HL Deb 08 November 1932 vol 85 cc1097-109

THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH rose to move to resolve, That any notices published and served, and any deposits made in respect of the London Passenger Transport Bill in the Session of 1930–31, as also the Proceedings of the Select Committee of this House appointed to join with a Select Committee of the House of Commons thereon in that Session, shall be held to have been published, served and made, and to have effect respectively for the Bill if the same shall be brought from the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the effect of the Resolution which stands in my name on the Paper, if passed, would be to enable the London Passenger Transport Bill to be carried over to next Session. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to give a short summary of the events in connection with this Bill. The Bill was read a second time in the House of Commons in March, 1931. It then went to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament and it was exhaustively examined by that Committee. The hearing, I understand, extended over thirty-five full Parliamentary days. The Bill did not emerge from that Committee until the end of July, 1931. As a result of the political and economic crisis and of the change of Government and the General Election, it was not possible to deal with the Bill further during that Parliament. In consequence Resolutions were passed in both Houses in October of last year enabling the Bill to be carried over from the last Parliament to this Parliament. I may say in passing that both those Resolutions were passed without a Division, although there was considerable discussion in your Lordships' House. Well, during the present Session once again the pressure of Parliamentary business in the form of matters of wider national and international importance has made it impossible to carry the Bill through any further stages. As a result, a Resolution was passed in another place on the 27th of last month, again without a Division, to enable the Bill to be carried over from this session to the next. The Resolution I am asking your Lordships to agree to will have a similar effect so far as this House is concerned.

I should like to give my reasons shortly for asking your Lordships to adopt this course. When the similar Resolution was discussed in this House last year the speakers were chiefly concerned with the constitutional and Parliamentary point involved in carrying over a Public Bill from one Parliament to another. The merits of the Bill were hardly touched upon at all, and I want to make it clear straight away that if this Resolution is accepted the House will be afforded every opportunity of discussing the Bill, its merits and provisions in the ordinary way when it comes up next Session. I therefore do not propose to explain the provisions of the Bill or to base my arguments in support of this Resolution on the merits of the Bill pure and simple. I am perfectly prepared to admit that there was no exact precedent for carrying over a Public Bill from one Parliament to another, as was done last year. Nor am I going to attempt to claim that there is an exact precedent for carrying over such a measure from one Session to another as it is intended to do now. What I do want to say is that the arguments which, I believe, induced your Lordships last year to support this Resolution are even stronger and more weighty now than they were then. Every consideration which obtained then obtains now with even greater force.

The reasons put forward for carrying over then were that the Bill had been thoroughly examined by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, that an enormous amount of time had been spent and effort expended on its consideration, that an expenditure of nearly £50,000 of public money had been incurred, and that in addition large sums of money had been spent by private bodies and individuals in connection with the Bill. If the Bill now lapsed all this money would be wasted, a new Bill would have to be introduced—I think there is general agreement that some measure at any rate is urgently required to deal with the problem of London traffic—and the whole procedure would have to be gone through again, which would involve further expenditure of large sums of public and private money. Apart from all other considerations we can ill afford to waste money in a time like this.

I would like to add that during the last twelve months a further considerable measure of agreement has been reached among those chiefly interested in the Bill, and if your Lordships read the White Paper issued last July you will see that it is proposed to move a number of amendments which are calculated to meet at any rate some of the objections which were raised to the Bill. But, for the reasons stated, I do not propose to go into these amendments now. I hope your Lordships will agree that in the special circumstances which obtain Parliament should be given an opportunity at least of discussing the merits of the Bill and that all this effort and money should not be entirely wasted. Your Lordships will most certainly receive this opportunity if the Resolution is adopted. I want to make it clear now that the Government have not the slightest intention or wish to establish a precedent for carrying over Public Bills from one Session to another in putting forward this Resolution. Far from it. I wish to give an unhesitating assurance to the House on that point. The Government appeal to the House to accept the Resolution simply and solely because of the special circumstances that exist and for the reasons I have enumerated. If the Resolution is adopted the House will have full power to deal with the Bill in due course as it thinks fit. In the circumstances and in view of the fact that three similar Resolutions have been passed without a Division I hope your Lordships will be prepared to agree to the Resolution. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That any notices published and served, and any deposits made in respect of the London Passenger Transport Bill in the Session of 1930–31, as also the Proceedings of the Select Committee of this House appointed to join with a Select Committee of the House of Commons thereon in that Session, shall be held to have been published, served and made, and to have effect respectively for the Bill if the same shall be brought from the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament.—(The Earl of Plymouth).


My Lords, as my noble friend has explained, the object of the Resolution is to enable your Lordships to carry over this Bill from this Session to the next and, as your Lordships are aware, a similar Resolution has been passed in another place. The Resolution is in precisely identical terms to that which your Lordships passed on October 7, 1931, though really the former was of a more far-reaching constitutional character, since in that case the Bill was carried over from one Parliament to another. The main reason, if not practically the only one, why the House is asked to carry over this Bill is on the question of expense. It was stated in your Lordships' House on the last occasion on which this was debated that there is no precedent whatever for this proposal unless your Lordships should consider the action of the House on October 7, 1931, to be a precedent. Then the analogy was mentioned of the Port of London Bill. But that cannot be relied on as a precedent. What your Lordships are asked to do really is to treat this London Transport Bill as if it were a Private Bill.

Your Lordships are aware that it is the practice of Parliament to carry over Private Bills from one Session to another, and the formula is: That the proceedings of such Bills shall be pro forma only in regard to every stage which the same shall have passed in the present Session and that no new fees be charged in regard to such stages. This Bill is without doubt a Public Bill introduced by the Government, but it is rather of a special character of Public Bill. It is what is commonly called a Hybrid Bill—that is to say, a Public Bill which is in the nature of a Private Bill. The fact that it is a Hybrid Bill brings it under Private Bill procedure for the purposes of Standing Orders. If your Lordships agree to this Motion you will agree to carrying over a Public Bill from one Session to another—a course for which there is no precedent, but you will not create a precedent for carrying over an ordinary Public Bill; you will, if anything, only create a precedent for extending to a Hybrid Bill the usual Private Bill procedure.

As my noble friend has said, if your Lordships should be pleased to pass this Resolution the House will be in no wise fettered in what may be done next Session. Your Lordships may say that, having given the Bill a Second Reading, you will refer it to a Select Committee for consideration. It is quite open for your Lordships to do that quite regardless of there having been a Joint Select Committee sitting on the Bill, and to deal with it as you would deal with any Bill which comes before your Lordships' House. I do not think your Lordships will be binding yourselves in any way, but if you are pleased to pass this Resolution I think you will be saving the parties and the country a great deal of expense. I must say that I should like to reiterate what was said by my noble friend, that if you agree to this Resolution then I hope it may be the firm opinion of your Lordships' House that it should be no precedent for carrying over any Public Bill, or even for extending as a general rule Private Bill procedure to Public Bills. The Government, I think, from what was said by my noble friend, have no intention of doing any such thing, but this is an exceptional time and an exceptional measure, and will not entail any precedent. The general question of the carrying over of Public Bills from one Session to another is a very important one, and may not come before the House officially, but if it does I do not think that this Resolution will interfere with your freedom of decision.


My Lords, I was going to speak at rather greater length than I shall do on the constitutional point, but the Lord Chairman has gone so fully into the matter that I do not intend to detain you for more than a very few minutes on that question. I am glad he has reiterated what many of us feel, that the carrying over of the Bill from one Parliament to another was a precedent which had never occurred before, and I also agree with him in hoping that it will never occur again. The Government having jumped the big fence of carrying over a Bill from one Parliament to another, it is a very little fence for them to pass it from one Session to another. Having made this protest I would like to say a few words, but I should not have said them if Lord Plymouth had not referred to what had occurred since the Bill was introduced. You may remember that this Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. Morrison, who described it as the biggest Socialist measure of modern times. I am not sure whether, after the kaleidoscopic changes which have been made in the Bill, this present Bill does not still merit that description. Lord Plymouth also said that this Bill had passed in the House of Commons without a Division. It is quite true that it did pass without a Division, but there was a tremendous lot of protest by Conservative members when they asked for a Select Committee, and it was then resolved that the Bill should go to a Committee of the Whole House.

We have been told to-night that we can do what we like with the Bill when it comes to us, but I beg your Lordships to remember one or two matters in this connection. The financial aspect of affairs has been completely altered by certain bargains and alterations made since this Bill was passed by the hybrid Committee of both Houses. There have been arrangements made with the Metropolitan Railway Company, and also bargains made with the great main line railways. Is it possible, I ask your Lordships, that all these agreements, and all matters of this kind, can be really looked into by a Committee of the Whole House? I respectfully ask the Government to think what they are doing. This Bill affects the travelling facilities for nine millions of people. It goes far beyond the original joint Bills which were brought in and passed in both Houses by the London County Council and the London Electric Railways. They were thrown out at the very last moment. It leaves me absolutely cold when I am told that the Government have spent £40,000 on promoting this Bill and that private interests have also spent money. It is very important, no doubt, but what relation has it to the fact that you are placing under the control of five gentlemen, without any responsibility to anybody, a capital of £130,000,000 and the whole comfort of nine to ten millions of your population?

A good many people think that if some Bill is passed you are going to do away with congestion in the streets of London. I do not share this opinion. If you diminish any of the present traffic facilities you are going to get less revenue, and we know perfectly well, from the figures given, that the receipts of every one of those groups have fallen off. On the other hand we are told that the main line railways cannot electrify because of the competition. It is stated that if they do electrify a wonderful result will ensue, but that will take away from the revenue of this new board. I cannot see the argument that from the financial point of view the change will be for the convenience of the public. Another point about creating this board is that it seems to me you should consider the interests not only of the shareholders but of the local authorities as well. Housing questions are mixed up with this matter as well, and improvement schemes for town planning; and how on earth are these questions to be examined by a board of five people who are mainly to look after the financial interests of this new concern? Here you are going to have the bureaucratic contral of five worthy gentlemen, without supervision by anybody.

Very recently Lord Ashfield, for whom I have the greatest respect—no man has done more for London traffic, no man has served London better or done more to make a system unrivalled in the world—was asked by the Canadian Government to go over to Canada. I will not go into it at length, because I am anxious not to detain your Lordships.


You are out of order as well.


I am referring to Lord Ashfield in connection with this scheme, and if the noble Lord will not interrupt me I shall take less time. Lord Ashfield was asked by the Canadian Government to go on a Commission there. In Canada you have the Canadian Pacific Railway, run by private enterprise, and the Canadian National Railway, which is run by the State, and the problem was what to do with these great services, which were mutually cutting each other's throats. What did the Report of that Committee decide? It decided that they should be controlled by a joint board, and that the various undertakings should remain as they were. Now, under this plan, as far as I can see, everything is going to be amalgamated into one concern. Their entities are going to be abolished. You will have rivalries and jealousies between the various groups still prevailing, and you will have no touch with the personnel. For these reasons, I trust that whatever the House of Commons do—and they are a law unto themselves in this matter—when the Bill comes here we shall be given that liberty which the noble Earls, Lord Plymouth and Lord Onslow, said we could have, of deciding for ourselves what is to be done about this Bill, and I hope that then it will go before a Select Committee.


My Lords, I do not want to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down into the merits of the Bill. I merely rise on behalf of the Opposition to support the Motion that is before the House. I was in the Ministry of Transport in the very early days of the incubation of this Bill, and I can assure the noble Lords that, if the bird had any red feathers in the early days of the struggle it has gone through, it has lost them, and what it will be like by the time it reaches us again I do not know. Therefore, although I want to support the Government in this Motion, I want to make it perfectly clear that we shall be free to express our opinion on the Bill when it comes up for Second Reading in this House. I think that the noble Lord who has just sat down is really wrong in supposing that this Bill is not of the very greatest importance to London traffic. And really this discussion very properly succeeds the Motion that we have been debating this afternoon. That we should be so long in grappling with this great question of the co-ordination of London traffic is already becoming almost a scandal. Therefore I think the Government have judged perfectly wisely in saying that this Bill should be carried over till next Session.


My Lords, this has become a sort of sessional Motion. That being the case, I cannot understand why the noble Earl on the Front Government Bench and the Chairman of Committees should have devoted the whole of their time to explaining that this does not form a precedent. It is a precedent. The precedent is formed. It is no good saying it does not form a precedent. It is there, and it is a most dangerous precedent too. I protested against it last year, and I mean to protest again now. This is not a Private Bill, it is a Public Bill, and we are carrying it over not only from Session to Session but from Parliament to Parliament. What is the reason for that? The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asks why we have been so slow about it. The reason is very obvious. It is because there is no drive behind this Bill, probably because it is a bad Bill, probably because, since the period of incubation to which Lord Ponsonby referred, Mr. Morrison's interpretation of the Bill and its contents and its aspirations has been correct; but there is no drive behind the Bill. When the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, says: "Oh, let us do this in order to save thousands of pounds of public and private money that has been spent," I would rather lose that money than pass a bad and a dangerous Bill.

It is no good saying that this Parliament retains the rights it has had before. The Joint Select Committee examined the problem—that was in the last Parliament. It was done by people who, certainly so far as the House of Commons is concerned, are no longer in public affairs. And when we say that this Bill passed certain stages at an earlier period in its history, that is very unpersuasive to my mind, because since that time all sorts of new factors have come into existence. There have been changes in the outlook, even in the last fifteen or eighteen months, notably upon certain aspects of housing, which are intimately concerned with the question of passenger transport.

I say that this is really a dangerous proposal. It was dangerous on the first occasion, and it becomes more dangerous every time we repeat it. Your Lordships know perfectly well that all this time deals and changes and bargains are being made, and when a Government or a Government Department knows that it can dump a Bill on Parliament and not make any serious effort to pass it into law, all the intervening time between that moment and the period when it comes up for effective discussion is occupied in bargaining and log-rolling. It is not the constitutional precedent that troubles me so much as that fact, which I think is inherent in the circumstances of the case. I protest again that what the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, says is not a precedent is a precedent, and a very serious one.


My Lords, as I was a member of this Joint Select Committee, perhaps I might be allowed to say one or two words. I was not present last year when the Motion to carry over the Bill was passed, but as I was here to-night I thought it was my duty to say one or two words. First of all, may I deal with the main consideration which is before your Lordships tonight, which really is the question of money? The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, has just said that he would rather spend the money than have a bad Bill. I very much doubt whether the country would consider that we were acting in a proper way if we took that view. Day in and day out many of us are pursued by people complaining of the enormous expenditure, both national and local, and they say that the Government are doing nothing to check that expenditure. If we take the view that £40,000 is not worth consideration in this House, I think that view would be very difficult to defend before the country.

Having said that, I hope your Lordships will not think that I am a supporter of this Bill. I am not exactly hostile to the whole of it. I am a supporter of what I consider its basic principle, which is the control of the traffic. You cannot control the traffic of London unless you control the traffic before it gets into London. That is the basic principle of the Bill. But when in the Joint Committee we came to consider the Bill we found that the provisions were so far-reaching, so complicated, that it was very difficult for us in the time allotted to us to come to what we considered satisfactory and advisable conclusions. May I remind your Lordships of one cardinal fact, and that is that the Bill only survived in Committee by the casting vote of the Chairman? That is a very important matter to be remembered. It may be forgotten as time goes on.

Some of us wished to propose very far-reaching Amendments in the Bill, but we were unable to do so. Perhaps I may enumerate one or two of them. There was first of all the board to which my noble friend Lord Jessel has referred. The evidence is all published, and therefore there is no secret which I can divulge. Some of us desired that the board should be more representative of the ratepayers than the Bill provided for, and as I understand from the White Paper I do not think that that point has been properly met. But that is one of the important point which we had to consider and on which some of us were not satisfied. Then there was a Clause, No. 11, which was called a Compensation Clause. That clause was a very difficult clause to draw up and if it had not been for the very devoted services and assistance of the officers of Parliament, Mr. Godley and Sir Frederick Liddell, that clause would never have seen the light of day; but they themselves, I am sure, would be the first to admit that that clause is not watertight. They worked extremely hard to draw up this clause and, as my noble friend Lord Sanderson will remember, it gave all of us cause for the very greatest consideration. Whether anybody understands that clause to-day or not I really do not know; I should think it extremely doubtful. That is the sort of thing with which we were faced.

When my noble friend Lord Plymouth says that the Bill was exhaustively considered I am afraid I must join issue with him, because there was not time to do it. We were exhausted, it is true. We sat an unprecedently long time. On the last day we sat from 10.30 in the morning till 10.25 at night, and when the time came I am sure none of us was capable of forming a proper opinion upon certain clauses. There was one clause which referred to the care of the roads. I think it was the last clause we had to deal with. When that clause came to be considered I was worn out. As for the learned Counsel and Agents, they were worn out, too. These were conditions under which the Bill was passed, and I for one think that if that Bill ever comes up to this House it should be sent to another Select Committee for further consideration. An enormous amount of work has been done and a good deal of data has been provided by long sittings of the Joint Committee which would be of the greatest use to any Committee which sits again. With the changed conditions which have arisen since August, 1931, both in the railways and omnibus undertakings in this country, one cannot say for a moment that that Bill as it left the Joint Committee is a proper Bill to be passed today. It is impossible. As I have said, we had not the time properly to consider that Bill. Take, for instance, the question of the four main line railways. We never considered it for a minute. If your Lordships look through the evidence you will see that no consideration of any sort or description was given to that question. All I remember seeing are some papers handed in to the Committee which referred to some agreement made by the four main line railways with the promoters. That is all that happened. It may have been a most excellent arrangement so far as the railway companies are concerned, and so far as the country is concerned. We do not know. I give you that as only one instance. I think if the Bill comes up to your Lordships' House it certainly ought to be sent to a Select Committee.


My Lords, I do not want to follow the noble Earl into the details of the Bill, but as he has referred to me very kindly I should like to say a. word in support of the Resolution. I hope the Bill will be brought up again next Session. I attach a good deal of importance to the amount of money that has already been spent upon it and also to the amount of work. That is perhaps rather a personal thing; but the thirty-five days which we spent on the Bill in the best part of the summer of last year were very arduous. I do not quite agree with the noble Earl as to the Bill not being thoroughly gone into. I think we examined it most exhaustively and I hope very much that your Lordships will not adopt the noble Earl's suggestion of sending it to another Committee. I think that would be a waste of time. We can perfectly well discuss the details in Committee of your Lordships' House. There is just one other point. It is true that many of the clauses were carried by one vote but it was not, I think, the casting vote of the Chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, but the Chairman's vote.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.