§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I think there will not be much question as to the necessity for this Bill. It is a Bill to make provision for the control and regulation of traffic in and near London. No doubt, in the detailed proposals, which I will try to explain as clearly as I can, there may be room for criticism. The question was much discussed in another place, and, so far as the difficulties and dangers of present day traffic are concerned, a good deal has been said, both in this House and in another pace. Your Lordships heard, with great regret, that the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, had been nearly killed by a motor car driven at what was considered to be an excessive pace. I do not suppose that your Lordships will desire to go back in any way upon the matters which were there discussed It ought to be borne in mind that the Bill only refers to traffic in and near London. That does not mean that there is no necessity for the control of traffic outside London. But so far as this Bill is concerned, it is limited to an area of 25 miles around Charing Cross. At any rate, it is a limited Bill and the extent to which it is limited is shown in the terms of the First Schedule. Therefore, I think I shall perform my duty most shortly and, I hope, clearly, by referring at once to the special provisions which the Bill contains.
The first provision is contained in Clause 1 the proposal being to constitute what is called an Advisory Committee for the purpose of giving advice and assistance, in the manner provided by the Bill, to the Minister of Transport, who is the Minister concerned in the administration of this Bill and to whom large powers are 407 given by the Bill in the matter of the control and regulation of traffic. That proposed Advisory Committee consists of nineteen members. I need not go into the methods of appointment, which are all set out in the clause. There are certain ordinary members who are always part of the Committee and certain additional members who are only called to be members of the Committee on specified occasions. I might, perhaps, called the attention of your Lordships to subsection (5), which I think indicates a very proper test of disqualification for membership:—A person shall be disqualified for being appointed or being an ordinary member of the Advisory Committee if he is a director of a company or a partner in a firm or is in the employment of a company or firm engaged in providing means of transport within the London Traffic Area.Obviously, that is a proper measure of disqualification because a person in any such position must be biassed in regard to the matters with which this Bill proposes to deal. The only other point that I think I need refer to in Clause 1 is that the Advisory Committee is under duty to make an annual Report of their proceedings which shall be laid before Parliament. Therefore, what it does under this Bill will come annually before Parliament and, if necessary, of course will be matter for discussion.
Clause 2 deals with the duties of the Advisory Committee. Their duties are considerable in extent, but in most cases are merely preliminary to a decision being given by the Minister himself; so that, undoubtedly, it is a principle of this Bill that the Minister is the responsible person, and the Minister is subject to Parliamentary control. Then it is said that it is the duty of the Advisory Committee to advise the Minister upon such matters as he refers to them under the Bill, or as the Minister may refer to them from time to time under the Second Schedule. If your Lordships will look at the Second Schedule you will find that it refers to a very large number of matters in respect to any of which the Minister can refer for consultation and advice to the Advisory Committee.
In Clause 3 power is given to the Advisory Committee to hold inquiries, with proper provisions to give notice to persons interested who have a right to be heard. In subsection (3) a certain right of delegation is given, which is, I 408 think, necessary for a large Committee of this kind in connection with the duties thrown upon them.
The first clause which appears to me to be of real, importance, and not a mere question of procedure, is Clause 4 ["Closing of streets for works"] to which I attach great importance. I think it is extremely valuable. Probably your Lordships are all aware of the great inconvenience of dealing with matters of road maintenance and improvement, very often at the most crowded time of the year and under very inconvenient conditions. Streets are interfered with now by two types of person—by the local authority who have the care and guardianship of the streets, and by the undertakers, as they are called, such as the old water companies, electric lighting companies and undertakers, and persons with similar powers who, in pursuance of the statutory right which they possess, are entitled, under conditions, to take up the streets from time to time in connection with their business.
The first portion of this clause refers to street authorities and can, I think, be stated quite shortly, although the clause itself is rather long. The proposal is that these local authorities who desire to deal with the taking up of streets shall prepare a scheme for the succeeding six months' work; the idea being to bring about what is called coordination in order that streets in a great area like London, for instance, shall be dealt with generally so far as to interfere as little as possible with the traffic and comfort of passengers, whether in vehicles or on foot. When this scheme for six months has been prepared by the local authorities concerned it comes before the Minister. The Minister sends it for advice to the Advisory Committee, and in the end he is himself responsible for issuing an order, either sanctioning the scheme as it is brought before him, or sanctioning it with amendments. When the scheme has once been sanctioned, except for special matters of emergency or things of that kind, it becomes compulsorily operative. That is a very important matter, because of the somewhat anarchic way in which the streets of a great town are now interfered with, occasioning great obstruction and inconvenience to traffic.
409 If your Lordships will look beyond that point to a later stage, in the clause—subsection (3)—you will find that there the Bill proposes to deal with undertakers having statutory authority. The design is that the scheme of the local authorities shall be sent to the undertakers, and the undertakers shall carry out any works that they want to do at the time when the streets are opened for the purposes of the local authority. It is admitted that a great nuisance is caused nowadays by this kind of thing happening: Immediately one authority has opened up a street and put it down again, another authority, or undertaker, comes and opens it up and occasions once more all the difficulties and obstruction to traffic. There is a provision, therefore, that these undertakers are to take advantage of the time when the streets are pulled up by the local authorities, and not to have a further power of interfering with them for twelve months after that date, except in cases of emergency. Of course, in cases of emergency, like the breaking of a pipe or something of that kind, the matter must be dealt with immediately, but, subject to an emergency arising, the provision is that the undertakers must take advantage of the time when the streets are already opened for purposes of repair and renewal. For twelve months from that date they are not to have the power of acting independently. I believe that provision for co-ordinating interference with the streets will, in itself, be a very great advantage to traffic facilities.
There is a further provision, in Clause 5, which relates only to what is called obstruction to traffic by undertakers. A power is given to the police to intervene if they consider the underakers, in carrying out their works, are unfairly obstructing the traffic in the street—that is to say, where they take up too much space by the protective works which they put up, or take up too much space by allowing the débris to impinge too much upon the main street. In such cases the police authorities are to have the power to interfere, but only in this sense: If the undertakers say that interference by the police is not justified, they can go to the local authority, and again the question arises of the Minister and the Advisory Council whose powers may come into operation if the undertakers think that they have been in any way unfairly dealt 410 with. It appears to me that, considering what the conditions may be, there is every possible protection for the undertakers that they shall not be interfered with in carrying out their statutory duties.
Probably the two most contentious portions of the Bill, judging from what passed in another place, are Clauses 6 and 7. These clauses deal with omnibus traffic. The provisions with regard to omnibus traffic may appear at first sight to be a little complicated, but I think they can be easily appreciated if your Lordships will allow me, first of all, to state what the clauses generally provide, and then to call your attention to the special provisions in the clauses. These provisions are really of a twofold nature. In Clause G, under a system of what is called specified routes, or restricted or defined routes, you are given a power of this kind. You give a licence to the omnibus licensee to restrict, in a way which I will point out in greater detail by and by, the route which he is entitled to use. It certainly does seem to be extremely important that there should be some power of that kind.
At present, the only power of restriction is that an omnibus cannot be licensed if it is mechanically unfit for a certain route. There is no other power whatever, because the licensing authorities in London are the police. Outside London, in all the counties and county boroughs which come under the Public Health Act, there is a much wider power of regulation in regard to routes and conditions of licences, and generally—I do not say it is exactly the same provision—the purport of the Bill is to give the same power in regard to the regulation of omnibus traffic in the London area that the local authorities have in the outside areas. So long ago as 1847 in the Police Clauses Act, which was a consolidating Act, certain powers were given, and in course of time all those provisions were incorporated in the Public Health Act. The effect of that was to give these powers to all the local authorites outside the London area. Surely, it is time that powers of a somewhat similar character should be given to the London area itself. I will return later to the special terms.
It is also provided in the Bill hat there shall be a certain restriction or limitation upon the number of omnibuses 411 running on certain routes where such restriction is required in the public interest, or for the convenience of traffic. An illustration was given to me which, I think, will probably appeal to your Lordships. It has become necessary, in such streets as the Strand and Fleet-street, to protect the people who use those strets against the enormous burden of omnibus traffic, particularly at certain times of the day. It is also necessary, no doubt, to consider the requirements of the travelling public. This limitation is not under the police authorities at all, but is placed under the Minister and the Advisory Council. That is thought to be a question with which ho ought to deal, and not a matter for the police.
I will now ask your Lordships to consider the provisions of Clauses 6 and 7 I think I can state quite shortly how the general provision is in detail carried out. In Clause 6 the licensing authority, which is the police, may, with a view to securing the public safety and the convenience of traffic, define, by reference to certain terminal points and to the course to be followed between those points, the approved routes within the area. That is a necessary preliminary to the further control of omnibus traffic. It is obvious that if you want to control that traffic you must have some means of defining the different routes in order to determine where the traffic shall be carried on. The clause goes on to say:—Any person who proposes to establish a regular service of omnibuses within the area of the licensing jurisdiction of any such licensing authority upon a route which is not on approved route may apply to the licensing authority to define that route as an approved route.If his application does not succeed there is an appeal to the Minister and the Advisory Committee.
Subsection (2) of this clause is important and should be carefully studied. It says:—When licensing an omnibus to ply for hire within the area aforesaid, the licensing authority may, subject to the right of appeal to the Minister"—a right of appeal is given in all cases—… attach to any such licence all or any of the following conditions, that is to say:—(a) a condition that the omnibus shall not ply for hire upon specified approved routes or any specified parts thereof, but such condition 412 shall be imposed only on the ground that the omnibus is by reason of its construction or equipment unsuitable for use on such routes or parts thereof:That is a very limited power. It almost exists at the present, because an omnibus which by reason of its construction is not suited to go along a certain road would hardly get a licence now.
Then follow the other conditions:—(b) a condition that the omnibus shall not, without the consent of the licensing authority, which consent may be either of special or of general application, and may be either absolute or subject to any conditions, ply for hire except upon approved routes;(c) a condition that the omnibus shall not without such consent as aforesaid ply for lure except in maintaining a regular service.I should like to say one word with regard to the obligation to maintain a "regular service," and the reasons for it. There are two difficulties which arise in the absence of a regular service. At the most crowded times of the day, when omnibus traffic is best as regards remuneration, you have a regular crush of omnibuses, more than ought to be allowed along certain routes, whereas at other times of the day, when there is a comparatively small traffic, not only do you not have a crush of omnibuses but you do not have sufficient omnibuses for the requirements of the traffic. What is meant by a "regular service" is the provision of a sufficient proportion of the service to deal with the rich traffic at the crowded times and what I may call the lean traffic at other times, with the result that the public get an additional advantage at the lead times and obstruction to traffic is diminished at those portions of the day when it is most crowded.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am not sure that it is actually within the terms of the definition clause. I do not think it is, but it means a regular service just as in the ease of the train service. You must have so many omnibuses starting at certain times and particular places. You would have an omnibus service just like a train service, at regular times and under regular conditions. That is the meaning of the term "regular service." There are 413 the ordinary penalties in case of default Subsection (3) deals with substituted licences and is only a matter of convenient procedure.
Subsection (4) is important. It includes a schedule of conditions and perhaps best answers the noble Marquess's question. It contains a schedule of conditions which are to be undertaken when an application for a licence is made. The licensing authority may require the person who asks for a licence to deposit a schedule showing certain things and I should like to make it clear that it is not a compulsory clause in the sense that these are provisions forced upon an unwilling licensee. It is only when the licensee himself comes and asks for the privilege which he desires to obtain that these conditions are attached. He must show—(a) the approved routes upon which he intends to establish a regular service of omnibuses;(b) the time at which the service on each route is to commence and end on each day;(c) the service to be maintained on each such route, distinguishing, if the service to be maintained on different days or at different hours is to vary, the service to be maintained on the several days or at the several hours;(d) the maximum number of omnibuses to be used to maintain such service on each such route, distinguishing, if the service is to vary on different days, the maximum number to he so used on the several days "—I want to call special attention to paragraph (e) of this subsection, which deals with the stages into which the licensee intends to divide each route and the fares which he intends to charge in respect of such stages.
This was put in by the Committee of the House of Commons sitting upstairs, and the purport of it will be seen more clearly when I come to deal with other provisions which were also inserted by the Committee. It is a question of some further control as regards the operation of the approved route and charging fares. These are the words of paragraph (e)—(e) the stages into which he intends to divide each route and the fares winch he intends to charge in respect of such stages, distinguishing, if the stages and fares are to vary on different days or at different hours, the stages and fares on the several days and at the several hours.The meaning of that is to give certain control over the fares and not to allow 414 exaggerated fares to be charged. When an application is made one of the points to which attention is given is the fares proposed to be charged. After that the schedule is proposed, and there are various powers of appeal, to which I need not draw your attention specially.
If I went into detail on every provision I should detain your Lordships a very long time. There is, however, an important provision in subsection (5) of this clause. It was introduced into the. Bill by the Committee of the House of Commons in order to give a further measure of public control. It says—The Corporation of the City of London and the council of any county, or borough or district wholly or partly within the area aforesaid shall have the right at any time of appealing to the Minister against any schedule for the time being in force"—And what are the grounds of appeal? They are these:—on the ground that any of the stages specified therein are unreasonably short or inconvenient or that any of the fares so specified are unreasonably high …There you give to the public authority the power to object to the schedule as brought forward by the omnibus proprietor on the ground that the fares he proposes to charge are unreasonable. That is really the reason why paragraph (e) was introduced into the preceding subsection. It was to give the information, and, when the information is given, these public authorities have a right to intervene. To quote the words of the clause:—The Minister on such appeal, after giving the holder of a licence the opportunity of being heard, may make such order amending the schedule as he may think fit.That is to say, if objection is taken to a high charge, it can be amended. If the schedule, as amended, appears to the omnibus proprietor in any way unfair or unjust—though one does not contemplate that event—there is no obligation upon him to carry out his duties, or to go on with his proposals.
Subsection (6) gives a power of amendment, but I do not think that I need trouble your Lordships with the point which it raises. Such a power is necessary from time to time. Subsection (7) gives the Minister power to make certain regulations. These regulations are not those with which I shall have to deal subsequently. They are regulations regarding matters of procedure, such as 415 the taking of evidence and questions of that kind. Traffic regulations are a different matter, with which I shall have to deal later on. Subsection (9) declare" that, if a licence is granted, a schedule has to be supplied, and, if this is not done, there is a penalty. I do not think that it is a heavy penalty, the maximum being £5. The following subsection adds, however, thatProceedings for an offence under this section shall not be instituted except by or on behalf of a licensing or police authority.It is not open to one of the public to institute proceedings, and any objection must be made either by the licensing or the local authority, and this penalty may be inflicted if the person responsible for the running of the omnibus does not comply with the conditions of the schedule.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Yes, a licensing authority or a police authority; I am much obliged. The licensing authority is the local authority, except in the case of the London area. Clause 7 deals with another matter which is undoubtedly very important and has been very much discussed—namely, the limitation of the number of omnibuses. It has been suggested, and I might just as well put it to your Lordships whilst I am discussing the clause, that in some way the Bill might operate unfairly to what may be called the small proprietor. It is a very difficult subject. When you have regular services over regular routes it is, no doubt, much easier to deal with a company, or a society, or persons with a large number of omnibuses than to deal with a small proprietor who may have only a few. The first subsection states:—Where as respects any street or part of a street within the area consisting of the City of London and the Metropolitan Police District, the Minister is of opinion that by reason—(a) of the width of the street or part of the street or the density of the traffic thereon; "—This applies to the illustration which I gave of such a street as the Strand—or"—this has to be carefully followed— 416(b) of the existence of alternative facilities for the conveyance of passengers along the street or part of the street or in proximity thereto, or of the omnibus accommodation on the street or part of the street being excessive;"—it is desirable that an order should be made, the Minister is given certain powers.
The meaning of these paragraphs is this. I will take the Bayswater-road as an illustration of my meaning. You have the underground railway running the whole way under the Bayswater-road, and you have also a service of omnibuses on top. I am not suggesting that this service of omnibuses wants restricting in any way at the present moment, but I am merely taking it as an illustration. Supposing you find that, either through the omnibuses which are running or through alternative methods of locomotion, the public are adequately served and that there is ample accommodation for them, that is a reason for not permitting what I might call a surplus of omnibuses which, if they were allowed, would be extremely inconvenient from a traffic point of view. In dealing with the public convenience as a whole you have to consider the two sides: on the one hand, what are the traffic facilities and the traffic accommodation and, on the other hand, what inconvenience will arise from overcrowded streets and overcrowded traffic? With those two considerations in view the Minister may, in the words of the clause,declare the street or part of the street to be a street in which the plying for hire by omnibuses ought to be prohibited or restricted either generally or during particulars hours—
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think they are, but I am coming to that in a moment. I have not vet reached that part of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Perhaps I might put a supplementary question? Are they included in the Third Schedule among the matters to be regulated?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think they are. I have read the Schedule through, and it seems to me to be quite wide enough to cover this point. In answer to the question asked by the noble Marquess, when I come, as I shall come very shortly, to the question of the Regulations, I shall show that a point arises as to the powers of your Lordships' House, which ought to be properly safeguarded in a matter of this kind, and I will then deal a little more closely, if I may, with the questions put to me by the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount. Subsection (2) of Clause 7 provides that—Where the Minister has so declared any street or part of a street to be a restricted street—then the restrictions will apply to the proprietors of omnibuses. Here I wish to call attention to certain words in the latter part of paragraph (b), because they were introduced by the Committee in another place. They were not in the Bill as it was originally brought forward, but were introduced, no doubt, with a view to safeguarding the public interest. The paragraph thus describes the limitation which is introduced:—but so nevertheless, that the right so to ply shall not be limited to the omnibuses of one proprietor in any case where it appears to the Minister to be reasonable and practicable that the right should be exercised by other omnibuses also.I told your Lordships that there was a suggestion— and not an unreasonable one—of a monopoly in the hands of the larger omnibus proprietors, and these words were put in by the Committee in the other House as a safeguard against such a monopoly being regarded as a monopoly conferred within the terms of the Bill.
The idea of the Bill is the exact opposite, but when you come to actual facts we all know what difficulties may arise, and consequently these words were put in to provide that, if you were restricting the number of omnibuses along a restricted route, you should not, as it were, leave that route in the hands of one proprietor, one society or one company, but, if practicable, that the right should be exercised by other omnibuses also. I do not think that there is any other point in this clause to which I need refer at length. It really contains only points of detail and procedure, to carry out the principle which I have suggested, but I might call 418 attention to subsection (5), which says that:—Before making an order declaring any street or part of a street to be a restricted street, or making any regulations under this section, the Minister shall give such notice of his intention to make the order or regulations, as the case may be, as he may think best adapted for informing persons affected, and shall refer the matter to the Advisory Committee for their advice and report.The scheme all through really is that the Minister shall refer these matters to the Advisory Committee, but the responsibility remains upon him, and upon him alone.
Those are really the two most important and, to judge by the discussions in the other place, the two most contentious clauses of the Bill Improvements may, of course, be made in your Lordships' House. Suggestions may be made, on a difficult matter of this kind, which would be an improvement, on the proposals of the Bill, but I suggest that at any rate the real basis of Clauses 6 and 7 is right. You have to have these restrictive rules, and you have to have the provision, in order that traffic conditions may be carried out adequately and in accordance with the public convenience. Clause 8 deals with the question of Reports to Parliament, and I do not think I need deal with that. Clause 9 is a penalty clause.
Clause 10 is "Power to make regulations." I pause here, because I think I shall find in Clause 10 the answer to the question of the noble Marquess. If it is not quite clear, it is a matter which will have to be dealt with at a later stage. The clause reads:For the purpose of relieving congestion and facilitating traffic in and near London the Minister may make regulations to have effect in the London Traffic Area, or any such part thereof or places or streets therein, as may be specified in the regulations, for any of the purposes or with reference to any of the matters set out in the Third Schedule to this Act, and special regulations applicable only at special times or on special occasions.If your Lordships will look at the Third Schedule you will see that it is extremely wide, and includes a very large number of matters. If anything is omitted which ought to be in it, that will be a matter for consideration, but the Schedule is extremely wide, and when I read it through rather carefully it seemed, at first sight, to include everything. We are not allowed to interfere with street 419 markets, and before making these Regulations there are the ordinary provisions referring the matter to the Advisory Committee for their advice and report.
Then we come to subsection (7), and I want to say at once that in a Bill of this sort, which is not a financial Bill, you ordinarily find the same provisions as regards the control of Regulations, both in the other place and in this House. As the Bill stands Regulations are only to be laid upon the Table of the House of Commons. I say at once that I am authorised by the promoters to say that there is no intention whatever of not placing this House on the same footing as the other House in regard to these Regulations. It is a matter which ought to be put right, and there is no objection to its being put right, and the omission will be put right. There is, however, another matter, and I would like the noble Marquess to consider this. These things are all placed upon what is called the affirmative principle. They do not come into operation until they have been passed and adopted by one House and the other. That may be a rather cumbrous procedure in a Bill of this sort. I think, as regards this House, there would not be any difficulty, but sometimes in such matters there may be difficulty in the other House. There are various members in the other House who take a perfectly legitimate interest in the subject, and the result may be that it is very difficult to get your Regulations confirmed. It is not for me to make any suggestion, except that whatever is thought right to do with regard to these Regulations it is clearly a case in which this House should be treated in the same way as the other House, and I am entitled to say, on behalf of the promoters, that that shall be done.
The Bill is to throw no expense upon local authorities. That is in Clause 11. By Clause 12, there are to be notice of, and inquiry into, accidents. I do not think there is much there to trouble about With regard to Clause 13, there is a provision which may remind your Lordships of a discussion which we had the other day, and that is that the powers or advantages conferred by this Bill upon the omnibus proprietor is not to be a factor giving rise to additional compensation, if the undertaking be taken over by a public authority and the question of compensation arises. I think 420 everyone will agree that that is proper, and notice is given at the time the Bill passes. Then there is the question of the particulars to be supplied by the licence holders. I do not think anything turns upon them, although there may be a question whether they are adequate or not.
There is only one other matter to which I need call attention, and it is in the Definitions Clause—namely, the definition of "omnibus." In the Definitions Clause "omnibus" means something more than the ordinary omnibus to which we usually attach the word. I am told that at the present moment there is no intention of applying the Regulations except to the ordinary omnibus, but if you have anything less than a general definition of this character you would always be having questions arising as to whether a particular vehicle came within this definition or not. Therefore, it was thought best to put the definition in wide terms. I have tried to combine an exposition of the principles of the Bill with a short explanation of the details by which those principles are carried out, and I now beg to move that this Bill be read a second time
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ EARL BUXTON had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would claim your indulgence in endeavouring to persuade you to throw out this Bill, on the ground that I have had the pleasure and satisfaction for nearly thirty years of representing a London constituency, and that for an even greater time I have taken an interest in municipal affairs in London. We are all agreed that something has to be done with regard to traffic in London. The only difference we have is as to the method and mode in which that is to be carried out. I need not trouble your Lordships with any argument in favour of the necessity for something being done. Every one of us, day by day, sees that necessity and suffers from it, and we see also that the position is becoming rapidly worse. I believe that between 1922 and 1923 not fewer than 1,300 new omnibuses were put upon the London streets. I doubt if, with the strongest traffic authority carrying out this Bill in the best way, we should really get more than a palliative, because we 421 have this excess in vehicles, and every clay the object of the police and others is to try to put a quart of traffic into a pint bottle of route.
§ The position is becoming almost intolerable, and the only things which have made it tolerable are, in the first place, as I think you will agree, the patience, good temper and law-abiding habits of the public, and, after that, the efficiency of control exercised by the Metropolitan Police and the City Police. I remember that Mr. Choate, at one time the American Ambassador, when he returned to the States, was asked, as usual, what he thought of England and the English. He said h had not much to say about that; that they seemed on the whole pretty much the same as the Americans; but that the one thing he noticed which distinguished England from every other country was the white-gloved hand of the policeman. There, he said, without any physical force or any arms, with nothing but moral force behind him, the policeman, by the mere holding up of his hand, would stop the Duke or the costermonger That showed, at all events, he said, that the character of the British was law-abiding.
§ It is evident that more control is necessary. I agree with the Lord President that greater restrictions of various sorts, to some of which he referred, must be imposed upon the traffic of London. We are all agreed that something in the nature of a traffic authority, responsible and representative, must be created. If the Government had applied their minds to this matter, and had carefully thought out a scheme which was far-reaching and intended to be permanent, I think there probably would be no difference of opinion in regard to the lines on which it should be framed. But it is notorious that this Bill was not an effort of that kind. The Lord President did not refer to the matter, but noble Lord will remember that, about last March, there was one of those many strikes of essential services which either dog the footsteps, or are due to the presence, of a Labour Government. A Committee of Inquiry was appointed, and, after evidence had been taken, the bright idea struck the Chairman that if a strong traffic authority were created it would improve the position of what is called "the Combine," which would thereupon be enabled to pay higher wages. That 422 appealed to both combatants, who up till then had been unable to agree, and, on condition that the Government produced a Bill more or less carrying out that principle, they were prepared to come to terms. The Government gave that undertaking, and the strike came to an end.
§ But the Government, being a Labour Government, whatever they had said on the platform, had naturally thought out no scheme to deal with London traffic. They had to do something, however, and therefore they rummaged about in the Departmental pigeon holes and discovered a Bill which was on the stocks, and which might have been introduced by their predecessors. The Lord President, while he has dealt n some detail with the clauses of the Bill, has not dealt at all with the general principle underlying it. I am bound to say that I, for one, am amazed that a Labour Government should have introduced a Bill of this description, which is anti-democratic, non-municipal, and non-representative, and which places entirely in the hands of the Minister of Transport autocratic and tremendous powers—powers which are greater than have been proposed in any other Bill. I am sometimes inclined to think that, as a friend of mine said the other day, we have now in office a more Tory Government than we have had for many years. When I look at this Bill and the method by which it has been introduced, I am inclined to think that that is coming true.
§ The Minister evidently does not like the Bill, judging from one or two observations which he made. The Minister of Transport and the President of the Board of Trade, in the other House, said that they did not like all of the Bill. Is not that quite a new feature of Government Bills and of the principle of Government responsibility? I should have thought that if the Government introduced a Bill for which they were responsible, from whatever quarter they might have obtained, or stolen, it, they were, at all events, responsible for the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill. It seems to me a new idea that the Government have a limited liability in regard to their own Bills. I will make an offer to the Lord President. His colleagues, the Minister of Transport and the President of the Board of Trade, do not agree to a considerable proportion of this Bill. They said so in the other House once or twice. If he will 423 kindly intimate to me the particular points on which his colleagues dissent from the proposals in the Bill I will put them down as Amendments, and ask his support for them so that the Bill can be improved.
§ I said that the Bill was undemocratic, non-representative, and non-municipal, and I will endeavour to prove that. I think all those who have cosidered this very important question would naturally have thought that if a Bill was introduced to deal with a matter which is, after all, primarily, indeed almost solely, a local government and municipal matter, they would have put the responsibility on the shoulders of those who are carrying out our local government business, in London and elsewhere. But not at all! The whole power and authority, as the Lord President has shown, has been put into the hands of the Minister of Transport. He can determine what travelling facilities shall be granted and what travelling facilities shall be refused. He can limit or prohibit the use of certain streets for certain traffic, and, what is more, he can grant what is called a franchise for the use of those streets, just as he pleases and to whomsoever he pleases.
§ In addition, the Lord President has pointed out that the Minister has to carry out the far-reaching Regulations which are mentioned in the Third Schedule. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to those Regulations. I think it will be recognised that every one of them is either clearly a police question or a question which ought to be dealt with, not by a Minister sitting in Whitehall, but by by-laws made by the local authorities. They are such questions as the routes to be followed by all classes of traffic, the prescribing of streets which are not to be used for traffic by vehicles, what classes of vehicles may stand in streets, the vehicles that are to be allowed to collect refuse, and the conditions subject to which horses, cattle, sheep and other animals may be led through the streets. Every single one of these is a matter which ought to be dealt with by the local authority, and not by a Minister.
§ We are fortunate at the present time in having a Minister of Transport—Mr Gosling, who is a very old friend of mine—who happens to be a representative of London, and who has taken great interest in London affairs for many years. We 424 are not likely to be so fortunate again. In the chapter of accidents we are just as likely to have a Minister of Transport from the Orkneys, or from the Land's End, who will neither know nor care anything about London traffic questions, and who will be governed—and that is the danger—by the permanent officials of the Transport Department, and will not be controlled at all by the municipalities. This proposal creates another of those hybrid bodies which have done so much to hamper and weaken the self-government of London, and which, as has been well said, have almost reduced it from the status of responsible government to that of a Crown Colony. I should have thought that the way of dealing with this matter was that, pending, and leading up to, the realisation of the ideal of what is called Greater London, you would have had a statutory body consisting of representatives of the London County Council, the City Council, and the neighbouring county councils, who would be empowered to carry out these duties.
§ So far, I have spoken of the powers of the Advisory Committee. But what does that body consist of? I do not think the Lord President referred to it, but we were told in the other House that this Advisory Committee will represent the municipalities in regard to this traffic authority. It is certainly only lip-service done to the municipalities. The Advisory Committee itself is officered, staffed, appointed, and controlled entirely by the Minister of Transport. Not only so, but he actually appoints the Chairman. The Committee consists of twelve ordinary members. Of those members three are Departmental and one represents the City Police; that is, four Departmental members out of twelve. Two members are to be selected by the Minister from the nominees of no less than twenty-eight borough councils in London; two are to be selected by the Minister from the nominees of the six neighbouring county councils, and one from the three borough councils throughout the area involved. That is to say that no less than thirty-seven local authorities are to suggest names to the Minister for him to select from them the names of five persons who are to serve on the Advisory Committee. I do not envy the Minister of Transport his task. He has to select those two members from the nominees of twenty-eight borough 425 councils and I should like to know how he is going to do it. Westminster, the leading City in the Metropolitan area, will claim one and Poplar will probably claim another. That does not leave very many for the other twenty-six councils who are involved. That is the indirect part of it.
§ The only direct part of the whole Advisory Committee consists of two members from the London County Council and one from the City Council; that is to say, three members out of the twelve are all that are directly elected by the constituent councils of local authorities. There again I think there will be some difficulty involved in connection with the London County Council. The London County Council, which represents something like 4,500,000 persons, is only allowed to put two members upon this Advisory Committee. There are three active Parties on the London County Council, as there are in your Lordships' House and in another place. Your Lordships know how jealous those Parties are that they shall be duly represented on any committee that is set up, and I think it will be rather difficult with but two members to give proper representation to the County Council on the Advisory Committee. I have shown, I think, that the so-called municipal representation is of the feeblest and slightest description
§ In addition to those twelve ordinary members, there are to be seven additional who, for all practical purposes, will be a portion of the Advisory Committee. I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord did not refer to them and defend their presence. Of those seven additional members, three are to represent what is spoken of in the Bill as "the interests of labour," and the other four are to represent what is referred to as "the interests of persons providing means of transport"; that is a euphemism for "the Combine" which is so powerful in London. That is to say, that seven of those additional members will represent the direct interests, on the one hand, of labour and, on the other hand, of capital, as against the two who are to form the municipal portion of the Advisory Committee That seems to show that the Bill is founded altogether on a wrong basis. It gives too much power to the Minister and does not give any proper representation or power, as it ought to do, to the various municipal bodies in London.426
§ There is, however, another objection to the Bill to which no reference was made by the noble and learned Lord. The London Traffic Area stretches much too far into the country. The area suggested is twenty-five miles from Charing Cross. That is a new area. It does not correspond to any existing local area. It is purely artificial and arbitrary. It brings in a large number of rural districts and a very large number of places in which there is at present absolutely no congestion of traffic. I would ask the noble and learned Lord who moved the Second Beading of the Bill whether he would not be prepared to accept the proposal which was put into the Bill in Committee in another place but was rejected on Report—to take as the area the present Metro politan Police area.
§ EARL BUXTON
It was fixed eighty years ago, and it is a well-known area. It extends for fifteen miles. It is clearly defined and it works well. It extends far enough to deal with all these really difficult problems of congested traffic, as anybody who has studied these matters will agree.
§ EARL BUXTON
I do not say there are not parts in which there is congestion, but it is in the centre—in the City, in the Strand, Oxford-street, Regent-street, and so on—where congestion exists, and I cannot believe for a moment that if that is properly dealt with, any extension of the authority to such places as Chertsey and Ware—I am taking the different quarters north and south—Sevenoaks and Watford, would give any possible assistance or relief to the centre of London in which all the congestion arises. At all events, the proposed area will lead to a very difficult problem. If you confine your area to the Metropolitan Police area there is no difficulty in regard to the police who, after all, have a very great deal of responsibility in regard to this traffic question. Once you get outside that area you have the difficulty of rival authorities, rival police, and all those complications which arise when a new and artificial area is set up. I would ask the 427 noble and learned Lord at all events to give his careful consideration to the matter, and if the House so desires, I hope he may meet the views which some of us take on this matter.
There is one other point to which I desire to draw attention because I look upon it as one of the grave and objectionable features of this Bill. I referred just now to the fact that in addition to the ordinary members who are supposed to represent but do not really represent the municipalities, there are to be seven additional members who, to use the words of the Bill, are to represent "the interests of labour" on the one hand and "the interests of persons providing means of transport" or what I may call "the Combine" on the other. That is an entirely new principle in local government. I do not think there is any other case of a local authority, created for the purpose of dealing with the public convenience and the public interest, having upon it those who have a direct pecuniary and financial interest in a particular policy which they are able to carry out under that authority. I need hardly say that I have no desire whatever to cast any suspicion or aspersion on "the Combine" or the workers—on the contrary—but that is not the point. The point is that it seems to me, at all events, to be objectionable that this species of representation should exist on a public body of that description. I told your Lordships' House how the matter came about. Lord Ashfield, in the course of his examination by Mr. Bevin before the Committee of Inquiry, said very frankly that if "the Combine" could be freed from competition he would be able to give the men the increased amount. It was on the strength of that statement that the Government gave an undertaking and brought in this Bill.
The Lord President has already shown that there will be restrictions of various sorts in different ways on the use of the streets. The Bill as it stands will be very much in favour of the larger authorities and the larger employers, "the Combine," and against the smaller men and the smaller individuals. So far as re presentation is concerned, there will be seven of those with the same interests—in the one case, wages, and in the other case, fares and profit—who will be able practically to dominate the Advisory Committee 428 as against the municipal element. I do not desire to argue in favour of unrestricted competition. On the other hand, we do want to avoid, I think, unrestricted monopoly. We have heard a good deal in the course of the discussions on this Bill of what are called "pirate" omnibuses. In my opinion those omnibuses are only "pirates" from the point of view of the larger combine. They are benevolent "pirates" so far as the public are concerned, and I think they have been of great use and advantage to the public in many ways. At all events, we want to prevent a powerful combination of both labour and capital being formed for the purpose of driving away all competition and obtaining a monopoly of the streets of London.
To my mind, this Bill is founded on a wrong basis. It goes contrary to the general principles of local government, and I fear that if it is passed, even though it is alleged to be a temporary measure, it will stand very greatly in the way of what we all desire, and what is the only solution of London difficulties—namely, what is called a Greater London. I regret that the Government should have introduced it at the present moment. I believe it would have been better if they had thought out a Bill which would have given greater control to municipalities and less to the Department. In these circumstances I beg to move the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Leave out the word ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Earl Buxton.)
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, this problem, though a grave one, is not a new one, and I may perhaps remind the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill that it was a considerable problem even in the year 1906. It was a problem which engaged the attention of repeated Committees then, at a time when the Government of which the noble Earl was an ornament was in power. Holding power as it did for eight years, a period during which the intensity of the problem steadily increased, the Government of the noble Earl did nothing at all. If the true remedy is to be found in the development of the powers given to the London County Council, surely the Government of that day, very much in sympathy with the London County Council 429 (as it is to-day), could have developed, first of all, proposals which would have made a contribution to the solution of the situation in which we then found ourselves, and which has been so much intensified to-day. The noble Earl says that strikes have dogged the efforts of the Government, and that those strikes are due to the existence of the Labour Government. I might remind the noble Earl that, after all, we did not put the Labour Government in power. The noble Earl and his friends undertook that responsibility, and they must, I suppose, support some of the disagreeable consequences, as the rest of us have to do.
The noble Earl went on to say that this proposal is non-municipal in its character. I do not know that I can assign a very precise meaning to his criticism. I suppose he means that the solution of it has not been committed to a purely municipal body. That is perfectly true. But the explanation is that the problem has far transcended the resources of any municipal body. There is no body, neither the London County Council nor any other body in this City, which, unless armed with powers of the general nature of those which are contained in this Bill, can with the slightest hope of success address itself to the solution of the problem which affects us to-day.
Then the noble Earl appeared to be struck, as if it were a particularly strong point in his view of the situation, by the fact that somebody had said in another place—somebody belonging, I suppose, to this Government—that he did not like all the Bill, and the noble Earl was inclined to diminish the necessary labours which he apparently proposes to undertake in the Committee stage by inviting the noble. Lord in charge of the Bill to indicate to the noble Earl what were the points that the noble Lord's colleagues did not like in the Bill in order that the noble Earl might put them down as Amendments in Committee. That is, in my experience, a somewhat novel procedure. I should have thought that the noble Earl would have been in a position himself to discover his own Amendments to the Bill, and to recommend to the House the respects in which he thinks it can be improved.
Is it a remarkable circumstance, having regard to the nature of the problem, that 430 progress has been so slow? The real truth is that our tactical control of transport in London has been the best in the world, while our strategical control of it has been almost the worst. When the noble Earl complains that this Bill is not a democratic Bill the only possible answer to make, without disrespect to the noble Earl, is that these are the last whisperings of Liberalism which is happily perishing from the face of the earth. He wants a democratic control of transport. What, democracy in the world has even been an adequate judge of the problems of transport? There never was such an efficient handling of transport in the whole history of the world as the handling of transport in the City of Berlin before the war, and how much had democracy to do with that? Let the noble Earl keep his democracy for things which really do not matter so much. When you are dealing with things which really affect the daily lives of the people you must have recourse to more serious agencies for alleviation and amendment. The proposals in this Bill are not, in my judgment, open to the charge, though I would face it if they were, made by the noble Earl.
After all, it is a somewhat significant circumstance that this Bill was contemplated and prepared by the late Conservative Government. They had the advantage of the Reports of about four successive Committees and two separate Commissions, and they were advised by those in the public service who, in their judgment, were most competent to advise them, and their advisers did not exclude municipal assistance. Then a new Government came into power. I should have been unwilling to miss this opportunity of making it plain that, in my judgment, this is the only Bill which up to the present this Government has introduced, or even contemplated, which possesses the slightest spark of utility or common sense. Having formed the view that this Bill can be favourably distinguished from its predecessors in these respects, I should, I think, be lacking in generosity if I did not rise to say a word in its favour.
But how it can be accused by the noble Earl from the seclusion of this House of being undemocratic I cannot understand. Undoubtedly, it received the support of the followers of the late Government, and it has actually been passed through 431 a House of Commons in which a Socialist Government is in power that the noble Earl and his friends placed in power. How can you in such circumstances say it is not democratic? How can you say it is undemocratic when the other House, so constituted, has sent it to us I It is certainly not undemocratic in its history. Nor is it undemocratic in its fundamental principles.
Let me examine it and see whether it is really undemocratic. What is its principle? It is that a Minister responsible to Parliament should undertake the whole burden of the task. What is there undemocratic in that 2 Am I less able to compel an answer from a Minister, if his actions be arbitrary or unwise, if he be a Minister or if he be the Chairman of a Committee of the London County Council? The noble Earl may have some friend of his who is a member of the London County Council and will be able to raise the point in the Committee. I have the inconceivably greater advantage, as a dweller in this City and very much exposed to its transport disabilities, that if any grave course is adopted to which I object I can come to this House, and a member of the House of Commons can go to the House of Commons, challenge the question of policy involved, and demand a justification and an answer.
Then I am told that there is something wrong in the constitution of the Advisory Committee. There is always something wrong about the constitution of every committee. It is impossible to imagine that one can suggest any method by which an Advisory Committee should be appointed to which the noble Earl could not find some niggling (if I might use the word) objection when once he has set his mind to that task. What is the objection to the constitution of this Committee? We are told that two members are to be selected by the Minister—I do not remember the exact proportions—some by borough councils, and so on, and that on the whole, in the noble Earl's democratic eyes, the constitution of the Committee is unsatisfactory. I am not very concerned about the precise method by which the Committee is constituted so long as men of experience and men who may be presumed to be efficient for the discharge of the duties are appointed.
It is said that the Committee will gain great power. Of course it will; Advisory 432 Committees always do. I know, for instance, in my own experience, that an Advisory Committee which in relation to the office of Lord Chancellor possessed very little real influence or power, nevertheless, in the actual working, acquired very great influence and power. They established precedent which successive Lord Chancellors adopted in questions which relate to the appointment of magistrates, and, of course, it is true that this Advisory Committee will gain great power. But the point is this; no one is the least likely to be appointed a member of such a Committee who does not possess some considerable promise of contributing to the solution of the problem, and it is far better that a Minister responsible to Parliament, and having the assistance of these experts, should deal with this problem than that we should find ourselves in the position in which we are to-day, which is the most scandalous of any city in the world. The problem of congestion is not quite so bad in London as it is in New York, but the explanation of that is geographical. The reason why the dimensions of the traffic problem in New York are graver than in London arise from the fact that the geographical site of New York is so much more limited, but the control in New York is incomparably superior to anything that has taken place in this country.
The noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill, and the noble Earl, made reference to a problem on which I wish to say a word or two. There is not one of us who has not suffered from the wanton and incompetent method in which, during the last few years, each year contributing a more aggravated record, roads have been taken up in the principal centres of London. One day we go down Regent-street and find that Regent-street is "up." Without the slightest co-ordination in these affairs you find that the only convenient alternative route to Regent-street has, with incredible and malignant foresight, been taken up by quite another authority. This goes on all over London, and in all the suburbs around London. I am told that there are about twenty-seven different authorities who have the power to take up different roads in London, that no single authority is ever consulted by another, and that not one authority knows what the other is going to do.
433 Your Lordships are no doubt aware of the practical joke alleged to have been played by a young man of ingenious fancy and perhaps more imagination than a capacity for useful work, who went out with seven of his confederates at Oxford dressed as navvies, and equipped with all the paraphernalia which is necessary to this kind of exertion on the part of the British workingman. There were pickaxes, all manner of tools, and barriers which they put round the scene of their excavations, and then they proceeded, by striking a blow at intervals of a quarter of an hour, finally to take up about one hundred yards of Oxford-street. I believe this story is not fiction but fact, and they proceeded for a whole day to dig up the entrails of a great British public authority before any body in the world discovered that they had no right whatever to discharge such a duty. I am glad we still retain a sense of humour, but I would much rather retain our thoroughfares.
It is elementary that you must have a unified authority. Only one question, therefore, remains. If there must be a unified authority, is that to be a Minister responsible to Parliament, or is it to be a Committee of the London County Council? I should have thought there could be no question about it. We are dealing here with what is incomparably still the greatest City in the world. It is quite impossible to dismiss our problems as if they were the problems of Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. They are incomparably greater. The transport system of London, its freedom, its elasticity, is almost an Imperial problem in those days, when from all parts of the world visitors come to our shores charged with messages of high national and Imperial consequence.
Take another illustration. Take the "pirate" omnibuses. The noble Earl contemplates their invasion of our streets almost with positive pleasure. I do not know how often he avails himself of their services, or whether his interest is that of a benevolent spectator. I do not know whether he has studied this particular branch of the problem at all closely. This is the only City in the world in which any number of omnibuses may be put upon the streets by any private speculator who chooses to do so. The noble Earl is delighted with that; and I know why, or at least he ought to hold the view which I attribute to him, because it is obvious that 434 his whole speech was a muddled complex of the doctrine of Free Trade. I am intellectually satisfied that the reason why the noble Earl is in favour of the "pirate" omnibus is that it is the sole instance in our midst in which you can test that doctrine with some logical consistency.
What has actually happened in the case of omnibuses to-day? I do not know how many noble Lords are present this afternoon. There may be seventy or eighty. But supposing every one of your Lordships, as taxes are high, thought you would try to alleviate the position by starting a pirate omnibus. To-morrow there would be seventy or eighty more "pirate" omnibuses on the streets. Is it not obvious that there must be a limit to this? Where is that limit to come? Has not the moment arisen now in which that limit should be imposed, and imposed from a central authority? Observe what happens. Those who run the ordinary and general service of omnibuses do not merely take the best routes, they make an honest and sincere attempt to deal with the transport problem as a whole, and although they take the best routes they also take the worst in the sense that they are the least remunerative.
But what do the "pirate" omnibuses do? They come and litter our streets and make transport impossible in London. And upon what routes do they concentrate? They merely take a mile here, or two miles there, where the best of the whole traffic is found, making it almost impossible for a general system which caters for the whole traffic of London, good and bad, to carry on at all. I am told—though I am not closely aware of this—that the result of the present ludicrous system is that, whenever a great company which does attempt to satisfy the demands of the population as a whole, perhaps for a distance of twenty miles from London, finds that "pirate" omnibuses are attempting to deprive it in the very heart of the system, of those profits which alone enable it to supply the more remote localities, they immediately have to attach another omnibus to watch the "pirate," or possibly two omnibuses to prevent the "pirate" omnibus from getting any profit at all. This is, at least, not organisation; this is, at least, hardly worthy of that transport 435 system which, I think the noble Earl told us, was commended by a very distinguished American.
Examine another reaction of the matter for a moment, however short. Take the tramway system. The tramway system of London has, I believe, involved a debt of £22,000,000 or £23,000,000, and of that sum £20,000,000 are represented by the indebtedness of municipalities and are naturally reflected in the burden of our rates. What happens here? A large system of omnibuses made some allowance for the public considerations and the economical considerations involved in the existence of tramways, and accordingly they did not force themselves into competition which was unnecessary in relation to the total volume of traffic with the tramways in cases where the superior convenience of the omnibuses might, indeed, have remunerated them, but where it would have reacted most unfavourably upon the public and municipal finance of the tramways. But no such consideration affects the "pirate" omnibuses. They say: "Here is a piece of tramway, here are four miles in which there is a great deal of traffic which we can pick up. We have no responsibility for other routes elsewhere, so let us insinuate ourselves into these four miles of traffic and take all the profits of the tramways."
I am not in the least to be taken as one who, having given the best attention I can to the transport problem of London, believes that the last word of wisdom is stereotyped in the tramway system; in fact, I believe profoundly that we are in one sense living in circumstances of anachronism when we commit our locomotion to tramways. The tramway system is founded upon the old experience of the horse and of horse-drawn traffic, and the immense diminution of the energy necessary to propel any heavy vehicle which was secure by rails more than compensated for the immobility of the route and of the vehicle. But the moment you remove this consideration—and horse traffic has ceased to be a serious consideration and, indeed, is a rapidly disappearing feature in our municipal life—the only justification of the tramway system disappears, and undoubtedly the tramway system is doomed. But even if it is doomed, while there are £20,000,000 of municipal expenditure involved in it, while it does at present serve 436 a great national purpose in transport, do let us at least see, as those who are responsible for large public moneys, whether they be national or municipal, that while their rolling stock remains, however we may repent of the great expenditure which has been incurred, that the tramways are conducted without insensate and indefensible competition.
I ought to point out further, in reinforcement of my argument, that each year the tramways are running at a loss, Double-edged inferences may be drawn from that circumstance. I believe I am not wrong in saying—though I quote the figures from memory—that last year the loss on the tramways, which was in no inconsiderable degree due to the kind of competition of which I have spoken, amounted to very nearly £400,000.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I think a different figure was supplied to me, because my memory is good in these matters. But let us put it at £300,000. When one reflects upon the present indispensability, until another system has taken its place, of tramway traffic in order to carry the whole of that population which must migrate each day from one part of London to another to earn its living, one must see at least that it is reasonable—and, if I understand it aright, this is the real purpose and object of the Bill—that there should be some unifying control which shall not only be able to say: "Here a tramway, here omnibuses," but which shall examine the circumstances as a whole and correlate the various parts of the system, and shall do so with the assurance and the guarantee that you have a Minister responsible to Parliament who must answer a Question in this House any day, if such a Question is proposed to him, and who is advised by a competent body of expert advisers.
I do not pretend, any more than anyone else, that I like the whole of this Bill. But then, I have never liked the whole of any Bill that has ever been brought in by any Government. I have always, on the contrary, been clearly of opinion that both Parliament and the country would be greatly the gainers if 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the Bills introduced into Parliament were burnt before they left the Clerks at the Table. But, in as much 437 as this ideal has seemed to me to be impossible of attainment during nearly twenty years of a Parliamentary career, I realise that one must discriminate and must take a Bill as a whole, examine the difficulties and inconveniences in relation to which it is proposed as a remedy, and, having formed an estimate of those inconveniences and disabilities, ask whether that Bill, taken as a whole, is a real improvement upon the existing situation. Although, as I have said, I listen with little sympathy to the proposals that come from that Bench, and examine them with a preliminary and sustained distrust until I have really mastered them, I am bound to say that to this Bill I give my strong support.
My Lords, I am bound to say that I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl opposite, and with some of his points I hope to deal in a minute. I have taken pains to read this Bill, with, I hope, more success in mastering it than that of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, in the case of another Bill which we were considering recently, and I will say, in order to be perfectly fair, that I have found it not quite so bad a Bill as I was given to understand before I read it. But everything that is worth having in this Bill, and everything that is worth doing under this Bill, could have been done, it seems to me, in a very much simpler way. The really important point in this Bill is the power which it gives for regulating traffic. This, it appears to me, with the possible exception of fares, could have been perfectly well administered by the Commissioner of Police in the Metropolitan Police Area without any other authority or the creation of any new Department. I am certain that he would be competent to administer such powers to the satisfaction of the public, and that he would be sufficiently amenable to public pressure not to do anything which would cause grave dissatisfaction among the population. That is what the Bill might have done. It might have been a perfectly simple Bill giving that power.
But the Bill as it comes before us is very different, and I agree with the noble Earl who moved its rejection that it really offends almost every canon of the political faith in which he and I were brought up, and almost every canon of 438 the Labour Party itself. It sets up another of these hybrid authorities, these curious, amorphic authorities which strangle London government and which lead to London being, not a City but a collection of areas and a selection of authorities. We have seen the same thing in the case of the Water Board, and we have seen the same thing in other cases. There has always been a tendency in the Party opposite to prevent London developing into a great municipality and having the ordinary powers of the ordinary authorities which a great municipality should possess. They achieved that which, I think, might be called the most fatal blow when they erected their borough councils and gave them the authority of boroughs of which the central London authority was deprived.
It is said that it was impossible for these powers to be given to the London County Council, and it has been said that it is impossible because they are the owners of the tramways, which are a competing system. I do not think that is a really serious argument in the case of an authority like that which represents the whole of London. An authority which is amenable to the pressure of public opinion could not possibly favour their particular system at the expense of the general traffic. It is also said that it is impossible to give it to the London County Council because there is a greater area to be served. It may be rash to do so, but I am prepared in this particular case to make this further present to the supporters of this Bill, that in the case of Greater London—in the case of an area not coterminous with the administrative County of London, and which perhaps ought not to be coterminous with the Metropolitan Police District—it is better that the actual power should be given to a Minister responsible to Parliament, rather than to any hybrid body set up ad hoc but which you cannot get at directly by public opinion.
None the less I think the Bill as it stands is so bad as to be incapable of Amendment, and that far the best course would be to reject it at once on the Second Reading, and leave some better scheme to be devised. The noble Earl opposite, who accuses other people of a "muddled complex," does not suffer from a muddled complex or any other complex, but he admits that this question has presented difficulties to successive Governments, and 439 I may be told that no better scheme can be devised. Your Lordships' attention has been called to the origin and genesis of this Bill, and in every circumstance of its birth and progress we see conditions in which such a Bill should not be introduced. The noble Earl opposite claimed it as an inheritance from his Party. The fact that he supports it is enough to make me suspect it, and is a reason why the Labour Party should be suspicious of it. Then what were the circumstances in which it had its beginning—an extraordinary, ill-understood sort of bargain, or arrangement, between employers and employed of one particular service exploiting the London public. That is not the best atmosphere in which such a Bill should be born, and this Bill has been tainted with that atmosphere.
The Lord President, in his speech, claimed merit for certain ameliorations—for certain features in the Bill which were better than others—but he omitted to tell your Lordships that every feature in this Bill which has anything to commend it was introduced after a fight in Committee and against the wish of the Minister who was in charge of the Bill. Therefore, the Government can take no credit for that. I would ask your Lordships to observe some of the things which the Bill does. It provides that in the case of omnibuses these schedules shall be deposited, and one might have thought from that that the schedules had to have approval. In fact, the noble and learned Lord almost indicated that in some way it required the schedules to be approved, but if you look at subsection (5) of Clause 6, you will see this:On any such schedule being deposited with the licensing authority in accordance with the foregoing provisions, the same shall come into force.The mere deposit of the list of routes causes it to come into force. It requires no approval by the Minister of Transport, it does not go before the Advisory Committee, and it does not require their approval. All that may happen is that copies are to be sent to people providing a regular service of omnibuses, and they may appeal to the Minister as to the number of omnibuses there.
Certain power is given to the local authorities within the area, or partly within the area, to appeal to the Minister against any schedule, on the ground that the stages are short and the fares are 440 high. There is, however, an extraordinary omission. Who is the natural guardian of the London public as a whole? Surely it is the London County Council, the central and best informed authority. The London County Council is given no power even to make representations on the matter of routes, or to raise objections to the fares, but any other authority included in the district may do so. The Borough of Guildford, for instance, may make representations about fares charged in the Strand, but the London County Council may not. Does not that show the sort of atmosphere in which this Bill took its rise?
If you turn to the last subsection in Clause 6 your Lordships will find that proceedings shall not be instituted except by or on behalf of a licensing or police authority. The Lord President said by the "local" authority, but that clearly was a mistake on his part, because so far as the entire Metropolitan Police District is concerned the licensing authority is the police authority, and the local authority in that vast and populous area is given no power to take proceedings. Oddly enough, the Minister of Transport is not given power to initiate proceedings if he thinks they ought to be taken. That is an illumination of the frame of mind in which this Bill was produced.
Then there are minor provisions as to which the Lord President said he would consent to a modification. The Regulations are to be laid before the Commons House of Parliament. I was sorry to hear that this was another of the clauses for which the Lord President took credit. It was carried against the wish of the Government and certainly against the wish of the Minister in charge of the Bill. I was sorry to hear the Lord President say that he proposes to whittle down that clause to being non-negative, instead of being positive approval. I hope your Lordships will not assent to that.
Clause 15 is a clause to which all motorists have the strongest possible right to object. For some extraordinary reason it has been proposed that the expenses of the Advisory Committee, and of the Ministry of Transport, so far as it assists the Advisory Committee, shall be paid out of the Road Fund. When this vast tax was first imposed on motor cars motorists allowed themselves to be bamboozled by the Government with the 441 promise that these taxes should be used not for the maintenance but merely for the improvement of the roads. The Government of the day won a reluctant consent from the bodies which professed to represent motorists. The amount of the fund was to be £8,00,000, but now it amounts to £12,000,000, and we are told that there is to be no reduction, and the Ministry is to be able to use it for any purpose for which they want money without coming to Parliament. It is a question for motorists, and if only they were as well organised as is the drink trade they would never submit to these imposts. It is a clear breach of faith and entirely without justification, and it ought not to appear in this Bill. But it is not a matter, probably, which your Lordships can amend, except by throwing the whole Bill out.
The noble Earl opposite said that it was a purely "niggling" objection to the Advisory Committee that it was constituted in a particular way; he did not care how. May I respectfully say that he ought to care how? This is an Advisory Committee dealing with public matters, and for the first time in our Parliamentary experience you are putting on this Committee, and you are giving power to, representatives of trade interests and of interests concerned in the matters you are discussing. That seems to me to be a very bad precedent, and one which is without any justification beyond the circumstances in which this Bill took its birth—those deplorable circumstances which, to my mind, make it desirable that this Bill should not be proceeded with, but that we should have a Bill which takes its birth in a calmer atmosphere and in better circumstances.
The Bill conflicts with every principle that has ever been laid down by the Party to which I belong. It does not give self-government; it does not give self-determination; it does not give authority to the local authorities to act upon matters in their own areas. It gives autocratic powers to a Minister—subject, it is true, to the control of Parliament; and it gives him a Committee to advise him, upon which persons financially interested in the result of their advice may sit. And, although it is perfectly true that there is a provision which says that in certain circumstances they shall not sit, there seems to be only one circumstance out of 442 about ten in which they are not to sit. In all the other cases they may sit on the Advisory Committee, and they may give advice. I cannot see any sound Parliamentary reason why you should admit these people.
What is the result? In common, I dare say, with others of your Lordships, I have received to-day a letter from taxi-cab owners, saying: "If interests are to be represented we represent 8,000 vehicles—a much larger number, and making a much larger use of the streets than do the omnibuses, but we are not represented on the Advisory Committee." Of course they are not, because they have not got the "pull" of this great "Combine." That is why. They could not exercise the same influence, and they were not the people who were concerned in the strike. But if you are going to have the interests represented you might represent them fairly. You might have a representative of the pedestrian, who should have something to say to the volume of traffic crossing the streets. It is a hopeless principle to go upon. There is no logic in the constitution of the Advisory Committee.
As to the area, I think that the Metropolitan Police area, old as it is, and curiously shaped as it is, is nevertheless a far better area than the very remarkable area provided in the Bill. I think your Lordships ought to look at it. It is in the First Schedule. Do your Lordships realise that it includes, for instance, the Borough of Guildford? Is the Borough of Guildford not capable of managing its own traffic? I pass through Guildford twice a week, and I am perfectly certain that the Superintendent of Police or Chief Constable, who looks after Guildford, is quite able to arrange the traffic himself, without the assistance of an Advisory Committee or of the Minister of Transport. Is it at all likely that you are going to prohibit or prescribe special routes for omnibuses in Guildford? I should think it is most improbable. If so, give these powers to Guildford. But how preposterous it is that, if you want to do anything in the Borough of Guildford, you have to come to a London Advisory Committee, on which they have no representation, and you have to have action taken by the Minister of Transport.
I can only say, for my own part, that I think the Bill is badly drawn. The only good thing is the powers it gives, 443 those powers are hardly sufficiently drastic, and they are very curiously limited. There is obviously a great deal of timidity in the way many of them have been drawn up. They ought to be taken with a bold hand. They ought to be taken as boldly as power is given to the police. There is a clause in this Bill which for the first time gives a policeman power to say to the driver of a vehicle: "You shall not go down, this street," or, "You shall go down this street." That is a very autocratic power, but it is absolutely essential if London traffic is to be regulated. The policeman on the spot should be given the power to be autocratic. There is no other way of doing it. And the powers of the Minister of Transport should also be perfectly definite and clear under this Bill. There ought to be no limitations on them beyond the Minister's sense of what is proper and the control of Parliament. For these reasons, if nobody else divides against the Bill, I shall be prepared to divide against it.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
My Lords, I have been very much interested, and somewhat amused, in listening to the debate which has taken place, at the search which has been made to find the author, or authors, of this Bill. The Leader of the House claimed it, of course, as a Government Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, said it emanated from the late Government. The noble Earl, Lord Buxton, seemed to attribute it to the "tube" strike. My Lords, I am the villain of the piece. This Bill is the Bill which was recommended by the Royal Commission on London Government, of which I had the honour of being the Chairman, which sat for a year and a half. Practically it accepts every one of the recommendations which we made. There has been some discussion with regard to the composition of the Advisory Committee. With two slight exceptions that Advisory Committee was recommended by us, after a very careful consideration of all the circumstances which were relevant to the great problem which we had to endeavour to solve.
This matter is not a matter of local government at all. I think the mistake which the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, made throughout his speech was to think of London traffic as a matter of local government. It is not a matter of London local government; it is a matter of national 444 concern. It goes a great deal beyond the confines of the City, of the area of the London County Council, of the Metropolitan Police area, even of the area of Outer London. And the proof of that is that during the hearing of the evidence we had representatives from all the neighbouring areas, and I think I am right in saying from every one of the neighbouring Counties—Essex, Kent, Surrey, Hertford. Middlesex, Buckingham even—all of them came before us, and said: "This traffic question is one which cannot be limited to London, but it has its reaction right down into our Counties." In some cases it was even suggested to us that places as far distant as Brighton, Southend, and Windsor were deeply interested in this question, and that the inhabitants of those places would lever be satisfied with any municipal authority which should be set up here in London.
We, naturally, considered the position of the London County Council and the desirability of establishing it or some large central authority as an authority, but its area did not go nearly far enough to cover the great problems which are contained in the question of London traffic. When we came to the consideration of whether it would be possible to constitute an authority for a larger area, enormous difficulties arose. How are you going to balance the amount of interest of, we will say, the Borough of Westminster and portions of Kent? You would say Westminster was more deeply interested financially than that portion of Kent which would come within the area of the authority. That means that you would have to give to Westminster a representation three or four times as great as you would give to Kent. If you begin to manipulate the figures in that way you will see that you arrive at a gigantic body to administer these matters. We came finally to the conclusion that it was a hopeless thing to establish a directly elected authority. The area would be too large. There would be some ten millions of population. In order to keep the body within reasonable limits you would have to have, we will say, twenty, thirty, or fifty representatives, and each representative would represent a vast number of constituents, so vast that he could not possibly be in touch with them.
Then there is the expense of having a special ad hoc election for the purpose of 445 returning representatives to the authority I have described. When all is said and done, what security have you that representatives returned on the democratic system would know anything at all about the problems of London transport? They might be returned for political reasons. One other suggestion was made, and I think the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, favoured it, that there should be a small body selected from the elected representatives of the different, local authorities. There is a vast number of local authorities within this Outer London area. If you are going to select a representative from each of those, who is going to select them? Presumably, the Minister of Transport. It would be a very invidious task for him, and when he had selected them, again there is no security that there would be any continuity of policy whatever in that body. We were, therefore, driven to accept the position which the Government has embodied in this Bill—namely, that the responsibility must rest with the Minister of Transport himself, but, in order that he may be assisted and guided, he should select the representatives of certain interests which are more particularly concerned with this problem and by that means he would make sure that he would get those who, if they were not experts at first, would become experts upon this very difficult question and would be able to assist and advise him.
I am not responsible, and my Commission is not responsible, for a great many of the details which are embodied in this Bill which, I have no doubt, are open to considerable question and debate. But as to the general lines upon which it is built—namely, the responsibility being placed upon the Minister of Transport and the recommendations as to the interests from which the advisory experts are to be drawn—we are responsible, and I am certain that the great majority of my colleagues will approve of what I have said here this afternoon and will approve of the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. May I say, in conclusion, that it is very often thrown in the teeth of Royal Commissions that they sit for a long time and that nothing ever happens—that they are used as a method of shelving questions. I hope that your Lordships will not follow the advice of the noble Earl who spoke before me and shelve this question, but, the Commission 446 having laid its egg, I trust that you will sit upon it (in one sense) and that it will produce a bird which may be of some use in assisting to solve the problems of greatest London traffic.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I do not know that I can go quite so far as the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill. There are many points in the Bill which I think are good, although, in my opinion, it needs a good deal of amendment in Committee. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, referred to the Royal Commission of which he was Chairman. I would like to take your Lordships back to the Royal Commission on London Traffic which sat in 1905 and reported in the same year. On that occasion evidence was taken on all the questions with which this Bill deals and the whole subject was very fully gone into. Those of us who were students of traffic at that time warned the Government of the day, and have constantly warned Governments since, that the problem of London traffic would be aggravated very seriously as time went on. To-day it is a far more extensive and difficult problem to solve than it vas in 1905.
There was a curious slip made by the Lord President when he was explaining this Bill. It may have been that he was reminiscent of the days when he was one of the shining lights in the Committee rooms of this House, and when I had the honour of listening to him. He talked about the "promoters" of this Bill. Surely this is a Government Bill, and if it is a Government Bill there are no promoters. I suppose he would say that the noble Lord, Lord Ashfield, possibly, and his friends are in a sense promoters. I do not think that Lord Ashfield ever acknowledged that he was, although he may have had a good deal to do with the inception of the Bill. But it was a rather curious slip and may be said to have let the cat out of the bag.
It is true that the streets of London are rapidly becoming impassable. That is due, as other noble Lords have said, to many causes. One of the causes to which allusion has been made is the power of numerous statutory authorities to dig up the streets and as the noble Earl has referred to it, I am obliged to make this confession to your Lordships' House. I was privy to the digging up of 447 the street to which the noble Earl referred, and I will tell your Lordships the circumstances under which it was done. It was not Regent-street, it was Throgmorton-street that was dug up, and it arose in this way. I had been giving evidence on this very point of the disturbance of streets and, as I thought, the unnecessarily large number of authorities who could disturb the surface of the streets. I rashly said to one of my friends: "I believe that if you collected a few poles and trestles and a lamp and a watchman's hut you could go and dig up any street in London." My friend said to me: "What street do you propose that I should dig up? Do you think it would be a good thing to dig up Bond-street or Piccadilly?" I said: "I think that would be an unnecessary hardship on the travelling public; but you might dig up Throgmorton-street down which very little traffic goes, and that will inconvenience the travelling public very little." I confess this crime after an interval of twenty years, hoping that the Statute of Limitations applies in such a case.
We dug up the corner of Throgmorton-street. I do not mean that I dug it up with my own hands, but that my friends dug up Throgmorton-street. For no less than five or six days nobody came near it, which was a great disappointment to us. We hoped that we should see the officers of the law and various important people searching for the criminal. After about seven or eight days somebody came along who represented, I think, the City Highways Department and made certain inquiries. There was nobody to answer those inquiries who was at all responsible for digging up the street. To cut a long story short, every company which had statutory powers to dig up streets was written to and they all denied, with a good deal of emphasis, that they had anything to do with it, and the mystery was never solved. I make that confession to-day to your Lordships. It took some days to restore Throgmorton-street to a proper condition and there was a yawning gulf in the road until it was filled up.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I did not, but I was privy to it. I tell that story to confirm what was said by the noble Earl and to show how loose is 448 the control of the local authorities over such matters. There is a point in regard to that which might interest the House and which I only learned lately, having gone into the statistics. Every time wood pavement is pulled up in the streets the average time taken to replace it is nine or ten days. That obviously must be so, because you have to take out the concrete under the wood, and then have to lay clown the concrete again, and that takes from three to five days to harden. After that you have to replace the wood pavement. That shows what the difficulties are that are in the way. I hope to introduce an Amendment in the Bill to cope with this difficulty. In hardly any cases do the local authorities think it necessary to carry out their repairs at night, and regularly, at five o'clock, the workmen leave their task, and all night long no work is being done. We all know that all the great railways of the country, when any alteration has to be made to the permanent way, carry out the work at nights and on Sundays in preference to interfering with the day-time traffic.
The user of the road in this country is never regarded at all compared with other interests, and I hope, if this Bill passes, the user of the road and those who benefit from traffic on the road may at last have a good chance of getting their position attended to. When we are considering this Bill we ought to remember that it is only a palliative for a few years. If you turn to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on London Traffic of 1905 you will find that they say this at the beginning of their recommendations:—It is imperatively necessary, in the interests of public health and public convenience, and for the proper transaction of business, as well as to render decent housing possible, that the means of locomotion and transport in London and its adjacent districts, should be improved.That was written nearly twenty years ago. The Report proceeds:—They are seriously defective, and the demands and needs of the public are annually increasing.I ask your Lordships to pay particular attention to the following sentence:—The main obstacle to such improvement is the narrowness of the streets, which were not laid out in accordance with any general plan.There you have the heart of the question. You may restrict traffic as much 449 as you like, you may force people to go underground, you may make all kinds of regulations for this or that vehicle, but until you get more carrying capacity in your streets, or add other streets over-ground or underground to the existing streets, you will never satisfactorily solve the problem of London traffic
Some allusion has been made to a bargain made, or implied, in this Bill between the London Traffic Combine, as it is generally called, and representatives of certain trades unions. One does not want to use hard words in this House, and I shall try to avoid doing so, but it does appear on the face of it as if a bargain was made. We have evidence of it in things that have been said in this and the other House. It really comes to this. Those who are interested in the "Combine" say: "We cannot pay you higher wages, or the wages you ought to have, because we cannot get enough profit out of our business to do so." In addition to that, this year these "pirates," so-called, which are really independent competitive omnibuses, have come on to the streets. I may say, in passing, that they are run mainly by ex-officers and ex-Service men, and that many of them already earn a fair livelihood. These omnibuses have come on the streets, and they have, I admit, skimmed some of the cream off the traffic of London.
A point has been made that these omnibuses only run where the traffic is thickest. Obviously that is what they would do. I do not think there is any crime in so doing, because if the people were not on the pavement waiting to take an omnibus an the period at which these vehicles run it would not pay to run the omnibuses, and they would be withdrawn. The fact is they were really wanted, and that is why they fill. That they only work for a mile or two one way or another, where the traffic is thickest, surely is an advantage to the public who wish to travel over that particular ground. The idea of those who have been trying to co-ordinate traffic, like my noble friend Lord Ashfield, is that where an underground train runs parallel with the street people should travel underground. That, I think, savours too much of compulsion. Why should you travel underground unless yon want to do so? The trains are exceedingly well run, but they are often half empty. I think the average human being 450 prefers to travel in sunlight rather than in electric light, and he prefers to travel on those excellent omnibuses which are provided by Lord Ashfield's "Combine." If he wants to do so I do not see why he should not. It has been said: "Why do you not travel in trains from A to B?" My answer to that is that very often the train does not take you where you want to go, and that seems to be an insuperable objection to travelling by it.
There is not one word about monopoly in the Bill, but I think, in regard to the clauses which deal with the omnibuses, if there is no monopoly now monopoly will very soon grow out of those clauses. It is obvious to any one who has studied the history of London traffic—it may or may not be for the good of London—that the dominant concern, which at the moment is the London General Omnibus Company, has nearly always bought up or absorbed the smaller concerns. I dare say it is a good thing that they should have done so, but the result has been, until lately, that there have been no independent concerns at all except the tramways of the London County Council. It is a rather interesting point in connection with the tarmways of the London County Council that the competition of the "Combine" has forced them to improve the tramway service enormously, and at the same time, in many cases, to lower their fares. But no one would ever travel in a tramcar who could travel in one of the excellent vehicles provided by my noble friend Lord Ashfield.
I should like to pay this tribute to the London General omnibus, that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. I have studied traffic in New York, Boston, and Paris and many other capitals of the world, and I assert to-day that there is no city in the world which has anything like such good traffic facilities as we have. In addition to that, there is no motor omnibus in any great city in the world which can compare with ours. The drivers of our omnibuses are, in my judgment, the best drivers on the road. They are more considerate, and you can depend more upon what they will do, than the drivers of almost any other vehicle on the road. The omnibuses are well sprung, and I may say, as an engineer, that they are very well designed, and are altogether worthy of London, the greatest City in the world. But having paid that tribute, I say that they would never have arrived 451 at this state, unless they they had had to compete against the fierce competition of the London County Council trams.
The same thing may be said about the tramways which have also improved, but not to an equal extent. I do not say that they can go on indefinitely improving. But the conditions under which London traffic have been conducted in the last ten or fifteen years are those very conditions of free trade and competition in transport which have brought about this excellent state of affairs. No doubt we have suffered lately from congestion in the streets, but I am sure the House will not mind me pointing out to the noble Lord, Lord Ashfield, that it is largely an artificial congestion. During the last few months over a thousand new omnibuses belonging to the London General Omnibus Company have been put on the streets. I am not criticising the noble Lord for doing that from his point of view. Naturally, he says to himself: "If the 'pirate' omnibuses are going to try to skim the cream of the traffic I will be the first. I will, so to speak, peg out a claim, and when I have pegged out my claim I shall get a proportionate share." He is right to fight hard to retain the supremacy of his "combine" and to defend his own shareholders. I think I am entitled to say that the great congestion of London streets in the last six or eight months is due largely to the fact that over a thousand omnibuses have been put on, not to serve the London public but to keep off the rival.
Apart from the main principle of the Bill, there seem to me to be some serious blots upon it. In the first place, it is almost incredible, to my mind, that no provision exists for dealing with the most obstructive vehicle on the roads to-day—the tramcar, which is especially-excluded from the purview of the Bill, as also is the trolley car which, as most of your Lordships know, is a tramcar which does not run on rails, but is linked to an overhead cable and runs about all over the road. Take the other side of Westminster Bridge and the South of London, the most obstructive vehicle is the tramcar, and it is almost incredible that in this Bill tramcars are excluded from any Regulations which may be 452 made by the Minister of Transport and that they are not subject to any recommendations which may be made by the Advisory Committee. If you are to deal with London traffic at all, not in the limited way as under this Bill, you must include every vehicle on the road from the perambulator to the steam roller, and if you leave out the tramcar it vitiates the power you put in the hands of the Minister.
I know the stock answer to that is that the tramways are statutory companies like railways. But in this very Bill there is a provision for interfering with statutory companies—namely, water and electric light companies, and other undertakings, to which Lord Parmoor referred. If you are going to interfere with statutory companies like water and electric light undertakings, surely it is fair to interfere, in the interests of the public, with the rights of tramway companies. Consider how the matter will operate otherwise. Take a case which we all know well, that of the other side of Westminster Bridge. If the Bill passes as it stands, there is nothing to prevent the London County Council doubling the number of their tramcars on that route and blocking the omnibuses out altogether. There may be some arrangement, of which we know nothing, under which this is not to be done, but all we can do is to take the Bill as it stands, and the fact that tramcars are not included under the Regulations to be made by the Minister of Transport is a serious blot on the Bill.
Another blot on the Bill is that the area proposed to be under the control of the Minister of Transport for licensing public service vehicles is much too large. In the recommendation of the Royal Commission on London Traffic it was proposed that the area should be coterminous with the London Police area, or what is called Greater London. Let me give your Lordships some idea of that area. I will give you points East and West, North and South. East and West the area of Greater London is from Dart-ford in Kent to West Drayton in Middlesex; and North and South, from St. Albans to Caterham. That is an area quite large enough for the purpose of this Bill. But in the Bill it is proposed to go as far as Woking and Guildford and Sevenoaks, purely rural involved in that particular form of traffic, and if that districts.
453 The effect of this will be that if a carrier between two villages, or, say, between Guildford and Kingston, wants a licence he will have to get his licence from the authority in London, and it might be opposed by any one who runs a motor omnibus on that route. That is a monstrous shame. You want to encourage the small independent man to establish communication between villages and railway stations and bigger towns. One of the most beneficent effects of the cheapening of the motor car has been that the rural population is able to move about more than they did in the past. But the carrier will have to come to Loudon for his licence and he may be opposed by one of the London omnibus companies who happen to be running on the same route. That is a manifest injustice.
Another objection to the Bill was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In 1908, when Mr. Lloyd George brought in his first motor taxes, I was a party to what is called a Parliamentary arrangement. The organised bodies in the motor world withdrew their objections to the Budget of that day, and I was largely instrumental in getting my friends to abandon their opposition because we were promised by the Government of that day, and by every successive Government until now, that the whole of the money raised from taxes on motor vehicles should be applied to roads and bridges, and to nothing else. Now you are going to take money raised from the general motor taxation and apply it to the expenses, it may be £30,000 or £50,000 a year, of an ad hoi authority in the richest City of the world. Who ought to pay? The Royal Commission on London' Traffic said that it should be levied on the area which is to benefit, or on the vehicles themselves which ply within the area? It is a distinct breach of a Parliamentary pledge that money should be taken from this fund to finance the expenses of an authority in London.
What is the Government going to say if Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow desires a similar Bill and wants to set up a similar traffic authority? Are you going to finance them out of the Road Fund? If you do it in the case of the City of London, the richest City of the Empire, how can you refuse it to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool or Glasgow? 454 You must treat all equally, and in course of time you will have whittled away a large amount of the Road Fund for purposes which have nothing to do with the upkeep of roads. When you think of the poverty-stricken rural districts whose rates are now very high, who are crying out for money, I do not think you can defend the financing of an authority in London out of money raised all over the country. The House of Commons, irrespective of politics, was not altogether in love with this Bill; and I do not wonder. It has many bad points. The Government were frequently defeated in Committee on it, and many of the good points in the measure were put in.
I now come to the Advisory Committee. I think this Advisory Committee is largely "eye-wash." Noble Lords who were present when the Ministry of Transport. Bill was proceeding through this House will remember that Sir Eric Geddes, through the mouth of his representative, Lord Lytton, gave an undertaking that he would set up several Advisory Committees. Many of those Committees have never been called together. The one of which I was to have been a member has not been called together during the last five years, and others have only been called together two or three times. They were intended as "eye-wash," and they have become "eye-wash." I believe that this Advisory Committee, unless we strengthen it during the Committee stage, will only be one of those buffers placed between a Minister and his Department and the public to lull possible opposition.
I should like to have seen such a body set up as was set up in the case of railways. There you have the Railway and Canal Commission, consisting of eminent and impartial gentlemen, who decide between the public and the railway in matters of fare. This Advisory Committee is a mass of conflicting interests, and many interests are not represented on it at all. If it had been possible I, like the noble Earl, would have wished to see the London County Council given more power. I have always believed in encouraging the London County Council to deal with these matters, but the objection in this case is obvious—namely, that the London County Council are a tramway-owning authority, and would therefore be competitors. I quite 455 see therefore, why the Government and the House of Commons have not thought lit to make them the dominant force on this Advisory Committee.
Before the Bill proceeds further I should like the Lord President, or whichever noble Lord will answer from that Bench, to tell us if it is contemplated that there will be any increase in the competition with the present "Combine," or even a maintenance of the existing competition. I should be very glad if the Government would explain what provisions are to be found in the Bill to protect the public against an eventual monopoly. It certainly appears as if there may be such a monopoly, but Amendments may be inserted in Committee which will remove our fears on that score. As I have said before, this Bill, even if it achieves all that its advocates claim for it, can only be a palliative. What we want is more streets, not more Regulations, and this Bill is merely tinkering with the job for the time being. It may be that sometimes you have to tinker with a job until you can produce a real remedy, and on those grounds I should be ready to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. But let us understand clearly that it merely tinkers with the job, and that something much bigger and wider in conception will have to be introduced before we can really cure the difficulties of London traffic.
I think that, in considering this whole question, we have to cast our minds forward. London traffic is increasing, as regards motor vehicles alone, at a rate of over twenty per cent. per annum. In five years the traffic of London will, roughly speaking, have doubled. What is going to happen then? Is this Bill really going to cure our difficulties? Obviously it is not. Your Lordships know that the returns show that all over the country last year, as in the previous year, the increase of motor vehicles was over twenty per cent., and you probably know that in the United States there is already one motor vehicle for every twelve and a half people—indeed, I believe there is now a motor vehicle for every ten people—while in this country there is one motor vehicle only for every forty-two people. With a far larger number of miles of road in this country it is, I think, quite certain that in a few years the proportion of vehicles to population will be equal to that which 456 is found in America. In other words, you will have 4,000,000 motor vehicles instead of the 1,000,000 which we have to-day. I state these figures to show how important it is to look ahead in this question.
When we go into Committee on this Bill I, in common with other noble Lords, shall have many Amendments to put down, but I think it is fair to the Government and to those who are interested in this Bill that it should be read a second time, because it does provide for two or three years some amelioration of our present difficulties. It is in that sense that I hope the House will give it a Second Reading, but I hope at the same time that, when we come to the Committee stage, noble Lords will see how important this subject is, and that we shall be able, possibly in agreement with those who are now opposed to us, eventually to introduce Amendments to cope with the difficulties which have arisen.
I want to raise one other point, and then I have finished. It is a curious fact that in the composition of this Advisory Committee no representation whatever is given to the user of the private car, to the pedal cyclist or to the motor cyclist. We know that there are representative bodies which concern themselves with the interests of these classes of traffic. There is the Automobile Association, there is the Royal Automobile Club and there is the National Cyclists' Union. I do plead with the Government that these bodies should be represented on the Advisory Committee. After all, the people who pay the majority of the taxes to-day are the private owners, and they should be represented in a matter in which their interests are so largely affected. I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to these points, and that the House in general, when we come to the Committee stage, will support those of us who are trying to improve this Bill.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, those who, like myself, have studied the debates in another place must have readily come to the conclusion that the opposition to this Bill is almost entirely political. Ever since this Bill was introduced it has been the subject of violent attack on the part both of the Liberal Party and of certain members of the Labour Party, each being anxious to prove that they were the real 457 and genuine friends of democracy. The Bill was apparently opposed for three reasons: first of all, because it was originated by Conservatives; secondly, because it relegates to a far distant future the project of a Greater London authority; and, in the last place, because, it was supposed, quite erroneously, to confer some sort of additional benefit upon my noble friend Lord Ashfield, and that which is known as the "Combine."
The rejection of this Bill has been moved by my noble friend Lord Buxton this afternoon, but I confess that I attach very little importance to his action. I doubt very much whether he will proceed to extremities. I look upon his action in moving the rejection of the Bill as being due to his anxiety to vindicate, so to speak, the position and the vitality of the Liberal Party. When the noble Earl finds fault with the Bill because it is not sufficiently democratic, I think the answer is perfectly plain. If this Bill is advanced enough for the Socialist Lords who sit upon the front Bench opposite, surely it must be advanced enough for the fastidious democrats who occupy the Liberal Benches. As a matter of fact, the Bill is a compromise between something really useful and the ideals of democracy. As I understand it, the original idea was that this Committee of which we have heard so much should be a Committee of experts presided over by a representative of the Minister of Transport. It has grown into a large Advisory Committee, of which we have heard a great deal this afternoon, consisting of something like twenty members. If I might presume to offer an opinion, the criticism that I would pass upon that Committee is that it is far too large, and, whatever happens, I hope that there will be no addition to its numbers.
But when I hear the criticism, of which a great deal has been made this afternoon, that it is not sufficiently democratic in its constitution, I wonder how many people besides certain members of this House, of the other House and of the London County Council, care twopence how this body is constituted. Does the unfortunate "strap-hanger," or the person who narrowly escapes being run over in the street, or the person who cannot get to his destination, pause to think whether this is the result of the authority 458 not being sufficiently democratic? My firm belief is that this is a matter which never crosses peoples' minds. All that they really want is that London traffic should be properly managed, and I will go so far as to say that they would submit willingly to the autocracy of my noble friend Lord Ashfield, or of any one else, if he would give them what they really require.
Much criticism has also been passed on the ground that this is supposed to be an extreme instance of bureaucracy. I am not in favour of bureaucracy myself, nor an admirer of Government control in any shape or form as a rule, but you have this Ministry of Transport and you cannot get rid of it. The Minister of Transport is, so to speak, "dug in," and the Ministry of Transport, let me remind the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill, is an inheritance from the Liberal Government. If we cannot get rid of the Minister of Transport, surely the best thing we can do is to make use of him. I entirely agree with what has been said by one or two speakers this afternoon, that with a responsible Minister in charge of this particular authority it will be far more easy to get redress, if redress is required. As for the idea that his Council is going to consist of a Jot of subservient people, who will obey his orders, I imagine that the result is going to be the direct opposite. Unless the Minister wants to make his life a burden he will take every opportunity of sheltering himself behind his Council.
I am not going to deal at length with the details of the Bill, but there is one object sought by the Bill to which no allusion has been made at all, and which is of great interest to the public. This is a measure required in the interests of public safety, although I do not think that any one has mentioned that fact at all. I observe that Mr. Sidney Webb, who is the leading statistician in this country, upon the Second Beading of the Bill said that the streets of London are more dangerous than our coal-mines—that there are far more accidents in them. I should be sorry to tie myself down to an assertion of that kind, but when it is made by a person of the status of Mr. Sidney Webb it is a point well worth considering.
459 Although I, as may be gathered, am emphatically in favour of the passing of this Bill, I recognise its imperfections, and the first and principal imperfection which strikes me is that it is only a temporary measure. Its duration is only to be for three years, which seems to me a totally inadequate, period for the carrying out of what it professes to be going to do, and if no one else moves an Amendment dealing with that point I shall myself do so. Then we have the point with regard' to tramways. It really is perfectly inexplicable to me that the question of tramways has been carefully avoided, and I can only suppose that it must be the result of some secret negotiations with the London County Council. If I am not mistaken the tramways carry something like twenty-five per cent. of the travelling population of London, and I trust that this is one of the points which will be raised in Committee.
There are, to my mind, two ridiculous provisions in this Bill. By Clause 14 every owner of a vehicle, no matter what it may be—even a coster's donkey cart—is apparently to be called upon, under heavy penalties, to disclose his pecuniary commitments and his investments. I suppose this provision has been inserted in order to make sure that these people are not interested in what is known as the "Combine," but it is a kind of provision which is likely to give a great deal of trouble to the small people for whom we have heard so much sympathy expressed this afternoon. One other point seems almost equally ridiculous, and that is that, so far as I can understand from the Bill, every Regulation must be submitted to both Houses of Parliament. I confess that this seems to me a perfectly unnecessary safeguard, and it is a point which might well be dealt with in Committee. As regards the Bill itself, I cannot understand anybody seriously objecting to it, more especially if they object to it because they nourish in their own minds the idea that one of these days there will be established a Greater London authority.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I should like to make a very few observations on this Bill Lord Ullswater has disclosed himself as being the villain of the piece as regards the shaping of this measure. I may claim to be the preliminary villain of the piece, because so long ago as 1909 460 I brought up a deputation to Mr. Asquith, and I got a very sympathetic answer from Mr. Asquith; but I was not in the least deceived by that sympathetic answer and I knew quite well that nothing could be done. I think one reason why nothing was done for many years was that the Liberal Party of that day came up against the special difficulty which has been mentioned in the discussion this evening, and that was whether they were going to set up a bureaucratic authority, if that was the phrase, and not going to make use of popularly-elected bodies like the London County Council. It was the opposition of the London County Council, or the friends of the Liberal Party on that body, which led to nothing being done for many years.
Even at that time, fifteen or sixteen years ago, the London traffic problem was a very great one, but it was a pigmy problem as compared with the problem, with its immense ramifications and new methods of transport, with which we have to deal to-day. I suppose we are all agreed that this traffic has got to be controlled. We are agreed that it is intolerable that streets can be taken up at different times by different authorities. We are familiar with the statistics as to the dangers of crossing the streets and as to the number of street accidents We are familiar with the interlocking of traffic, and so on, and the only question is what is to be the particular authority that shall have this control. Now, reference has been made to control by popularly elected bodies. I do not share to the full the feelings about popularly elected bodies expressed by Lord Birkenhead, but there have been strong reasons why some people think it is impossible that these bodies should control the London traffic. One was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ullswater, and that was that the area over which the traffic had to be controlled was necessarily vastly greater than the area ruled over by the London County Council.
There is another reason. The London County Council has the conduct of one particular form of traffic—namely, the tramways. The interests of the ratepayers are necessarily involved in that particular form of traffic, and if that particular form of traffic were in danger of being antedated or superseded, you could not get anybody to believe that the County Council, having the interests of 461 their ratepayers at heart, would be able to act quite fairly to other forms of traffic. That body was therefore ruled out. Then there comes a question suggested by Lord Buxton, as to whether some kind of combination could not be arranged between the London County Council and other authorities all round. I have had a great deal of experience of negotiating, from the point of view of the London County Council, with the circumjacent bodies, and I can only say that it would be almost hopeless to try to construct in that way an authority which would be able to determine these difficult problems.
Thus you are really thrown back on a Minister and an authority of that kind, and I cannot believe but that among the different suggestions that have been made as to the authority something of this kind is the best. I know that great contumely has been thrown upon the proposition by Lord Buxton, but I think the main charge he brought against, it was that it was borrowing an idea from the Conservative Government, which, of course, would not necessarily prejudice me against the proposal. And Lord Russell told us that all the principles of the Labour Party had been scrapped in supporting this particular Bill. I was rather surprised at his simplicity in supposing that the Labour Party were going to carry out their principles in office.
I have only two observations to make upon the details of the Bill. One is a matter of importance, and it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. It concerns the Advisory Committee. We have seen a great many advisory committees set up which were more decorative than advisory. I trust that it may be possible to secure that this Advisory Committee really shall advise, and that the Minister of Transport will not go his way, and come to his own decisions without availing himself of the suggestions and assistance of this Advisory Committee. I doubt whether it is possible to secure anything of that kind by Amendment to the Bill. It must, I think, be controlled by the particular working of the Act.
I do not think we have had any explanation from the noble Lord who introduced the Bill as to why the Bill is limited to two or three years. I regret that limitation, because I can hardly think that this Advisory Committee can really formulate their 462 plans or look far ahead if they know that the Bill is going to last for two or three years only, and that at the end of that time they are going to be superseded by some other body. They are described as a make-shift body, and it is very difficult for a body so branded at the start to deal with foresight with so difficult a problem as that of London traffic.
With regard to the question of the area, which has been very much criticised by some speakers, I am certain that that wants very careful examination. Possibly, at first sight, there is something to be said in favour of so confining the area that it can be managed by one police authority. But one has had so much experience in the past of the danger of not looking far enough ahead in the arrangements to be made that I hope that my noble friend Lord Montagu, before he tries to do his best to limit the area, will consider very carefully whether, with the tremendous growth and increase of traffic, it is wise, at the outset at least, to take too small an area for the proposals of this Bill.
I am afraid I differ to some extent from Lord Newton in regard to his suggestion that the Regulations should not be laid on the Table of the House. I was going to make a suggestion of another kind. It may well be that some of the detailed measures in the Third Schedule are not of great importance, and that they might be left to be dealt with by the Minister, but there are other proposals of very considerable importance—for instance, where it has to be decided whether the omnibuses belonging to certain proprietors alone should be allowed to ply for hire on the streets, or whether certain proprietors should be allowed to ply and others should not. As far as I can understand, the Regulations so made need not be laid on the Table of the House, but I think the noble Lord has already indicated that, if that is not so, he will alter it so that they should be laid.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think it would be very unfortunate if these matters, some interfering very seriously with the rights of private enterprise, should be entirely dealt with by the authority itself, and that your Lordships should not have some opportunity of pronouncing upon them. 463 The only question we have to consider to-day is whether this authority should not be set up. I think it would be a deplorable thing if the Second Reading were not carried. After fifteen years, at last a Bill has been produced which, though it may not be the original conception of the Labour Government, does represent an enormous amount of work and agreement and conciliation. I am certain that if it cannot be dealt with this Session it may be put off for another ten years, and you will have continuing for all that period this state of chaos and disturbance and ill-regulation which it is astounding that the patient people of London and the surrounding districts should have tolerated so long.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I should like to say how much I am in agreement with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, who, speaking with all his authority, referred to the advantages which by free competition the people of London have hitherto enjoyed. If these omnibuses, whether belonging to the "Combine" or private owners, were not carrying passengers they would be taken off the streets, for they must earn a profit. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, asked Lord Buxton whether he ever went into an omnibus. I often go in them, and I always find them extraordinarily comfortable, and the personnel very attentive. I do it because I find it just as pleasant to sit in an omnibus in a congested street as to sit in a taxicab, seeing the threepences being dotted up on the taximeter.
I agree with Lord Montagu in thinking that no traffic arrangements can do away with congestion. These routes which are so congested at the present time ought to be regarded as main trunk railway routes, and we should allow some routes to be devoted to through traffic and others to general traffic. I believe it will be necessary also at certain hours of the day to say that private cars should not be allowed to go down those particular routes. As, owing to the weight of taxation, I have not a car in London, perhaps I do not speak impartially. I have a car, but I certainly would not go down Piccadilly in it at certain hours of the day. I believe that some measure of this kind will be necessary, and, as Lord Montagu said, you will have to look at something much bigger than mere 464 temporary traffic arrangements. I agree with Lord Newton and others that it would be perfectly ridiculous if the tramways were to be exempted from the purview of the body set up.
§ EARL BUXTON
There has been con-considerable difference of opinion with regard to details, and I hope that the Government will consider them in Committee. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I propose to give plenty of time, and I certainly should be open to negotiate with any one in order, if we can, to limit the matter as far as possible. I was going to suggest Tuesday week. I think that would give plenty of time for the putting down of Amendments.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.