HL Deb 11 December 1912 vol 13 cc171-6

LORD MONK BRETTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government what number of passengers were carried on the London County Council tramways during the year ended March 31, 1912; what proportion of them was carried at workmen's fares; whether workmen's fares are in force on the motorbuses; if not, whether the Government can, under existing legislation, call upon the omnibus companies to run an efficient service of workmen's buses at special fares; and if not, whether the Government will or will not introduce legislation to deal with this matter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the Question which I have put on the Paper I should like in a few words to call your Lordships' attention to the anomalies which exist at the present moment with regard to London traffic authorities. We have a system of underground railways and tubes which are under statutory obligation to provide workmen's fares, and we have a number of tramways outside the metropolitan area which are also under an obligation of the same character. We also have the London County Council tramways within the metropolitan area; they are not for the most part bound to carry passengers at workmen's fares but they voluntarily do so and at very great cost indeed. According to the Traffic Returns of the Board of Trade for 1911 they did so during that year at a loss which amounted to something like £130,000, which is a considerable cost to the London ratepayers. Then we have the London General Omnibus Company and the other 'bus companies who run 'buses all over London and outside it without any duty to provide workmen's fares, and the power of these omnibus companies has recently been increased by the combine which has been so well boomed in the Press.

The position of London is anomalous in this respect. If you go to other towns you find that the Police authority is the town authority. They are the authority which license 'buses, and they are therefore enabled to provide a certain degree of uniformity in the traffic regulations of the town. It is curious that one should have to ask Questions of this sort of His Majesty's Government. One would have thought that there was some authority that could impose this duty upon omnibuses, but the fact of the matter is that we have not got any authority to control the traffic of London. The Royal Commission of 1905 reported in favour of a Traffic Board. Repeatedly requests have been made to His Majesty's Government to give a Traffic Board to London, and only this year the Prime Minister again refused to do it. The Prime Minister having refused, there is nothing for it but to put Questions of this sort to His Majesty's Government direct. The Prime Minister has refused a Traffic Board to London but he has been obliged, on the question of safety, to recognise the absence of a Traffic Board, and has had to appoint a Committee of the House of Commons to investigate the dangers of the streets; but on the question of convenience to the public His Majesty's Government have not given us this Traffic Board. Therefore, as I say, we are obliged to raise this question in this way.

I think a very good case can be made out for the granting of workmen's fares. There are streets in London which are not served by any tramway and which workmen use in order to go to their work. I will take the case of Hammersmith to the City. Great numbers of working men go every morning from Hammersmith to the City and the omnibus is their means of conveyance. I could quote other lines, but I do not think it is necessary to do so. There is a society called the National Association for the Extension of Workmen's Trams and Trains. It is an association which I believe has the support of all the trade unions and all the working men's organisations in London. This association approached the motor-'bus companies by a deputation last February and asked them to give workmen's fares. The 'bus companies replied, "We will consider the matter." They have gone on considering the matter now for nearly twelve months, and the workmen have got no nearer, so far as they know, than they were last February. I think the 'bus companies have been rather coquetting with this question for some time, because in the Traffic Report of the Board of Trade the passage occurs, with reference to omnibuses, that "workmen's fares may be introduced on omnibuses." I cannot help feeling that that passage is due either to a feeling on the part of the Board of Trade officials who were on that Committee that workmen's fares ought to be introduced, or to a feeling on the part of the 'bus companies that they will not long be allowed to retain this very peculiar anomally.

There is one other point to which I should like to call your Lordships' attention with regard to this matter. It does seem a very unfair thing on the ratepayers of London. London ratepayers have invested in the tramways undertaking something like £10,000,000. They provide workmen's fares and have exhibited no desire that this obligation should be taken away from them and that they should be relieved of this expense. But their undertaking is being very hard pressed by the London General Omnibus Company, whose 'buses are run for the benefit of the shareholders, and consequently the enterprise of the ratepayers in which their money is invested is being very hard hit by a commercial company which is under no obligation and so far as I am aware cannot be made by anybody except by His Majesty's Govern- ment to perform what I venture to think is an ordinary duty that they owe to the City which they are exploiting. I beg to ask the Questions standing in my name.


My Lords, I think I ought to express my regret to the noble Lord that, I did not understand from the form in which he put the Questions on the Paper that he was likely to travel into such large and important questions as the effect upon the rates of London of the fares charged in the trams and in motor omnibuses. I hope he will forgive me if I confine myself to answering the five Questions which he has on the Paper and which deal with various matters of fact, and do not enter into a discussion of the matters of opinion with which so much of his speech dealt.

The first Question deals with the number of passengers carried on the London County Council tramways during the year which ended On March 31, 1912. The Secretary of State is informed that the number so carried was 533,410,200, and that 11.586 per cent. of the total, amounting to 61,806,125, were carried at workmen's fares, and this includes return journeys made with workmen's tickets. The Secretary of State has no information as to the fares charged on motor omnibuses, and, as the noble Lord is well aware, he has no authority to interfere with or regulate them in any way. I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope to the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government are likely to introduce legislation dealing with this subject. It certainly is not in contemplation at present, and I do not suppose the noble Lord is surprised at that considering the present state of affairs.


No one, I am sure, will be surprised that the Government deprecate an attempt to press for further legislation at the present time, but I think we ought not to part with the question without assuring His Majesty's Government that this subject is becoming more serious and important every day; and I am afraid that they will find that if they study the interests of the metropolis from a number of points of view they will have to consider the present position in which motor omnibuses stand. To take one point. The streets of London have been laid with the intention of carrying a traffic not so rapid and not so heavy as is provided by motor omnibuses. The consequence, I was informed by a member of one of the metropolitan borough councils last night, is that the extra expenditure during a single year for the upkeep of the roads of his borough had come to somewhere between £8,000 and £10,000, and the engineers state that this does not represent anything like what must be spent, because to put the roads right for this traffic they must be pulled up and the depth of asphalt underneath the road, which is now, I think, nine inches, must be doubled. I think it is obvious that with this mode of traffic increasing every day, however valuable it is, His Majesty's Government must sooner or later recognise that a new science of locomotion has arisen and that in some way or another the local authorities must have made good to them the very great loss they are at present incurring in the interests of one portion of the traffic of London only.

The matter of workmen's fares is quite a different subject. It is true that motor-'buses are the only means of locomotion exempt from that very heavy tax. But if my noble friend had received from the noble Earl opposite an answer which would have been more pleasant to his point of view, he would have been damaging the London County Council tramways, because it is obvious that if a large system of workmen's fares were to be started on the motor omnibuses it would to some extent take away from the enormous number of people who at present travel on the tramways, and as all arrangements have been made by the tramways to provide for the public in this direction they would be the losers to that extent. But whether you look at it from the point of view of the immunity of omnibuses from restrictions placed upon others; their immunity from rates, which is not the case with railroads and tramways; or the damage that they do, which is not the case either with railroads or tramways, I think your Lordships will admit that some clear case is made out for the interposition of the Government, which might take place with very little difficulty by the establishment of a Traffic Board as foreshadowed by the Prime Minister.


My Lords, I should like to point out to the noble Viscount who has just sat down that there are many streets in London which have not got trams and where workmen's fares are required at the present time, notably the Fulham-road and the road from Hammersmith via Oxford-street, and I could mention others where the institution of workmen's fares on motor omnibuses would not in the least interfere with the trams. I agree with the noble Viscount that there must be appointed sooner or later a Traffic Board which shall decide where the 'buses shall go and where trains shall go, and thus avoid not only the cut-throat competition of these two modes of communication but also prevent a state of things which is at present a danger to the public.

House adjourned at a quarter past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.