HL Deb 24 August 1907 vol 181 cc1511-6

Order of the day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, I beg leave to move that this Bill be read a second time, but as I understand that there will be no opportunity to-day of going beyond the Second Reading, I will not venture to detain your Lordships very long. I am told there will be Amendments moved to one clause in this Bill, and although I should like to say something upon that clause in a few minutes, I shall not even on that question presume to detain you at any length. But I should like to point out with regard to this Bill that the first clause is one which is intended to relieve the Home Secretary of certain restrictions which he is under at the present moment with regard to taximeters. Your Lordships will readily understand that legislation passed a good many years ago does not easily lend itself to modern forms of locomotion, and that therefore the Home Secretary is in considerable difficulty at the present time in dealing with these taximeters, and this clause is intended to make his position easier and simpler in the matter.

Clause 3 is required in order that he may have powers over stage carriages which come from some place beyond London. Owing to some—I think I may say—defect in drafting previous Bills the Home Secretary has no power if they start outside, and then come within the limits of the county of London.

The second clause is the clause to which Amendments are likely to be moved, and I should like to say at once that what is really in the mind of the Home Secretary and His Majesty's Government in this matter is to meet the convenience of the travelling public, and it is their opinion, following out the opinion of Committees which have inquired into this question, that that condition will be most easily met by abolishing the privilege system. I think a good many of us would be glad if we found, when we arrived at the great terminal stations of London, taxicabs waiting to take us to our destination, and that, I hope, will be one of the results of the passing of this Bill.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that not only a Select Committee of the other House, but also a Departmental Committee which sat in 1895, have reported in favour of the abolition of the privilege system. I think it is important that I should point out to noble Lords who are interested in the question from the point of view of the railway companies that this Bill does not in any way—nor does this clause in any way—interfere with their control over the cabs which are in the. station. With regard to cabs which are in the station, if the cabmen behave badly and do not accept the directions of the officers of the company, they can be turned out, and if any man is either drunk or brings a horse which is unfit to be driven into the station, it will be equally possible for the company to refuse admittance. But your Lordships will realise, especially by noticing Subsection (3), Clause 2, that what the Secretary of State really requires is that a fair trial should be given to this open system. It has been tried in the past, but not fairly tried. It was only tried at one single station—at Waterloo—and it is obvious, I think, to your Lordships, that any experiment of that kind must be tried widely in order that we may be sure what its effect will be. Under Subsection (3) the Secretary of State is empowered, if he finds that the open system is less convenient to the public, to suspend the operation of the section, so that I think your Lordships may be quite sure that there will be nothing in this Bill which will interfere with the convenience of the travelling public. But I may say that His Majesty's Government will be very willing to meet noble Lords who are interested in this question from the point of view of the railway companies, by moving any Amendments, or by agreeing to any Amendments, to make the position of the railway companies quite clear with regard to the cabs which come within the station, and I am not without hope that noble Lords opposite will see their way to agree to some Amendment which will meet their views in this Matter. At any rate, I think I may say that this is a change which is very much desired by all the cabmen in London at the present time. I do not think that the cab industry is in a very prosperous condition, and the cabmen think, not unnaturally, that the adoption of this open system will go far to assist them. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that they should wish it, and I may say that they have given an undertaking to do their best to supply the public as well as they have been supplied in the past.

My Lords, finally let me say this—that of course there is no matter of controversy as between the two sides of the House. There was a division in Committee, and also in the Whole House in another place on this question, and the maintenance of this clause as it stands, was carried by a majority of something like 174 to 26. I think those were the exact figures. The majority included London Members on both sides of the House, and I think I may say generally that the London Members, irrespective of Party, are anxious that this Bill should pass. Therefore, I venture to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and if you are willing to do that this afternoon, I would suggest, if it meets the convenience of noble Lords opposite, Monday for the Committee stage. Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Earl Beauchamp.)


I do not think it would be respectful to the Government or to the noble Lord, after the remarks which he has made, not to give him fair notice that there will be considerable opposition to the second clause of this Bill. I quite agree that this is not the time to discuss at full length special clauses of the Bill, but this Bill is in a sense rather a peculiar one, because it is a Bill composed of two distinct portions having no relation whatever to one another. The second portion deals entirely with privileged cabs, and the remaining part of the Bill with other questions altogether, and what I would from the first wish to impress upon your Lordships is that you may omit Clause 2 of the Bill and leave the whole of the rest of the Bill absolutely intact.

I was extremely pleased to hear from the noble Lord that what the Government had most at heart was the convenience of the public, because if that is really the case, I do not think there will be much difficulty, when we come to the discussion of the clause, in proving that the convenience of the public will be most certainly sacrificed by the insertion of this clause in the Bill. I do not think the noble Lord was quite right in all his facts. He said that this plan of the open cab system had only been tried at one station, and that that station was Waterloo. As a matter of fact it has not only been tried, but I believe at one part of the station at Waterloo it has always been in operation, and it was tried for a considerable time at another station—namely, at Charing Cross. In the latter case it failed most hopelessly, as I will endeavour to show, and in the former case, where it already exists, the noble Lord has only to openThe Times of the two last days to see the experiences of the travelling public of the country narrated in letters to that newspaper. But I do not wish to detain your Lordships by discussing what I shall have to discuss at some length, I am afraid, when this Bill gets into Committee, and I only now wish to warn your Lordships that most strenuous opposition will be offered to this clause, although on the other hand I may say that that opposition will not imply any hostility to the Bill in general.


I certainly do not propose to keep your Lordships for any length of time on the present occasion, because I shall reserve most of my remarks for a later stage, when there will be a Motion to reject Clause 2 with reference to cabs. The noble Duke (the Duke of Northumberland) has pointed out that this experiment of open cabs has already been tried, and, as the noble Duke said, has failed signally. There is absolute unanimity amongst all the railway companies having large termini in the Metropolis that anything so destructive to the convenience of the public as the doing away with this system, which has been found to answer so admirably for many years past, could not be found.

The noble Lord (Earl Beauchamp) told us that cabmen say that they will make arrangements to meet the convenience of the public in future. I read what the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said in the other House with reference to that, which was simply this—that he understood from cabmen that they would go wherever there was a job, and that from his knowledge of cabmen, they would go where a good job offered itself. Anything more childish than that to put forward as a means of superseding an organisation which has grown up during many years, and which has been found to succeed, can scarcely, I think, be imagined. It is proposed to leave everything to haphazard. This is not a case in which things can be left to haphazard, as I shall be able to show when the matter comes to be discussed in detail.

I may perhaps mention one instance in order to show your Lordships what can be done—what is done now, and what cannot be done in the future under the proposed new system. A large transatlantic steamer lands two or three hundred passengers in Liverpool. She may be four or five hours late, or she may be half a day late. We get notice of the arrival of that steamer some four hours beforehand, and then we send to the cab-owners whom we know, and whom we have arrangements with, and so secure that there shall be a sufficient number of cabs to meet the train. In future, what is to happen? Are we to send a crier round to all the cab-stands to say: "Cabs wanted at three in the morning"? If we did that, how many would attend? That is only one instance in which the open system would inevitably fail, and I hope we shall be able to prove to your Lordships that it will not be for the convenience of the travelling public that the present system should be got rid of.


I have no desire to prolong the discussion, but I was very much struck by one remark of the noble Lord opposite (Earl Beauchamp). He said that the opinion of the London Members was unanimous on this matter. I want to know why the opinions of London Members are particularly indicative of the wants and wishes of people arriving from the country. I can suggest another reason why the London Members are likely to be all on one side in this matter, and that reason may even have occurred to the noble Lord opposite. That reason is that their constituents are interested in the matter, and that they have more care for the opinion of one or two of their constituents than for the opinions of the vague travelling public who have no votes to give them.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.