HL Deb 09 November 1954 vol 189 cc1223-6

3.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

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


My Lords, I can quite understand the desire of the noble Earl to get this unpleasant business out of the way as soon as he can, but there is one question I should like to ask him, on which perhaps I should make some comment. I do not intend to fight once again the battles which we fought so nicely and so politely on Second Reading and on the Committee and Report stages, because we shall have an opportunity of returning to those later, but I must express very great regret that the noble Earl has not seen fit to accede to what I thought was the unanimous wish of the House, or at least of three sides of the House, and implement the sense of the Amendment so briefly and so ably moved on Report stage by the noble Earl, Lord Rothes, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. To us it is a matter of great regret that the advisers of the noble Earl have persuaded him to introduce into legislation what I think we all thought was a most objectionable word. It appears at line 9 of page 19 of the Bill, and has reference to the fixing of fares. It says: … as the authority may consider reasonable or expedient in all the circumstances. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Rothes, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, and other noble Lords who spoke, made a strong case that here was something retrograde which was being put into an Act of Parliament, and that it could be overcome by adopting language more in keeping with the language of legislation that departs from your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, before he appeared on the Government Front Bench, was an eminent member of the Bar, and his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport was also an eminent member of the Bar. I should have thought that an expression such as this must have revolted their legal souls —but perhaps legal souls or legal consciences are put into cold store, only to be picked up again when both the noble Earl and his right honourable friend, at some date perhaps in the not far distant future, take up their professional avocations again. I utter one last protest. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will live to regret this. If it is ever cited in the future as a precedent, I am sure that protests will be heard from all quarters of the House. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Rothes, did not put down an Amendment on Third Reading, but perhaps he felt unable to do so without the consent of his noble friend Lord Teynham, on whose behalf he moved the Amendment on Report stage. I can assure him that if he had done so, and had wished to take it to a Division, we on this side of the House would have supported him. That is all I have to say about that matter.

As to the rest of the Bill, as I have said, we have fought our battles on behalf of those who have been deprived and, so far as I can see, will continue for some time to be deprived, of the amenity of this entertainment season. I feel sure that the noble Earl is as regretful as I am that he has been unable to persuade those whom he had to persuade to bring in amending legislation. With regard to the other matter, that also can be left to be fought again at some future date.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and regret that we have been unable to do anything in regard to contract carriage, though I believe it is fair to say that there is no question that anyone will be deprived of any amenity, unless one can be deprived of something which one has not had for twenty years, which is the period of the deprivation. With regard to the first point the noble Lord raised, I may say that I did consult my right honourable friend the Minister. I told him that the House felt strongly about the matter, and I discussed the problem with him. He regretted that he could not advise the House that it was desirable to change these words. I would point out to those who have anxiety about it that the word "expedient" is not used here at large; it means "in the view of the traffic commissioner "—what he thinks expedient can be implemented. It is not used at large, and does not apply to the Minister of Transport at any time. Accordingly, I am bound to say to noble Lords who are anxious about this matter that in this context I do not think it can have any of the adverse effects which imagination, or possibly experience, can conjure up as being likely to follow the use of an adjective of that character. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.


My Lords, in the ordinary course I should have left this matter to my noble and learned Leader, who unfortunately has to be away from the House. I quite see the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, as to the particular context in which this word is used. Having read some of the cases recently in my local weekly paper in Essex, I have noticed the extraordinary variety of judgments which have been given in these matters in the past—especially in one case, which was decided without any reference to the decision in the case of Mill v. Porter or some name like that. We really need to be more explicit, and more justice should be given to those who are adversely affected by the present administration of the law and who want to make reasonable and legitimate use of road services for these activities. The present law inflicts great hardship on them, and the judgments which have been given have operated unfairly against them.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, was very kind about this matter and said that he would have another look at it; and I have been impressed with his courtesy in trying to make a good case this after noon. I feel, however, that if the Bill leaves us without the word "expedient" being deleted and words which are more firm and just being inserted, an unfortunate impression will be left on the minds of thousands of people for whom I know I speak to-day. For example, I am the national patron of the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs (I took the place of a Conservative Peer who passed on) who are most indignant about this matter. I am sure my predecessor would have spoken strongly about it if he had been spared to be here. It is a pity that the Ministry of Transport, with complete hardness, have just "stuck their toes in" on this question and will not move to meet what is a perfectly legitimate and just claim from a large proportion of the public. I wish that something could be done about it.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate, arid I only do so to say a few words with regard to this word "expedient," which seems to have caused a great deal of trouble. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and other noble Lords on the earlier stages of this Bill. If the meaning which they attach to the word were the only or primary meaning of it, there would, I believe, be considerable force in what they say. It undoubtedly has the meaning put upon it by noble Lords—I am not questioning that—but I do question the fact that it is the only meaning; and indeed, I have taken the trouble to verify my view in the Library of your Lordships' House. I looked up the word "expedient" in the New English Dictionary which is the greatest dictionary of the language, and this is what I found. I found that it gives three meanings. The primary meaning is "expeditious or speedy." The second meaning is, "conducive to the advantage in general," and the third one is the meaning to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred, "useful or politic as opposed to just or right." I do not dispute that at all. But clearly the meaning in this particular context—I will quote the words of the clause: the authority may consider reasonable and expedient in all the circumstances is the second meaning. It evidently means "conducive to the advantage in general," in all the circumstances. With that meaning, which at any rate is equally as well founded as the other, the phrase is perfectly all right. Therefore I think your Lordships' House will be unwise to assume that, in leaving this word in, we shall necessarily have acted below the level of our usual decisions. The word has a perfectly respectable meaning. In point of fact, the less attractive meaning is a later gloss upon the original intention of the word, and should not be taken so seriously as it has been by some noble Lords this afternoon.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.