§ Bill read 3ª, with the Amendments.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU moved to omit from the Bill Clause 24—
§ As to traffic services on work No. 1.
§ 24.—(1) For the purposes of this section—
§ The expression "the company" shall mean any authority company or person working or running any service of mechanically propelled omnibuses on any part of the new roadway (Work No. 1) by this Act authorised:
§ (2) The company shall pay to the council a sum equal to three-eighths of a penny per car mile run by any such omnibus over the new 3 roadway (Work No. 1) by this Act authorised towards the cost of the maintenance of such roadway. All sums of money payable to the council under the provisions of this section shall be paid quarterly and shall be deemed to be a debt due to the council and recoverable from the company accordingly.
§ (3) The company shall keep daily records for the purposes of this section showing in proper detail the number of journeys and the mileage run by each such omnibus of the company on the new roadway and shall furnish statements of such journeys and mileages quarterly to the council and the company shall allow any person duly authorised by the council in that behalf at all reasonable times to inspect and take copies of all such records awl any accounts kept by the company relating to the running of any omnibus of the company.
§ (4) All sums received by the council under the provisions of this section shall be carried to the general county fund.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this Amendment first on behalf of those who, like myself, are interested in the general free user of the roads, and, secondly, on behalf of the Road Board, who have from the commencement opposed this clause; and I ask your Lordships to omit it also on the ground that if this question is to be dealt with at all it should be by general legislation. I do not in any way claim to represent the interests of the particular motor-omnibus companies affected by this clause nor those of motor-omnibus companies in general. They are quite able to watch their own interests. The companies concerned were represented before the Parliamentary Committees by able counsel, and it is not part of my business to-day to argue over again the case which was very well put before the Committees of both Houses when the Bill was being considered in those stages. But there were certain points not mentioned before the Committees and other points which I think were not sufficiently emphasised, and to-day I propose to draw your Lordships' attention chiefly to those points which concern that aspect of the question.
§ It cannot be denied that there is a general consensus of opinion that heavy motor traffic, including traction-engine traffic, should pay more towards the maintenance of the roads. No one can use the roads to-day without seeing the immense amount of damage done by heavy traffic to roads which are quite capable of carrying the ordinary motor-car and horse traffic, but are not constructed for this heavy traffic. I am one of those who think that we must have general legislation on this question, and I throw out as a sugges- 4 tion that it would be perfectly fair, for instance, to ask heavy motor traffic to forego the rebate of 1½d. on motor spirit and to pay, as we all do who use motor cars, 3d. a gallon, and that amount might be used by the Road Board in paying for special damage or in giving grants in aid of maintenance in addition to the present grants for new work.
§ This case of the new western road is unlike other cases that come before your Lordships, inasmuch as the Road Board have given £400,000 towards the estimated cost of snaking this new road. I had a conversation on the subject with Sir George Gibb, the Chairman of the Road Board, and he has authorised me to say that when we gave this large sum of money for this necessary western exit out of London we never had it in contemplation that there would not be a general user of the road. When we have given grants we have always insisted that the general public should have the same rights over the particular road as over any other road—namely, the rights of free coming and going; and if we had thought for a moment that this clause would have been inserted by the Committee of the other House and agreed to by the Committee of your Lordships' House we should have taken a different view of the position and probably would not have given so much towards this particular improvement.
§ The object of constructing this exit is to surmount the great difficulty which many of us have experienced of getting out of London westward. There is the well-known narrow neck at Brentford only thirteen feet wide, and there are other places where congestion occurs between Knightsbridge and Hounslow, and it was to get rid of this congestion that the Road Board made this large grant towards the construction of this western road, and we hoped that as much traffic as possible would be diverted from the old narrow road to this new road, which is, I may mention, being built stronger than other roads especially in order that it may be able to withstand heavy modern mechanically-propelled traffic. Therefore we were naturally very surprised when we found that the Committees of both Houses had passed a clause whereby three-eighths of a penny per mile per motor-omnibus is to be charged over a portion of the new roadway. The anomaly of the position is that there is to 5 be no charge made for traction-engines and heavy lorries. In other words, a traction-engine can go along that road weighing up to sixteen tons and pulling two trucks weighing ten tons each, and motor-lorries can go along the road conveying an amount of heavy material weighing very much more than a motor-omnibus. These traction-engines and motor-lorries are not only heavier than motor-omnibuses, but they are run on steel-tyred wheels and therefore do more harm to the roads than motor-omnibuses, which are run on rubber-tyred wheels. Yet motor-omnibuses are to be charged mileage, whereas no charge is to be made in the case of these other heavy vehicles.
§ About a fortnight ago the Government announced that they were going to appoint a Joint Committee to go into this question of heavy traffic, and to recommend what alteration should be made in the law or what regulations should be issued by the Local Government Board on the subject. That announcement was, I am sure, welcome news to many of the home counties near London, the ratepayers of which are heavily burdened in the matter of road maintenance for traffic originating outside their borders and from which they get no benefit whatever. The whole question is one which needs careful consideration, and to treat this subject in the piecemeal way proposed in this Bill and make a charge for a particular five miles of road, a new road specially designed to carry heavy traffic, is, in my opinion, to deal with the matter in the wrong way. The Road Board offer no opinion themselves, and I do not pretend to voice their opinion, on the question as to whether or not heavy traffic should contribute. When I say that it should, that is my personal opinion.
In regard to the proposal contained in the clause which I am asking your Lordships to delete, the Road Board thought it wise to put on record in a letter to the Local Government Board some of their objections to the proposal, and on June 15 they wrote setting forth their objections to the clause, the gist of their letter being that—
motor-omnibus traffic does not injure a road properly constructed and properly maintained.
That, I think, is a self-evident proposition. We have evidence of that fact constantly,
not only from surveyors in large provincial towns but from surveyors in London. The opinion of the latter is that none of the great trunk roads of London—Piccadilly, the Strand, Regent-street, and so on—have been damaged by motor-omnibus traffic. I could even quote evidence from surveyors to show that the cost of road maintenance in Westminster and Marylebone has decreased from what it was at the time when horse-drawn omnibuses were on the roads. There is no provision in this Bill which will prevent motor traffic from continuing to use the old road, and therefore one of the objects for which the Road Board gave this large contribution—namely, that the traffic should be diverted on to the new and properly constructed road in order that the congestion which now arises on the old road should be avoided—will be defeated.
Decisions under the existing law given in many cases decided in your Lordships' House and in Courts elsewhere have laid down the general right of user of the roads, subject alone to the question of extraordinary traffic. I believe that every distinguished lawyer now admits that the question of extraordinary traffic is an exceedingly difficult, one, and one of the objects of this Committee which is to be set up will be, I understand, to make clear the law on that point, and, if possible, to lay down more precisely what extraordinary traffic is. At the present moment I cannot do better than read to your Lordships a passage from a judgment by Lord Moulton, in which, in a remit case, he laid down the law relating to the user of the roads. He said this—
The community have come definitely to the conclusion that absolute freedom of user coupled with common upkeep of the roads is the wisest thing for the nation.
That states in general terms the general right of user of the roads by the public as a whole. I could read other quotations from judgments on that point, but I do not think my argument will be contested by the promoters of this Bill.
§ I submit that if the Middlesex County Council feel that they ought to make some charge in respect of this user of the new road by motor-omnibuses, it would have been wiser if it had been subject to one or two other conditions. One would have 7 been that there should have been evidence taken after three years user of the road by this class of traffic, and that then some approximate amount should be charged for special damage. Another way would have been to ask the Road Board their opinion on the matter, and the Road Board might have given even more than they have given rather than allow the Middlesex, County Council to make this special charge. I maintain that, supposing the Middlesex County Council are right in their contention, there is plenty of time within the next two years in which to deal with the matter. I may remind your Lordships that this road will take a long time to construct, certainly not less than two years, and before it will be fit for use there will be, no doubt, sufficient regulations on the subject and the difficulties will probably be swept away.
§ It is a dangerous precedent to set up a special toll on five miles of this new road. When they begin with one kind of vehicle there is nothing to prevent their proceeding with another kind. This proposed charge upsets the whole of our highway law ever since the Act of 1868. Moreover, if we allow these privileges to the Middlesex County Council, which spends a very small percentage of its income on its roads, how can we refuse the same kind of relief to agricultural communities which suffer much more from traffic of this kind? I leave the case there, and I trust that your Lordships will give it your consideration. Speaking both as a student of road matters and as a member of the Road Board, I think this is an ill-advised clause, and I hope your Lordships will agree to delete it.
Leave out Clause 24.—(Lord Montagu of Beaulieu)
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment which has just been moved. This matter is not a local one only; it involves a general principle, and one that I think ought to be very carefully considered. The general principle to my mind is this, that by this clause a special tax is going to be put on a special kind of vehicle. The effect of that will be that these vehicles will either avoid the new road altogether, or the proprietors will recoup themselves by charging higher fares. One of the great problems of the day 8 is how to obtain quick, cheap, and rapid transit from our large towns to the country. We are always complaining of the congestion of population and the difficulty there is of obtaining houses for working people and the lower middle class, and it is therefore of the greatest importance that the poor man's motor-car, which is the motor-omnibus, should be as cheaply run as possible. If a special tax is going to be put on motor-omnibuses, the fares charged must necessarily be higher than is absolutely necessary. It is quite open to argument that heavy traffic ought to be taxed more than light traffic, but I cannot see where the argument comes in if you tax only one particular kind of heavy traffic. Traction engines sometimes have behind them six enormous trucks, almost like railway trucks, which break up the strongest road. Why are not they to be taxed if motor-omnibuses are to be taxed? You ought to go on some general principle and tax all heavy traffic or none at all. Therefore in the interests of the public and in the interests of getting the working people out of our towns rapidly and bringing them back rapidly, I support the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved to omit this clause.
§ *THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
My Lords, as chairman of the Committee of your Lordships' House by whom this Bill was considered, I hope your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment to delete this clause. This is a Bill promoted by the Middlesex County Council to make a new road which will form a very important outlet from London to the West of England. The new road leaves the main road at Hounslow, and passes through Brent-ford, but not on the route of the present Brentford road, and joins the West of England road on the other side of Brentford. Many of your Lordships know the condition of the old Brentford road. As long ago as the old coaching days this road was condemned as one of the worst approaches to London. Nothing, however, was done. But when motor-omnibuses came into existence a new road became absolutely necessary, and with the creation of the Road Board came the possibility of construction. The Road Board agreed to contribute 75 per cent. of the total cost of construction, the other 25 per cent. falling upon the ratepayers of Middlesex. The length of the road is five miles, and the estimated cost £500,000.
9 The question of motor-omnibuses is the question which is dealt with by Clause 24. Your Lordships know the enormous damage which is done by motor-omnibuses to country roads all over England. These vehicles have got on to the roads under conditions extremely favourable to themselves. In the case of a tramway undertaking the promoters have to come to Parliament, and Parliament imposes conditions upon the tramways for the upkeep of the roads. It is not so with motor-omnibus companies. All the owners have to do is to obtain a licence, and having got a licence they can establish a line of omni-buses on any of the existing roads without anybody's leave; they may damage the roads as much as they like, and you cannot get anything out of them. We had it in evidence before the Committee that at the annual meeting of the urban district councils held last year, at which 200 councils were represented and 400 delegates were present, the following resolution was passed—That this conference is of opinion that local authorities should have the power of laying down defined roads for omnibus traffic, and such traffic should contribute towards the cost of road maintenance in addition to the petrol tax at present levied.The petrol tax at present goes to the funds of the Road Board, and the motor-omnibus companies claim that, inasmuch as the Road Board has contributed to the cost of this new road, they (the motor-omnibus companies) have contributed in that way to the original cost of construction. That is not disputed. But that does not alter the fact that they will be absolutely free, unless this clause remains in the Bill, from ever paying anything at all for the damage which they may do on this new road. That is the case with all roads throughout the country. It is only when a new road is constructed and before that road is dedicated to the public that the road authority—in this case the Middlesex County Council—can come to Parliament and ask to be given a clause putting some restrictions on this motor-omnibus traffic. That has been done in the present case.
When this Bill was before the Committee of the other House the Middlesex County Council asked that they should have the right to prohibit motor-omnibuses coming on to this road at all. The Commons Committee thought that that was going too far, but they agreed that motor- 10 omnibuses should contribute to the upkeep of the road. That is the history of how Clause 24 came to be inserted in the Bill in the other House, and this clause was agreed to by the Committee of your Lordships' House. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Meath) is quite right when he says that motor-omnibuses carry a large number of persons belonging to the class of the community who cannot afford any other form of motor carriage. But, of course, the motor-omnibus is not a benevolent institution upon wheels run for philanthropic purposes. All these motor-omnibuses are the property of companies trading for profit, and if you put a charge upon them for the damage they do to the roads you diminish the profits, and that explains the opposition of the motor-omnibus companies to this clause. The noble Lord who moved this Amendment asked why motor-omnibuses should be taxed and not other heavy mechanically-propelled vehicles. The reason is that the traffic of motor-omnibuses is continuous; they pass to and fro frequently. The noble Lord said that he could produce evidence that in Westminster and Piccadilly motor-omnibuses did not do much harm to the roads. When the traffic is congested motor-omnibuses have to go slowly and do less damage. But on open roads they go swinging along at a rapid pace and do more harm. I do not know whether the noble Lord objects to the principle of taxing motor-omnibuses for the repair of roads.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I stated that I was in favour of some scheme whereby you could make the taxation of heavy vehicles a general principle, but that I was not in favour of dealing with the question in this piecemeal manner.
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
I understand that the noble Lord does not object to the principle of taxing motor-'buses, but thinks that this is the wrong moment to begin on account of anticipated legislation which is to proceed from the intention to appoint a Committee to inquire into this matter. I do not know whether the noble Lord can say when we shall get this legislation. It may be three or four years before anything is done. Are we to make no attempt in the meantime to put some charge on this motor-omnibus traffic which damages our roads?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment has made some rather remarkable statements about motor-omnibuses and the London roads. May I say, first of all, that no doubt it is against principle to go back to what may be called to some extent the old turnpike system as regards charging specifically the vehicles that use the roads and not throwing the whole of the cost on the general taxpayers. But I think that principle ought to be revised to some extent, because when you have these tremendous changes introduced by new machinery and an enormous cost cast upon the already heavily burdened ratepayers, it is time that you should reconsider the principle of whether you should not put some specific charge on a particular class of vehicle that does a particular amount of damage to the roads. I agree that on principle it would be better that that money should be charged by the Central Government, and that then a larger grant should be given to the local authority by the Central Government in order to make up for the damage. But one has had particular experience in the London County Council of the treatment local authorities get from the Government. The Government are rather fond of laying taxes on specific forms of property that we thought were particularly our own; and they promised us in various cases when the tax was imposed that we were going to get half of it. I am afraid that if they had the taxation in this case we could not accept their promises, and therefore as a pis aller, perhaps, it is better that the money should in the first case go to us.
These motor-omnibuses can not only run on one road but they can run on any road they choose. I am perfectly content that if they are properly controlled they should not have a specific charge laid upon them; and on the London County Council we have again and again asked that we should have, not only for London but for Greater London, a road authority which should control the streets on which motor-omnibuses should run, and that they should not have freedom to run on any road. Lord Montagu, with some temerity, I thought, considering that he is a member of the Road Board, told us that very little damage was done by the running of motor-omnibuses on the London roads, and he cited one or two cases. It 12 is quite true that, as regards the maintenance of the roads, there is some saving to be set against wear and tear; but that is only true of one or two particular places in London. I can give this very strong evidence the other way, that I have been battering at the Road Board to give us in London other improvements, and what is the reply of the Road Board? Their reply is that so much damage is done by this new form of traffic to the roads that for the present they will give us nothing, but will concentrate the whole of their grants on the actual maintenance of the roads themselves, showing that in the opinion of the Road Board an immense amount of damage is done by motor-omnibuses, and I think it is common knowledge that it is so. Therefore although I feel that the principle is a dangerous one and no doubt the matter should be fully examined, I shall support the noble Duke's Committee in this specific instance as a protest against the way in which motor-omnibuses are allowed to roam freely over the whole country without control being exercised over them by any central authority.
My Lords, one observation made by the noble Duke opposite was received with rather general applause, and I was not altogether surprised at it. I refer to the observation that motor-omnibuses seriously damage country roads. That is so. In many cases when heavy vehicles like motor-omnibuses are put on country roads it is in no sense a user of the road, but a destruction of the road. In those cases motor-omnibuses should be prohibited from travelling on those roads at all. But that comparison does not apply to this proposed new western road. This road is to be constructed in the most modern way. It is to be an urban road of the most possible urban character, with concrete foundations and wood blocks on the top, and the damage that will be done to it by motor-omnibuses will be very small. A letter appeared in The Times a few days ago from Mr. Shrapnel Smith, an authority on this subject, who pointed out that this proposed tax, if levied on the omnibus services using Piccadilly, would more than suffice for the entire maintenance of Piccadilly and the streets used by these motor-omnibuses.
I think, with the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that there is a great deal to 13 be said for the proposal to control the routes of these vehicles and prevent them using streets which are unsuitable, but the proper way to do that is not to proceed by piecemeal legislation with regard to particular bits of thoroughfares here and there when opportunity arises and to propose a sort of local tax or octroi. I admit that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his petrol tax the general principle was, to some extent, departed from, and it may be that there is a general opinion now that heavy traffic ought to pay more in respect of the roads. I think the same thing might apply mulatis mutandis to light traffic. But are you to have a London borough, when it brings up a General Powers Bill or something of that kind, or when it comes to Parliament for some gas undertaking, imposing a special tax on, say, a portion of Piccadilly or King's-road, Chelsea, and saying that no motor-omnibus is to travel over that half mile without paying a local tax? If you once admit this principle of local charges, where are you to stop? I am not interested in this personally, but I am interested in seeing some sensible principle applied to the matter.
It seems to me a rather serious thing, as we learn from the noble Lord opposite, that this large contribution was obtained from tire Road Board from funds to which motor-omnibuses have been a rather heavy contributor without any intimation, that the Middlesex County Council were going to propose on this new road made with this money to levy a special and obnoxious tax of this character. But if you are going to tax motor-omnibuses why not tax other heavy vehicles? The noble Duke said the reason was that the other heavy vehicles only used the roads occasionally, but I venture to assert that they use the roads with great frequency. London is very much disturbed with large traction-engines drawing sometimes very heavy trailers, and these with their iron-tyred wheels must do a great deal more damage to the roads than motor-omnibuses with their rubber tyres will do in this case running on a road which is supported by concrete.
When the Bill was passed which constituted the Road Board, there was a principle enunciated to which the proposal in this clause is directly contrary. I was at that time in favour, and I am still, of the Road Board limiting the use of a portion of a road to special vehicles for which it 14 may be fitted, say, for instance, a cycle track by the side of a road. It is no use the road authority providing a certain part of a road for ordinary bicycles—I mean push bicycles—if that is going to be cut up by the wheels of carts. I thought it might be good to do what is done in the Champs Elysées in Paris and limit one portion of the road to motor traffic. But at the time the Road Board was constituted all these proposals were put on one side, and the opinion of Parliament was declared that all roads to which the Road Board contributed should be public highways, and by that I think Parliament meant that they should be open to the public as all our highways are. The power of levying taxation of this kind will not have a good effect, because the traffic may go through the old Brentford road and may continue the congestion, or it may go through by-roads and cut them up. Bat if it goes through this new road, then those for whom motor-omnibuses cater will have to pay more in fares. To motor-omnibus proprietors it is a matter of dividends; that is the ground of their opposition. But there was also opposition, which unfortunately owing to the rules of your Lordships' House was not admitted to a locus standi, on the part of the Roads Improvement Association, totally disconnected with the motor-omnibus agitation, and I think we could have placed before your Lordships' Committee figures which would have gone very far to rebut the evidence of the Middlesex surveyor as to cost. In all these circumstances I hope your Lordships will think fit to await the result of some general legislation, and will not begin by cutting up the country piecemeal into little toll gate districts.
§ LORD BARNARD
My Lords, I ask permission to say a few words on this subject, because I have this session been chairman of a Select Committee which inquired at considerable length into a Bill dealing with a very similar subject to that which is now under your Lordships' consideration. In case you might be led to think that this is a singular or isolated instance, I should like to remind the House generally that there are no less than 20 Acts of Parliament—they have already passed, or are in course of being passed—dealing with this very subject.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
This case differs from all those in that the Road Board have given a contribution of £400,000.
§ LORD BARNARD
The Committee of which I was chairman had the greatest difficulty in coming to a satisfactory conclusion on the subject because there were no general principles laid down which could guide them, and I would urge upon His Majesty's Government to lose no time in appointing some proper body to inquire into the subject with a view to laying down some satisfactory principle which can be applied to all Bills of this description. With regard to what the noble Duke has said about motor-omnibuses being run for private profit, may I supplement that by stating that the clause with which my Committee had to deal bad nothing whatever to do with motor-omnibuses running for private profit, nor have many of the other cases. They are cases where corporations are seeking to run motor-omnibuses outside their own borders.
I sympathise entirely with Lord Meath's suggestion that motor-omnibuses are the motors of the poorer and humbler classes and I think they are entitled to have roads on which they can be rim, but the question as to who should pay for the damage which these motor-omnibuses do has to be considered, and some satisfactory solution ought to be found before it goes any further. We were told in the evidence that was given before us that a motor-omnibus when loaded weighed nearly six tons, but a peculiar circumstance in connection with it is that four tons are on the hind axles and two tons on the front axles, the result consequently being that there is a considerable knocking action which damages roads far more than any other kind of action. But I do not suppose the damage in this particular case will be so great. Another point to bear in mind is the frequency with which motor-omnibuses run. A heavy traction-engine, even if it goes once a day each way, is nothing compared with this continual knocking action of motor-omnibuses in the case, say, of a quarter-hour service from eight o'clock in the morning till nine or ten o'clock at night. I hope that before this debate closes your Lordships will hear from the Government Benches what steps they propose to take to deal with this very great difficulty. As to the proposed contribution of three-eighths of a penny, our Committee heard a great deal about that but declined to put it into the Bill because nobody could tell us the principle on which it was based. The explanation, 16 no doubt, is that a half-penny had been suggested by one side and the other side had suggested a farthing, and they split the difference.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, as the representative of the Local Government Board the House would, perhaps, like me to intervene for a few moments in this discussion. It has not been the practice of the Local Government Board, as your Lordships are aware, to interfere with the decisions of Private Bill Committees as regards details of this sort. Their practice has rather been to point out to the Committees what the objections to, or the advantages of, any proposals of this sort may be. I disagree with Lord Montagu in his statement that this case is entirely different from other cases because of the fact that the Road Board has given a very large grant. If this were a national question it would rather mean that no charge at all ought to fall on the local rates for the maintenance of this road, but although a large sum has been given to the Middlesex County Council towards the cost of the construction of this road, yet the cost of its maintenance will fall entirely on the county rates. Therefore there is a precedent for the Middlesex County Council asking that some such clause as has been inserted in other Private Acts should be put into this Bill in order that the ratepayers of the district through which this traffic, which is not a local but to a large extent a national traffic, passes, should be relieved of some part of the cost of maintenance. Again, it seems to me that there is a good deal of difference between motor-omnibus traffic, which is excursion and pleasure traffic to a large extent, and that of heavy motor traction; not that I wish to say one word against heavy motor traffic paying a fair share towards the cost of the roads, but it seems to me that motor-omnibus traffic stands by itself. For if you put a tax upon heavy motor traffic, which is trade, you may be fairly said to be to a very large extent putting a tax upon trade, whereas, as I have said, motor-omnibus traffic is largely a pleasure traffic. Motor-omnibuses go out ten, twenty, or thirty miles into country districts on pleasure, and are no advantage at all to those localities.
The noble Lord who has moved the omission of this clause did not refer to the 17 circumstances attending a similar Motion in the other House. I think he, like myself an old member of the House of Commons, will admit that it was very remarkable that when a Motion was actually made on Report in another place that this should be considered "this day three months," mover could not even get a seconder, which shows the strong feeling there is in the House of Commons on this question. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord will be endangering this Bill very much if he makes any alteration in it. It would be much better, I suggest to him—and this is the view of the Local Government Board—that this question should be hung up until the matter has been thoroughly threshed out by the Joint Committee of both Houses which is to consider the whole question of the use of the roads by motor-omnibuses, and, incidentally, whether they should pay anything towards the cost of maintenance.
I would venture to suggest to the noble Lord whether it might not be desirable to amend the clause so as to provide that, it any general legislation should Subsequently be passed altering or abolishing this proposed charge, it should apply to this Private Act. A provision of this kind in a Private Act can only be altered by a Public Act when specific direction to that effect is given in the Public Act—that is to say, general legislation by itself would not apply to Private Acts which had been passed giving local authorities a right to make a charge upon motor-omnibuses using the roads; but by adopting my suggestion the noble Lord would protect his friends on this particular point, and, at the same time, his action would not prejudge, as I think we ought not to prejudge, what is going to be the decision of the Joint Committee of both Houses on the subject of whether or not motor-omnibuses ought to be made to contribute to the cost of maintenance. We are all agreed that this is a question which ought to be threshed out. But if your Lordships were to strike out this clause it might be very well held that one House had considered the matter already, and had prejudged any decision at which the Joint Committee might arrive.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, after the very full discussion that has taken place upon the merits of this 18 clause, I do not feel that I ought to take up much of your Lordships' time with reference to it. Your Lordships are in a certain difficulty, because whilst we are discussing a clause of a particular Bill applying, as has been said, to a road merely five miles long, we are at the same time very much more than on the verge of the far greater question of principle, and that question, already a very great one, is increasing in urgency every day. Those of your Lord ships who read the Sunday newspapers will have noticed a column advertisement of a prospectus which opens up a tremendous vista of motor-omnibus traffic far greater than anything we have yet dreamed of. In this prospectus London, Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Folkestone, Dover, Deal, Ramsgate, and Margate are referred to as one system. There are others mentioned, and it is obvious that we are on the brink of very great developments in this matter.
I should regret very much if your Lordships did not support the Committee which heard the full details in this particular case. The noble Lord who represents the Local Government Board has suggested that general legislation will probably result—I do not think I am putting it too high—from the labours of the Joint Committee which we are looking forward to seeing appointed, but I suggest to him that if general legislation does result from the proceedings of the Committee, as I hope it may, there will be no difficulty in inserting in the Bill which carries out that general legislation a clause to the effect that it is to apply to any case such as this which your Lordships are considering and such as the twenty or so cases which have been already referred to by Lord Barnard as existing. I think that would be a more convenient course than inserting in this one Bill out of the twenty odd an Amendment to that effect. I think we can trust the general legislation to take care of itself in a case like that, should such general legislation result. In this particular case, I feel that the matter of principle has been carefully gone into by a Committee of your Lordships' House; they heard all the evidence, and I say, with all respect to the speeches which have been made this afternoon—I have, of course, read all the evidence—that I find all the points that have been raised in the discussion this afternoon mentioned in the 19 evidence, except the points referred to by Lord Russell—the points which, as he said, owing to the question of locus standi, which was perfectly correctly decided by the Committee, were not put before them.
And may I point out this. The principle we are discussing this afternoon is not whether certain heavy vehicles should make a contribution to the rates. The principle we are discussing is whether vehicles which make a profit out of the roads should pay a contribution. I do not wish in any way to prejudice the decision of the Joint Committee. Lord Balfour of Burleigh has kindly consented to serve as chairman of the Joint Committee when it is set up, and I am sure he will not be prejudiced by any thing that is said this afternoon. But I feel that in this case, where a Committee of your Lordships' House have heard all the evidence fully and have come to this decision, your Lordships would be unwise not to support them in their decision, more especially as no facts have been brought forward which were not before the Committee. I should therefore regret it if your Lordships did not decide to allow Clause 24 to remain as part of the Bill.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I should like to answer briefly one or two of the points that have been raised in this discussion. I stated that I agreed with the general principle that heavy motor traffic should pay more, and I am not surprised to find that the noble Duke and the other members of the Committee who considered this Bill agree with that idea. The noble Earl the Lord Chairman said that there was a special case for this charge in regard to motor-omnibuses because they made a profit, but I would point out that every commercial van—the vans of Maples, Harrods, and so on—which conveys the articles of the great London firms also makes a profit indirectly, and therefore should be considered.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
Just so. I do not wish to detain the House further, but I have made what I think is a good protest against this clause. None of my objections to it have been removed, and I regard this as a bad piece 20 of legislation. But I have been to some extent convinced by what the noble Earl the Lord Chairman said, that when this question is being considered, in view of the Report of the Joint Committee which is to be appointed, there will be a convenient opportunity to insert a clause which will deal with all these cases of London, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, and other places. I assume that it is the general opinion of the House that that is the most convenient course, and in those circumstances I shall not press my Amendment. But I still think that this is a dangerous precedent, and it is only because I am convinced that before this road is fully constructed this point will be considered by the Joint Committee that I withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.
§ Brought from the Commons.