HL Deb 25 July 1928 vol 71 cc1333-42

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Third Reading of this Bill I think I ought to inform your Lordships that there have been some discussions since the Second Reading with reference to Clause 4 of the Bill and three words in that clause. I do not think I need refer to them. I have not been convinced as to the full reason for the anxiety which has been displayed by certain parties for whose protection this clause was inserted, but there is no harm in recognising the fact that the anxiety is felt, and if the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would say a word that would elucidate the matter I think a good many people, including myself, would be grateful to him.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, there is a matter which I should have mentioned when I spoke on the Second Reading, and that is the Special Report which was made by the Committee relating to the extreme confusion in the licensing powers of the local authorities who are able to license omnibuses. There is a great doubt as to what those powers are, and there is a great deal of confusion in the way they are exercised. One other point about which they also made a Special Report is the necessity for the co-ordination of road traffic in the country at large on lines which must, more or less, resemble the London Traffic Act. It is unnecessary to refer to these matters at any length, because I see in this morning's newspapers that a Royal Commission on Traffic has been set up, to which I imagine this will be among the most important matters referred.

The point which was raised by the noble Earl arises on Clause 4 (2), which deals with the protection given to local authorities. The protection given by the Select Committee to local authorities was confined merely to the boundaries of the municipalities. On the Report stage in another place that was extended to include the joint area of any local authorities which run a joint service, and the words, which are still the same as those settled in the Committee, are now these, that the Company shall not run any service of road vehicles in such local area"— that is, the joint area of the two authorities— in competition with any such service of tramcars or omnibuses as the case may be except for the purpose of serving any area beyond such local area so long as no passenger conveyed by such service of road vehicles is on any one journey both taken up and set down on a route in such local area in competition with such service of tramcars or omnibuses as the case may be. The intention was perfectly clear. It was that the existing service of the municipal authority shall be protected on a route which runs into that area. Some suggestion has been made, but I think without any sort of authority, that, supposing a service ran alongside one of these routes for a considerable distance inside the boundary, and then terminated at a railway station—where, of course, an existing route could not terminate except by agreement—it would not be running in competition. That clearly is not so, but rather than suggest any Amendment at this stage, I think it would be better for Parliament to rely on the understanding of the railway companies as to what was intended, and the conviction which I have that they will not depart from that. The competition is a question of fact in each case for the Minister of Transport, and the route will be a question of fact. If the railway companies did, in fact, depart from that, then, of course, the remedy would be comparatively easy, and might be possibly rather severe; but I think I am right in saying that we may safely take it that they will not.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

LORD MUSKERRY moved to insert the following new clause after Clause 3:—

Speed limit and prohibition of trailers.

". The company shall not use trailers to their lorries and the speed of their vehicles weighing over five tons loaded shall not exceed ten miles an hour."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment which I have placed on the Paper is intended mainly for the safety of the other users of the road. There are a great number of noble Lords on both sides of the House who fully realise the great danger of these trailers. Sometimes there is only one trailer, sometimes there are two; and as they progress they swing about in a manner that is extremely dangerous to any other vehicle that is on the road. Their speed, too, is very great. They generally stick to the middle of the road, and if I may judge from what was said a few months ago by a lorry driver at Uxbridge Sessions, they do not care overmuch about other users of the road. This lorry driver, when asked if he knew the rule of the road, said: "Yes, the rule of the road is that the lesser should give way to the greater." I do not think that will quite meet with your Lordships' approval.

A Committee has been appointed under the Ministry of Transport, and I hope they will extend these regulations to all users of the road. With regard to the speed of motor vehicles, I have seen these lorries travelling at over forty miles an hour, and I say it is more dangerous to the public for a lorry weighing over five tons to go at twenty miles an hour than it is for an ordinary well-equipped car driven by an able driver to go at sixty or seventy miles an hour. The one can stop and "pick up" very rapidly, while the other takes a considerable time to do so. I wish only to point out the very serious danger caused by a great number of these steam vehicles which have chain gear with a worm wheel engaged upon a spur. My own experience of driving a traction engine has shown me that the least jar will sweep the wheel out of the driver's hands with the result that the whole contraption goes to one side or other of the road. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, after Clause 3, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Muskerry.)


My Lords, I can state to your Lordships in very few words the principle upon which the Select Committee proceeded in considering suggestions of this kind. The principle upon which we proceeded was that if these powers were to be given to the railway companies we should satisfy ourselves beyond all reasonable doubt that the public interest was safeguarded and that no improper use could be made of the powers. Having done that, we saw no reason to hamper the railway companies with what I might call smaller and fussy restrictions in which we should differentiate them from other users of the roads. By this Amendment the noble Lord proposes that a trailer shall not be used by a lorry, and that the speed of a vehicle of over five tons is not to exceed ten miles an hour. Really the Heavy Motor Order is very difficult. Probably the noble Viscount opposite [Viscount Peel] knows whether that is the law now or whether it is not the law now. I would not undertake to say off-hand. If it is the law now it will apply. If it is not the law now there is no reason either in justice or common sense why it should apply to a lorry which is marked "L.M.S." rather than to a lorry which is marked "Pickford's." If I might venture to advise your Lordships' House, I would suggest that there is no ground for accepting this Amendment.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl, who was, of course, a very active member of the Committee, for replying to the noble Lord. I need hardly say that he has stated the matter quite correctly, because all the provisions of previous Acts, under Clause 17, will apply. They will all apply to these motors used by railway companies. Therefore, it would seem unwise to differentiate the law as regards the motors and trailers used by the railways and those used by other people. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also discussed the question of the speed at which these heavy motors with resilient tyres may go. At the present moment they are limited to twelve miles per hour. The noble Lord smiles and says that he has seen them going at forty miles an hour. I suppose that must have been on some very quiet road.


It was on the Bath Road.


If they go at forty miles an hour already when they are restricted to twelve, it does not seem of very much use restricting them to ten. Anyhow, I am sure the noble Lord will see that to put upon the police the extra duty of distinguishing between certain classes of lorries as to whether they are going at ten or twelve miles an hour, is really putting upon them a prodigious difficulty. I do not think it is possible for them to do it. Possibly, the noble Lord will not press his Amendment when I assure him that the ordinary law and all the restrictions of the ordinary law will apply to these motor lorries with trailers just as much as to other motor lorries.


My Lords, I accept the assurance of my noble friend and ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. In regard to what was said by the noble Earl opposite, I suggested that the provision should apply to all lorries with trailers and not only to those owned by the railway companies.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE EARL OF BRADFORD moved, after Clause 11, to insert the following new clause:—

For protection of railway companies.

".—(1) The company shall not run or enter into any agreement for the running of any service of road vehicles in competition with any railway or light railway which by means of either a physical junction or exchange sidings receives or delivers traffic from or to the system of the company except with the consent in writing of the company owning such railway or light railway first had and obtained unless the Minister in any case in which such consent is refused is of opinion after hearing all parties interested that having regard to all the circumstances of the case such consent ought to be dispensed with.

(2) Any question as to whether there is or would be such competition as aforesaid shall be determined by the Minister whose decision shall be final.

(3) The expression 'railway or light railway' in this section does not include a tramway or a light railway of the nature of a tramway that is to say a tramway or a light railway laid wholly or mainly along a public carriageway and used wholly or mainly for the carriage of passengers."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I move this Amendment in the hope that your Lordships may see fit to insert in these Railway Bills a clause providing some measure of protection for the smaller railway companies which appear to me to have met with rather scant consideration. The Committee which investigated these Bills refused to give protection to the smaller railway companies in respect of motor services run into their districts by the larger railway companies. Although protection has been given to public money invested in tramway and omnibus undertakings within the area of certain municipalities by the decision of the Committee, yet similar protection has been refused to the much larger sum of public money invested in the smaller railway companies. The sum so invested is much larger than that invested by many municipalities in their tramway and omnibus undertakings. I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with all the figures, but I should like to mention the totals in respect of three of the smaller railway companies as an example of the amount of public money invested in them. The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway, which is one of the smallest of all, has a total of £4,250 provided by corporations, councils and similar bodies. In the same way the Welsh Highland Railway has a total of £64,700 odd invested by district councils. Included in that amount is a sum of £35,000 provided by His Majesty's Treasury. The North Devon and Cornwall Junction Railway has a total of £189,000 invested, nearly three-quarters of which is provided by His Majesty's Treasury.

I may point out that these smaller railway companies come under the Light Railways Act of 1896. That Act has always been administered on the basis that lines built under its powers should not be in competition with existing railways, and it seems rather inequitable that existing railways should be allowed to compete with railways sanctioned under the Act. These light railways, such as the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire, the Welsh Highland, the East Kent Light Railway, the Kent and East Sussex Light Railway and others, act as feeders to one or other of the big railways. They serve both industrial and agricultural districts. They have been constructed under the provisions of the Light Railways Acts to serve sparsely populated agricultural districts, which before their construction had no adequate railway facilities at all. Many tramways have been constructed under the Light Railways Acts. But the light railways with which I am dealing stand upon a different footing from the tramways. They are in the nature of railways strictly so called. They form part of the railway system of the country. Their position in that regard is recognised by the Railways Act of 1921, in which it is expressly provided that their rates and charges shall be the same as the rates and charges of the big railway companies to which they are attached.

The promoters of this Bill have admitted in evidence that if its powers are granted it will be possible for the big companies to take so much of the traffic as the light railways are designed to carry as will practically exterminate the light railways. The big railways can, under the powers of these Bills, take by omnibus passengers, light goods, and probably the bulk of the smaller merchandise traffic of the light railways. There will be left heavy agricultural produce, cattle, stone and minerals from quarries and mines, but these last mentioned items of traffic would not be sufficient to enable the light railways to carry on their undertakings. They would almost certainly have to close down, and this valuable auxiliary of industry and agriculture would be taken away. These light railways have been constructed with the assistance of local authorities—county councils, district councils and such like bodies—and the Treasury, as I have pointed out, has subscribed capital to the light railways. Surely it is inconceivable that the Treasury would take a step of that kind unless they were satisfied that these undertakings were of great public advantage and utility.

The big railway companies base their case for these Bills on the fact that passenger traffic and goods traffic which was conveyed formerly by them has been lost, to the railway companies and is now conveyed by road by other undertakers. The light railway companies, in common with the big railway companies, have suffered severely from road competition. The light railway companies point out that the Bills will have the effect of intensifying in relation to their undertakings the very evils which the big companies desire to have mitigated as regards themselves. In these circumstances I hope your Lordships will extend your sympathetic consideration to my Amendment. It seems very hard that these smaller companies, some of them struggling with great difficulty to keep their heads above water, should be forced to close down altogether through no fault of their own. Perhaps I should explain that subsection (3) has been added to my Amendment with the object of making it quite clear that the term "light railway" in my Amendment does not include tramways. It is desired to define the railways for which protection is asked as those running on their own property and not those running on the public roads. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, after Clause 11, insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Bradford.)


My Lords, most people object to competition with themselves when they are established and the light railways are not alone in that view. Sometimes, however, it acts as a stimulus. Indeed we had considerable evidence in our inquiry that the competition of road transport had acted as a very considerable stimulus to the main line railways and to that extent had been to the good. The proposal made by the noble Earl was before the Committee, and was considered by them, but they did not see their way to extend protection beyond the municipal undertakings. Municipal undertakings are those which are constructed entirely with public money under statutory authority for the benefit of the citizens of the place and in their own area, and they stand in quite a different category from that of railway enterprise of a similar character (other than the main lines) which were no doubt started also with the idea of benefiting the neighbourhood. Your Lordships remember that a good many years ago, when the Light Railways Act was passed, great hopes and expectations were entertained of its success, and we had pictures of light railways running all over the fields of the country carrying agricultural produce straight to market. A good deal of money was sunk in them at that time, and apparently some public money, but they have not been very successful. There does not appear, and did not appear to the Committee, any reason why the protection given to municipalities should be extended to one competitor of this kind. If to this competitor, then to many others.

There is one point to which I should like to call attention. The noble Earl was courteous enough to tell me about his Amendment before he moved it and to show me the figures upon which he was relying. I felt bound to point out to him that at the Committee the persons who put forward this Amendment had been challenged as to whether public money had been invested in these railways, and no evidence of that was given. The list which the noble Earl has read to your Lordships to-day was never before the Committee. Of course I accept at once, as any of your Lordships would, the accuracy of the list so far as he has been able to verify it, and the accuracy of his information, but the proper place for such information was before the Committee, where it could have been tested in the usual way by cross-examination and argument, and not at this stage of the Bill. It would be a bad example to admit new evidence of that sort at this stage. Incidentally the noble Earl pointed out that a very large sum of money was subscribed by the Treasury. But the Treasury did not think it worth while to come to the Committee and ask protection for that large sum of money, and they are generally sufficiently alive to their interest. In all the circumstances I hope your Lordships will not at this stage reverse the decision of the Committee, particularly upon evidence which was not at that time before them.


My Lords, I desire to say one word in respect of the decision at which the Committee arrived. I think the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, will see how difficult it would be to pass his Amendment. What would happen would be that as against the railways these light railways would have a particular advantage. That advantage, or that security, would, however, only be as against the railways and not as against all other competitors. The result of that would be that you would place a special handicap upon the railways in competing against their competitors. Where is the fairness of that? Why do you want to handicap the railways in this particular fashion? It would not be fair. If you are to handicap one you must handicap all. You must apply the same limitation for the others as this Amendment would apply to the railways. Even so the assistance to the light railways is limited, apparently, in the Amendment of the noble Earl to those which, by means of physical junction or exchange sidings, receive or deliver traffic. I understand that the general policy of the railways is to carry as many goods as they can on their railways, and we know that overhead charges will be very much assisted if they can carry more upon their own railways. The shortest way would be to deliver the goods to the other lines which have physical junctions. It would be neither to the interest nor in furtherance of the policy of the large railways to compete in the way suggested with the light railways. But, however that may be, I think the noble Earl will see that you cannot give this particular protection to these light railways simply against the great railways and not as against any other traffic. It would be unworkable and unfair.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his reply, and in view of what he has said I do not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill passed.