HL Deb 10 December 1912 vol 13 cc138-47

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl o1 Granard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.


The new clause which I move to insert after Clause 1 is of considerable importance to county councils generally. When this Bill came before the House of Commons there was in it as Clause 2 of the Bill a clause enabling a trackless trolley system along any road or street to be authorised by Order under the principal Act in the same manner and subject to the same conditions as a light railway. Into that clause were inserted certain Amendments, the purport of which was that the damage which these trackless trolleys did to the roads should be a liability upon the promoters of this system. The municipal corporations and county councils stood on a different footing in this matter, because municipal corporations were constantly the promoters of tramway systems and may be in the future, and in some cases are at present, promoters of trackless trolley systems, from which they would naturally reap the benefit. The wear and tear upon the roads under a system of trackless trolleys would be very great, and where the system was privately owned the burden of repairing the roads would fall upon the county councils whilst the profits would be reaped by the promoters of the trackless trolley system and none would reach the counties whose roads would be considerably damaged. Therefore we thought it was only fair that in all these Orders provision should be made whereby any damage that was actually done should be made good to the authorities over whose roads the promoters took the trackless trolley system.

As I pointed out last night, there is considerable difference between a trackless trolley system and the tramway systems promoted by urban authorities which have been extended in many instances over the main roads of the counties, in that the promoters of tramways invariably are responsible for keeping in order that portion of the road over which their tramway runs, and we thought that there should be some analogous provision in the case of trackless trolleys, which do more damage to the roads than any vehicle would do, because, as we know, the tendency is to keep upon one track and to wear that track away. Where there is an overhead wire, however much give and take there might be, the tendency would be for these trackless trolleys to follow upon this course and to wear away that portion of the road to an extent which would involve a considerable additional cost for the upkeep of the road. As I say, when this Bill was originally introduced in another place this provision for dealing with trackless trolleys was inserted, and we made an attempt to get such Amendments put in as we thought fit and proper to meet our case. In this we were successful. But the promoters of trackless trolley systems, who had originally been anxious to get the clause into the Bill, were no longer so anxious for it after the safeguarding Amendments had been inserted. Consequently when the Third Reading stage was arrived at the clause was struck out altogether, and the present position is that the promoters of a trackless trolley system have to come to Parliament for their powers, and each separate Bill has to be opposed by the particular county which objects to it. We consider that this is an especial hardship upon county councils.

We think that this matter is one which should be dealt, with upon a broad and general principle, and if we saw any prospect of this being done in the near future we should, of course, not be here moving the re-insertion of this clause into the Bill. This is an attempt to deal with the matter on broad principles which would be applicable to all cases of this particular kind of traffic. We think, in the absence of any other means of doing it, that our only way to remove what we regard as a great and distinct grievance on all county councils is to move the re-insertion of this clause. The clause is, with one exception, in the terms of the clause which the Government were originally prepared to accept. Therefore I feel I need not go at any length into the actual provisions of the clause. The question before the House is whether it should be inserted in this Bill, and my contention is that if there is no prospect of the matter being dealt, with by general legislation it is only proper that the clause should be re-inserted. The exception to which I alluded is not one of great importance. It is in the last subsection, where we provide that no trailers shall be used in connection with trolley vehicles without the consent of the Board of Trade and without the consent in writing of the road authority. On this particular addition to the clause I do not, of course, lay so much stress, because it was not part of the clause as it was originally intended to stand. Therefore if any objection is raised to the insertion of this additional subsection I shall not press it. I submit that a provision of this kind should be made to deal with railless trolleys, or else that we should have some kind of assurance that the matter is going to be dealt with by general legislation and that we are not to be left to the very expensive and unsatisfactory method of opposing every Bill that is brought into the Houses of Parliament. In the latter case, of course, the only locus standi that will be given will be, not to county councils generally, but to the unfortunate county council which is going to be injured in the particular case. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 1 insert the following new clause:

"Power of Light Railway Commissioners to authorise Trackless Trolley Systems.

"2.—(1) A trackless trolley system along any road or street may lat authorised by order under the principal Act in the same manner and subject to the same conditions as a light railway, and that Act and any Act amending the same shall accordingly be construed as if the expression "light railway" included a trackless trolley system

Provided that—

  1. "(a) A trackless trolley system shall not be authorised along any road or street except with the consent of the road authority, but that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld; and
  2. "(b) A trackless trolley system shall not be deemed to be a railway for the purpose of any exemption from rating; and
  3. "(c) Provision shall be made by any order authorising a trackless trolley system for the payment by the undertakers to the road authority, as part of the expenses of the undertaking, of the cost of any alterations or improvements in any road or street so far as they are made for the purposes of, or rendered necessary by, the trackless trolley system, and also of the whole or any part of any additional cost of maintaining or repairing any road or street which may be shown to be caused by the working of that system, and for the mode in which any such payments are to be accounted for in cases where the road authority are themselves the undertakers; and
  4. "(d) The order authorising a trackless trolley system shall regulate the weight and construction of the vehicles to be used for the purpose of that system, and the dimensions and materials of the tyres of those vehicles, and the licensing of the vehicles and the drivers thereof.
If any question a rises whether the consent of the road authority required under this section has been unreasonably withheld, that question shall be decided by the Light Railway Commissioners, but the promoters of the undertaking or the road authority may appeal from the decision of the Light Railway Commissioners to the Board of Trade. The decision of the Light Railway Commissioners or, in the event of an appeal, of the Board of Trade on the question whether the consent has been unreasonably withheld or not shall be final.

"(2) The expression "trackless trolley system" means a system of running on roads or streets, without any defined track or line of rails, mechanically propelled vehicles moved by electrical power transmitted thereto from some external source, and includes all apparatus necessary for working the system, and the expression "undertakers" means the company, body, or person authorised to work the system.

"(3) Mechanically propelled vehicles used for the purpose of any trackless trolley system authorised in pursuance of this section shall not be deemed to be light locomotives within the meaning of the Locomotives on High ways Act, 1896, or the byelaws and regulations made thereunder, nor shall they be deemed to be motor-cars within the meaning of any provisions of the Motor Car Act, 1903 (except subsection (1) of section one of that Act and the provisions necessary for enforcing that subsection), and subject to that exception neither that Act nor the regulations made under that Act, nor the enactments mentioned in the Schedule to the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896, nor the Locomotives Act, 1898, shall apply to any such mechanically propelled vehicles except in so far as they are incorporated or applied by the order authorising the system.

"Provided that nothing in this provision shall affect any duties of excise (including the duties charged by section eight of the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896) for the time being payable in respect of any such vehicles.

"(4) For the purposes of this section the expression "road authority" means the authority liable to maintain or repair the road or street, and in the case of a main road that authority shall be taken to be the county council, except in the case of a road the duties of maintaining and repairing which have been retained by the urban authority under subsection (2) of section eleven of the Local Government Act, 1888.

"(5) This section shall not apply to the administrative county of London.

"(6) No trailers shall be used in connection with the trolley vehicles without the consent of the Board of Trade and without the consent in writing of the road authority."—(Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.)


The noble Lord who has just spoken has put his case very fairly as regards this particular Amendment, and he has described to your Lordships the history of this clause in another place. As the noble Lord said, in the original Bill there was a clause carrying out more or less the objects which he has in view, but it was found that there was so much opposition to the clause in the House of Commons, especially from municipalities and others, that it was considered best in all the circumstances to drop it. As the noble Lord is aware, there was a great deal of negotiation between the county councils, which he represents, and the Board of Trade, and it was found impossible to come to an agreement without making the Bill highly contentious. The noble Lord's Amendment, if carried, would have the effect of penalising one particular form of locomotion—namely, the trackless trolley system. Motor-'buses and others which do quite as much harm to the road would virtually go free. I venture to place before the noble Lord this view, that it would be unfair for Parliament to handicap trackless trolley cars in competition with motor-'buses and others. Again, this Bill deals purely with light railways. Its object is to allow extra advances for the making of light railways in sparsely populated and poor localities, and I am assured that if the Amendment which the noble Lord has suggested were introduced there would be no possibility whatever of getting this Bill through the other House. I have heard that every municipality in the kingdom would fight this Amendment line by line. As the noble Lord has justly stated, the whole question of traffic should be dealt with by one large Bill and not in a piecemeal fashion. That would be the effect if this Amendment were carried. The noble Lord has asked us whether the Government can give any undertaking with regard to legislation on traffic generally. As far as I am concerned I am unable to do so, for such legislation would not come within the scope of the Department Which I represent. I sincerely trust that the noble Lord will not press the Amendment, for it would have the effect virtually of killing the Bill.


I venture to hope that your Lordships will see your way to support my noble friend's Amendment. It seems to me to raise a very serious question in the case of main and other roads throughout the country, especially in rural districts. If this invention is allowed to be used over the roads without any safeguard whatever, it might cause grave and serious damage to roads belonging to county councils and other bodies. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill spoke about a new industry being penalised. I think that is rather a strong expression to use. Nothing is said about penalising county councils and the roads which they administer. The whole point of this, it seems to me, depends upon the nature of this invention. There are no rails to take off the weight of these very heavy cars, and inasmuch as the motive power is derived from an overhead wire the tendency is for these immensely heavy trolleys always to run in or close to the same groove. I am told that there is a possibility of their being able to deviate from one side of the road to the other; in crowded roads that would be necessarily the case. But in country roads the trackless trolley system would do grave damage to the roads apparently without the county council having any means of redress. This is one of those things which at first sight appears to be a mere mechanical detail, but there can be no question that these trolleys would work very serious and unfair damage unless some provision in the nature of my noble friend's Amendment is inserted.


This discussion is an illustration of the difficulties with which Private Bill Committees have to deal when these kind of questions arise. I have on several occasions ventured to express the opinion that it is most desirable that Chairmen of Private Bill Committees should have definite instructions and rules with regard to questions of this nature. This particular case is one which has occasionally come before me in the course of my experience. The position is this, that in a particular case compensation may be allowed solely owing to the personal view of the Chairman of the Committee and those who are associated with him, but there is no regular rule laid down. Therefore it is purely a matter of haphazard, and it lays upon county councils the onus of opposing all these Bills on the chance that if they are lucky they may get the compensation to which they are morally entitled. I did not hear the whole of this discussion, but I did hear the reply of the noble Earl, Lord Granard, and it seems to me he has not made out his case at all. He did not deny that this is a case in which there is prima facie an admirable case for compensation, and the only argument that I could discover which he adduced against it was that if any provision of this kind were inserted the Bill would run the chance of being lost in another place. To my mind that is a very poor argument. The obvious reply to him is that this being the case it is all the more imperative on the Government that they should give an undertaking that questions of this kind should be dealt with in a general and definite way which should act as a guidance to Private Bill Committees in the future. I do not know whether my noble friend intends to press his Amendment to a Division. But on a question of this kind I think it would be desirable to obtain the opinion of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees before the vote is taken.


The noble Lord has appealed to me. As he says, this is a matter that has come before several Committees this session. I have given considerable time to the consideration of the particular point, and if it is of any value to him I will tell him the conclusion to which I have come. It is this. First, that it is extremely desirable that a solution should be found; secondly, that we have not yet enough experience of trolley vehicles to find a solution. I do not think there is enough evidence as to the kind of damage they do to the roads to enable an arbitrator to fix a price if a case came before him. Therefore the course which we have followed up to the present is this. Trolley vehicles are worked by a system of overhead wires. These overhead wires are liable to rates, and we think it is best that the road authority should be compensated through the rates on the overhead wires and in that way get the assistance they should receive towards the upkeep of the roads—in fact, that the workers of trolley vehicles should be put in the position of all other ratepayers, and because they pay rates be allowed to use the roads as much as they like. I do not pretend for a moment that I think there is enough evidence to say that this is a final solution; but I have come to the conclusion, after giving the matter all the consideration I can, that it is the best solution we can come to at present with the small amount of experience we have of the working of trolley vehicles. I think, from a very cursory reading of the Amendment now before the House, that if it were carried in the exact form in which it stands now these local authorities would be in the happy position of being paid twice, because they would get full compensation for damage, if they could prove any, and would also get paid rates on the wires. I repeat that I hope in the not very distant future we may be able to come to a more permanent solution of the difficulty, but I really do not think there is enough evidence at the present moment to reach that permanent solution.


The sum derived in the matter of rates would be an extremely insignificant one, because I understand it is only possible to rate these undertakings upon the posts which support the wires, and that would bring in an absolutely infinitesimal sum.


The noble Lords who have brought this subject forward seem to me to have established a strong prima facie case in favour of the Amendment on the Paper, but we have to take note of the fact that they were met by the noble Earl who speaks for the Government, not by an attempt to dispute the merits of the proposal, but by an intimation that in his view, speaking with all the authority of the representative of the Government, there is absolutely no chance of an Amendment of this kind being allowed to retain its place in the Bill when it goes back to the other House. Well, my Lords, that is a pretty formidable obstacle, because I take it that if the Bill were to come back to us without the Amendment we should scarcely be in a position to insist upon its reinsertion. But a still more material consideration arises from the speech of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. The Lord Chairman, unless I misunderstood him, said that in his view we had not yet a sufficient amount of experience to justify us in dealing with this subject. I must say that in face, on the one hand, of the Government reply, and, on the other, of the advice given by the Lord Chairman I do not see that my noble friend would be likely to gain any substantial advantage by persevering with his Amendment.


I wish to say a word or two in answer to the speech of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. He brought forward the argument that the Amendment would penalise one kind of locomotive traffic and leave untouched another kind—namely, motor-'buses and others. There is a very marked and substantial difference between a trackless trolley and the ordinary motor-omnibus. The latter is the property, or may be the property, of an individual. He has no other rights and no position different from that of the owner of a cart. But here you have a monopoly. No one is allowed to use this trackless trolley system unless he pays a certain amount for it to the promoters, and therefore it stands on a totally different footing. What is so unjust to county councils is that these trackless trolleys are started and the proceeds of them are taken by one set of people whilst the expenses of keeping up the roads are borne by another. What we say is that the profits should be shared in some kind of way between the different authorities over whose roads the system runs, or else that those who take all the profits ought to be bound to pay for the damage which they do to the roads, the upkeep of which will otherwise have to be paid for by persons who have no share in those profits. I do not see that the rates which the county council is likely to get in respect of a trackless trolley system are likely to be at all of an appreciable amount, and therefore I think the argument used by the Lord Chairman as to double payment is not one which is worth considering. What would be received in rates would be very small in proportion to the amount of damage done; and the advantage we obtain by the system compared to tramways and the other systems hitherto known is very small indeed. I am afraid, in view of the

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 2 and remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3a To-morrow.