HL Deb 26 May 1937 vol 105 cc255-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and I will endeavour to be as brief as possible, in view of the interesting debate which we have just concluded. The title of the Bill is, I am afraid, somewhat misleading. It may suggest to some that the Bill covers a wider field than is actually the case. It does not touch the question of speed limits, insurances, or road problems of that kind. It does not put forward any solution of the awful problem occasioned by the daily slaughter and the maiming of so many innocent citizens. We all recognise that those are questions of outstanding importance, but very unsuitable for treatment in a Private Member's Bill such as this. The solution for this greater problem of road accidents is, I think, becoming gradually apparent to all who go into the question. Scientists and engineers have solved the problem of the most convenient methods of transport in the world, and it seems obvious now that these new methods of transport should receive proper routes, and if they did receive proper routes on which to travel many of these accidents would inevitably be avoided in the future.

But, as I have said, the Bill, to which I desire to confine my observations, does not attempt to touch these wider and even more important and urgent problems. It is a Private Member's Bill, which has passed through all its stages in another place, on the Second and Third Readings without a Division. It has received the approbation and blessing of the Minister of Transport, and I trust that it will also receive the approval and commendation of your Lordships and of His Majesty's Government in this House this afternoon. The Bill is confined to two operative and effective clauses. One clause deals with the transport of passengers at separate fares in taxicabs, and the other deals with the period of validity of carriers' licences, that is, the licences which are issued to carriers of goods—it is not a passenger question at all. In regard to Clause 1, recent decisions in the Courts have shown it to be an offence for two or more people to share a taxicab fare, and it has come as a shock to many responsible citizens to find that in so doing they are committing not only an offence but a criminal offence. Under the law as it now stands the hirer of the taxicab must himself pay the whole of the fare registered on the meter.

I would remind the House that in the spacious days when men were wont to speak their minds more freely than they do to-clay, a great traveller and sportsman in the person of Mr. Jorrocks laid it down that in his opinion the law is an ass. I believe that if he were still with us his commentary on this particular point of law would be very much the same. That view has been expressed, in rather more dignified language certainly, by one of our learned Judges when he said: Even if the law is repugnant to common sense it must not be disregarded or evaded. It must be rigidly enforced by our courts. If that be the case, it only means that the future opens up a far from pleasant prospect. All who share a taxicab fare have been, and will continue to be, committing a criminal offence for the law on this particular point is undoubtedly quite plain and clear. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with this anomalous and absurd situation. The Bill legalises the practice of splitting a taxicab fare without causing the taxicab thereby to be regarded and having to be licensed as a stage carriage.

The Bill provides that in future there shall be no stigma on any one, or any risk of prosecution in the case of any one, who splits a taxicab fare. The wording of Clause 1 is necessarily elaborate and comprehensive because it is hoped that this clause is so worded that it will reduce, and perhaps altogether frustrate, the possibility of abuse and unfair competition by hackney carriages, that is by taxicabs and private hire cars, with stage carriages which have to be licensed in the ordinary way. I shall not weary your Lordships by going through the various points in the Bill, but it will be noted that the first provision limits the number of passengers to four. The figure four has been taken for taxicabs because it is felt that is a sufficient number to be allowed under the law to cover all genuine cases of splitting taxicab fares. Other safeguards provide against advertisements to the effect that this splitting of fares is to be done. These provisions are clearly necessary in order to prevent unfair competition arising from taxicabs with the regular licensed services. I need not say more with regard to Clause 1.

There is little that need be said with regard to Clause 2. It relates to the currency period for carriers' licences. It gives power to the Minister to make regulations extending the present period of validity and enabling the authorities concerned with the issue of licences to issue such licences for a shorter period than the full currency period when such a course is desirable, and thus ensure that there shall be a suitable and convenient programme of dates for considering the issue of such licences so that the work will proceed smoothly and, as far as possible, evenly through the licensing authority's hands. This power is requested because it may be found advisable in certain cases to curtail the normal period of validity of licences. It is required in order to avoid congestion through having to consider a number of licences at one time, followed shortly afterwards by a slack period. It is also required—this is perhaps a more important point since it affects the general public—so that applications can be conveniently and properly examined at the same time as they fall due for renewal. I have endeavoured to explain briefly, and I hope concisely, the aims and objects of this little Bill which I venture with all respect to submit for the approbation of this House, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Eltisley).


My Lords, I rise only to say that the Government greatly approve of this small but useful Bill, which has been so clearly explained to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley. I hope and trust your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past five o'clock.