§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following new clause:
3. In considering the needs of the area as required under section seventy-two of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, relating to the running of unremunerative services and the convenience of the public, a licensing authority shall have power to attach to any licence to run a particular service the condition that the applicant shall also undertake to run some other additional service or services and the grant
of a licence to run the particular service for which application has been made shall thereafter be conditional on the applicant also running such additional service or services; and in fixing the fares appropriate to such additional service or services the licensing authority shall have regard to the entire remuneration likely to be received by the undertaker for the whole of the area.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment again appears upon the Marshalled List as, when your Lordships discussed this matter at the Committee stage, the noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill promised to give it consideration. I do not intend to repeat all the arguments which I then put before your Lordships, but I feel that on that occasion I had powerful support from the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. I think I should be right in saying that he was the architect, or one of the architects, of the 1930 Road Traffic Act, because at that time he was Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. He told your Lordships, quite frankly, that it was the intention not only of the Act, but of Parliament when it passed the 1930 Act, that the licensing authorities should be responsible for seeing that there were provided adequate road passenger transport facilities. Among other things they had to do was to see that unremunerative routes were run.
Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to refresh your memories over the relevant provision of the 1930 Act. Section 72 (3) says that the traffic commissioners (they were called "traffic commissioners" in those days, until, by the 1947 Act, the title was changed to "licensing authorities") had to have regard to a number of matters in granting a road service licence, including
(d) the needs of the area as a whole in relation to traffic (including the provision of adequate, suitable and efficient services, the elimination of unnecessary services and the provision of unremunerative services) …
Then, at the end of subsection (4), the Act provides that the traffic commissioners have to lay down conditions.
… generally for securing the safety and convenience of the public;
The argument advanced by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on Committee stage was that this was not a very serious matter because public service companies run a large number of unremunerative services. To that I am prepared to assent. I will be frank with your Lordships: I do not think this is a major problem
to-day, but the costs of transport are rising and the need for economy in operation costs is ever present in the minds of public service operators. I admit that some companies which run services in vast rural areas have 75 per cent. of their routes unremunerative. But there is a public service to be given, and unless we wish to see a drift away from the countryside we must give rural dwellers the opportunity of enjoying the amenities of the town. I am afraid that in the absence of some such provision as I suggest the unremunerative services will diminish and diminish.
§ Let us be quite frank about this. It was the essence of the 1930 Act, in setting up monopolies and near monopolies of road passenger transport, to safeguard operators against competition, so that they could run unremunerative routes and reimburse themselves on the remunerative routes, so that "pirates"—if I may use the term—would not break in and "cream" the remunerative routes and leave the established companies to carry the liabilities while they plundered the assets. That was the idea behind the 1930 Act. Is Parliament's intention row different from that in 1930? It has never had a chance of testing this matter. I am going to suggest to the noble Earl that it would be a good idea to test the opinion of Parliament as to whether or not it did intend the licensing authorities to have jurisdiction over these services to the extent of requiring the running of unremunerative services, and whether Parliament is of the same opinion to-day. It has not had a chance of expressing an opinion for twenty-five years, and perhaps Parliament has altered its opinion. At present, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, and as I know from my own experience in the Ministry of Transport, there is a sharp division of opinion among licensing authorities as to whether they have this power or not; some think they have, and some think they have not. Could we not have it settled once and for all? At the present time it is in an Act of Parliament. Nobody can test that Act of Parliament except the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry of Transport cannot be expected to bring a test against their own child—because that is what it amounts to. I should like to hear the noble Earl's reply in the light of his consideration of the arguments put by 950 the noble Lords, Lord Hurcomb and Lord Greenhill, and by myself on Committee stage. I beg to move.
After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
My Lords, I have examined the noble Lord's Amendment with some sympathy, but I think it is true to say that if this Amendment were accepted, the public would suffer, because operators would seek to discontinue any unremunerative service which they were running at the time when receipts were particularly low, and perhaps use the licensing authority as a shield to do so. May I give a short example? If the cost of a service was, say, 22d. and the company were taking only 10d., I would say that even the licensing authorities, who of course must have some yardstick, would have to say that such a service would have to cease. If we examine the Thesiger Report, we find that paragraph 113 uses these words:It is useless … to suggest that local authorities should have the right to propose or that the licensing authority should have the power to order a service to be compulsorily provided.It goes on to say:All such proposals ignore the fact that if a service cannot pay for itself, its provision depends on a subsidy from elsewhere.The fact is that already a number of companies have reached a stage where further increases in fares would produce no additional revenue, so that we could not get a subsidy from that direction. I would say that the moral sanction of providing unremunerative services is accepted by the operators as a whole, and very few cases have come to light where there have been complaints. For the reasons I have mentioned, I hope that the Government will not accept this Amendment.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is always interesting when speaking on transport, and the points he raises are important. I can go quite a long way in agreeing with many of the things he said. We agree, first of all, that this particular Amendment is outside the Long Title of the Bill, and therefore I am not going to argue that point. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that one of the major purposes of the 1930 Act was the provision of unremunerative services. That is 951 a most important aspect of road transport, and necessarily so, and I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that it has been extensively carried out. I will not repeat the figures now. He will also agree that the whole matter has been carefully examined by the Thesiger Committee. Where, however, we differ is on the question of whether what he suggests would, in fact, achieve more than the present system. I may add that the Thesiger Report, as my noble friend Lord Teynham said, did not suggest that it would.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, brought up an interesting question of law. I am in some difficulty about this aspect, because it is not my position to expound the law here—indeed, nobody can expound the law except the courts. I must confess that I was astonished to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, giving advice which, I am bound to say, is different from the advice I would give. However, I do not think it matters, and for this reason. Reading the section, there is certainly some ground for taking the assumption that the licensing authority have the right to impose a condition. In view of that, I would say that, if they had really wanted to do it, some licensing authority would have done it in the last twenty-five years. The reason why they have not done so, why they have not had the matter tested in the courts, is simply that they have not wanted to do it. Otherwise, quite frankly, I can see no reason why it has not been tested in the courts. The licensing authorities have selected, as I think rightly, the alternative course of trying to get agreement as to what they thought was wise, and to secure that measure of good will that comes with agreement. What the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, wants—and this is the crux of the matter—is to make an operating company do something that they do not want to do. He wants to give the licensing authority the power of making a positive condition. I can only say that, in my view, that is a doubtful policy, for certain definite reasons which I should like to give to your Lordships.
The first is that the licensing authority would have to have an excellent 952 information service to justify the imposition of a positive condition of that character. At the present moment the only information they have is what is brought to their own court. In the second place, the licensing authority would become responsible for the provision of services, and if anybody wanted to make a complaint in future he would make it to the licensing authority and not to the operating company. That, to my mind, would be entirely wrong. The licensing authority are not a body which should be held responsible for services. Thirdly—and this I feel is a fair point to make—if you order an operating company to provide a service which they do not want to provide, they could easily operate it in a highly uneconomical manner, and thereby prove that it was a bad service and that the licensing authority had been in error in forcing them to operate it. Those are fairly solid reasons, I feel, why we should not accept this Amendment.
As the noble Lord said, there is the question of adjustment of urban and rural area fares. That is an important point, and it is one which I feel is much better considered ad hoc in each area, for the reason given by my noble friend Lord Teynham: that it can be taken only so far, because after that you reach a point of consumer resistance in the urban area and the adjustment would defeat its own ends. The adjustment of town and country relationship is not easy, and I feel that it is better dealt with in the individual cases. After all, we have had a good testimony in the Thesiger Report to the working of this system. I think it is fair to say that in the whole field of transport today, probably the companies working under the 1930 Act work most smoothly. Generally their fares are the cheapest; they pay their way, and they have been a tremendous boon to the more distant parts of the country. The whole system has, as I say, been thoroughly examined and, on the whole, been given a certificate of good character. I am afraid that we should be running the risk of upsetting a system which is working well by bringing a new element into it.
I would add (the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, did not emphasise this point, but I am sure he has it in mind) that it is important that the public should tell the licensing authority what 953 they want. The noble Lord has done a service to his own part of the country by doing so, and other people have done the same. There are ample channels through which that can be done at present, and I think they are being used. I can assure the noble Lord that we have gone into this matter thoroughly, and I should be glad if he could now withdraw the Amendment, because I do not think it would be an improvement on what we have at the present time.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, when the noble Earl ends up a speech like that it almost brings tears to my eyes, and I cannot resist his eloquence. But, while I cannot resist his eloquence, I do not accept his arguments as being what he called "solid." I think they are flimsy; they are good debating arguments, and I myself have used them many times when I have had to defend this kind of thing from the other side of your Lordships' House. The noble Earl may be right in saying that this will be an ever-recurring problem. I think that the part of the Thesiger Report which dealt with this problem was the woolliest part of a very good Report. It said precisely what the noble Earl said: that it is useless to ask any local authority or a licensing authority to compel somebody to run bus services—that is the gist of what the Thesiger Committee said. But they never said why.
I do not for a moment accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham—I think it was even weaker than that of the noble Earl. He said that if this were done these bus companies would cease to run these services. They would not. The fares would be equalised. The danger now lies in the fact mentioned by the noble Earl; that in many cases the height of fares has reached its maximum. If that is true—and I do not doubt the noble Earl's words—then something drastic has got to be done in future, because in that event Her Majesty's Government will fail in their duty of seeing that rural areas are provided with one of the necessities of life—an adequate transport service. I am not going to weary your Lordships with this matter any longer. I have stated the case. I am quite confident that this House will return to this problem many times in the next few months, because transport threatens from to-morrow onwards to be 954 one of the most pertinent points with which your Lordships' House will have to deal, and in some way or another, this problem is bound to come up. I have stated the case. I am quite happy to fall in with the charm of the noble Earl's last request, and I now beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9:
§ Control of number of passengers on public service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles
§ 9.—(1) The Minister may make regulations with respect to public service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles, providing for—
§ 3.0 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1), after paragraph (c) to insert:
(d) the determination of a simple form of licence governing the occasions when public service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles are used as contract carriages but separate fares are charged:
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will not exercise the same amount of charm in his reply to this Amendment, but will be a little more forthcoming and give me what I want. Again I will not go over all the arguments. This Amendment seeks to cure one of the worst examples of asinine stupidity of the law which has been prevalent since 1930. It so happens that at the present time private hire work by contract carriage motor coach is absolutely prohibited, if it is to keep with the law, because no party can hire a coach, as I said in my explanation, rather lengthily, I am afraid, on the Committee stage. The Women's Institute or the village club cannot take the children in a party to a pantomime in the nearest town and charge separate fares without entering into a criminal conspiracy, because they are running a contract carriage as either an express carriage or a stage carriage without the road service licence which is required.
This matter has gone through the courts. On my last Ambendment the noble Earl pleaded the Thesiger Report, and said that this weighty Report had decided against me, quite conclusively, in regard to the powers of licensing authorities. Now it does precisely the opposite when it comes to contract licences. The Thesiger Report on this point is very
definite, and says that this position is causing great inconvenience to the public. These are its words in paragraph 243:
The position at the moment is really quite intolerable. Practically none of the work which has been considered to be legitimate private hire work is now legal. Grave public inconvenience is only avoided by an omission to enforce the law, and it may be that every two or more persons who agree together to run a vehicle charging separate fares subject to the conditions of the 1934 Act, but on what has been held not to be a special occasion, might be liable to be indicted for a criminal conspiracy.
The courts have upheld that finding as recently as 1952, and I say that it causes great hardship and inconvenience to the rural population who are outside the scope of stage services. It is also causing great inconvenience to the entertainment world. I have it on good authority that quite a number, if not all, the provincial theatres, especially during the pantomime season, rely a good deal on block bookings; and block bookings are made up of coach parties. I was told only the other day that even Covent Garden have now to rely largely on block bookings from provincial musical societies, glee clubs and organisations such as that for a substantial amount of their patronage.
§ This is undoubtedly something which should have been altered. In the Committee stage, the noble Earl agreed with everything I said—or practically everything. He promised that the Government had this in mind and that there would be legislation some time in the future. He used that cliché we have all used from time to time, "when Parliamentary time permits." When anybody says that, it is always wrapped in mystery as far as I am concerned. I want the noble Earl to do something to tide us over this winter—because nobody dares run a contract carriage to-day—so that if, in the next Session, we find a Bill is brought forward, this anomaly can be tidied up in that Bill.
I suggested to the noble Earl on the Committee stage that he should do this either by accepting my Amendment or by getting his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to issue a regulation which I maintain he can do under Section 94 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. The Road Traffic Act has a section in it allowing the Minister to make regulations for the carrying out in general of anything in the section. I should think that
the Minister could well make a regulation to get over this matter in time for this winter's entertainments. May I read the first two or three lines of Section 94? It is in Part IV of the Act, and states:
The Minister may make regulations for any purpose for which regulations may be made under this Part of this Act and for prescribing anything which may be prescribed under this Part of this Act, and generally for the purpose of carrying this Part of this Act into effect. …
§ Some little time ago, your Lordships' will remember there was another anomaly in the Road Traffic Act as to whether for the purpose of the speed limit regulations an estate wagon or estate car was a commercial vehicle or a private car. I know that many of your Lordships were fined for carrying out a journey in an estate wagon as a private car at over 30 miles per hour when the chief constable of the area maintained that it was a commercial vehicle. Others of your Lordships were more lucky and operated in a neighbourhood where the chief constable took a different view—because the law was just as anomalous upon that matter is it is upon this. It took four years to get Parliament to alter it, but alter it they did, in about 1950. They did it under a precisely similar provision in another part of this Act. In that Part there is the precise wording that a Minister may issue a regulation. The Minister issued a regulation in 1950—I have it in my hand—and the law was altered. Now everyone knows exactly where he stands but not before many people had paid a considerable sum of money in fines for breaching a law about which the authorities in some parts of the country took one view and in other parts of the country another view.
When the noble Earl was giving me his answer on the Committee stage, he said this—I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT (Vol. 189 (No. 106), col. 554):
Of course, everything that the noble Lord has said I will look at most carefully, but I am bound to say that there is a great deal of contract work going on.
When I replied that it was illegal, the noble Earl said:
It may or may not be. It is not for me or the noble Lord to say whether it is or is not.
I felt sure the noble Earl would not say what he did without some authority; and I have been making inquiries and I find that a very nice evasion of the law has
been going on. Some licensing authorities, I understand—and the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—are getting over this silly and ridiculous piece of nonsense by saying to people who want to run contract carriage parties, "If you apply to us we will give you a tours and excursions licence"—for something for which normally they should have a road service licence. In doing that, they are admittedly getting over this anomaly, because the operator can then run anywhere at any time and take anybody. But he is contravening the spirit of the law, because the spirit of the law said, "If you charge separate fares you must have a road service licence to enable you to do so." The reason why a licence was required was to prevent, if I can put it this way, piracy by the owner of a contract carriage, which did not require a licence, against the established operator who had the obligation to charge stable fares and run regular services.
§ We are in this position. I understand that two or three licensing authorities throughout the country are adopting this practice; others will not. If you happen to live in one part of this country the law is being interpreted by the licensing authority in one way, but if you happen to live in another part of the country where the licensing authority take a far stricter view, the members of the public are refused the amenity that the others have. Surely that is a very silly way of getting over an anomaly in the law, and that, I can only think, is what the noble Earl meant when he told me that contract carriage work is being carried out in quite a legal way. So I want to persuade him again to ask his right honourable friend, the Minister, to issue under the appropriate section of the Act—I still maintain it can be done quite properly—a regulation to allow some temporary kind of licence to be given for legitimate contract carriage work. The licensing authority can endorse it with all the conditions and safeguards it likes, and the whole matter can be tidied up when the noble Earl or his right honourable friend brings legislation forward next Session or the Session afterwards—although perhaps in the Session afterwards there will be a different Minister of Transport. If he will undertake to do that, I shall be quite willing to withdraw my Amendment. I beg to move.958
Page 12, line 19, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I entirely agree, as I have done before, that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has an important point here, and even if I do not paint quite such a black picture in this matter as the noble Lord I do not thereby deny that it is a case for immediate action. I should perhaps point out—the noble Lord has used expressions like the "stupidity of the law" and "silly and ridiculous nonsense"—that it is a situation which has prevailed over twenty years and we are, so far as I know, the first Government to have a Bill in draft, at least as far as I am aware. I am not going to make prophecies about the future. I do not know what will be in the gracious Speech at the end of this month. I am going to assume it is not going to contain this Bill. Supposing that means that next Session we are not able to make any legislation on these lines, the noble Lord has suggested we should do it by regulation. I say quite frankly that is in some ways an attractive proposition, and we have looked at it closely, but I must make it clear to the House—and the noble Lord wavered as to whether it could be done under the 1930 Act or new powers under this Bill—that it has certain obnoxious features, because it involves drawing a regulation in anticipation of legislation. We have to think very carefully before we draw regulations in anticipation of bringing in an Act of Parliament. A second point is that it would undoubtedly involve the amendment of existing legislation; it could not be done without amending existing legislation. I think that makes it quite clear that we must approach this matter very cautiously.
I suggest that there are two criteria, even possibly in this framework, which might make it possible: first, that the matter should be simple, and secondly, that it should be non-controversial. If we look at this particular matter can we find that either of those requirements exist? I remind the House that Parliament has already had a try three times on the Statute Book and still has failed to make the courts implement the intention which Parliament had. That suggests that as a mere matter of drafting it is not extremely easy. Moreover, I would ask the noble 959 Lord to look at the Thesiger Report. In the Third Part he will see mentioned four different proposals for resolving this particular problem, and for one reason or another each of those proposals is shown to be impracticable. When I tell the House that one of those proposals was made by the Law Society of England, I think your Lordships will realise that a good deal of thought has been given to the subject and that it is not just an easy matter of resolution. That is one side of the problem, and I think to deal with it simply by regulation is not very easy.
The second criterion is, is it controversial? Strictly as a matter of Party politics it is not, but it is controversial in the broad general sense, and I will explain to the House briefly why. There are broadly two ways of running buses or road transport. One is the regular service at fixed fares, at fixed times, which runs the risk of running empty. The other is what might be described as the private carriage. They are convenient for those who want to do a particular journey. They are normally run quite full, and they are rather cheaper than the regular services. But they run irregularly and they are not open to the public generally. A moment's reflection will show that if you allow the private carriage to develop considerably, the immediate effect will be to "cream" the traffic, as the expression is, off the regular services. I am not suggesting for a moment that the noble Lord or I want that. What I am saying is that fixing the demarcation between these two points is a very difficult problem, bearing in mind the almost infinite variation of circumstances which exists. It is really for that reason that we think that this can go forward by Statute only after the full Parliamentary discussion and examination that that necessarily involves. I say this to the noble Lord. His proposal holds many attractions and we looked at it very carefully, but we were forced rather reluctantly to the conclusion that we could not adopt it. In those circumstances I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
At one time the noble Earl raised my hopes very high, because his opening sentence was that he agreed that this was a matter 960 which deserved immediate action. I thought that the sinner had repented once again. Then he tells me that it is impossible. I regret it very much. If the noble Earl is waiting until that halcyon day arrives when any Government may bring in simple and non-controversial legislation, I do not think any of us will be here.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
With great I respect, I said "by a regulation which involves amending Acts of Parliament". I said they have to be simple and non-controversial.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I have seen many regulations which were neither simple nor non-controversial, regulations brought in by the present Government. However, that is for another time. What will happen is this: that the poorer classes of this country—and they are the classes concerned, because the contract carriage was the poor man's taxicab—will have to be robbed once again. It has been happening only these last three years, since 1952, because it was only in 1952 that the Court of Appeal came down so heavily upon this practice that nobody now dares run a service of this sort. I am certain that responsible members of Her Majesty's Government will be the last to desire that the poorer people, especially those who live in the rural areas, should be robbed of this amenity of the big towns during a season when entertainment is so necessary, just because of this ridiculous anomaly that could be got over in exactly the same way as hundreds of other anomalies have been got over.
The noble Earl shakes his head. I have had experience of Government Departments; I have been a junior Minister and I tell your Lordships this. My experience has been that there is no greater truth than the old adage of "Where there's a will there's a way." That holds 100 per cent. true in this particular case. The regulation that I have just mentioned, the regulation that regularises the estate carriage into being a private car and not a commercial vehicle, was absolutely impossible for four years, but somebody at last found a way to do it. It was done by regulation; and if there were good will behind this it could be done. However, the noble Earl has pronounced a Departmental judgment—I hesitate to think that it would be the judgment of senior Ministers who perhaps 961 have the milk of human kindness a bit more in their beings than the cold, hard Departmental viewpoint. I shall not ask your Lordships to divide on this Amendment because I do not think it is a matter to which I should like to subject your Lordships, especially those sitting opposite, to have to support what is supposed to be the Government opinion on this point. We will wait and see what the Government's programme is for the next Session, and if it contains provisions for rectifying this, I repeat, ridiculous nonsense, well and good. If it does not, then, if we on this side of your Lordships' House feel like it, we shall have to see what we can do about it. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ First Schedule:
§ Regular Services
§ 3.—(1) The undertakers may at any time apply to a licensing authority for public service vehicles for an authorisation to make, and a licensing authority for public service vehicles may at any time serve notice on the undertakers of the intention of the authority to direct the making of, such variations in all or any of the fares for the time being charged on all or any of the regular services to which this Part of this Schedule applies provided by the undertaking on any route or part of a route lying within the traffic area of that authority as may be specified in the application or, as the case may be, notice.
§ 4. Any such application or notice shall be published and, after considering any objections or other representations which they may receive with respect to the proposals made therein, the licensing authority shall either—
- (a) direct that the fares for the time being charged as aforesaid shall continue to be charged without any variation; or
- (b) authorise or direct, by means of fixing, fares or maximum or minimum fares for the routes or stages affected, such variation in all or any of the said fares, whether or not affected by the application or notice, as the authority may consider reasonable or expedient in all the circumstances:
LORD BURDEN moved to leave out Paragraph 3, and to insert:
4.—(1) The undertakers may at any time apply to a licensing authority for public service vehicles to prescribe, or to make variations in, and a licensing authority for public services may, at any time, if requested so to do by any person being—
(2) Any such application or notice shall state the maximum rate or rates per mile proposed to be prescribed or the variations proposed to be made, as the case may be.
§ The noble Lord said: When this matter was last considered by your Lordships, the noble Earl in charge of the Bill brought forward two persuasive arguments. The first was that what was suggested would throw us back to the clumsy method of Acts of Parliament for raising fares. Whatever may have been the errors in drafting, that was not the intention. Errors in drafting are not unknown even in Government Bills. The second point was this. The noble Earl said that an authoritative Committee had been considering the matter; that on that Committee there were three members who had had experience of local authorities; that there was a unanimous report in favour of the proposals to the Government and that it would be very difficult indeed to go against that recommendation. That was devastating; but I am sure that the noble Earl will not be surprised when I say that I have looked further into that aspect of the matter.
§ I must not be taken as saying one single word against those eminent gentlemen, but I think it would not be unfair to examine their position in relation to a representative body like the Association of Municipal Corporations. The noble Earl mentioned that one of these gentlemen was or had been the Provost of the City of Aberdeen. What the Government think of this recommendation so far as it applies to Scotland can be seen, in that it exempts the City of Glasgow entirely from his recommendation—just to show, I suppose, what Glasgow would think of a recommendation coming from the City of Aberdeen. The second gentleman was the Lord Mayor of Bristol. The noble Earl omitted to tell us, of course, that the tramways of Bristol are owned and worked by a private company and not at 963 all by the municipality. The third gentleman, I understand of great eminence in the law and in many other ways, has been or is an Alderman of the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham, which never had its own tramways and, of course, is at present served by London Transport. I think the noble Earl will agree that, in those circumstances, it is not unreasonable if one prefers the considered opinion of a representative body like the Association of Municipal Corporations to the views of these people, who were obviously there in no way representative of local authority opinion. I would not have mentioned it but for the fact that that was one of the important lines of the noble Earl's argument. Again, I say that we are indebted to the Committee and to those members for the great time and attention they gave and for this most valuable Report which they have submitted on the whole problem.
§ I would again emphasise that this is not a personal view; it is the view of a body of people who are in contact with problems so far as local authorities are concerned. The first point that I would make is this: that the proposals of the Government in Clause 2 and in the First Schedule represent a major change in the law. At present, under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the licensing authority for public service vehicles is empowered to exercise control only over fares charged on "public service vehicles," and tramways and trolley buses are, by that definition, excluded; they are not "public service vehicles." The Association, representing municipal passenger transport undertakers, are strongly opposed to the control of the fares on tramways and trolley vehicles being taken out of the hands of the transport undertakers and being placed in the hands of the licensing authority for public service vehicles. Tramways and trolley buses are operated under Local Acts which prescribe the maximum fares which can be charged and leave the actual fares to be charged in the hands of the local transport undertakers—a measure of local autonomy and control which I think is very much to be desired. These maximum fares in the various Acts were fixed to give a wide discretion to the transport undertakers to fix fares within the maxima; but, as we all know, the war and the fall in the 964 value of money necessitated the taking of temporary measures, and under the Defence Regulations the Minister of Transport, during the war and afterwards, used his emergency powers to give a measure of relief to the transport undertakers.
§ It is agreed on both sides that fresh legislation is needed to give transport undertakers the power to charge adequate fares on their tramways and trolley vehicles. But again, we feel that the Government are going the wrong way in their present proposals, and that it should be quite sufficient—this is a concession to, or rather an acceptance in some measure of, the view put forward by the noble Earl—to give the licensing authority, on request by the transport undertaker, power only to fix maximum rates per mile, leaving the transport undertaker free to vary fares within those maxima. Why I urge that on the Government is that it would be in accordance with the principles contained in the Local Acts enabling the undertakers to run these services.
§ It is true, of course, as I have already mentioned, that the Thesiger Report recommended putting the municipal authorities under the licensing authority or authorities. I will not say any more on that point, except that this would mean that the detailed control over each and every charge which can be made by a transport undertaker must be fixed by another body. This seems to be an unwarrantable interference in the responsibilities which, hitherto, have been given to the transport undertakers by Parliament. Parliament, in the past, in authorising the construction and operation of tramways and trolley vehicles, has invariably followed the practice of allowing the undertakers to determine individual fares within the maxima laid down by Parliament. I think the reason for that was that the transport undertaker was responsible to the local ratepayers and answerable to them for the proper running of the service, and Parliament has clearly thought it reasonable that they should be allowed to exercise control over their fares and charges, subject to the limits laid down in the public interest.
§ Considerable expenditure has been incurred by transport undertakers on capital equipment. Many are turning over to omnibuses, and they will have to remove the metal rails and overhead 965 wires, and standards and other fittings in the highway, and will have to reinstate the roads. The undertakers should be allowed within reason, as they were before the war, to build up reserve funds for the change-over and restoration. In their early stages, municipal transport undertakings were financed largely out of the rates, and they should not now be brought to a stage where rigid control will be exercised by an outside body over detailed matters Which should be entrusted to the discretion of the local authority undertakings. It was not considered necessary for the control of fares upon tramways and trolley vehicles to be given to the licensing authority at the time of the passing of the 1930 Act, and in my view and, I believe, in that of the Association, there is no reason why the local licensing authority should have minute control over such fares, as is now proposed by the Government. This is a fundamental change of principle, and such a fundamental change should not be made in a Bill which will not deal with the whole question of the licensing of road passenger services, and is obviously contrary to the wishes of the transport undertakers themselves.
§ The only difficulty which has arisen is that transport undertakers themselves lack adequate power to increase their fares to meet rising costs and to build up reserves to meet future liabilities, and it is wrong to make use of the necessity of legislation to cover this problem, which arises out of war conditions and changed monetary values, in order to foist upon transport undertakings so great a change in principle as that contemplated in Clause 2 and the First Schedule of the Bill, whereby they will be deprived of all real control over the fares and charges which they are to make on their own vehicles. Of the 42 tramway and trolley-bus undertakings now operating throughout the country, 38 are operated by municipalities. As a result of representations made on their behalf, the Glasgow Corporation are covered by a special provision in the Second Schedule, and, by definition, that special provision in the Schedule will also free a few more undertakings. This will occur because Glasgow and the undertakings referred to 966 have obtained monopoly powers in Local Acts in relation to transport services.
§ I do not want to press the case against the Government in relation to Glasgow in particular. I rather raise it on the merits of the case as put forward by the representative body, and as proposed in the Amendment. The local licensing authority should have the power to fix the maximum fares and charges and give the local authorities elbow room. It would prevent their going, on each and every occasion, for small increases, and at the same time would reserve to the local authorities the feeling that they were at least responsible to their own people and their own ratepayers for the proper conduct of the undertaking. I beg to move.
Page 18, line 31, leave out Paragraph 3, and insert the said new paragraph.—(Lord Burden.)