HL Deb 20 October 1954 vol 189 cc538-64

4.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

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: Before the noble Earl who has charge of this Bill reproves me for attempting to move an Amendment which is not in strict accordance with the Title of the Bill, may I draw his attention to the words that have just fallen from the lips of the Lord Chairman, "That the Title of the Bill be postponed"? The reason for that is that if your Lordships desire to pass an Amendment which is not in strict accordance with the Title though it is in strict accordance with the subject matter of the Bill, your Lordships can alter the Title later.

I have put down this Amendment for the consideration of the Committee because I am seriously concerned as to where the position is getting with regard to the proper provision of public transport on what are called "unremunerative routes." The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will call readily to his mind that when the Transport Bill, which has since become the Transport Act, 1953, was going through your Lordships' House, I opposed quite strongly Clause 18—now Section 18 of the Act. That clause sought to compel the British Transport Commission to divest itself of all of its holdings in bus companies in this country where it held a majority of the shares. The noble Earl will readily recall how I contested that proposal at every stage, and how I asked him where the services on the unremunerative routes were to come from and what kind of law was to be passed that would compel a private enterprise company to run at a loss. The only way it is possible to run a public service of passenger transport—and this has been proved conclusively—is to establish a sufficiently large monopoly so that, in the very vivid phrase which was used by my noble friend Lord Mathers at the time, "the fat may fry the lean." You cannot expect that anyone is going to run an unremunerative bus service in a rural area unless he is also given permission to operate, and to enjoy the profitability of, a very remunerative route somewhere else. That was the whole object of the passenger transport provisions of the 1947 Act, trying to spread the load.

I am very apprehensive that, with the conditions which face us to-day, with the rising costs of petrol, labour and other things, the unremunerative routes of this country, as the Thesiger Report clearly sets out, will be liable to diminish and will certainly not increase. There has got to be in this modern life a "postalisation"—if I may use such an expression—of public services. You must give the dwellers in rural areas the opportunity of enjoying the amenities of the towns. You cannot take the amenities of the town to the country dweller. It is a serious matter because, unless this is done, the whole economic pattern of this country will be upset; there will be a greater influx into large cities and a further drift away from the land.

The facts are incontrovertible—the Thesiger Report sets them out very clearly. But there is no redress for an area without a service. There is no authority in this country that can compel the running of a service of an unremunerative route. The licensing authority has no authority to do it. The licensing authority can grant a licence to operate a route only when an application is made to it for permission to do so. So the arbiter as to whether the rural dweller gets a bus service or not is the concern which expects to make a profit out of it. And I do not blame any concern—any private enterprise concern—for not making an application to run a service which is sometimes not going to cover its cost. And yet it is essential that the people of that area should have a service. So I have put down this Amendment to give the licensing authority the power to impose the condition upon the applicants for a licence to run a service from A to B that they must at the same time run a service from C to D, and, when fixing fares, take into consideration the profitability of services over the entire area. I know of no other authority that is competent to do it. There must be some arbiter.

If your Lordships will be kind enough—perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will do this—to turn to Section 72 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, I would direct your attention to subsection (3) (d). This is the section which sets out the duties of what were called "the commissioners." Originally in the Act of 1930, traffic commissioners were appointed whose duty it was to see that the area covered had a reasonable service. The 1947 Act changed their title from regional traffic commissioners to licensing authorities, The section says, amongst other details, that in granting road licences the commissioners shall have regard to (d) the needs of the area 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), … If the noble Earl will turn to the last three or four lines of subsection (4) of the section, he will see that the commissioners may attach to a road sere vice licence such conditions as they may think fit with respect to the matters to which they are required to have regard under the preceding subsection"— that is what I have just read out— … and generally for securing the safety and convenience of the public; … Among licensing authorities there is a division of opinion as to whether, under existing law, the licensing authorities have powers to compel the running of unremunerative services. The noble Earl is a barrister of distinction—I am not—and he will tell me whether I am putting a fair construction on this provision. The law has never been tested in this regard, because the only people who can bring a test case are the Ministry of Transport, and I know that the Ministry of Transport do not put the same construction as I am now putting upon this clause. So, to make it perfectly clear, I have put down this Amendment giving the licensing authorities the powers which I think they should have. I think that is a very reasonable request.

It has been argued, in defence of bus operators, and the case of the big operators is always cited, that they run a large number of unremunerative services, but I know that it does not always happen that way. In this regard I have criticised the British Electric Traction, the second biggest monopoly in road transport to the British Transport Commission. The economics of road transport are becoming such that rural areas are getting a worse service than they have ever had. I want to establish the principle, with which I am sure the noble Earl will agree, that we must give an adequate service in rural areas. I know that there may be a great deal of argument about what an adequate service is; but somebody has to decide, and it should not be the person who is going to provide the service. It should be an independent authority who has power under the Act to spread the cost over remunerative routes. Let me say plainly that the urban dweller has to carry some of the cost of providing the rural dweller with a transport service—and I hold the same view with regard to the Post Office services.

When I spoke on Second Reading, I cited the case of the City of Oxford Motor Services who, on the grounds that they could not add to their unremunerative services, refused to run a service which I thought was necessary in an area six miles from Oxford. I criticised them severely, because only six miles from the city this large area of Frilford Heath and Cothill was isolated from the city's cultural and other amenities. I want to tell your Lordships frankly the sequel to my speech. As your Lordships know, was once Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and as such I knew intimately all the licensing authorities. I enlisted the aid of the licensing authority of the area concerned, who in turn approached the City of Oxford Motor Services. There followed a general consultation between the licensing authority, the City of Oxford Motor Services and myself, and the result has been that that area is now going to have an adequate service run on an experimental basis for a period of time. That qualification is a perfectly fair thing for me to accept. But it should not be left to me to draw attention to such a matter because I happen to be a member of your Lordships' House and had in the past an official relationship with the licensing authority. May I add, with perhaps not very great modesty, that I cannot go round the country persuading bus companies and licensing authorities to meet such needs? It should not be left to anybody with sufficient influence to make his voice heard to see that rural dwellers have the service they need. I thought I should mention this matter to-day because I had severely criticised the City of Oxford Motor Services and I should like to pay tribute to the ready way in which the company met my request when we were able to get down to detailed discussion.

I have explained why I put down this Amendment. I am not tied to the wording, or to its position in the Bill. I do not know whether the Amendment makes it clear that the licensing authority will be able to grant a licence for a service on an experimental basis, with the proviso that if, after a fair trial period, the operator can go back to the licensing authority and say that he has tried out the service and that the return is so low that it would unfairly load the remunerative services with loss, the licensing authority will be able to withdraw the service. One difficulty is that once a licensing authority issues a licence for a service to be run, it does not like to withdraw the service, and it has to be proved beyond peradventure that it is completely uneconomic. I think this is a perfectly fair request, which would meet a need of rural areas which is certainly not being met to-day. I have been rather long, but I wanted to explain what I consider to be the logic of this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


Before the noble Earl replies, may I make one of two comments? From my own experience, which has extended over a good many years, I know that the licensing authorities were always doubtful about their position in this matter. My own view, though I am no lawyer and have never taken authoritative advice on the point, is that the section of the 1930 Act to which reference has been made expressed the undoubted intention that the licensing authorities should be able to require the provision of an unremunerative service as part of the price for the very lucrative and widespread semi-monopolies which were conferred upon the undertakers. However that may be, differences did exist, and the licensing authorities felt themselves always on weak ground. There is, I believe, a point to be made, because, again in my own experience, cases did occur where a great company refused to provide an admittedly unremunerative service but which was a necessary service of a lucrative network. Perhaps the Government would be prepared to look again at the point, which has been in the mind of the Department for a great many years, and see whether the hands of the licensing authorities cannot be strengthened in some way. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, he is not wedded to the wording of this Amendment, and I feel that the point he has in mind may require a little more than he suggests here. It is rather to the general licence renewal, or the granting of the right to conduct the great series of services which most of these companies possess, and not to the licence for some particular or new service, that this condition should be attached. I feel bound to add that the cases of difficulty have, to my knowledge, been very few, but they ought not to occur, leaving the public without a remedy, even in one or two isolated cases.


I should like to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also basing my views on my own experience. When I sat as a deputy traffic commissioner, as they were called in my time, application would be made by a passenger road transport undertaker, and often we were faced with objections by competitors, on the ground that the applicant for the licence wanted to run a service along a road already covered by the objectors; and the objectors would come forward and try to show that if the licence were granted to the applicant they would not be able to run their existing service at a profit. It seems to me that that is a one-sided kind of traffic. If it be true that objectors can oppose a licence on the ground that if it were granted they would incur a loss, why should it not be possible to provide some kind of machinery whereby admittedly unremunerative services might be run? The matter is difficult, I know, but I think the objection is one of practicability rather than principle. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, may correct me if a say that in Scotland, where there are a number of routes which are admittedly unremunerative, some kind of Government assistance has been granted. In any event, some effort has been made to encourage the running of admittedly unremunerative services in order to provide a service for a particular community. For that reason, perhaps the Government would be willing to consider some kind of wording which would confer upon the licensing authority the power to say that they must provide a service where there is an unremunerative route.

4.55 p.m.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for tacitly acknowledging that this Amendment is outside the Long Title of the Bill, and I will not press that point any further. However, the Amendment does raise questions of real interest. I should like to express my pleasure at hearing the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, speaking, I believe, for the first time on transport. It is an advantage to have a man of lifelong experience join us in these discussions. In examining this matter I feel that it is worth remembering that bus services have constituted a revolution in the countryside. It is all very well to say that there may be places where they have diminished, but, by and large, we wonder today how people ever lived in the country without bus services. Yet they did so at one time. Frankly, we could spend a whole afternoon on this subject. However, I do not want to talk to your Lordships at great length, because I do not think it is necessary, although I recognise the full force, of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said.

He has referred to the need for ensuring that country services are the best that can be provided, and he was quite right to quote the 1930 Act, because that was the object of that Act. However, what he did not say is that that aspect has been carefully examined by the Thesiger Committee, and they have written at reasonable length on their findings. I could put forward arguments of one character and another to say why I do not think the change is necessary, but it is more telling to say that a body of experience in licensing such as the Thesiger Committee examined this problem and came to the conclusion that no change in this respect was necessary. Perhaps I may read one or two passages from the Report of that Committee. They say: It was part of the licensing system that by introducing order into the industry and giving a substantial measure of protection to the regular operator it would facilitate the provision of unremunerative services. … In this the licensing system has been remarkably successful. Further on they say: It is useless, for example, to suggest that local authorities should have the right to propose or that the licensing authority should have power to order a service to be compulsorily piovided.… All such proposals ignore the fact that if a service cannot pay for itself, its provision depends on a subsidy from elsewhere. That is quite clear. It means, in fact, that the remunerative services have got to put up their fares, which seems to me to be essentially a matter of adjustment for the licensing authority. I believe they can do that.


They cannot.


The Thesiger Committee go on to say: To sum up: although we recognise the need for the maintenance and development of unremunerative services and the difficulty of meeting this need in present circumstances, we are of opinion that there are no means by which any alteration in the licensing system could in itself provide a solution for the problem. That is an authoritative statement. I should like to add that these unremunerative services are being operated fairly extensively. We have information that in many places it is common for 40 per cent. of the route mileage covered to be unremunerative, and possibly 50 per cent. I have notes of various companies. There is one where the unremunerative route mileage amounts to 71 per cent. and another where it is 76 per cent. That seems to go a fairly long way to meet this point.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has been good enough to quote his own experience, but I do not think this rests entirely upon him. Anybody who so desires can approach the licensing authority or he can approach his own local authority. There should be no difficulty about doing that. The local authority have a status for making representations when they want and, of course, they are doing so continually in one form or another. If they are not satisfied, in certain circumstances they can appeal to the Minister. That, clearly, is strong action which they can take.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, took this matter further in his interpretation of the 1930 Act, and I will not differ from him. He says that an absolute condition can be made. What is quite certain is that, through the good will that exists between the organisation and the licensing authority, a great deal can be achieved just by the sort of discussion which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had. Whilst I think he should be commended for his action, I do not think he should feel that that is an isolated instance. That sort of thing is going on all over the country in different ways, and I have little doubt that there is ample room for people to make representation where it is necessary. Of course, there is always the possibility of another company coming in if necessary.

The licensing authority must not become in any sense of the word an administrative authority. If you give it direct control and say, "You do that," it would be a surprising thing to tell someone to do something else at his own expense. I think that would weaken the licensing authority. If we accepted this Amendment, it would mean that the licensing authority could issue instructions not only to private undertakings, but also to the British Transport Commission and to the local authority transport undertakings. With respect, I think that is going much too far. The point which the noble Lord has made is a real one, but in view of the specific recommendations which have been made by the Thesiger Committee, who have examined this matter fully, I do not think the Government can accept anything further than the Bill as it stands at the present time. For that reason, I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for the sympathetic way in which he has discussed this. But I put a different interpretation upon the Thesiger Committee's comments from that of the noble Lord. It is a very cleverly worded paragraph, because the Committee said: … we are of opinion that there are no means by which any alteration in the licensing system could in itself provide a solution for the problem. The Thesiger Committee—and they were in a difficult position—quite clearly say that there is only one thing to have, and that is a monopoly. In other words, the greater the area over which fares are averaged, the greater becomes the opportunity for providing unremunerative services. The noble Earl is in this difficulty. Section 18 of the Transport Act, 1953, broke the monopoly. It gave the Minister power to compel the British Transport Commission to divest itself of all interest in road passenger transport where it held the monopoly.


No. With great respect to the noble Lord, all it did was to give power to the Minister to compel it, and there has been no compulsion.


I have not said that. The Act gave the Minister the power to compel (that is as far as I have gone at the present time) the British Transport Commission to get rid of its shareholding where it had a monopoly. The noble Earl is quite right from then on. The Minister has not done it, because he knows very well that immediately he did so it would throw the passenger transport of this country into a private enterprise scramble, and the unremunerative routes would not be served at all.

The Thesiger Report comes down on the side of monopoly, but it does not make any recommendation because it would then be in the political field, and it shies off that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for his powerful support, because he was the Director General of the Ministry of Transport during the time when this Act was passed. In view of his powerful support, I will ask the noble Earl this question. If I withdraw my Amendment, will he have further consultations about this matter, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has said? There is no greater authority on this subject in the country, because one might say that Lord Hurcomb was the real architect of all the Transport Acts, except that of 1953. That is weighty evidence. If I withdraw my Amendment, will the noble Earl have further consultations with the Minister of Transport so that, if necessary, I can put this Amendment back, in any form he desires or his expert draftsmen would like, on the next stage of the Bill?


I shall be glad to have discussions with the noble Lord, and I will certainly consult the Department. I must point out that the noble Lord's Amendment would mean amending the Long Title, so I cannot hold out much hope that we shall be able to make concessions.


In view of that assurance, and in view of the fact that the Long Title of the Bill can be altered, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Application of charges schemes to independent railway and inland waterway undertakings]:


The new Charges Scheme supersedes the scheme of 1953, and therefore it should now read 1954. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3 line 38, leave out ("1953") and insert ("1954").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 8 agreed to.

Clause 9: Control of number of passengers on pubic service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles.

9.—The Minister may make regulations with respect to public service vehicles, tramcars and trolley vehicles providing for—and different regulations may be made for different cases or different circumstances.

5.9 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved in subsection (1) to insert the following paragraph: (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: We come now to a subject which, in my view, is one of great seriousness. In fact, I am now going to plead the Thesiger Report. This is the opening sentence of paragraph 227 of that Report: It is clear that this is one of the major problems with which we are expected to deal That is the position of the contract carriage. It is a complex matter, and I should like to explain it to your Lordships, if I can, in a few words. The 1930 Act set up three classes of passenger transport: the stage carriage, the long-distance express carriage and the contract carriage. The contract carriage, as its name implies, differed from the other two because separate fares were not charged. The stage carriage and the express carriage have separate fares for every individual who boards the bus, but the contract carriage is a bus which is hired to go to a certain place for a lump sum. By calling it "a contract" carriage a road service licence was not required and separate fares could not be charged. It had to be a contract to hire the whole of the coach for the whole of the journey, and all the passengers had to go the whole of the journey,—with one proviso: that they could charge separate fares if it was a special party going to a special occasion.

That point was contested in the courts, and the courts held—and litigation started in 1930—that it meant, in plain language, that the party had to be a special party and the occasion to which they were going had to be a special occasion; in other words, the connotation of "special" had to be precisely the same in the context of both although they were in separate paragraphs of the Act. That was completely contrary to what was in Parliament's mind when it passed the 1930 Act. What was meant was this: that one could organise the village Women's Institute or the village children to go to the local pantomime. That was a special occasion for the village children or the Women's Institute. But as the pantomime might run for sixty days or nights, that was not a special occasion; and so, by charging separate fares, these people were contravening the Act. They had to have a road service licence if they were going to charge separate fares.

This matter got into such a muddle that in 1934 an amending Bill, which became the Road Traffic Act, 1934, was passed. Parliament then attempted to remove this anomaly, but the net result, according to the courts of the country—and they were the people who had to interpret it—was that it made matters worse. Not only did the law contend that the requirement that the party must be a special party going to a special occasion, remained, but it also held that the extra requirements which were inserted by Parliament when it thought it had eased the rightness of the "special occasion," and which meant, in effect, that nobody could advertise the party and that nobody could draw any remuneration for organising the party, stood. In common sense, it meant that the Women's Institute could not pin a postcard on the village hall board saying that they were all going to the local panto-mime, because, if they did so, they would be entering into some kind of criminal conspiracy. Under the same Act, if two or three of your Lordships got into a taxicab and went to your club for dinner and, when you got there, said: "We will share the fare," you were all engaged in a criminal conspiracy, because you were having separate fares in a contract carriage.

As a result, the Thesiger Report said, at 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. That has been going on since 1934, and it has been pleaded in the courts by counsel for the Treasury Solicitor that, "Of course, this does not really mean very much, because it is not enforced." The law is not enforced. It is interesting to see the views of the High Court on this matter. Appendix II of the Thesiger Report sets this out. First, in answer to a question by Lord Goddard, counsel said: Yes, but in such a case there would be no prosecution, because the authorities exercise common sense in enforcing the Act. Then Mr. Justice du Parcq—and I suppose that when, as Lord du Parcq, he was sitting in your Lordships' House, he was one of the most respected Members—said: That is entirely wrong. If the law leads to absurdities they should be made apparent by the enforcement of the law, and Parliament should deal with them. Nothing is worse than for authorities entrusted with the enforcement of an Act of Parliament to enforce it or not according to the dictates of 'common sense'. I am seeking to get over this difficulty, and I am sure the noble Earl will not argue with me that such action is not necessary. As the Thesiger Report says, this is causing considerable public inconvenience. Nobody in a social club, a working men's club or anything like that can organise a party during this winter and charge separate fares without running the risk of being taken up on the charge of criminal conspiracy.

It is quite obvious that what is wanted, as the Thesiger Report says, is a simple form of contract licence. By my Amendment—again, I say I am not tied to the wording of it—I am seeking a simple form of contract carriage licence in which the licensing authority can insert what conditions they like. I am not seeking to have contract carriages run where there is already a stage coach which is adequate for the purpose, but I would ask the noble Earl to look at the position of these rural people where there is no stage carriage. They cannot even take the children in a party to a pantomime, they cannot go in a party to a football match, they cannot do anything like that and charge separate fares unless they are prepared to stand the risk of facing the serious indictment of conniving at a criminal conspiracy. It is causing a great deal of upset, especially in the theatrical profession. My inquiries have elicited that quite a number of theatrical managers have had to curtail their pantomine seasons, because at Christmas time the theatres rely very much on block bookings which emanate from institutes and clubs in rural areas.

I think I have said enough. I do not think I need to convince the noble Earl on this matter. I am rather afraid of what he is going to tell me—that he is going to throw himself upon the mercy of the Committee, and say that he will admit that everything I say is true, but that a special Act of Parliament or something akin to that is required to put the matter right. We cannot wait for that. It is no good the noble Earl pleading that it will be done as soon as Parliamentary time allows. That has been said ever since 1934. When you plead for Parliamentary time and then say that you will do it when Parliamentary time allows, you never get the time. Of all the absurdities of the law that have been allowed to stand and have not been redressed since 1930, this is one. The taxicab problem was somehow alleviated, although not wholly satisfactorily, by the Road Traffic Act, 1937. I am not interested in that. I am interested in seeing that the poorer people of this country shall be able to enjoy this quite legitimate service on special occasions, to go into the towns in special parties in order to enjoy the amenities of those towns. I will not say any more. I beg, to move.

Amendment moved. Page 12, line 19, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


I am not going to say that I do not agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord has said. I think that is a fair comment. Of course, if the question of time arises, he must think of his own Party—


I agree.


Our position is this: that already something like three attempts have been made to deal with this matter, and they have all failed. A number of drafts have been put up and the courts have not upheld the intention of the draftsman. What we are doing is simply this. We received the Thesiger Report too late to include it in this Session's legislation. Before legislation can be introduced, there must be a good deal of consultation and examination. This is proceeding now and, as I think the noble Lord is aware, the Minister has said that he intends to introduce legislation just as soon as he can. That is the intention. I do not think the noble Lord's Amendment is quite so simple as is suggested. It is a little more difficult to deal with this problem than the noble Lord's Amendment indicates. I should like to say, however, that we have not forgotten this problem. It is, I agree with the noble Lord, an urgent problem, but I very much hope that he will not press his Amendment, because I do not think that what he suggests would entirely meet the circumstances.


Let me say quite frankly that my Amendment will not meet the whole of the circumstances. I know that my Amendment would have to be incorporated in tidier legislation. But cannot we do something? Under the Road Traffic Act the Minister has power to make regulations. The noble Earl will forgive me for saying this, but I have never trusted this plea in regard to Parliamentary time. I had to make it when I was a Parliamentary Secretary, and I knew that on many occasions I was doing it with my tongue in my cheek. One says that one will do something when there is Parliamentary time; but there never is Parliamentary time. I do not know whether the noble Earl can do this, but if he could give a firm undertaking that a Bill to put this matter right will be, introduced in the next Session of Parliament I would willingly withdraw my Amendment. In the meantime, perhaps he would consider whether or not it is possible for some small regulation to be made which will once again allow the licensing authority, on special application, to grant a temporary licence this winter—and that is all I ask—to allow these people to take their children from the rural areas into the towns, to the theatre or pantomime, as they were able to do years ago. That is not too much to ask. The Minister has power to issue regulations under the 1930 Act. If the noble Earl would say that he will discuss with the Minister a temporary way out. I should be willing to agree to that. Perhaps at the next stage the noble Earl could say that for this winter this service could operate, and then next Session there could be presented a short Bill, which would have to clean up one or two other things as well and which could be incorporated in the legislation. I do not think that it is fair that the convenience of the public should not be considered. The Thesiger Report quite rightly says that this is an intolerable situation. Perhaps the noble Earl would consider that suggestion.


Of course, everything that the noble Lord has sad I will look at most carefully, but I am bound to say that there is a great deal of contract work going on.


It is illegal.


It may or may not be. It is not for me or the noble Lord to say whether it is or is not. But some can be carried on legally. However, I will look at it to see whether anything can be done in this respect.


No doubt there will be consultations, and I may put the Amendment down again on Report stage so that the noble Earl can give his answer. But in view of that assurance I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment to-day.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clauses 10 to 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Interpretation].


This Amendment is designed to correct a mistake. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15, line 5, leave out ("1937") and insert ("1947").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

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— (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:

Special provisions with respect to certain services

10. This Part of this Schedule shall apply to such of the services to which this Schedule applies as are provided by an independent undertaking wholly or partly within an area (in this Part of this Schedule referred to as "the reserved area") within which any local Act restricts the provision by any person other than the undertakers of services by public service vehicles on which a passenger can be both taken up and set down within the reserved area on the same journey.

5.28 p.m.


had given notice of his intention to move, in Paragraph 4 (b) to leave out "reasonable or expedient in all the" and to insert "not unreasonable." The noble Lord said: By permission of the Committee may I slightly amend the drafting of my Amendment? I propose now at page 19, line 9, to leave out from "consider" to the end of the line and to insert "not unreasonable." The meaning of this new Amendment is identical with that of the published Amendment. It is set down to ensure that the procedure relation to the fixing of fares for trams and trolley vehicles shall be the same as that for omnibuses. I believe that that is the intention of the Bill, but I suggest that this point is not entirely clear as the Bill is drafted at present.

May I remind the Committee that fares on omnibuses are governed by Section 72 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. If the Committee will look at Section 72 of the Act they will find that the licensing authority is to secure that the fares shall not be unreasonable. On the other hand, in the Bill which is now before the Committee, if one turns to Paragraph 4 (b) of the First Schedule, one finds a new set of words, directing the licensing authority to secure that the fares shall be "reasonable or expedient." The word "expedient" is one somewhat beloved by the bureaucratic mind, and I feel that it should not appear in this Bill. Moreover, the word seems to indicate that expediency may be different from reasonableness, which I feel sure is not really intended. The Traffic Act of 1930 has worked very well indeed, and I see no reason why the draftsman of this Bill should want to change the word unless there is some ulterior motive, and I do not think that can be true. Apart from this, there is a considerable difference between the positive approach that fares shall be reasonable and the negative approach that fares shall not be unreasonable. I suggest the obligation on the licensing authority is much greater in the positive approach than in the negative. For that further reason I maintain that the wording in Paragraph 4 (b) of the First Schedule does not really conform to the procedure of the licensing authorities laid down by the Road Traffic Act, 1930. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 19, line 9, leave out from ("consider") to the end of the line and insert ("not unreasonable").—(Lord Teynham.)


May I support the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in his dislike of the word "expedient" in this context. Fares ought to be just to the public and to the undertaking. To introduce here a conception of expediency, as it may present itself either to the mind of the licensing authority or to the mind of the Minister for the time being on an appeal, does not seem to me to be the right way to determine an issue of this kind. I cannot but think that some other form of words which would meet both Lord Teynham's points would be an advantage and would not be very difficult for the draftsman to find.


Expedient to whom? Expedient for whom? I am not complaining of the licensing authorities. Like Lord Hurcomb I must recognise that on appeal these matters can go to the Minister. I am quite willing to absolve licensing authorities from anything like political bias, but I am certainly not prepared to absolve any Minister from any suggestion of political bias. The intention of the Act that the fare shall be "not unreasonable" in all the circumstances is quite the right language, and I support the Amendment of the noble Lord.


The noble Lord, Lord Teynnam, in moving this Amendment is perfectly right in saying that the intention of the Schedule, as I said on the Second Reading, is that it should be pari passu subject to the 1930 Act. The intention is that it should operate in the same general way and have the same effect. But, of course, the fundamental difference between Section 72 and the operation here is that whereas under Section 72 a road services licence is required for all buses, that does not apply with trolley buses and trams because, in so far as it is necessary, they have it already. Paragraph 4 (b) is concerned with fares, and with nothing else. We feel that it would not be putting the matter on an entirely comparable basis to use the words "not unreasonable" in dealing with fares and with nothing else: it would be a negative approach, particularly with this in mind. Under the 1930 Act, in granting road service licences the authority had to take regard of quite a number of things—frequency, stopping places, and such matters. If it is not in agreement with the undertaking, it can just cancel the road service licence or refuse to grant a licence; but there is no power to do that here. The authority cannot stop trams or trolley buses running; it can only control fares within certain procedure. We feel that if the simple thing they had to consider was that fares were "not unreasonable" that would be too negative an approach.

If the noble Lords will look at Paragraph 3, he will see a postive approach by the licensing authority on the third line: May at any time serve notice on the undertakers of the intention of the authority to direct the making of such variations. … We feel that we should give them some thing more positive than the wording "not unreasonable," which is quite a negative approach, and something which more accurately reflects what is required here. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has thrown doubts upon the word "expedient." The circumstances which arise are circumstances which all affect traffic. We are trying to regulate competition and we must consider that fact. An arrangement might be reasonable with fares so high that the effect would be to kill another company and thereby create a monopoly, but it might not be expedient in all circumstances. Those are circumstances which it is considered necessary to put into the Bill. I do not stand absolutely on the word "expedient," but it meets the circumstances. The word must cover a wide variety of circumstances, all of which are really contained in the passage of Section 72 which the noble Lord read before, the elimination of unnecessary services, co-ordination and so forth. That is intended by that wording. With great respect, I do not feel that identical wording would in this case necessarily produce the same results.


The noble Lord said that it may be "expedient" to regulate competition. May I cite a case? Suppose that a local authority had a service carrying passengers to a football match on a Saturday afternoon and asked for the fare to be fixed, and said: "We are losing a lot of money on our tramway undertaking or our trolley buses, so will you please fix this fare for football matches at twice what would be reasonable normally, because people must use the buses to go to the football match on Saturday afternoon and therefore it will be expedient to do so?" Would it be "reasonable" for the fare to the football match on a Saturday afternoon to be fixed as a special journey once a week? It might be "expedient." I think it is a most dangerous deduction. It is expedient to do anything. It may be expedient to charge an unremunerative fare inside an area and for a local authority outside its area, when in competition with another service, to charge an unremunerative fare. It may also be expedient to charge double what would be a reasonable fare. I think that it is introducing into a rather sensible clause a very dangerous word. These things have been known to happen in the past and now that we have the fares—those of buses, tramcars and trolley buses—coming under one authority for the first time, I beg the noble Earl to agree to revert to the original language and say simply that the fares shall not be "unreasonable."


I appreciate the noble Earl's point. I quite see the need to give the licensing authorities a wide discretion, but would the noble Earl consider the use of some such expression as that the fares should be "fair and reasonable"? It is the idea of expediency in rate fixing that I am concerned about. I may be old-fashioned in these matters but it strikes me that this language is not acceptable, either from the point of view of the user or from the point of view of the undertaking. It seems to imply that someone else is going to do over their heads what may be, for quite extraneous reasons, convenient or expedient. I think there is a real point here. I do not wish to press it too far, but I think it could easily be met by returning to the more cautious yet adequate language of earlier legislation.


We have wandered a little bit I am afraid from the original draft of Lord Teynham's Amendment. Lord Hurcomb has suggested that I should make the words "fair and reasonable in all the circumstances." The latter part is really important. Lord Lucas of Chilworth omitted it in his reference to the word "expedient." The essence of the matter is that it must depend on the circumstances. We are charging the licensing authority with this responsibility. They have to take all the circumstances into consideration. I do not see anything wrong with "fair and reasonable in all the circumstances" but I do not feel that it is necessarily better than "reasonable or expedient in all the circumstances." But if it pleases Lord Hurcomb I shall be happy to look at the point again between now and the Report stage.


I must say that I do not like the word "expedient." I hope that, before the next stage of this Bill, the noble Earl will look at the wording again, to see whether it is possible to get some wording which will meet with the approval of both sides of the House. In fact, I suggest that some of the words in Section 72 (4) (a) of the Traffic Act, 1930, might be appropriate. They, I think, would cover the question of competition. I suggest that some such words as those might be drafted for the next stage of the Bill. If, as I understand he is willing to do, the noble Earl will agree to that, then I will now ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.44 p.m.

LORD BURDEN moved, in paragraph 10, after "undertaking" to insert "being a local authority." The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first Amendment which stands in my name on the Marshalled List. This Amendment and the two which follow are not submitted in any contentious spirit: they represent the considered views of the Association of Municipal Corporations, an association whose views in relation to local government matters are at least worthy of serious consideration.

Let me say just a word or two as to the purpose of the Amendments. As your Lordships may know, there are now some thirty-eight local authorities operating tramways, and it is generally agreed that tramways are being superseded by other forms of transport. In the past, of course, local authorities had to come to Parliament for powers to construct and work a tramway; and, whatever may be their deficiencies to-day, owing to developments in other forms of transport, tramways have served a very useful purpose. Parliament has always retained the power to fix maximum fares—I think quite rightly. Everyone will agree that local authorities operating tramways are faced with difficulties owing to rising costs, and up to now those authorities have been able to meet the position by obtaining Parliamentary sanction for increases in the maximum fares. They have obtained Parliamentary sanction through the Minister. To put it quite briefly, that is the position that local authorities, through their representative association, are asking should continue. They wish Parliament, through the Minister, to retain the power to fix maximum fares, giving the local authorities a little bit of elbow room within the maximum fares to deal with the fares generally. It is understood, of course, that this applies only to trams operated within the area of a particular authority. Local authorities feel that it will put them to quite unnecessary trouble and expense to be compelled to go to the licensing authority for sanction for every increase in fares. And they feel that in view of the fact—and everyone agrees that it is the fact—that trams are on the way out, it would be much better for the present position to continue.

After all, local authorities have a duty to their ratepayers. They have statutory restrictions and duties imposed upon them as tramway operators which are not imposed on operators of other forms of transport. There is no need for me to develop this point, for I think your Lordships will be aware of the position. Just in a general way, as a local government man, may I say that local authorities throughout the country are restive and worried at the continual loss of powers. All Parties are to blame for that position—I am lot debating that question now, and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk will not, with a view to making a debating point, say that my Party have been the worst offenders in that regard. But, rightly or wrongly, local authorities are of the opinion that this is just another little pin-prick, and they do ask, through these Amendments, that the Minister should allow the present position to continue and not ask them to submit to a body that is in no way responsible to the ratepayers of the particular areas. I agree that in respect of buses and other transport which runs outside their own areas they have to come to the local licensing authority, but the position of the trams is, I think, unique. Local authorities have got to prepare, and prepare very rapidly, for the time when the trams will become obsolete—they are obsolescent now. They must prepare rapidly for the replacement of the tracks, and to provide for all the other expenses which will be involved. They feel chat the Minister, and not the local licensing authority, which obviously would not have to take those considerations into review, is the right person to be the judge of the circumstances. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 20, line 44, after ("under taking") insert ("being a local authority").—(Lord Burden.)


The noble Lord has been so frank in acknowledging his guilt towards local authorities that I need no enlarge on the offence that has been given. May I say that the present situation cannot go on? Up to now, any increase in fares has been made by application to the Minister, who has used his powers under the Defence Regulations, but his powers under those Regulations will lapse within one month of the passing of this Bill. Therefore some other provision has had to be made. What we are suggesting is not substantially different from what is happening now. To-day, if a local authority want to increase their fares, they put in an application to the Minister, who refers it back to the licensing authority; and if the licensing authority agrees to it, the Minister normally approves, and there is no appeal. We are proposing here that the local authority should go to the licensing authority in the first place; and from there, if they do not like the licensing authority's decision, they can go to the Minister. This is not so very different from the position which exists now and which the noble Lord says is satisfactory.

The noble Lord mentioned that trams were going out of existence, and this also applies to trolley buses, which are diminishing in number, but possibly much more slowly. This is exactly the procedure to which every local authority has been fully accustomed since 1930.


I admitted that.


Yes, and so far as I am aware the local authorities have never complained about it. They find it entirely satisfactory. One of the difficulties about accepting the Amendment is that we have had an authoritative Committee sitting on this question and of its seven members three had served on local authorities. One of them had been Lord Provost of Aberdeen, and another was a former Lord Mayor of Bristol. This Committee presented a unanimous Report, with a clear recommendation that this matter should be brought under the licensing authorities. I put it to the noble Lord that it would be very difficult for the Government to go against that. Where Parliament has granted a monopoly, we have provided that that can continue: but where Parliament has not granted a monopoly, I think it may be presumed that Parliament wished to have competition. If this Amendment were accepted, what we should have would be completely unregulated competition. I do not know in whose interest that would be, and I find it hard to accept that proposition as it stands.

I do not think this provision represents any serious infringement of the sovereignty of local authorities: I think it still leaves them with full responsibility in their own sphere. I suggest that, to all intents and purposes, the Amendment throws them back to the need to obtain an Act of Parliament to increase fares. The noble Lord said he thought there should be only maximum fares laid down. Of course, if the local authority propose to the licensing authority that only maximum fares should be stated, I am sure they would be pleased to consider that. Other matters, like setting aside capital for renewals and replacements have to be taken into consideration. No one would suggest that the licensing authorities should not take these matters into consideration and I know that well-run local authorities, of whom there are many, already have these matters clearly laid down. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw this Amendment. I feel that going back to increasing fares by Act of Parliament is clumsy. We know that it has not worked after the war as it worked before the war, and it would not be fair to local authorities to go back to that system, with all its clumsiness and expense, in place of one which has worked well for the local authorities over a large field.


While thanking the noble Earl for his reply, I feel, with due respect, that unless I have misinterpreted the purpose of the Amendments, they do not imply going back to the old Private Bill procedure. The Amendments recognise that up to now the Minister has been working under Statutory Rule and Order, but prior to that the procedure was by means of Private Bills. They propose that the Minister should still be able by regulation to fix maximum fares—at least, that is the intention of the Amendments. If that would not be achieved by the Amendments, and if they would throw us back again to the old clumsy Private Bill procedure, then I admit the case which the noble Earl has put forward. But I look at it from an entirely different point of view. At this present stage, I will withdraw the Amendment, in order to see whether my interpretation or that of the noble Earl is correct. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at two minutes before six o'clock.