not have application in every part of the country.
We are, therefore, looking urgently at the further handling of problems as they affect London. If it is clear from the report of the Committee that what is recommended by it has wider application, of course this will be looked at, not only by my right hon. Friend, but by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and by other Ministers, as well as by those responsible for local authorities.
§ Sir E. Errington
On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to intervene on two or three occasions when he has not been present during the rest of the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is in order. I would, however, hope that hon. Members wishing to take part in a debate would, where possible, attend the debate.
§ Mr. Ennals
Further to that point of order. My hon. and learned Friend has made a considerable study of the subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "He should have been here."] It is true that, for reasons which he explained to me, he was not in the House when I made my speech, but he has made interventions which show not 863 only his knowledge, but his concern for the subjects with which the Bill deals. It was churlish of the hon. Member for Aldershot to have intervened to stop an intervention which would have been relevant and which, no doubt, would have served to bring—
§ Mr. Ennals
The next question which was put to me was linked with the one on which we have just been speaking: the scope of the departmental committee and its terms of reference. I was asked why the Bill does not cover the provinces. None of the problems with which it deals arises in other parts of the United Kingdom, at least in quite the particular way with which the Bill is concerned. Its Clauses are particularly related to London and the problems of the taxi trade and passengers in London. Conditions and statutory controls are so different outside London that London solutions would not necessarily be appropriate in the provinces.
A point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West about whether the Home Office should be the responsible body and whether this matter should not be referred to the Ministry of Transport. I have nothing to add on this to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) on 9th March. In replying to that Question, my right hon. Friend said:Consideration is being given to the best means of reviewing the roles of taxicabs and private hire cars in London's transport system and the controls to be exercised over them. All sections of the trade will be brought fully into consultation at the appropriate stage. Until the review has been completed and decisions have been reached, departmental responsibilities will remain as at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 341.]I would now, having dealt with a number of the points of the Clauses, deal with just a few of the other questions which have come up during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West showed a special concern for the interests of the consumer—the travelling public, the passengers. This is a point of very great importance, because while the Bill, as I said earlier, was designed in part to 864 meet the concern, of which we were well aware, of the taxicab men themselves, it also, of course, must be concerned with the needs of the passengers, the people of London. I think that if my hon. Friend had perhaps a little more carefully considered the provisions which the Bill is bringing before the House he would have realised that a number of them—in fact, all of these measures—do make a contribution to meeting the needs of the passengers.
I should like just to touch upon these for just a moment or two. The first of our proposals, designed to regulate fares over the six miles, is obviously designed, as I said earlier on, for the taxi men themselves, who object to the attitude of a small minority of taxi drivers. This part of the Bill obviously is designed to protect also the passengers. I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that when I moved the Second Reading of the Bill I made particular reference to the concern which the Government have for the people of London who are sometimes tricked and who are sometimes charged exorbitant amounts for journeys beyond six miles.
I was also concerned with the effect on visitors from abroad—from the Commonwealth. Being at the Home Office I have a special responsibility to Commonwealth immigrants. I have had a number of cases such as this, in which a mother and her children, may be the wife and children of a Pakistani citizen who has settled and is working in this country, have arrived here, have ordered a taxi to take them to some part of London may be to Brixton, or some other part in which her husband lives, and they have got into a taxi, they did not know the law, they did not know that control over the meter was only up to six miles, and then they have been, to put it frankly, gypped. This sort of thing, as I have said, is done only by a small minority of taxi drivers, but this sort of thing can happen, and, of course, it affects passengers, and I submit to the hon. Gentleman that this part of the Bill is especially directed to protect the passengers' interest.
I think that it is also true, as I sought to show—and I am sure he took good notice of what I was saying—that that part of the Bill which deals with where taxi men may park and where they may 865 eat and where they may take their refreshment also has its implications for passengers in London. It means that they will be much less likely to be kept waiting, as there will be fewer occasions on which they will see a taxi going along whose driver simply is not prepared to pick them up because the taxi driver is going for a meal, which he is as much entitled to have as they or you or I.
I think that this also applies to Clause 4, which prohibits the employment of misleading terms on vehicles, and this, of course, helps to enforce the law prohibiting plying for hire. This, too, I submit to the hon. Member and to the House, is not just for the protection of the taxi men but of the public also.
A reference was made earlier in the debate, I think from both sides of the House, to the fact that some private hire vehicles are not required to have the same sort of examination and they are not submitted to the same licensing system, so that their efficiency, sometimes of their brakes—and sometimes the confidence of the drivers—is lower than that which is required of and expected and gained from taxis and taxi men.
Therefore, if steps are taken to make it less likely still that private hire men will be able to ply for hire as a result of the signs which they can display on their vehicles, we are protecting the public who may mistakenly think that they are picking up recognised hackney carriages when they are picking up private hire cars which are not required to submit to the same standards as those required for licensed taxis.
The hon. Member for Aldershot has been extremely patient—
§ Mr. Ennals
He asked some questions about the numbers of taxi cabs there are, and I will give that information now. He appeared to be under the impression that, over the years, there had been a reduction in the number of licensed cabs or in the number of licensed cab drivers. The hon. Member for Orpington also raised the question and seemed to be under the impression that either there was now or there would be a danger of the number of licensed cabs being reduced.
866 It would be unfair to burden the House by giving the figures extending back over 130 years, but I will do so for the last few years. If one goes back to 1960, the number of licensed cabs on the road in the London area was 6,656. In 1961, it was 6,776. In 1962, it was 7,005. In 1963, it was 7,372. In 1964, it was 7,669. In 1965, it was 7,618. In 1966, it was 7,764. If one looks at the number of licensed cab drivers, from the year 1960, when there were 9,936, the figure rose successively every year until 1966, when the figure was 11,872. The hon. Gentlemen will see, therefore, that there has been an increase in both taxis and licensed drivers in the London area.
I know that the hon. Member for Orpington is interested in statistics, and he may like to know that nearly half of the cabs, about 3,500, are operated by owner-drivers. The rest are owned by commercial firms or individual proprietors who hire them out to journeymen drivers, who, in law, are bailees of the vehicles and not employees of the proprietors. The number of cabs owned by individual proprietors ranges from two or three right through to a handful of big fleets of 200 or more vehicles.
§ Sir E. Errington
But what I wanted to know was the method adopted to decide the appropriate number of taxi cabs. I was not interested in who owned them. I wanted to make sure that there was an adequate provision of taxi cabs.
§ Mr. Ennals
It is not for the Home Secretary or for the Deputy Commissioner of Police to provide taxis. Certainly, if would be a matter for concern if there were to be a decline in the number of taxis. My right hon. Friend would be concerned, of course, although his responsibilities are limited, because it is not for him to provide vehicles. The Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is the licensing authority for both—
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, when I was in the House at eight minutes past two I heard the hon. Gentleman ask to make a second speech with leave of the House. Is there anything in order which can limit the duration of second speeches with leave of the House?
§ Sir S. McAdden
Is there any course open to hon. Members by which they can withdraw the leave they previously gave?
§ Mr. Ennals
I was very surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) should have raised that point of order. As far as I know, he has not been present during the course of this debate. I do not think he has any understanding, or certainly he has not revealed it in the intervention that he has made, of the importance of the Bill that is before us which, as I have said, has great concern for the taxi men and also for the London public.
It is only fair that I should say to him that a number of my hon. Friends and a number of his hon. Friends have put questions to me to which it is proper that I should reply. It must be for the discretion and decision of the Minister, when winding up a debate, whether he does it briefly and wittily, as sometimes hon. Members from this side of the House have been able to do, or whether he does it at greater length with care and perspicacity, as I am endeavouring to do on this occasion. I am trying to give my serious attention to the many serious points which have been put forward during the course of the debate by hon. Members.
I am not certain whether the hon. Member for Southend, East, who has just come in and raised this point of order, new, at the moment that he raised it, that I was giving an answer to a series of questions put to me by his hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot. I hope that he will permit me to continue to give the answer and the information that the hon. Gentleman wanted.
§ Sir E. Errington rose—
§ Sir E. Errington rose—
§ Mr. Ennals
In view of the fact that I have asked the hon. Gentleman to be 868 patient, and since I am dealing with some of the questions that he put, I will give way perhaps when I have answered his questions. It would be more appropriate for him to ask me to give way when I have given the answers to the questions he put to me.
The hon. Gentleman was asking about responsibility. The Deputy Commissioner of Police is the licensing authority for both cabs and drivers and, as such, he lays down the specification for cabs and checks that the standards are maintained. He also checks the qualifications for drivers, including the knowledge of London test. We have already paid tribute to the knowledge of London of most of our taxi men. The Deputy Commissioner of Police also appoints cab ranks and lays down the rules for rank discipline. He therefore has a heavy responsibility as the licensing authority.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is responsible for the general form of the law relating to London taxis. As has been said by one of my hon. Friends, there have been 11 enactments dating from 1831 to 1907 and the London Cab Order of 1934. The Home Secretary is responsible for appointing the Deputy Commissioner of Police as the licensing authority and for prescribing the rates of charge for hirings.
While the Home Secretary has no statutory responsibility for ensuring that there is a sufficient number of taxis to meet public demand, nor any power to do so, it has come to be accepted that he is answerable to Parliament for maintaining the standards of the taxi service. This is why the Bill is presented in his name and why I am moving it on his behalf. My right hon. Friend also has a recognised duty to protect the licensed cab trade, which has the exclusive right to ply for hire in the streets, against unfair competition from unlicensed vehicles—the private hire car trade itself.
Perhaps I might now say a word or two about the private car hire trade.
§ Mr. Body
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we on this side of the House are filled with admiration for his most gallant attempt to save the Government from an embarrassing situation which might develop later this afternoon. However, in view of the one hour and ten minutes which have gone by, would he 869 bear in mind that there is another Bill which has to be given Second Reading before 4 o'clock?
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall shortly bring my remarks to a close. I am not aware of any embarrassment that I might be causing. This is Government time. It is for the Government to decide—apart from the wishes of hon. Members who might have wished to have spoken earlier in the debate—and if any of my hon. Friends pull my jacket and urge me to proceed, I shall do so, but I think that I have a responsibility to the House to answer some of the important questions which have been put to me. That is what I intend to do, and the fewer interruptions there are from hon. Members who have not been present throughout the debate, the sooner their desires will be assuaged.
I wish to say a few words—and they will be very few—about private hire cars, and the safeguards. These are not subject to any system of licensing control such as applies to taxis, but, under the Road Traffic Act, 1960, it is illegal to carry passengers for hire or reward without unlimited passenger insurance cover. However, even if the law is broken, and hire or reward passengers are injured as a result of the driver's negligence, tinder an agreement made with the Ministry of Transport in 1946, the motor insurers bureau will, subject to certain safeguards, compensate injured passengers if there is no one else to pay for them.
I wish, now, to bring my brief remarks to a close.
§ Mr. Lipton
I do not think that my hon. Friend dealt adequately with the point made by myself and one or two other hon. Members that, if I may mix my metaphors, it is possible to drive a horse and cart through the Clause, namely, the making illegal of all electric signs on the top of cars, whether the word "hire" is used or not.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I tried to deal with that during my speech, but no doubt I did not succeed. I said that as far as signs were carried on hire vehicles, if any such signs, whether illuminated, neon, or writings, could by any means imply that the vehicle was plying for hire, the Clause covered such a situation. If my hon. Friend feels 870 that the wording lacks some precision, I can only say that this is not a matter for a Second Reading debate, but for him to take up in Committee, and I hope that he will be on the Committee which will deal with this important Bill.
I said that this had been a constructive debate. A number of piercing questions have been asked, and I have sought to answer them. I think that perhaps the most fundamental criticism of the Bill relates, not to its contents, but to the allegation that it does not go anywhere near far enough, The hon. Member for Merton and Morden said that he seemed to sense that I would have liked the Bill to have gone further. Certainly in as far as I recognise that the present law is archaic I agree with him. I would be surprised if there were not—
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, is it in order for hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite to maintain an audible conversation while I am trying to listen to my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
That is not for the Chair to direct, but I hope that all hon. Members will listen.
§ Mr. Ennals
With respect, I think that my hon. and learned Friend was unable to hear what was said because I was having to raise my voice higher than I normally do during a debate in the House so that hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite me could hear what I was saying, as I was dealing with many of the points which they had raised.
The point that I was on at the time of the intervention, caused, I admit, by the conversational technique of hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite was that the main criticism has been that this Bill does not go far enough. It has been very encouraging that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite have recognised that what the Bill contains is important—that it was legislation which it was important to bring forward. My right hon. Friend the Home Secreary would be much more open to criticism if, knowing of the need for change, he had in any way delayed bringing forward a Bill which sought to give legislative effect to this change.
871 Hon. Gentlemen have said that the Bill should have gone further. I have tried to explain, and I hope that they will accept my assurances, that further considerations are a matter for the committee under Mr. Maxwell Stamp which will be taking action quickly. A Bill is being presented within a very few weeks of the promise being made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West recognised, this is not a revolution, but it is a victory for common sense.
It is a victory for the serious consideration given to this by those representing the passenger and the taxi men that action is now being taken. I believe that once the Bill has become law it will obtain the support and recognition, not only of both sides of the House but of taxi men and passengers in London. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Merton and Morden for the way in which he dealt with the Bill and I look forward to a very constructive Committee stage.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I say that I thought he touched rather scantily on Clause 4 and the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). His point was that in Clause 4 the words "for hire" are prohibited but this does not preclude the use of the words "for hire" so long as they do not indicate that the vehicle is for hire. It appears, too, that by Clause 4 one is not able to put on a private hire car the words "private hire car". Can my hon. Friend say a little about this?
§ Mr. Ennals
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having put the question before I sat down, because this is an important point.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
On a point of order. Could you tell the House when you will come to the decision that filibustering is taking place, for some reason obscure, at least to me, but clear to some people?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair has made known its views about speeches on 872 many occasions. The Chair cannot compel the debate to come to an end.
§ Mr. Ennals
Futher to that point of order. There has been no filibustering. This has been a serious debate. There has not been a word that I have said—and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my hon. Friend will read HANSARD tomorrow and see the truth of this—which was not directly related to the Clauses of the Bill. I deeply resent the suggestion that has been made.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)
I must express my apologies to the House for not being here during the earlier part of the debate. This was because I was on urgent constituency business. I will certainly not apologise now for making a speech rather than an intervention for I have a very great constituency interest in this subject. It has, in fact, been estimated that the independent character of the people in Bethnal Green is because 2,000 cab drivers live among them! It should be said on their belief that the unfair competition of the minicabs, and their continuing troubles over what they felt was oppressive legislation, has not arisen only since 1964. All this happened many years before, and we are grateful for what the Government are now doing, even if we want extended legislation in future.
London cab drivers believe that insufficient attention has been given to their problems and will be very grateful for my hon. Friend's detailed and exhaustive analysis of them and the way in which he showed that these have to be met. When his speech is studied, as he recommended, they will be very satisfied. While the urgent need is for wider legislation, cab drivers will still regard what some hon. Members have said is piecemeal legislation in this way—that it is better to have a piecemeal than no meal at all. They are grateful for this legislation, which has appeared despite the present tremendous legislative pressure.
Because of his independent character, the London cab driver is not afraid of competition, but regards as completely unfair the gross inequity between the extreme legal requirements which he must obey and the almost total absence of any for the opposition in minicabs or private hire cars. This must be ironed out. The 873 advent of the telephone had grave repercussions for the country as a whole, but special significance for cab drivers in that it has actually driven this inequity. Can anyone explain to me or to a cab driver why he must go "on the knowledge" for a year or 18 months, existing as best he can in the meantime, why he must obey stringent regulations for his cab, why he must be very apprehensive about the Hackney Carriage Office of the Metropolitan Police, simply because he plies for hire and picks up passengers on the road?
He is simply conveying passengers, just as minicab drivers are, but the latter can evade the regulations simply because the hire contract is made by telephone instead of on the street. This is not logical and leads to a grievance among cab drivers. Both sets of people are simply conveying passengers. Why should private cabs be exempt from the training which must be undergone by London cab drivers simply for this reason? When the inter-departmental committee considers this matter, it should pay attention to these great problems.
Apart from cab drivers in my area and London generally, the London Co-operative Cab Drivers' Association also welcomes the Bill. Being a Labour Co-operative Member, I sought its views, and it welcomed the legislation as a sign that the Government intend to do justice which has not been done before. The Association was concerned only about Clause 2. Although it understood that the Minister might wish to reserve this power about the six-mile limit, it wanted an assurance of prior consultation. I am extremely grateful that my hon. Friend said that this would happen.
I turn to Clause 3. I would point out to the House that the cab driver is human, although some people think that he is not. Some people regard the independence of the cab driver as impertinence. I suggest that cab drivers have to live up to the character developments of their clients, because some of them are bad clients. Some of the cab drivers in my constituency think that there ought to be regulations for people entering taxi cabs as well as for those driving them!
But it is not simply a question of recognising that the cab driver is human. May I draw attention to what sometimes happens when a taxi is left unattended? 874 A taxi driver may have conveyed a cripple or a woman with a large amount of luggage. He may have been asked to assist that person home or to carry the luggage upstairs, and technically he leaves the cab unattended. He comes back to the cab and finds that a policeman happens to have been on the spot at that time. Under the regulations, the driver is warned. Whatever mood or temperament the London cab driver may have, it does not help when a humane act of that kind is used against him while he is doing it. Clause 3 now makes it all right for these people to carry out what might be regarded as a further extension of their services to the passenger.
In my opinion, the Bill will be welcomed. I shall have a meeting with the cab drivers in my constituency, and I hope that in reporting back to them I can report that the Bill is not simply an end point in itself but is a signpost to indicate that the Government will do something to resolve their problems and to help them overcome the gross inequity which has existed. We have heard of the unfair competition which exists in the present law between the treatment of cab drivers and the treatment of those with minicabs or those who are plying for private hire.
If I could give that assurance, then the London cab drivers will realise that this Measure, the first that has been introduced for some years to assist cab drivers, is a sign that the Labour Government intend to introduce further Measures and to achieve justice for them.
§ Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I deal with one question at a time. I am not empowered to accept the Closure. Mr. English.
§ Mr. English
On a point of order. May I have the leave of the House to speak again for not more than five minutes?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In any event, I have not called the hon. Member for 875 Nottingham, West (Mr. English) to speak. I have called him on a point of order.
§ Mr. Jennings
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on another matter. Time is running out for this day's proceedings, and I should like to seek your guidance on how it is possible to get the question of the present financial state of the country raised at this moment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understand the hon. Member's concern, but that is not a point of order for the Chair.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. Member cannot ask me for my guidance on this matter on the Second Reading of the London Cab Bill.
§ Mr. Jennings
I am asking because time is running out. At what stage before four o'clock may I raise this issue?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
What the hon. Member is raising is irrelevant to the Bill and, with all respect, I am afraid that I cannot allow it.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order. I moved, That the Question be now put. Can you tell my why, at this stage of such prolonged discussion, and with another Bill waiting, you cannot accept that Motion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Standing Order does not empower Mr. Deputy Speaker to accept the Closure of the Second Reading of a Bill.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I should not have intervened in the debate at all but for the unfair attack on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who was replying in detail to the debate and answering a number of points which had been made. After all, it must be remem- 876 bered that although the Bill is concerned solely with London, judging by the attendance it has awakened the interest not only of Scottish Nationalism, but of English, too.
I listened with particular interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton) said on the subject of telephones, a matter which I raised in one of my few interventions and on which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replied. It seems unfortunate that the war which has arisen between the minicab drivers and the taxi drivers is very much due to the availability or the telephone, in the first case, and its greatly diminishing availability, in the second.
The general public in London is sick and tired of the war between minicab drivers and taxi drivers. In so far as this Bill, as I believe it will, goes a long way towards diminishing the hostility, by proper regulation, between these two classes of driver, both of whom are essential in London, it will receive a warm welcome from the public as a whole and from both those classes of driver who are serving the public.
In my view, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in dealing with the debate in the way he has, with patience and great skill, has performed a public service. I hope that he will not take too seriously the unkind and unfair remarks made by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Body
I am prompted to intervene in order to point out that no one on this side of the House has criticised the manner in which the Under-Secretary of State spoke. Indeed, we are filled with admiration for his gallantry and his charm. Those of us who sat through his 1¼-hour speech listened to it with delight. I am sure that none of us on this side has heard filibustering conducted with such pleasure to the ear. We have not sought to attack the hon. Gentleman. On the contrary.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).