§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of this Bill is to effect economy both of time and money by simplifying the procedure to be followed by a local authority which desires to run omnibuses in addition to, or in substitution of any tramway, trolley vehicle route, or omnibuses at present worked. I would invite the attention of hon. Members to Clause 7 showing which of the local authorities are qualified to take advantage of its terms. By Clause 7 it is provided that the local authority means:(1) the council of any borough or urban district, and(2) any joint board or joint committee which includes in its constitution representatives of the council of a borough or urban district,if such council, board or committee shall have been authorised to provide, work or run tramways, trolley vehicle routes or omnibuses, and for the purposes of this Act the district of such joint board or joint committee shall be deemed to include the borough or district of every council represented thereon;Therefore I should like to emphasise at the outset that this Bill is to apply only to such "local authorities as have already obtained an Act of Parliament of their own authorising them to work some form of transport service, either of tramways, trolley vehicles, or omnibuses. Such an authority has already been through the fire of the procedure of the House. It appears to me that it is putting unnecessary expense upon a local authority that it should have to spend anywhere between £1,500 to £6,000 to obtain a further Act of Parliament merely to enable it to run omnibuses, if omnibuses were not in the original power conferred by its own Act; or possibly even in substitution for the tramway powers which at present it holds under its own Act. Let me give the House a simple example. A local authority comes to this House to obtain a special Act of Parliament empowering it to lay down certain tramways and to work them. When the costs are got out it is found that the cost of the permanent way 2784 is very heavy, and the local authority feels itself impelled to postpone for the time being incurring the cost, in the hope that the costs will go down after a while. In the meantime, owing to the success of omnibuses run by other local authorities, their economical cost, their low initial expense, the local authority decides that along a particular route within its own boundaries it will run an omnibus service instead of the tramways which have been authorised. At the present time, instead of being empowered to run these omnibuses in substitution of the tramways which have been authorised, and which it is empowered to run, it must chose between laying down a permanent way, incurring the initial expense, and equipping the tramways or come to the House for a fresh Act of Parliament empowering it to run a few omnibuses on the roads. I do submit that such a case as that shows the necessity for a Bill such as this Bill.
Let me give another example. It is common knowledge that the tramways, owing to their heavy mechanical cost, are not as economical to run as the omnibuses except within definitely built up areas, where there is a constant flow of passengers throughout the journey, and that the tramways do not pay when they get more into the suburbs where the houses are more scattered, and the traffic less. At the present time housing schemes throughout the country are in progress. Possibly the local authorities, both from the point of view of buying cheaper land for that purpose, and from the point of enabling their people to get out into healthier and sunnier surroundings, are putting up their housing schemes some little distance outside the town. In such a case as that owing to the heavy initial cost of laying down a permanent way tramways are not suitable to provide the transport required by the people who live in these houses. Omnibuses are absolutely the right form of transport to enable the people to get to and from their work, from suburb to town and from town to suburb. I do submit to the House that for that reason, if for no other reason, the House should give this Bill a Second Reading, and so enable it to go to Committee where it can be considered carefully in detail.
I have referred to the heavy cost to local authorities if they are going to get an Act of Parliament to run only a 2785 trifling number of omnibuses. In addition to the cost, there is a tremendous expenditure of time. It is a reasonable thing to assume that the time a local authority takes to obtain a special Act is, in many cases, 9 months or nearly a year. Not only is there the waste of time but the procedure is very involved. You commence by holding a town's meeting to obtain the approval of the people to the proposal to promote the Bill. That in itself sounds very desirable for safeguarding, and to ensure that the ratepayers of the area, the shareholders in the community, shall have their opportunity of expressing their views on the Bill which it is proposed to promote. Unfortunately the methods in which town's meetings are held are far from satisfactory.
The Mayor of Halifax—to give a concrete instance—recently pointed out that the Halifax Corporation called a town's meeting in January to approve a proposed Bill which involved some transport service. Numbers of the people in that town's meeting had been brought in local omnibuses from a neighbouring town, and the transport proposals were defeated. In the meantime, while the grass is growing the horse is starving. There are people in houses two or three miles out that require the necessary transport, and facilities to get to and from their homes. In the meantime, some enterprising omnibus people, hearing of the local authority's Bill which is being promoted, say: "What is good for them is good for us," decide to run buses, apply for a licence, and pay the excise duty under the Finance Act of 1920. So they can have their buses on the road within a month, and get in front of the local authority, which in the meantime has been committed to this heavy expense to obtain similar powers. The cost of the upkeep of these roads is borne for the most part by the local authorities, and, whatever one's views are in regard to municipal enterprise, it seems particularly hard that in a case such as I have outlined, where a local authority has statutory powers conferred upon it by this House to run an expensive tramway along a certain road, and wishes to run cheaper omnibuses instead, it must waste time and expense in obtaining fresh powers, whereas other omnibus people can secure with ease the right to run 2786 along that very road, the cost of which is largely borne by the poor local authority.
For this slow and costly procedure the Bill substitutes an application to the Minister of Transport, as set forth in Clause 1. No doubt hon. Members are acquainted with the details of Clause 1, but I may explain that the local authority, provided it is one which is qualified under the terms of Clause 7, can apply to the Ministry of Transport for an Order, and if the Minister, after making all due inquiries and summoning before him all interested persons to hear any objections, decides to grant an Order, it is the intention of the Bill that the Order shall be equivalent to a Private Act obtained from this House. Since this Bill was printed, I and the hon. Members who are associated with me in its promotion have given very careful thought to seeing in what direction additional safeguards are needed, and what reasonable objections could be raised to its provisions. While hon. Members are giving this Bill their consideration to-day, I would like them to read in conjunction with the text of Bill this pledge, which I give on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, namely: If this Bill is given a Second Reading, inasmuch as we recognise that it is a legitimate criticism of the Bill that it means an abrogation by the House of its control over trading by local authorities, as far as omnibus services are concerned, we shall be prepared in Committee to agree to such Amendments as will ensure that any Order made by the Minister under the Bill shall have to be approved by the House.
We are all familiar with the procedure in respect of Electricity Orders made by the Minister of Transport, which are taken after 11 o'clock. I can remember many occasions when I have been hoping to go home at 11 o'clock and the Minister has risen to submit an Electricity Order for the approval of the House. In Committee we shall be prepared to introduce some such machinery as that to, shall I say, prevent any hon. Members feeling that under this Bill they are handing over undue powers to any Minister, and the Measure is an undue abrogation by the House of the powers which the House ought to exercise? If such a provision as that be inserted in Committee the position will be, it seems to me, that we shall merely have 2787 substituted careful inquiry by the Ministry of Transport for the slow and costly process of obtaining an unnecessary Act of Parliament. The right hon. gentleman, the Minister himself is present, and so I am rather diffident in quoting the old saying that it is of no use to keep a dog and to bark yourself. We have a Ministry of Transport, and a Minister at its head, and if he and his Department make these inquiries it will result in an immense saving of time and money to the local authority; and, after the Minister has given his judgment, his proposed Provisional Order will come before the House in some form for approval before it becomes operative. Not only in this respect, but in all other respects my hon. Friends and I will be prepared between now and the Committee stage—if, as I trust, the Bill obtains a Second Reading—to discuss with all hon. Members any objections or points they wish to raise, and endeavour to secure that it shall become an agreed Measure. We are prepared to meet every reasonable objection, provided only that the purpose of the Bill, namely, the economising of public time and public money, shall be accomplished. Very shortly we shall all be considering an Economy Bill introduced by His Majesty's Government. May I suggest that this Bill is its humble but deserving forerunner? The remaining Clauses, 2 to 6, are merely the usual stereotyped ones in the case of a Bill providing for tramways or omnibuses. Throughout the Bill my hon. Friends and I have endeavoured to protect all reasonable interests, and to insert only provisions which are fair and equitable, and may I repeat that we shall be most happy between now and the Committee stage to meet any objections, and to arrive so far as we can at an agreed basis for the Bill. I should also mention that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland or to the London traffic area.
Fears have been expressed that the Bill may result in facilitating and in cheapening the opportunities of local authorities to run omnibuses, and that this will result in privately-owned omnibuses being subjected to unfair competition. I submit that those fears are absolutely groundless. It is said that the local authority is frequently the licensing authority, and a 2788 very legitimate fear is expressed that the local authority when it owns omnibuses will decline to give a licence to other omnibuses. That contingency is fully provided for in the Roads Act, 1920. Sub-section (3) of Clause 14 says:Where, upon application for a licence to ply for hire with an omnibus, the licensing authority either refuses to grant a licence or grants a licence subject to conditions, in either case the applicant shall have a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport from the decision of the licensing authority, and the Minister shall have power to make such order thereon as he thinks fit, and such order shall be binding upon the licensing authority. An order made by the Minister under this sub-section shall be final, and not subject to appeal to any court, and shall, on the application of the Minister, be enforceable by a writ of mandamus.Whatever will be the position in that respect if this Bill becomes law is also the position to-day. Any local authority has the power to act in a vexatious and unjustifiable manner in refusing licences, or making them subject to unfair restrictions, and the position under this Bill will be identical with what it is to-day—that any aggrieved person will have the right to appeal to the Minister of Transport, who fan adjudicate and decide upon the matter.
The next point I wish to raise is in regard to fares. Seeing that a local authority has to pay interest on the whole of its capital involved, if it pays interest at 5 per cent. on borrowed money, as it has to do before it shows any results, that in itself means the equivalent of a 5 per cent. dividend. It has to do more than that. It has to pay off the whole of its debt over the estimated life of the assets; usually over a period of about 30 years, including the cost of the purchase of freehold land. It does this by means of a sinking fund, and this often exceeds the amount of interest on the money borrowed. The local authority has to do all this as well as keep its assets in a perfect state of efficiency. It has also to provide a reserve fund and a depreciation fund. In view of all these facts and the fact that the local authority is answerable for its policy to the ratepayers, and in view of the fact that any deficiency would have to be made up from the rates, how is it possible for the local authority to fix its fares at a rate below those fixed by the omnibus companies owned by private enterprise?
2789 It has also to pay for the bulk of the cost of the roads, and I cannot see how there can be any unfairness in competition between such an authority and a bus company, and if there is really any unfairness it is on the other side. All we seek to do is not to extend the powers of municipal trading or to compete unduly with private enterprise but to extend such powers in the legitimate direction of providing transport services when it has been conceded by this House that such an authority is one which should have these facilities under its own management and ownership. All we are seeking is that such an authority shall not have its time and money wasted in carrying out what the House has already decided is a suitable activity for that local authority to embark upon. To try and differentiate between a local authority running a tramway and running a bus reminds me of the debate on the safeguarding of industry Bill in which an argument arose as to whether a thing should be cut with a knife or a pair of scissors. If this Bill be passed it will not do any injustice to anyone, and it will result in a considerable economy of time and money on the part of the local authorities. It will result in less congestion of the work of this honourable House, and will contribute materially to the comfort, health, and well-being of the men, women and children of our country, and for these reasons I earnestly ask the House to give this measure a Second Reading.
§ Sir HERBERT CUNLIFFE
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so because it seems to me to be a right and wise proceeding to simplify and lessen the costs of those local authorities who wish to apply for powers in order to make some extension of their transport system. I am conscious that this Bill has caused some disquietude amongst hon. Members who sit on this side of the House. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading has explained the details so fully and described so well the principles of this Measure that there is no need for me to develop those points any further. I would, however, like to devote a few minutes to an endeavour to meet the objections which, as I understand, are raised by hon. Members on this side who view the Bill with some apprehension. The view seems to have been 2790 taken that this Bill is an attack upon private enterprise, and that it enables local authorities who have not now got the power to run motor omnibuses or to deal with transport in competition with private enterprise. That is an entire misapprehension. This Bill only applies to those authorities which have already got powers to deal with transport facilities, and it does not confer upon any single authority any powers whatever to run motor omnibuses at all. All that this Measure does is to simplify the procedure, and it is in no sense an attack upon private enterprise; it does not interfere with the rights of private individuals, and private enterprise will not be interfered with by it in the slightest degree.
I have had an opportunity of listening to the objections raised on the part of the omnibus proprietors and by tramway and light railway companies. I have given the fullest consideration to the objections raised to this Measure by those companies, and my view is that those objections ought not to deter any Member of this House from supporting this Bill. A few days ago a deputation from the omnibus proprietors was received in one of the committee rooms of this House, and they laid the objections of omnibus proprietors before a number of hon. Members of this House. Personally I was prepared to receive enlightenment and hear reasons why I should not continue to support this Bill, but I must confess that I was very much disappointed by the statements which they made. Attacks were made upon municipal enterprise and it was asserted that losses had been sustained in all cases where municipalities have undertaken work of this kind. As far as my own personal knowledge is concerned I am convinced that those arguments were very gravely exaggerated, and I do not think it is in the least true to say that wherever a local authority, or a municipality, has undertaken to provide transport facilities it has invariably lost the ratepayers' money.
Something was said about the parentage of this Bill, and there is a saying that "it is a wise child that knows its own father." I stand in somewhat the same relationship to this Bill. I do not know what its parentage is, but I want to say that I have no responsibility what- 2791 ever for the drafting of this Bill. Its general principles seem to me to be good, and as the Mover of the Second Reading has already stated, those in favour of this Bill are quite ready to consider representations with a view to securing a more effective Parliamentary control over those exercising powers under this Measure. I cannot conceive that the necessity for any concessions in that direction ought to jeopardise this Bill, because on Second Reading we are, as I understand, concerned only with the general underlying principle.
Perhaps the House will allow me to explain how it is I came to be in some sense responsible for the introduction of this Bill. I hope I need not say that I am acting as the emissary of no association of any sort or kind. I believe I did receive, some few weeks ago, circulars with respect to this matter, in common, I imagine, with the rest of the Members of this House. They did not come from my own constituency, and I frankly confess that they found their way into a very convenient receptacle which a good many of us find useful for the deposit of the unnecessary exhortations we get from associations of various bodies. I have come forward as supporter of this Bill at the request of the Corporation of the town of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives. I would invite the attention of Members on this side of the House who fear that this is a socialistic Measure involving some great attack on private enterprise to this fact.
The Corporation which has asked me to do what I can to help forward this Bill is ruled by the Conservative party, and it has been ruled by the Conservative party for a great many years. It has exercised its powers very well and very successfully, and I do ask those on my side of the House who are disposed to vote against this Bill to pause before they throw out a Measure which is put forward by a Corporation which, politically, has been Conservative for many years, and which really believes that it is in the interests of the community at large.
They have in my constituency for many years successfully managed municipal enterprises in connection with sanitation, electric light, water, and so on, and it would be a little difficult to explain to my 2792 constituents, if this Bill should unfortunately be thrown out by the adverse votes of members on my side of the House, why a Bill dealing with a mere matter of procedure, and intended to make it easier for municipalities which have existing powers, should be cast aside merely on account of some supposed attack upon private enterprise, or because it is said to involve some socialistic principle. I hope the House will forgive me for dealing with this particular locality, but it is the locality about which I know most, and, after all, one must take the concrete cases in judging of the practical application of the Measure which we are asking the House to help forward.
The Corporation of Bolton have for many years had a very successful tramway system. It is, as hon. Members know, an industrial town with very congested areas and a very large population. The tramway enterprise there has been conducted with great success. It is exceedingly efficient. The service is very frequent and cheap, and I have not the least hesitation in saying that it confers an enormous public benefit in getting the people of the town to and from their workplaces and their homes and enabling very large numbers of people, instead of crowding the congested areas in the centre of the town, to get out to the lighter and more open and healthy suburbs. But as the town has thrown out the tentacles of its tramway system there have been left intervening places where the tramways do not run, and where the people are put to considerable inconvenience. Unquestionably, it would be a great advantage if the municipality were allowed, as it desires, to run omnibuses to link up the tentacles and also to run omnibuses in conjunction with the tramways system on thoroughfares where it is not convenient to put down tramways. These omnibuses would relieve the very serious congestion which takes place in the main thoroughfares of the town.
Obviously, the more extensive your system which has to bring people into and carry them out from the centre of the town the more the main streets in the centre of the town become congested, and one cannot help seeing that it would be a very great public advantage and convenience if a system were adopted by 2793 which the tentacles were linked up and by which also convenient omnibus routes were arranged to supplement the efforts of the tramway system. Private enterprise makes no attempt to deal with this problem at all, and I cannot help feeling that the real explanation is that possibly it cannot be made remunerative in the sense of running the service as a separate unit, whereas it might be made a success if it were run in conjunction with a general system of municipal tramways. At any rate, be that as it may, this Conservative Council, which has inaugurated and fostered the tramway system with so much success, is satisfied that it would be to the advantage of the public if they could obtain powers to link up the outlying parts of the system and provide alternative routes in conjunction with the general tramway system.
What happened? The Corporation applied last year by means of a Parliamentary Bill for powers to do this. There was opposition on the part of some other local authorities concerned, because it very often happens, in a linking up operation of this kind, that, over a small portion of the area, it is necessary to go through the territory of another authority. I am not for a moment saying that local authorities through whose territory any omnibus system would have to go are not entitled to be heard, but I would ask hon. Members who feel a little doubtful about this Bill to remember that, so far as this Bill is concerned, it will be of no use for any local authority which has already powers to deal with municipal transport to apply for powers to run omnibuses unless it has got the consent of the local authorities through whose territory it proposes to run. That does not apply to linking up inside the area of the borough itself. I understand that the reason why the Clauses dealing with this matter were thrown out last year was that the local authorities objected. My present information is that the local authorities are now satisfied, but still the same cumbrous, unwieldy, dilatory and expensive procedure has got to be gone through.
§ Sir H. CUNLIFFE
I have gone back for the moment to Bolton, in order to 2794 endeavour to point out the inconvenience of the present system. Bolton, as I have said, brought forward last year in its Bill Clauses to enable it to get powers to deal with this matter, but the local authorities on the outskirts, some of whose territory was to be run over, objected, and the Clauses were thrown out. Now, I understand, the local authorities concerned are satisfied that it would be a good thing, and are not opposing the obtaining of these Clauses, but still, as I have said, the same cumbrous and unwieldy procedure has to be followed, and the same delay and expense have to be incurred by promoting a Parliamentary Bill. All that is sought in the Bill now before the House is, not to give the powers directly to these local authorities, or, indeed, to any local authority, but merely to substitute for the expensive, unwieldy and dilatory procedure a simpler and less expensive procedure. This Bill is not in any sense an attack upon private enterprise. It gives no authority anywhere power to do anything in opposition to any private enterprise. I suggest to the House that the real truth of the matter is that the only sufferers by this Bill are a very deserving body of men, for whom at any rate no one will accuse me of being short of sympathy, because they happen to be members of the two branches of the profession to which I have the honour to belong. It may very well be that there will be fewer Parliamentary briefs in connection with some of these applications, by authorities which have tramway powers, to get this small extension, but I am quite sure that the members of my profession are large-minded enough to say that such a question ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of a necessary reform of this sort.
I hope we shall not get into a discussion as to whether this is a Socialistic proposal or not, whether it is an attack upon private enterprise or not, whether local authorities are entitled to have these powers, or whether it is desirable that they should have these powers. All these points are entirely beside the question, which is simply one of procedure and nothing more. It is a reform in procedure, it is an attempt to substitute, for a system which is really too cumbrous and expensive, and dilatory for small matters of this kind, something which 2795 is simple and inexpensive, and which will enable—and I hope the House will keep this in mind—which will enable those authorities who already have these powers to get, if they can satisfy the Minister and their adjacent authorities, something which is really only ancillary to the powers they already possess.
I hope I shall not weary the House if I venture to go very shortly through the catalogue of the objections which have been raised on behalf of the tramway and light railway companies. I have no doubt that this has been drawn up with very great care, and exhausts all the possible objections of which these Gentlemen can think, and, while I am the very last person in this House, I hope, to depreciate the objections which can legitimately be raised against a Bill of this kind, I think there is the gravest danger of a Bill dealing with a simple matter of procedure being assumed by some to be a very serious inroad on the rights of private enterprise. It is said, to begin with that this Bill provides for an extension of municipal trading. With great respect, it does nothing of the kind. All that it provides is a different procedure—a cheaper and more expeditious procedure for the obtaining of these powers by those who already have powers to deal with transport municipally. I hope I shall be able to satisfy the House, and I may, perhaps, satisfy the tramway and light railway companies, that they altogether misconceive the object and purpose of the Bill. It is, surely, quite incorrect to say that the Bill provides for an extension of municipal trading, and so, if that be one of the grounds on which hon. Members have been asked to reject the Bill, I think that that plea, at any rate, can be disregarded.
Let us see what the second is. It is that the Bill is a direct attack upon private enterprise. Surely, that statement cannot be justified at all. It is not an attack upon private enterprise. It may be an attack upon the method of procedure, and it may very well be—I do not dispute this for a moment—that the House has to consider with great care, how far it should lessen, or appear to lessen, its immediate control over applications of this kind; but it really is an inaccurate statement to say that the Bill is a direct attack upon private enterprise. I venture to say that the 2796 truth is that it is neither a direct nor an indirect attack upon private enterprise. The third argument is that the Bill alters existing public legislation by removing Parliamentary control over the expenditure of the ratepayers' money. I cannot think that that can be justified when it comes to be considered for a moment. It does not alter Parliamentary control at all. There are a good many respects in which Parliamentary control over the expenditure of the ratepayers' money—the public money—is only exercised by our right, which is constantly put in operation, of moving to reduce the salary of the Minister whose particular action is attacked, and a great deal of that expenditure of public money can, I think, be checked and controlled by Parliament in that way. This House would still have just as much control over the Minister of Transport as it had before. It could censure him, it could reduce his salary, it could even abolish his salary if it took a very strong view of his conduct.
I should like to associate myself with what the Mover of the Second Reading said. I think it is a just criticism of this Bill to say that some further safeguard is required in order that Parliament may keep a check upon the exercise of the powers which are proposed to be given by this Bill. It may very well be that the present Minister of Transport would be much too reckless for my friends on the other side of the House in making orders to enable municipalities to run these ancillary omnibus systems, and it might perhaps be wise to keep a check upon him by providing that any orders that t he might make should lie upon the Table of the House with the proper Parliamentary opportunity to take objection to them; but that is a mere matter of detail. The general principle of the Bill is to substitute a simpler form of procedure and I am sure those who think, like I do, that this is a very desirable reform will have no objection whatever to putting in proper safeguards in order to enable this House to control the exercise of the powers on the part of Ministry of Transport. The second Branch of this plea is that it removes the ratepayers' control under the Borough Fund Acts. I entirely dissent from that. The control of the ratepayers over the application of their monies is again exercised by their right to reject 2797 at the Polls those who they think will either be too lavish or too stingy in the administration of public money. It will not interfere in the least degree with that. The members of the tramways Committee, or whatever the Committee may be, may still be called to order by their constituents and I cannot see that there is any justification whatever for saying it lessens the control of the ratepayers over their own money.
Fourthly, it is said the Bill will result in unfair, rate-aided competition by local authorities against established Statutory undertakings. Frankly, I cannot see any justification for that. It certainly does not do it directly, and it seems to me the only possible way in which that might be said to result would be this. Supposing you had one of those places where it might be desirable to establish some linking-up process. Suppose you had a private company running omnibuses over that very route. Mark what would happen. First of all, the local authority that wanted to do the linking-up would have to get the consent of the local authority over whose territory it sought to run. If the public needs were already being met, is it conceivable that any local authority under such circumstances would say, "Although you have the public needs met we are going to run another service of omnibuses, and have your roads subjected to a double burden of heavy vehicles running over them and causing their destruction?" As a practical proposition it would break down there. But supposing a local authority were so foolish as to do something of the kind, I cannot conceive another local authority being so foolish as to consent to it; and I am certain any Minister of Transport who was told, "Here is a local authority seeking for powers to go over another authority's territory running a service of omnibuses to meet an alleged public need which is already met"—surely the House on all sides would have sufficient confidence in any Minister to believe that he would never sanction the adoption of any such scheme. Finally, if we put in something to give the House direct control, supposing you had a foolish local authority inaugurating such a system, a still more foolish local authority whose territory is to be run over agreeing to it, and without disrespect to present and future occu- 2798 pants of the office, an even more foolish Minister of Transport acquiescing, is it conceivable that this House would ever let the proposition go through? Of course, really this is imagination, and nothing of that kind in practice would ever happen.
Lastly, it is said the Bill seeks to establish the principle of trading by local authorities beyond their areas to an unlimited extent. That again is a very serious exaggeration. To begin with, it does not seek to establish the principle of trading by local authorities at all. It leaves the question whether the power is to be granted entirely in the hands of the authority that is to be set up. We really must keep solidly in mind, because it is so easy to be misled, that it is a mere difference in procedure. It does not establish the principle at all and in my submission it does not affect it. Parliament in its wisdom has conceded to local authorities the right to deal with the question of municipal transport. It is no use our getting into an argument whether that was right or wrong. It is not really playing quite fair to these authorities when they find, through the development of the needs of local traffic, that they want this small ancillary privilege, to say, "you must go through this procedure by private Bill again and you must fight all over again this question, whether local authorities should be allowed to conduct these transport enterprises even where they involve the use of public thoroughfares and so on." It really does not seem to me to be abiding loyally by the decision of previous Parliaments, and it is not playing the game to say this is seeking to establish the principle of trading by local authorities beyond their areas to an unlimited extent.
I ask the House to consider this matter without any feeling of prejudice at all. It is a purely business proposition. It does not raise the question of Socialism, or non-Socialism, or private trading, or anything of the kind. It is really giving to the local authorities, not the power to do these things, but a simpler, speedier and more economical method of getting the question determined as to whether they ought or ought not to have these small ancillary privileges. It may be or may not be that in one particular case they ought or ought not to have them, but we cannot determine that by this Bill. 2799 I hope my hon. Friends on this side of the House who feel a little doubtful about it will get out of their heads the idea that this Bill gives any powers of that kind. Let us try to consider this question on the pure and simple issue which is involved, and that is as to whether there is to be a reform in the procedure which will enable these matters to be dealt with more quickly and much more economically. In the spirit of economy which is prevailing now, and to which we all pay lip service, we ought to feel very strongly in favour of this Bill. On the ground of economy, I commend the Bill to the House, and particularly to the unprejudiced judgment of those who sit on the same side as myself.
§ Mr. GRANT
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
It is with regret that I am unable to agree with my two hon. Friends in their conclusions with regard to this Bill. If one were to comment upon their speeches, one would have to admit that they have been more or less apologies for the Bill. I was not surprised to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. Cunliffe) disclaim the parentage of the Bill. My hon. Friends would have us believe that this is a very harmless Bill, and one which merely aims at economy. If that were so, I do not think there would be any division of opinion on this side of the House. As far as economy goes, we all desire it, and we all regret that the procedure is so often costly in carrying through private Bill legislation. If economy and reform in that direction was all that the Bill contained, I should certainly not oppose it. I move that the Bill be read upon this day six months, because I believe the scope of the Bill is much wider and much more far-reaching than we have been led to suppose. My hon. and learned Friend dealt with the question of the extension of municipal enterprise. Surely the Bill does give such an extension.
§ Mr. GRANT
My hon. and loyal Friend shakes his head. If we are going to make procedure cheaper, will it not be the case that many more boroughs will come here to apply and try to extend 2800 their trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear!"] Hon. Members opposite answer my question by their applause. This will mean an extension of municipal enterprise, and it extends municipal training into a field that is already fully covered. If that does not mean a direct attack on private enterprise, I do not know what does. If you are going to have rate-aided competition in the field of private enterprise, then it is a direct attack upon private enterprise.
My hon. and loyal Friend repudiated the idea that this Bill facilitates rate-aided attack on statutory companies. There is no doubt that it does so. A statutory undertaking is carrying on its business, and at the same time a municipality comes in and runs omnibuses in the area. Surely, that is an attack upon the statutory company. With regard to trading outside the area of the borough, my hon. and learned Friend referred to some paper which had been sent to him where it is suggested that that would be permitted by the Bill to an unlimited extent. I think I shall be able to prove that the provisions of the Bill give power of unlimited trading by a municipality outside its own area.
There are provisions in the Bill which would do away with the proceedings of a Committee upstairs in regard to this question. That was made little of by my hon. and learned Friend. Put it as you like, no one can deny that that takes away from the House of Commons a power which it at present possesses, and puts it into the hands of a Minister. It means transferring Parliamentary power to the power of bureaucracy. That is no small matter. It is a very serious matter. In transferring this power to the Minister, you burden him with a very serious responsibility, and I cannot see that we should put such a responsibility on the Minister where it is the duty of the House of Commons to keep that duty for itself. For these reasons I question, very regretfully, the attitude of my hon. Friends when they say that this a harmless Bill. The proposals are very far-reaching in character, and I hope the House will come to a conclusion that the Bill ought to be rejected.
With regard to the question of municipalities running omnibuses, it is well to remember that this will be in a great many cases an entirely new adventure. It will 2801 risk the money of the ratepayers in motor traction. My hon. and learned Friend said that his municipality was in favour of such an extension, but neither of my hon. Friends have told us that the ratepayers of the country, generally speaking, are in favour of such an extension of municipal enterprise. If we were to take the opinion of the ratepayers of the country on this matter, I believe they would have grave doubts whether they should allow the municipalities this further extension into the new adventure of running omnibuses by motor traction. It is a very large question and one which may be profitable to the municipalities or may not. My hon. and learned Friend says that generally these adventures have proved paying undertakings. My information is to the contrary. At a meeting upstairs which I attended we were told that all such ventures by municipalities had been a failure. My hon. Friend's opinion is different, but I think there is no doubt that in a good many of these cases municipal enterprise in omnibuses has been a failure. It is difficult to get accurate figures in this connection, but I have one instance of municipal trading in omnibuses in the City of Newcastle-on-Tyne. An inquiry was held there on this subject and it came out that in the year 1925 municipal trading in omnibuses at Newcastle-on-Tyne had resulted in a loss of £6,947 and that since the initiation of the enterprise the municipality had lost £39,117. That is an instance which cannot be controverted. There was a direct loss of the ratepayers' money on municipal omnibuses—it may not be universal—and it is a direct instance which controverts the position taken by my hon. Friend. He also spoke of tramways, and while it is quite true that this House gave powers to municipalities to run tramways I do not think that form of municipal trading is comparable to the present proposal.
When powers to run tramways were given to municipalities, they had an open field and no competition, but in the present case, if municipalities are going into this new kind of trading enterprise, they will come into direct competition with established concerns run by individuals who have put all their savings into these omnibuses. It is going much too far to ask Parliament to facilitate anything of this kind. 2802 It can only result in one or two things; either the municipality will make a loss, in which case the ratepayers will have to bear it or, if they do not make a loss but are successful, they will inevitably kill private enterprise, which has been the pioneer in this matter. I think their rights should be safeguarded. Then my hon. Friend also referred to the powers given under the Bill to allow a municipality to trade outside its own area. He made very little of that power, but I think it has a very far-reaching effect. We are dealing with the Bill as it is not as what it may be after the House has considered it. And under the Bill as it stands what are the powers given to municipalities? Are they not unlimited? There are certain restrictions. The outside authority can say whether they want the municipal trading company to run their omnibuses in their own areas. They may object, but the municipality has the right of appeal to the Minister; and the Minister may say yes or no. He may say no if he thinks the powers asked for are unreasonable. But what does the word "unreasonable" mean? Can we apply it universally? One man may think a thing reasonable and another think it unreasonable.
§ Sir H. CUNLIFFE
I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood the Bill. It is not a question whether the Minister thinks the application is reasonable or not, but whether he thinks the consent of the authority in whose area another authority proposes to run its omnibuses is unreasonably withheld. That is quite different.
§ Mr. GRANT
The Bill says:The consent of such council shall not be withheld unreasonably and shall not be necessary if, in the opinion of the Minister, it is withheld unreasonably.It comes to this, if the consent of the municipality is unreasonably withheld he can override the decision of the local authority. That is undoubtedly what the Bill does. I do not say that the gentleman who occupies the position of Minister will be unreasonable, never intentionally unreasonable, but one Minister may be strongly against any extension of municipal trading and say no in every case, and another Minister may be in favour of municipal trading and think the objection of the outside authority unreasonable. The whole matter is in the 2803 hands of the Minister and I think that is entirely wrong.
What does this power to run outside its own area really mean? There is nothing to prevent a municipality running omnibuses all over England, and it may be that various municipalities will link up one with another. Is that proposal in contemplation? I ask hon. Members to think what that might mean. Take Liverpool, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds; if these municipalities had facilities for trading outside their own limits and linked up with one another the result would be that they would inevitably run private omnibuses off the roads, kill all private enterprise, and those people who have invested their money in this kind of trade would lose it. They cannot compete against a rate-aided competition of that kind. Is that fair and just I Private enterprise has done admirable work, it is the pioneer in this service, and I think it would be grossly improper if we passed a Bill which gave these facilities and powers to local authorities. Then it is a grave and serious matter to take away powers from the House of Commons. If this Bill is passed it would deprive the ratepayer of the protection which Parliament at present gives him. That surely is a big move. Is there any justification for it? I think the House would be well advised to prevent anything of that sort taking place. Parliament should retain the power that it now has in any question of the extension of municipal trading. It has been referred to as absurd that the municipalities should have to go to the large expense of coming to this House for powers when a private individual can get a licence for a few shillings and run an omnibus. It is not always or necessarily large expense for a municipality if its claim is reasonable. In any event the comparison of the two cases is not just, for they are not comparable. The private individual is risking his own money; he is going into a venture on his own account. On the other hand municipalities are not using their own money but the ratepayers' money. It is right, therefore, that they should come to this House and ask for permission to act.
There is another injustice in the Bill. Statutory companies which are now running undertakings, should they want to 2804 start an omnibus service to get them out of their difficulties, would have to come to Parliament and go through the whole procedure that is complained of. Why should there be a difference between a municipal authority and a statutory company?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the private company has no need to come to Parliament to ask for powers?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Gentleman looks further into the matter I think he will find that they have no need to come to Parliament for further powers if they once have statutory powers.
§ Mr. GRANT
A statutory company gets powers to do certain work, and it cannot go beyond those powers without coming to Parliament for sanction. In Clause 4, "Working and Other Agreements," there is a proposal to give quite unnecessary power to a municipality. That Clause means that a municipality may get an order and then be able to sell the right to run omnibuses to the highest bidder. Reference has been made to the question of licences. In most municipalities undoubtedly the municipality is the licensing authority. Under this Bill the municipality will be able to license itself and at the same time it will be the judge in applications for licences by its trading competitors. It is highly undesirable that a municipality should be the licensing authority and a trading authority, and at the same time should be in a judicial capacity in dealing with its trading competitors. I do not for a moment make a shadow of innuendo against the high integrity of the local authorities, but I do know what is human nature, and I think it is not unfair to say that some of the municipalities would not treat their trading competitors with undue favour.
I understand that the Government have a Bill prepared to regulate public services of vehicles and also to deal with the question of licensing authorities. That Bill seems to be the proper place in which to deal with this question. It is unfortunate that we should have a Bill of this 2805 sort before the House when a Bill of the Ministry is to come forward dealing with all these questions. I cannot pretend to be an expert on omnibus matters, but I hold that the Bill ought to be opposed. I sincerely hope that it will be rejected. I think it is an unfair Bill to private enterprise. I object to giving further facilities for municipal trading, and I strongly object to the powers granted under the Bill.
§ Colonel WOODCOCK
I beg to second the Amendment.
I listened carefully to the long speeches of the Proposer and Seconder of the Motion for Second Reading of the Bill. The Seconder takes no responsibility for the parentage of the Bill. He does not seem to know whence it has come, and the Proposer has no lawful interest in it, judging by his speech. What I want to know is, who is looking after this Bill?
§ Mr. RADFORD
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman entitled to make a statement of that kind? I am sure that he has no authority for it. My name is on the back of the Bill as introduced, and I could do nothing more.
§ Colonel WOODCOCK
I was referring to the speech of the Proposer. He said nothing about the parentage of the Bill, although his name is on the back of the Bill. The Seconder of the Bill refuses altogether any connection with the parentage. I want to know whence the promoters of the Bill come. My waste paper basket during the whole of this week has been pretty full of contributions of papers supporting this Bill as far as possible. There is a great deal of anxiety that the Bill should go through, but I hope that this side of the House will regard it as a municipal trading Bill which should be opposed in very possible way. The Seconder told us that it had nothing to do with private enterprise and nothing to do with Socialism, that it is a mere matter of procedure. He read from a list of objections to the Bill. I think that that the whole of the objections he put forward were mere legal quibbles. I hold that the Bill is a direct incentive to further expansion of the powers of municipal trading throughout the country. Hon. Members opposite I am sure will support the principle of the 2806 Bill, but I am opposed to any extension of municipal trading in this direction.
This Bill has been adopted and blessed by the Association of Municipal Corporations. That association is largely influenced by municipal officials, and it is to their interest to push municipal trading to its furthest possible extent. They are not going to check municipal trading, but are rather prepared to stifle private interests. The more private interest is stifled, and the more municipal trading is advanced, the greater and more important will be the work of municipal officials and their associations. There is a growing tendency in this country to extend municipal trading in many ways which are quite illegitimate, outside the scope of the proper work of a Corporation, and outside the legitimate scope of municipal powers. Recently, in many Bills put forward by Corporations, small additional things are being introduced for the extension of municipal trading, and only last week a proposal had to be rejected which sought powers to introduce a municipal bank. [HON. MEMBERS: "Birmingham."] Birmingham is the sole instance of a municipal bank, and that bank was founded in special circumstances-during the War, and was in a position to create a special atmosphere for itself. It is successful because of the special circumstances which would not obtain in other municipalities.
I contend that grave political and economic consequences may follow from the monopolies which are being conferred on municipalities. If we are to allow Corporation monopolies and State trading to stifle private enterprise we are going to place the handicap of very unjust and unfair competition on those who are endeavouring to do good work for the country and for the municipal areas. The Mover of the Amendment has referred to the handicap on private enterprise caused by the fact that it has to use its own capital, while a Corporation can use the municipal capital, and if there is a loss on its undertaking it simply goes on to the rates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Borrowed capital."] Private enterprise uses capital which is borrowed with consent of the shareholders, but that differs from the capital obtained by a Corporation, and is used in competition against private enterprise. If there is a loss in connection with the private enterprise the individuals 2807 or the company bear the loss, whereas in the other case the loss is simply put on the rates. It has been said that municipal enterprise has been very successful with omnibuses. There are four instances of completed figures of last year which show losses—£4,000 in Middlesbrough; in West Hartlepool over £3,000; in Lincoln £1,290, and in Lancaster £840.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
Will the hon. and gallant Member tell us whether those figures include contributions to the five years sinking fund?
§ Colonel WOODCOCK
Every municipality must provide for interest and sinking fund. Omnibuses do not last for ever, and one of the dangers of municipal trading is that the sinking fund does not always carry the life of a omnibus or of a tram. I have given authentic figures from the year book which shows the comparative statistics in these cases. In Lincoln the figure of £1,290 represents about a penny rate on the town. The whole population of Lincoln, whether they use omnibuses or not, will have to pay a penny rate for the people who do use them. [HON. MEMBERS: "A good investment."] It may be a good investment for the people who use the omnibuses, but it is an unfortunate investment for those who have nothing to do with the omnibuses. In reference to the powers which this Bill is going to give for the running of omnibuses to different areas, those who have any connection with municipal authorities know how these powers are administered. The power of granting licences for running omnibuses is gene rally delegated to the Watch Committees of the various towns. The Watch Committees may reject any private enterprise which wishes to run omnibuses unless it fits in entirely with their own scheme. That is unfair competition. I know an appeal can be made to the Minister of Transport, but in nine cases out of ten the Minister is forced by circumstances to support the municipal authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."]
§ The MINISTER OF TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)
I cannot accept the statement that I am forced to support the municipal authorities in these cases. It is often a difficult matter to decide, but 2808 I do what I can to hold the balance equally between the two parties, and I have overridden local authorities.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I rise to a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. How many of the authorities have defied the Minister?
§ Colonel WOODCOCK
I withdraw the remark about forcing, but I have known of cases where the Minister has had to give a decision, and where, as he has said just now, it is a very difficult matter to decide. When on one side there are authorities which are undoubtedly possessed of greater powers, it throws upon the Minister a responsibility of decision which ought not to be thrown upon him. I have said that the power of licensing is generally delegated to Watch Committees, who have to decide whether a private enterprise is to run its omnibuses in competition with trams or municipal omnibuses, and they cannot possibly look at the matter in the same way as an unbiassed tribunal would look at it.
Then, again, unless the Minister himself does so, what is there to stop a corporation like Gloucester from starting to run omnibuses by municipal enterprise right through to Birmingham in the North or right through to Exeter in the South. I grant it is necessary to get permission from the authorities of the areas through which the omnibuses run, but if they got that permission they could run omnibuses everywhere in competition with every small private enterprise which Has been doing good service in linking up villages and towns. They could smash up private enterprise in this respect altogether simply by getting permission of other local authorities to run their omnibuses. It is true there would be an appeal to the Minister of Transport, but it would be a very difficult matter for him to decide.
Municipal trading has not proved a great benefit in connection with omnibuses. It is not an essential service like water or gas or electricity. They can be run equally well by private enterprise, who give the same service, get the same efficiency, and probably, as they do, run at a profit instead of at a loss. I have had 20 years' experience on municipal authorities, and I have never known a committee run a municipal trading enterprise as well as a board of directors could 2809 do. They are not in the same position. They are handicapped in a very different way from a beard of directors. It has been said that if a committee, instead of one man, had had to build the Ark, it would never have been built to this day. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not know that it was built by one man."] The same thing applies to municipal enterprise. If you allow councils to run omnibuses, you will never get continuity of work, because there is no responsibility for losses, and there are no shareholders to meet. They simply have to take the rates from the corporation, as they do with municipal trams and omnibuses in many towns.
I hope the Bill will not be allowed a Second Reading, as I think it would do a great deal of harm, give a great deal too many powers to local authorities, and stifle private enterprise, a great deal of which in this motor omnibus work has been started and built up by ex-service men, who have put the whole of their capital into it. [Interruption.] I know that some hon. Members opposite have very little sympathy with these poor ex-service men, many of whom up and down the country have put the whole of their capital into this motor omnibus business, and if they are going to have this Bill passed to-day they will have before them the possibility of losing all the capital they have put up. I hope every hon. Member, on this side specially, will look at this Bill simply as an effort to force municipal trading one step further. It will do away with a great deal of private enterprise, and give far too many powers to the local authorities, which opportunities for municipal trading should be sought through this House and the capital obtained by permission of this House before ventures of this sort can be carried out.
§ Sir H. CUNLIFFE
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down suggested that I had invented the reasons with which I dealt in detail, and that I had put them up for the purpose of knocking them down. I am sorry I did not explain to the House that the reasons were not my reasons, but the formulated reasons of the Conference of Tramway and Light Railway Companies, which were sent to me among other reasons why I should 2810 vote against the Bill. They were not my reasons at all.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Before I put the question to the House, will the House allow me to make an appeal? Four speakers, only have taken up nearly two hours, and as there are a great many hon. Members who want to speak on this Bill, I hope that subsequent speakers will have regard to their fellow hon. Members who want to be heard.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I am sorry that the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Everton (Colonel Woodcock) has turned so much on the relative merits of private enterprise and municipal trading. We, on this side of the House, could, of course, say a great deal on that subject, but it would not help us much in connection with this Measure. The Bill, in fact, does not, as the Mover and Seconder have told us, take us into those relative merits; but if it were necessary to say a word or two on that point, I think the arguments would be all in favour of the municipal authorities. I would say in passing only this, that I fail to understand the mentality of hon. Members opposite, who seem to regard a municipality as if it were a mighty, furious beast from the forest, ready to devour everybody, whereas, as a matter of fact, a municipality is the whole of the people living in the district, and hon. Members themselves, in some town or other, form part of a municipality. I fail, therefore, to understand their point of view in that connection.
I feel sure I can speak with confidence' on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the House when I say that we will support this' Measure. We shall vote for it, but not because it raises the issue of municipalisation. That point was raised by the Seconder of the Motion to reject the Bill. With regard to the limitations imposed on local authorities. I am very sorry that those limitations are included. I cannot understand why, for example, if local authorities are to be allowed to run omnibuses, they should not be allowed also to build them. I understand that some local authorities are already building tramcars; and if it is right to give them power to run omnibuses, surely they ought to have power to build them too, for their own use. The Bill has another 2811 limitation about which I am not at all clear. Perhaps the Minister of Transport will explain this point to the House when he speaks. I have gathered from documents which have been issued in relation to this Measure that it confirms certain principles which have been laid down by the Local Legislation Committee upstairs, on applications that have been before them. I am not sure of my ground there though I served for 12 months on the Local Legislation Committee. When that Committee accepted a principle on applications from local authorities, that principle, when it was adopted by very many authorities ultimately became applicable in general to all local authorities, and I thought this Bill would give that advantage in the way I have suggested.
The Bill has a further limitation; that is, that it would not operate in London. The contest as between municipal authorities and private enterprise has been raised to-day. Strangely enough, we have a very interesting Report in today's Press, namely, the annual Report of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London. In that Report there is reference to what they call subsidiary companies. Hon. Members who have opposed this Bill would like the House to believe that the contest always lies between the private omnibus owner and the municipality as omnibus owner, but in London that is not the case. In London the fight is in fact between the small owner and the big one; and if it he proper for the London Underground Electric Railway Company to build omnibuses and run them on the streets of London, it is equally correct for the municipality which runs trams to extend its operations by running omnibuses as well, and by building them too.
I feel sure that the ratepayers of this country will not thank the hon. Member for the insinuation he made that they are not competent to deal with the finances of their own towns. Having been on a municipal authority myself for 10 years, I also resent the insinuation made that the officials of those corporations who are backing this Bill are doing it on their own and for selfish motives. It is nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, the local authorities of this land have sufficient power over their officials to com- 2812 pel them to do what the authorities desire them to do.
I feel sure that the Minister of Transport will bless this Bill. If he does not, I shall be surprised, because the local authorities not only desire to extend their operations to the running of omnibuses; they want to do something else. In some cases they desire, as I understand, to take up the old tramways. I know of one case where that has been done, where the tramways were deemed to be out-of-date, and it was decided that omnibuses ought to run instead. I hope the Minister will enlighten the House on the point as to whether, if this Bill becomes law, it will be competent for local authorities to remove tramways from the street, take up the lines, and run omnibuses instead, because, as far as I understand, omnibuses are very much easier to handle than tramcars in the streets of some of our great cities.
I trust the House will not be drawn on to the lines of the contest between municipal and private enterprise. This is, after all, a business Measure. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), I think, is backing this Bill. Some time ago he did the country a good piece of service by bringing in a Measure which included principles passed from time to time by the Local Legislation Committee of this House, and embodied them in an Act of Parliament. This Bill, I believe, is carrying us just a step further on the same lines contained in the Measure we passed at the instigation of the hon. Member for Grimsby last year.
In conclusion, I would point out to hon. Members on the other side who are afraid of municipal trading, as some appear to be, that they may take it for granted that the municipal authorities can and do perform tasks of this kind better, more efficiently, and cleaner than private enterprise can. That has been proved over and over again, and all the arguments we have heard to-day against this Bill were used 40 years ago in this House against public authorities in regard to elementary and secondary schools, against public parks, public libraries, tramways, and gas undertakings. When we come to the discussion of the Report of the Royal Commission on the coal business, there is a recommendation that the municipalities undertake the selling of coal to the community. The same arguments will be heard, I 2813 suppose, against the distribution of coal as we heard against gas, electricity and this Bill. I would ask the House to give to the municipalities the same rights as private companies have. This Bill is not an attack upon private enterprise. It is a measure to shield municipalities from the attacks of private enterprise. I hope, therefore, the Bill will secure a Second Reading, and when my hon. Friends who are in charge of the Bill take it upstairs, as I feel sure they will be entitled to do after this Debate, I want them not to give way too quickly to those people who have selfish interests to serve. I stand for the municipalities, because the whole community is surely entitled to get for itself those advantages which private enterprise has always secured.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I confess that after the speeches of my two hon. Friends the Mover and the Seconder, I began to think that the Bill was a small one, and that there was very little in it, but, owing to the continued approval of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, I cannot help thinking that there may be more in the Bill than appears on the surface. Be that as it may, I am not, after your appeal, Mr. Speaker, going to detain the House for more than five minutes, but I should like shortly to explain the provisions of the Bill as they appear to me. In the first place, in answer to the question of the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies), supposing this Bill became law in its present form, subject, of course, to small changes of procedure, would it be possible for a municipality to scrap tramways if they so desired and substitute omnibuses? My answer is, Yes, it would be, subject to the municipality getting an order from the Minister of Transport authorising them to take up their tramway. If they got that order, they could carry on an omnibus service in lieu of their tramway.
§ Mr. PALIN
Is it suggested that this Bill would relieve the tramway authority of the obligations placed upon them by the Tramways Act of 1870?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Member will appreciate that it is very difficult for me to carry all the Acts in my mind, but I understand that if an order be obtained 2814 from the Minister to enable the local authority to discontinue functioning their tramway, they can carry on an omnibus service in lieu of that tramway. May I put to the House what the position is with reference to private and municipal enterprise at the present time? Let us take what is called private enterprise. If a private company wants to start in business as a tramway authority, it can come to Parliament if it so wishes and get a Bill, but usually it goes to the Minister, and gets an order under the Light Railways Act, which enables it to start its enterprise. If a municipality wants to do the same thing, it is exactly in the same position as the private enterprise, and can get an order from the Minister under the Light Railways Act. Therefore, so far as municipal enterprise and private enterprise in regard to tramways are concerned, they are absolutely on an equality. When we come to omnibuses, the position is different. If a private individual or private company wants to start running omnibuses, all that the individual or company has got to do is to find the money to buy the omnibuses, and then apply to the local authority for a licence. That licence is usually given. If it is not given, then the private company or private individual has a right to appeal to the Minister against the refusal of the local authority to issue a licence. That is the difficult position in which the Minister is often put. My hon. Friend opposite knows all about the position in which I am put when the local authority has refused to obey the order of the Minister, and there is, possibly, a chance of the dispute emerging in the Law Courts with, I hope, successful results to the Minister.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Has the right hon. Gentleman ever applied for a mandamus, or can he himself issue a licence over-ruling the local authority?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I cannot issue a licence by myself. It has to be issued by the local authority, and the mandamus would usually be applied for by the aggrieved party. The matter would then rest between the mayor of the borough and the high court. At any rate, we all agree that it is a hard and not a very pleasant duty which is placed upon the Minister, if he wishes to arrive at a fair decision in difficult circumstances. Private enterprise, broadly speaking, is in 2815 a somewhat different position to the local authority, as I have endeavoured to describe. The private company differs from the municipality in that the latter, if it wants to start omnibuses has to come here, and go through the whole procedure of a Private Bill with its expense and delays. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong; but I am only trying to put to the House the position as it exists and, if possible, to make clear what we are discussing. Private enterprise on the other hand simply goes to the authority, gets a licence, and having enough money to start the omnibuses proceeds to run them. I should like the House further to understand that this Bill only applies to those municipalities which already have got what is called passenger service powers, that is to say, which have already got powers to run tramways, trolley vehicle routes, or omnibuses, so this is not starting any new function, so to speak, in the locality. If hon. Members will turn to Clause 7 of the Bill they will see that Sub-section (2), dealing with the expression "local authority" defines it as:Any joint board or joint committee which includes in its constitution representatives of the Council of a Borough or Urban District.If such Council, Board or Committee shall have been authorised to provide, work or run tramways, trolley vehicle routes or omnibuses—and so on. This definition of "local authority" is applied in the first portion of the Clause. Therefore, the Bill only applies to municipalities or to the local authorities who have already got authority to run tramways, trolley vehicle routes, or omnibuses.
§ Major SALMON
Why, may I ask, is it necessary if the local authority have already authority to run omnibuses for them to go to the Ministry for authority to run omnibuses?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It is necessary for this reason. Statutory bodies having already got these powers which I am describing, the powers to run passenger services, but certain of these local authorities have only power to run omnibuses over restricted routes instead of covering the whole municipal area.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am just coming to that point. The real point in respect to that will be found in Clause 1 which says:and may also run the same without their district along any road which is an extension of or in connexion with any tramway, trolley vehicle, route or omnibus route for the time being owned, run over or worked by the local authority.That is, with the consent of the local authority concerned. I am glad that my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Second Reading have indicated that they desire that there should be some Amendment by way of more Parliamentary control inserted in Committee, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading It is quite true that at the present time the Minister of Transport can authorise tramways, public or private, without consulting Parliament. These are big powers, and one may not want to extend them. I sympathise with the position of private Members in this respect, and would, if I was in their position, be in favour of Amendment. Let us by all means in the case the burden of investigation and the burden of decision upon the Minister, but when he has made up his mind let that decision be subject to the review of the House of Commons. Therefore, my suggestion would be that there should be substituted for an Order, a Special Order by the Minister; this could be discussed and approved by the House. If you substitute for the-provisions of this Bill either a provisional Order or a Special Order, so that the Order cannot come into force until both Houses of Parliament have some opportunity of giving definite expression to their views on the matter, I think that would be well. It would be a safeguard.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
Would the right hon. Gentleman state how far the procedure in this Bill is different from that under the Light Railways Act.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The proposal of the Bill is to place municipal enterprise more on the same footing of private enterprise. The municipality that desires to run omnibuses has to come to Parliament for a Bill whereas a private company can start its enterprise without going to the Minister or Parliament.
I hope I have made a rather complicated Bill fairly clear to the House. I do not think I am called upon, or 2817 indeed that it would be wise, to express a definite opinion on its merits. Friday afternoon is recognised by the House as one of the appropriate occasions on which private Members should usually discuss a Bill and come to a conclusion unfettered by any expression of opinion from the Government—that the less interference there is the better. After the very able speeches, if I may respectfully say so, of both the mover and the seconder of the Bill, and of the hon. Members who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill, I think the House can perfectly well appreciate the position and can come to a decision. If I asked the House to reject the Bill the House might well say "Here is a Minister who, because certain powers are going to be placed in his hands, does not want the trouble of administering them." I might be described as being disinclined to undertake any more work. On the other hand, if I asked the House to pass the Bill, I might receive the criticism "Here is this autocratic man, this bureaucrat, wanting to have more power placed in his hands and to do things without the consent of the House of Commons." My last words are these: It certainly seems to me that it will be an improvement on the Bill as originally brought in if we accept the suggestions made by my two hon. Friends that in place of the' power the Bill confers on the Minister to issue an Order without control there should be substituted either a Provisional Order or a Special Order, which will be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament before it comes into operation.
§ Mr. PALIN
It is not because of its revolutionary character that I welcome this Bill, because it may be voted for with an easy conscience by the most die-hard Tory. It is not a Socialist measure. It merely goes a little way towards straightening out the tangle we have got into with regard to provincial transport services. It places a municipality in a fairer position as regards the control of its own streets, which in many places are rapidly becoming as congested and as dangerous as are the streets of London. Unless municipalities are given more powers in this direction the centres of our larger cities will become very difficult to negotiate. Since 1870 Parliament has entrusted the municipalities with the con- 2818 trol of their own transport system. I join issue with the Minister of Transport when he says this Measure may possibly relieve a municipality of some of the obligations laid upon it by the Act of 1870. I cannot see any provision in this Bill which repeals any section of that Act, and I venture to say that if it did repeal that section of the Act of 1870 which placed upon a transport operating authority the obligation to remove lines and make good the streets when it ceased to co-operate a tramway the municipalities would be asking the Minister of Transport to oppose this Bill. I think the Minister will be advised, when he goes further into the matter, that the principle of the Act of 1870 still remains unimpaired.
From 1870 up to the present time municipalities have invested upwards of £71,000,000 in transport systems. That is a large sum to be at stake, and it is at stake, and if the advice of the hon. Members who have opposed this Measure were to be taken it would not only mean that that sum would be seriously jeopardised but, in addition, a great deal of capital invested in the generating stations which supply electricity to these transport systems. Further there are 55,000 adult workers employed by these systems. When hon. Members talk about the ex-service man who has been able to save enough money to invest in an omnibus finding his livelihood at stake, will they remember that nearly two-thirds of these 55,000 tramway men are ex-service men, and just as much entitled to consideration as the exceptional ex-service man who has been able to acquire an interest in an omnibus. However, that is not the point; I do not know how far it applies in London, but I do not think it applies to the extent to which we are led to believe; and it does not apply so far as municipalities are concerned. I have been interested in this matter for something like 25 years and in the provinces, at any rate, it is not the case of the individual omnibus owner at all. Those who want to run omnibuses in the large towns at the present time are large and wealthy omnibus companies, and, where a municipality can do it without jeopardising the interests of the ratepayers, very big powers have been given to them. Talk about an octopus: Take the case of the West Riding Omnibus Company, 2819 with whom, at present, there is a dispute about running into Bradford. They run pretty well all over the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in some of the smaller towns they create a nuisance by the unrestricted way in which they use streets which, by reason of the gradients or width, are unsuitable for omnibus traffic. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Grant), put forth a most impudent claim on the part of the omnibus companies. The hon. Members who introduced this Bill, and we who speak in favour of it, are just as much entitled to speak for our constituents and the people as he is entitled to speak on behalf of the omnibus companies.
It was suggested that the city which I represent, Newcastle, has lost £39,000 on its motor omnibuses. That is a travesty of the facts. It illustrates very well the position those gentlemen who are opposing the Bill desire to get us into. What are the facts? There was a decrepit, broken-down, miserable private omnibus service which was not giving the people the facilities they desired. Did the municipality at once put on the road a fleet of up-to-date omnibuses, without application to anyone and without getting powers from the Ministry of Transport, and run those poor ex-service men off the road? No, they did nothing of the kind. They went to these people and said, "What do you value your concern at?" paid them a reasonable price for these decrepit omnibuses which the people were sick of, and they scrapped them. Then they purchased the up-to-date omnibuses which the people require and put them on the road. Therefore as far as that is concerned it was not a loss, but even if it had been a loss it was incurred, not by instituting a municipal omnibus service, but in being kind and gentle to private enterprise. If it was a loss it was incurred by the desire to be fair and reasonable to those who had invested their capital in endeavouring to provide a public service. Some of the aspersions which have been cast upon Municipal Corporations Association would be worthy of notice but for the fact that they are not true. The representations on the Municipal Corporations Association and the Municipal Tramways Association is two public representatives to one official. It has been represented that these Associations consist of officials 2820 who had a direct personal and pecuniary interest in the matter. One could make those silly charges with regard to those who were opposing this Measure, and it might be suggested that they had shares in some omnibus company. I trust that the nonsense which has been talked with regard to this Bill will not be taken very seriously. Even the Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) talked very foolishly about pulling up tramways and substituting omnibuses, because no such thing is likely to take place. What is actually happening now is that in our large towns the population is moving out from the slums more into the outskirts, and they want means of transport. The municipality has provided transport for its main arteries, and now they desire to bring the people along those main arteries which they want to connect with the outskirts of the town.
In many instances new villages are springing up due, perhaps, to new collieries having been opened. Often a municipality which has started a transport system has experienced difficulties in the first instance, but has afterwards made the system a remunerative concern, and they ought to have an opportunity of catering for their traffic. I have a vivid recollection of the early history of private enterprise in regard to urban transport. In Manchester, Glasgow and all our large cities the private companies generally select only the main arteries of traffic and ignore the public convenience, and in that way they were able to make larger profit. On the other hand, the municipality has to consider first of all public convenience, and that is how it should be. As a matter of fact, where there is a large public company such as is the case in London providing up-to-date vehicles, the needs of the people would not require the public authority to undertake such a service, and it is because private enterprise has failed to give these services that this Measure is necessary.
This Bill, apart from the fact that it gives a municipality power which will relieve a very large responsibility from the Ministry of Transport, will straighten out some difficulties created by the Road Act, but it will still subject the local authorities to the very onerous terms laid down by the Municipal Tramways Act of 1870. I hope the Minister will be able to agree to a pro- 2821 posal for relieving the tramway authorities of the very great responsibility of maintaining the roads for a width of 18 inches on either side of the lines. We shall have to take this Bill simply as a Measure of more efficient and simple transport and a Measure of economy, and if it can be proved after it has been examined by a microscope by the private companies that these defects are present, surely they can be thrashed out in Committee, or otherwise the objections are not worthy of examination. Personally I shall vote for the Bill, and I trust it will be carried. If the Measure is adopted I think the House will have done a very wise thing, because this Measure will remove a good many obstacles from which municipalities are suffering at the present time, and will give the people a more efficient transport system than they are getting to-day.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
There is a very important principle involved in this Measure which ought not to be decided by the procedure adopted in the case of a private Member's Bill on a Friday. The Minister for Transport has drawn a picture showing that many municipalities are unfairly handicapped as compared with private enterprise in initiating motor omnibus services. For the moment I thought there was some weight in the way the right hon. Gentleman put that argument, but surely that handicap applies to every other form of industry. Any private individual or any body of individuals can become associated with someone else in the formation of a limited or an unlimited liability company, and they can start any enterprise as long as it it legal and not contrary to public morality. They could even start shipping or, indeed, any occupation mankind engages in, and they do not need any permission from any Minister whatever.
On the other hand, when you come to a municipality starting an enterprise of any kind they have to come to Parliament for a charter of some kind. The fundamental reason for that is this. The private individual or the limited company is dealing with people who have voluntarily and freely come together, ex proprio moto, sending in their application forms, receiving their allotment letters, investing their money with their eyes open, and without any compulsion embarking in these enterprises; and in a great many 2822 cases they lose their hard-earned savings. We have a great many who lose their earnings in bogus companies promoted from the other side of the Channel. That is the fundamental difference.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
These people come together voluntarily and put up their own money, and they are under the risk of losing it. But when you come to deal with public funds, with the ratepayers' or the taxpayers' money, then you act in a fiduciary capacity. You become a trustee. The directors of a company, within limits, are in a fiduciary capacity, but those who invest voluntarily submit themselves to their jurisdiction, whereas a ratepayer seldom has any choice. He is in the area or the district. I regret to say that most ratepayers do not take anything like the interest that they should in local government, and there is something to be said for a Bill to compel them to vote, because the representatives of the people in a great number of cases represent their indifference more than anything else. That is why Parliament has always made it difficult for these people in that fiduciary capacity to have the right to put their hands into the public local exchequer and expend money on any service without express authority and without investigation and inquiry to, see whether it is a proper and necessary public service.
I am one of those who believe that if the country is to prosper the less interference there is either by Parliament or local authorities the better. The more freedom you have for the individual the better. Therefore, I always look with considerable apprehension on any proposal that is going to strengthen or amplify the powers of elected representatives in controlling their fellow-citizens. When you come to a commercial issue, the probability is that the elected representatives are not business men with any commercial knowledge at all. An elected representative may be a professional man like myself, though I profess to have had very considerable commercial experience. He may be a man who has never been engaged in any commercial enterprise, though he may be capable of giving utterance to fine public sentiments. He may be of great oratorical capacity, but 2823 he may not have the commercial capacity to run a small hen farm. Such a man may get into control and get on to a tramways committee, and of course there is no more fascinating task than that of disposing of other people's money, especially if you can say that you are doing it for the public good. But it is a very dangerous power to give, because one cannot have any guarantee whatever that the locally elected representatives in any municipality are men of some commercial knowledge or business experience. Very often, the capacity for success in public life which many people have is almost prima facie evidence of not having any capacity for anything else. I have always been very much of the belief that when a man can express himself particularly well in speech it is almost prima facie evidence that he is very little use for any other purpose, and I think experience justifies that view.
It is said that this Bill applies only to those who already have transport powers. Why have they these powers? They were not forced to run omnibuses. If omnibuses had been in existence in 1870—and they would have been in existence though not the present expensive motor omnibuses long before 1870 but for foolish legislation—nobody would ever have bothered to lay down tramlines. They are a foolish anachronism as they stand. It is a very sad thing to travel down from Glasgow to Airdrie in those new omnibuses provided by private enterprise and pass the Glasgow Corporation trams like a lot of tombstones along the road. It was a most magnificiently organised system of tramways and it would have been all right if the Glasgow Corporation had confined itself to the City boundaries, such was the care and success with which it was done. It was a colossal success. But, unfortunately, just as this Bill proposes to empower other corporations to do, they went outside their own boundaries and bought up all the tramway systems on which they could lay their hands, and these are all proving white elephants. They raised loans, I believe, for the purpose of purchasing them, and, as an old friend of all in Glasgow, I feel very sorry that they did not allow these other corporations to "dree their ain weird." If there had been omnibuses in those days, no tramways would have been started.
2824 Tramways are essentially a monopoly. They run on a rail like a railway, and, if you give that monopoly, you cannot give it absolutely and unrestricted. Therefore under the Act of 1870, power was always reserved to the Corporations to buy them and ultimately most of them did. It was just because of that very fact that local authorities got these tramway systems. If they had not been monopolies, if they had had the freedom of the open road as the motor omnibuses have, I doubt very much whether they would have got power to run them or whether they would have thought it wise to do so. I am perfectly sure that they would not. In 1870, however, they were restricted, except as modified from time to time by Act of Parliament. I believe that in one or two cases they have slipped through and got these powers for an extension, and I believe there are one or two corporations that have power to go beyond their boundaries, but this proposal is to give that power to every corporation. You might just as well give them the power to run railways from one station to another; if they are to have the one power, there is no reason why they should not have the other, or why, with some future development of aviation, they should not seek powers to run an aviation service. An hon. Member opposite asks, "Why not?" Of course, hon. Members opposite believe there is nothing like letting elected persons have control of the ratepayers' and taxpayers' money, but if that goes on too far it will eventually reach a stage in this country when there will be no industrious population to provide these bodies with money to spend.
This is a very extreme proposal. It says that they:May run the same without their districts along any road which is am extension of or in connection with any tramway, trolley vehicle route or omnibus route.That might mean that the Corporation of Land's End might run a service to John o'Groats. The tendency is for these things to grow because all officials, like all government Departments, follow the principle of St. Paul when he exclaimed:I magnify mine office.They all like to develop, and to keep on developing. It is the same with insurance companies and other great concerns which spread their wings over all parts of the world. I am not blaming them. The Ministry of Transport is in the same 2825 position; I noticed it running all through the Minister's speech. It would be better if his Department were put more in its place. I notice that the head of his Department is continually going about to public dinners and so on, and making speeches extolling the tramways as a necessary part of our system, whereas he knows perfectly well that they will have to be pulled up sooner or later. They are a curse to the towns in which they are. You cannot get past the cars which block up the streets if they stop. The result is that the streets are congested, and are only half the width they should be, as the result of these antiquated and out of date contrivances.
This is an attempt to bring in by a side-wind quite a new issue, and to give municipalities and public authorities the right to blossom all over the land with fresh commercial enterprise, at the dictum of the Ministry of Transport, which, of course, means Government officials, subject to a certain amount of supervision by the Government of the day. For my part, I do not believe in allowing the Ministry of Transport so much liberty, but, as we are not discussing the Ministry of Transport, I cannot now say why. I think, however, that the sooner it is put into the position of other Ministries the better it will be. I do not believe in giving it power to say how the ratepayers' money may be invested, even to a limited extent.
I may say that I am not looking at this matter from the point of view of the owner of omnibuses. I have nothing to do with any private omnibus company. I once assisted a man in a matter of that kind, but he has gone away and left it. I once took an academic interest in the matter, but I have no interest in any tramway or omnibus enterprise or anything of the kind, and, therefore, I am speaking solely in the public interest. It is the public interest alone that should be considered, and that is why I quarrel with all these municipalities who are engaged in private trading in tramways, and who are now sitting down and wringing their hands and saying, "Look what has happened. A new invention has come on the face of the globe, making all our capital obsolete, and we are going to lose all this money that we have sunk in our tramways." That is the whole difference between municipal enterprise and 2826 private enterprise. When private enterprise loses its capital, it says nothing about it; it goes away as quietly as possible. It is like those gentlemen who engage in turf adventures—they tell you about their winnings, but they never say anything about their losses. Private enterprise, when it loses its capital, does not squeal. But in the case of a corporation, if they were engaged in providing light by means of oil lamps, they would endeavour to get legislation to prevent the use of electric light or gas. They will not submit to the ordinary vicissitudes of commercial life.
This proposal is a mere plan to save tramway system, and it will plunge the ratepayers deeper and deeper in the mire. If it were a proposal that the municipalities should have the right to pull up the tramways and substitute omnibuses within their own area, there might be something to be said for it, but it is not; it is an attempt to have another shot at trying to save capital which, if it were in a private business, would be looked upon as lost. There is one company which supplies the whole of the East of Scotland, and there is no corporation enterprise or municipal enterprise, that has ever been run as well as that private enterprise, as regards the style of the omnibuses, the cheapness of the fares, the splendid courtesy of the attendants, and the absolute freedom from labour disputes. You would need to go to the United States to find anything similar. It is enterprises like this that are going to be cut into by this municipal attempt to save an industry like the tramway industry, which is pretty well collapsed.
This dangerous proposal is one of very wide scope. It is not as it was in the days when many of these tramway enterprises were started, and when there was no one with sufficient enterprise to take them up. One of the reasons why tramway enterprises in 1870 were not taken up to any extent by private enterprise was the pre-exemption Clauses that were contained in the Act of 1870. People felt that they could not take up these enterprises because some day, when they had been made a success, the greedy paw of the municipality would come in and try to get them for its own. That is what paralysed a great deal of the private enterprise then, and I think it would have 2827 been much better if these pre-exemption Clauses had not been put into the Act. Some people consider it right to frown private enterprise as a means for providing these services, but you will get far more waste in municipal service than ever you do in private. There is far more nepotism. There is always tremendous wastage of labour. Take the London County Council trams. You will get an inspector for every hundred yards. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is no way of dealing with it. Every man who is in a position of authority brings in all his friends and relations and there is no way of checking it. Of course, if they have the ratepayers' money at the back of them while they are competing with private enterprise they may be to some extent guided by the usual business principles, but once they have exterminated private enterprise away it goes. That is the danger of this proposal. It is a new proposal. It is allowing municipalities, not to keep to their own bit of ground and their own streets and their own enterprise, but to spread broadcast, and it is utterly unsound. It is a principle that has no right to be in a Bill of this kind and the appeal to the Ministry of Transport is no protection at all, because even if you allow them to come back to the House one knows how busy the House is at all times. It is no protection to the rural areas or to the ratepayers.
You can travel from one end of Great Britain to the other in the cheapest possible fashion by the present system of motor omnibuses. I know in the London area all omnibus owners have to take out third party risks, and I hope it is the same in the country. It ought to be. Perhaps the Minister of Transport can tell us. There might be further inspection, though most of the motor traffic is carried through with extraordinary safety. If you were going to add to the amount of employment there might be something to be said for it, but you are not. If you are going to set up rival institutions to what already exists you are putting one set of men out of employment and another in. You are putting out the ex-service man who is driving an omnibus and putting in a municipal tramway driver. I should be prepared to assist municipal trams to get relieved of some of the heavy obligations put upon 2828 them. I should also be pleased to see an increase on some of the heavy vehicles that go about with solid tyres, damaging the highways, without paying their fair share, but the pneumatic tyre people are paying a very heavy subsidy. The ordinary omnibus pays something like £84. It is no use to say they escape with too small payments. When you have an omnibus system that enters a town special provisions are put in that double fares shall be charged within the town area. The Scotch company has to charge double fares. When you have the thing admirably supplied, as it is supplied, there is no necessity whatever for this Measure. It is a mere Socialistic attempt—I do not care from which bench it comes—to add to the desire which seems to be universal in a large section of the community to experiment and speculate with the money of the ratepayer and the taxpayer, and without that due fiduciary sense which should prevent it being done.
§ Mr. COMPTON
I support the Bill for several reasons. One is my own experience, because I have for many years served on the third largest municipal tramway undertaking in the country. At the same time, I should like to make one or two criticisms regarding the method. It seems to me to be limited in its operation. I should have welcomed a much bigger and more comprehensive Bill, because I feel that even under it, if passed in its present form, the municipalities will still have to go through the costly procedure of going upstairs to a Committee in order to get the needs of their particular districts satisfied, and, therefore, satisfy the members of the profession to which the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) belongs. The mover of the rejection referred to the book-keeping methods of municipalities that own their own tramways. I think that was rather an unfair statement to make against public servants who are not here to defend themselves. The book-keeping methods of municipalities are laid down very definitely by the Ministry of Transport, and they are in the form prescribed, and I have yet to learn of a single tramway district which has been called into question by the Ministry with regard to the method in which they keep and present their accounts. The statement was rather unfair, and should not 2829 have been made. The seconder of the rejection cast some doubt upon the Bill receiving public support. It has not only received the support of the Municipal Tramways Association, but of the members of the various councils which have been concerned in the promotion of what they regard as a much needed measure in connection with their transport. The seconder of the rejection referred to the fact that local authorities outside big provincial cities might not look favourably on omnibuses running into their district. In Manchester, the Tramways Committee, of which I have been a member for many years, supply 16 outside authorities. Heaven help the community residing in those outside places if Manchester did not provide transport service for their needs.
It has been said that private enterprise will be ruined if this Bill becomes law. I can remember when municipalities were forced to take up the question of transport in the interests of the community generally, and if private enterprise has done well, as the hon. Member opposite says, it has done well out of the community and it cannot grumble at the community doing for itself what private enterprise cannot so successfully do for it. -That has been the position with regard to our municipal trading as we find it at present. There is a far bigger aspect of this question that that of municipal trading. There is the question of the competition existing to-day between private enterprise companies and the danger to the communities as a whole. We on these Benches are more concerned with that than the question of municipal versus private enterprise trading. What is the position? I was in Glasgow a few months ago and I stood for nearly an hour watching the terrible competition between private omnibuses running into the City of Glasgow, three abreast, travelling at the rate of 35 miles an hour, in many cases. The records of deaths in Glasgow since this wild-cat scheme of private enterprise eompetition has been in operation, have gone up to a considerable extent, as can be testified by the records of deaths in that city.
There is another question which concerns the community, and that is, that when a municipality desires to adopt an omnibus or tramway scheme they are forced to give a guarantee as to a regular 2830 service at intervals of, say, 10, 20 or 30 minutes. Private enterprise is required to give no such undertaking. Private enterprise comes along with omnibuses at what we who are familiar with the tramway service call the peak hours, when the workers are leaving the works. They get the workers into their omnibuses and charge the highest fares they can get. The municipalities give a guaranteed service that is satisfying the needs of the community as a whole, and that is what private enterprise has failed to do. In respect of this wild competition, the Ministry of Transport ought to interfere to a greater extent than they do at the present time.
There is the question of omnibuses tearing up the roads, 50 per cent. of the upkeep of which comes from the Department of the Ministry of Transport and the remainder has to be provided by the ratepayers. In so far as the grant from the Road Fund is concerned, surely the Ministry of Transport has some say with regard to this unfair competition, and the burdens which are placed upon the ratepayers. The figures of the Road Fund for last year show that in 10 years the increase charged upon the Road Fund has gone up from 19.8 per cent. to 40.3 per cent. for England and Wales and from 9.9 per cent. to 23.9 per cent. as far as Scotland is concerned. That is a very serious matter from the Minister's point of view, but I am sure he is dealing with it to the best of his ability.
The Minister of Transport, in discussing the Bill, seemed rather concerned at the wholehearted support which has been given to the Measure from this side of the House. It is not a case of Socialism or of this being a Socialistic measure brought in by a Conservative Member, that concerns us. There is an aspect of the question that concerns hon. Members on this side perhaps to a greater extent than it concerns hon. Members opposite. We are concerned with regard to the differentiation in the wages and working conditions of the men in the private enterprise, as against the wages and conditions granted by municipal authorities. The municipal authorities all over the country, as far as wages and working conditions are concerned, are governed by Whitley Councils. Private enterprise will not have a Whitley Council at any price. On the very omnibuses that are being boosted here to-day by hon. Members who are 2831 supporting the rejection of the Measure, they work their employees 72 hours a week. We claim that men who are asked to manipulate and control one of these heavy omnibuses for 72 hours a week cannot be held responsible for accidents, seeing that they are overworked to such an extent as private enterprise forces them to be.
With respect to the rates of wages which are not in conformity with the conditions laid down by the Whitley Councils, we have evidence that rates of 1s. 1d. and 1s. 2d. an hour are paid for a 72 hours week, to drivers of omnibuses. The conductors are usually women or girls who work at wages ranging between 8½d. and 9½d. an hour. It is claimed that these private firms provide uniform, but it is a fact that the uniform provided by private enterprise is not comparable with the uniform provided by municipal enterprise. Under private enterprise the uniform is generally a cap and a linen overall, while the clothing provided by municipal enterprise is an entirely different thing and means a considerable cost for the municipality.
One reason why I shall vote for the Bill is because it is a step in the right direction and because I have not an opportunity of voting for a more comprehensive Measure. Parliament must be concerned with the proper regulation of these omnibus services and they must meet the local needs of the workers at cheap fares. Parliament must be concerned with economy of the ratepayers' and the taxpayers' money in so far as road maintenance is concerned. Parliament must also be concerned with the people employed in omnibus driving and omnibus conducting, and must see that the safety of the passengers is looked after and that drivers and conductors are not kept at work for too-long periods. Parliament must also be supremely concerned to see that there is a reduction in the number of street accidents which, in spite of repeated warnings and the splendid efforts of the "Safety First" movement, continue to grow at an alarming rate. The mechanically-propelled vehicles were responsible for 3,133 deaths last year and 69,933 nonfatal accidents. We are slaying yearly as many persons as would form a large village community and injuring more persons than would form the population of the largest non-county borough in the 2832 country. These reasons ought to be sufficient in themselves why any hon. Members, whatever may be their political colour, should vote for this Measure. I shall support the Bill with great pleasure.
§ Major SALMON
There is an important point raised in the Bill as to the extent to which Parliamentary power is to be taken away from this House. It is suggested that because years ago a local authority applied for power to run tramways in their district and at that time; there was no other means of locomotion in the district, and they were given powers specifically for tramways, that they should now have powers to run omnibuses, notwithstanding the fact that since the time they received powers to run trams, omnibuses have been put on the road by private enterprise. I suggest that while the local authority may have a good case, they should be forced to put their case before a Committee of the House of Commons instead of being allowed automatically to have the power to run omnibuses in competition with omnibuses that have been put on the road since the time when the local authority received permission to run trams. One of the reasons why the local authorities are now getting the idea of running omnibuses is because they think that they are going to save the trams. That argument may be good or bad, but the fact remains that if we are to have unrestricted competition by local authorities on the one hand and existing companies on the other, you are going to get a repetition of what we have to-day in London; the enormous difficulty for omnibuses and trams to be made to pay and the interference with traffic generally.
It is suggested that the local authority who are the licensing authority, should be able to run omnibuses without coming to Parliament for permission. The House should very carefully consider whether it is desirable to give greater powers to the Minister of Transport, who must be entirely or largely guided by the permanent officials. I do not think it is fair to the ratepayers, to the State or to the taxpayer, that the spending of money should be at the discretion of any permanent official. It should as it was in tended by the promoters themselves apply only to authorities which have already power to run trams, and as I have 2833 explained, when they had these powers to run trams they demonstrated then that there was no other satisfactory means of locomotion for that locality. They probably would not have been given the power, if they had asked for it, to run omnibuses as well as trams. I should like to know what is going to happen to those municipalities who have already been to this House for permission to run omnibuses. The House of Commons, in its wisdom, has refused permission to a locality, and yet under this Bill—
§ Major SALMON
If the hon. Member would listen to me I was going to refer to a particular case I have in mind, where the local authority applied for power to run omnibuses and the House refused the application. Under this Bill they would have authority to run omnibuses. That is a very serious step to take. It is not in the interests of the ratepayers themselves that authorities should be allowed to spend their money on transport unless the whole of the details are gone into, and it is mere camouflage to suggest that you are going to get the whole details examined by getting them to put an Order on the Order Table of the House.
You will not find out the real objections to any scheme or the real merits of any scheme in that way. You will only do it in the Committee Boom, not by asking a few questions in the House of Commons. The promoters of the Bill say that its main object is to curtail expenses and simplify the procedure by which a Bill is introduced into Parliament. May I remind them that if there is an objection, the Minister may order an inquiry, and if he orders an inquiry it will cost the local authority a considerable sum of money if their case is to be argued by counsel. The right people to consider these objections are the elected representatives of the people, not the officials of the Government or the municipalities. I hope the House will reject this Bill because it takes away from the elected representatives of the people a power which has been a protection for many years. If it is necessary to simplify the procedure and routine of this House in order to get these Bills passed, then it 2834 is the duty of the Government to bring in a comprehensive Measure dealing with that matter. We ought not to deal with it in the piecemeal manner suggested by this Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The arguments used this afternoon in regard to this Bill by some hon. Members have shown that in their opinion municipalities are an aggregation of Bolshevists. I want to point out that that is not true. The great bulk of the people who make up the Municipal Tramways Association are anything but Bolshevists or have any Bolshevist tendencies.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The chief thing about this Bill is that it makes an important step towards a more intelligent and simple method of getting a Bill through Parliament. While private companies have these facilities, a corporate body has to' come to this House and conform to all the procedure and expense necessary in order to get its Bill passed. Take, as an instance, the City of Glasgow, in its recent effort to extend its boundaries it had to spend needlessly thousands of pounds in law costs.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. and learned Member has already taken 29 minutes of the time of the House.
§ Mr. HARDIE
We have heard the same horrible story again to-day, that the community is going to wipe out private enterprise, but there seems to be nothing very horrible about private enterprise wiping out the rights of the community. The City of Glasgow is not a Bolshevik council, it is a Tory council, and yet the members of that Tory council allowed a hole in the ground called a subway to be dumped upon them, also two inefficient tramway systems, with obsolete cars, badly built and badly run and managed on two sides of the city. Then the citizens were mulcted in the expenditure of a cash payment to the omnibus company and the cash the company got was used to put more omnibuses on the streets to compete with the trams. Here we have to sit and listen to his claim 2835 for protection for a few handful of individuals in the City of Glasgow who have taken advantage of the city's expenditure on roads and streets; we have to give this privilege to a handful of men as against the rights of the million citizens of Glasgow who have made the running of omnibuses possible by their presence there. There is no logic in it at all. May I point out that, before they can do this, a municipality must pass a resolution by a unanimous vote, and a public meeting must be held. I see that the Mayor of Halifax pointed out at a recent meeting that it was called to consider proposals for a Corporation Bill relating to transport, that the reason it was defeated was that many persons who attended were brought by motor omnibuses from a place called Todmorden. This kind of corrupt practice must be stopped and fair and equal rights established in the supply of services to the community. The community comes first. This Bill is not all that we would like. We would like greater power given to go over a greater area, to those who have succeeded in building up a transport service. We hope, however, that the Bill will pass its Second Reading. It has been said that trams are obsolete. On that question I could give figures of comparison between railways, trams and omnibuses, but as others still want to speak, I will now make way for them.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
In spite of the assurances that have been given by the Proposer and Seconder of this Bill—that they would consider favourably Amendments moved in Committee, which would give the House of Commons fuller control than is provided in the Bill—I am opposed to the Bill because to a very large extent it supersedes Parliamentary control over private Bills. It also hands over to the permanent officials a great deal of work which can be better discharged by the House of Commons. This Measure is introduced on the ground of convenience and economy. With regard to economy, I have not yet heard anyone make the distinction, which is very important, between opposed Bills and unopposed Bills. Ordinary unopposed Bills can be taken through comparatively cheaply. In practice we find that a Bill is not, as a rule, promoted for the sole 2836 purpose of an extenion of this kind, but that the proposed extension takes the form of a few added Clauses to a Bill which is coming before the House in any case. If there is no important opposition the procedure cannot be much more expensive than that which this Bill recommends. But when we come to opposed Bills we can rightly claim that opposition is not lightly taken to private Bills. Opposition is just as great an expense to the opponent as it is to the promoter of the Bill. Opposition is not lightly brought, and in any event, it probably is a case in which very careful and full investigation is proper.
I happen to have had the honour of serving upon Local Legislation Committees, and various tramway Clauses have been brought before those Committees. The cases are often extraordinarily difficult. At the one end of the scale you find one set of interests, and at the other end you find another set. An hon. Member opposite cited a class of case in which I have strong personal sympathy with his point of view. It was the case of a single private omnibus which runs on the best route at the peak time of the day, and rather takes the bread out of the mouths of those who are running a regular service. At the other end of the scale we find cases where municipalities have obtained powers and have not put them into use. That is simply a dog-in-the-manger position. When a municipality has a power of that kind no one else will embark on the route. This dog-in-the-manger attitude results in the public suffering, because they do not get a service at all.
Earlier in the Debate reference was made to some of those groups of towns in South Lancashire and elsewhere where the great municipalities have their own schemes, and in between those schemes is motor omnibus transport, mostly run by private enterprise. That network of omnibuses is very important. If under this Bill corporations can extend their operations so as to take the cream off that business, the result will be that not only will the private enterprise omnibuses suffer, but the districts that are a little less lucrative will be left without a service at all, at any rate until some space of time has passed and the whole scheme has grown one stage further. For those reasons—one could cite other examples of the difficulties that arise when considering 2837 this form of private Bill—it is most desirable that the present administration should be continued, and that close and unbiased investigation be given by Members of the House and of another place to the Measures that are brought up by these municipalities.
I have heard it said that municipalities always show a sense of sweet reasonableness. I am not quite sure that that is always true. My own experience in the Local Legislation Committee was that there were certain occasions on which we did not grant them the powers that they sought. There were other occasions, perhaps more numerous, when we granted the powers with qualifications or conditions. But I often have thought that had that municipality not had to face the Committee, it might have been less reasonable than it was. The proposal of the Bill is that this power of investigation should be shifted from these useful Committees to the Minister of Transport. I have no wish to say a word against any Minister of Transport in the present or in the future, but, in effect, the Bill must mean that the officials of the Ministry will be in close touch with the officials of the municipalities, and that they must get into rather a municipal frame of mind, in the same way as the officials of municipalities get rather clever at knowing the kind of advocacy that "takes": they can put their case forward perhaps a little bit above its merits, whereas the unfortunate private owner who comes forward for the first time is likely to put his case a little below its merits. I value very highly the work that is done by these Committees, and I think the mere fact that these cases are closely investigated by some Members of this House forms a very useful guidance to other Members of the House when the matter comes forward for confirmation on Third Reading. I associate myself with some of the objections that have been advanced from different quarters of the House against the Bill, and I trust that the Bill will be rejected.
§ Colonel BURTON
The hon. and gallant Member for Everton (Colonel Woodcock) who seconded the Amendment and some other hon. Members have been inclined to cast reflections on the parentage of this Bill. As one of its sponsors, I wish to say that we are not ashamed of the Bill, although it has been called 2838 a "mean Socialistic Measure" by people who ought to know a great deal better. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten)—I am sorry he is not now in his place—said this was too big a principle to be dealt with in a private Member's Bill. Of all the people in this House the hon. and learned Member should be the last to complain of the largeness of a principle dealt with in a private Member's Bill. He told us that the trams were obsolete, and that when private individuals lost their money they lost it without a squeak. As a reader of the daily Press, I have noticed some pretty loud squealing in regard to losses on private enterprise Could anybody be so fatuous as to go round among the municipal ratepayers of this country and talk to them about losing the money in their tramway investments without a squeak?
I do not want to bore the House with figures, because I think we have already taken too long in the discussion of this matter, but hon. Members should realise that companies alone have about £20,000,000 invested in this industry and local authorities have about £71,000,000. Are we to contemplate a loss of £92,000,000, without an effort to save some of it by an extension of routes which cannot be laid with tram rails? That effort seems to be the wise and safe thing in the circumstances. I am not an advocate of municipal trading. I dislike it very much, but having put our hands to the plough in this matter, we ought not to turn back, and with £92,000,000 of public money involved, it seems to me that, much as we may dislike it, this is a proposal to which we must give serious attention. Last year the trams made £7,900,000; in interest and dividends, £2,195,000, and in repayment of debt, £1,900,000; so that we cannot say that they are altogether a losing proposition, and I feel perfectly certain that, helped by an extension of the system through these omnibuses, we shall find that they will enter upon a fresh era of prosperity. It has been said that this Bill aims at an extension of municipal trading. Our opponents have accorded a certain amount of courtesy to ourselves, but they have not given much to the Bill, because had they read Clause 7 they would find that a local authority which applies for an extension of powers, must be one already in 2839 possession of such powers. It will be seen in the Bill.The expression 'local authority' means—
- "(1) the council of any borough or urban district, and
- "(2) any joint board or joint committee which includes in its constitution representatives of the council of a borough or urban district,if such council, board or committee shall have been authorised to provide, work or run tramways, trolley vehicle routes or omnibuses, and for the purposes of this Act the district of such joint board or joint committee shall be deemed to include the borough or district of every council represented thereon.There is no extension of municipal trading there. The sponsors of the Bill realise that there may be a certain argument against it in connection with the curtailment of the powers of Parliament over these undertakings, and we have therefore agreed that some machinery shall be set up whereby the Minister will have to bring to the House any order which he makes, and that order must be passed by this House before becoming law. I think that proviso safeguards the rights of Parliament up to the hilt. The hon. Member for Southern Derby (Mr. Grant) says this Bill has no backing in the country. It has the backing of the association of municipal bodies, of which we have heard a great deal, and about the composition of which there seem to be differing opinions. There is this fact, however, that the views of local bodies are reflected in that association and they are practically unanimously in favour of the Bill. It seems to me that they are more closely in touch with the people of the country, and with the money which has been invested in these undertakings, than, perhaps, we are in this House. The hon. Member also suggested that municipalities might abuse their powers by not granting licences to people who applied for them, but if he will read the Roads Act, 1920, he will find that Subsection (3), Section 14, provides:Whereupon application for a licence to ply for hire with an omnibus, the licensing authority either refuses to grant the licence or grants the licence subject to conditions, in either case the applicant shall have a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport from the decision of the licensing authority, and the Minister shall have power to make such order thereon as he thinks fit, and such order shall be binding on the licensing authority.2840 The opponents of this Bill pre-suppose that the Minister will be a sort of ogre imbued with a sense of municipal trading over and above that of any of us in this House and that he will probably grant or refuse these powers as he desires. But we have yet to find that even hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they come into power, would use their powers in such a despotic manner. I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, having regard always to the promises made by its sponsors, having regard to the enormous financial interest involved on behalf of the people of the country, and having regard to the enormous cost which at the present moment is entailed on every municipality which desires to get a Bill through this House. I have here the evidence of a Commission which was held in connection with Wolverhampton's application for legislation, and some of the evidence is so trifling that one would hardly have thought it necessary to take it at all. Gardeners, cyclists, fruiterers and, of course, solicitors, and all sorts of people were brought up to London to give evidence in favour of this Bill and in the end, the cost of the legislation required amounted to £11,000. To say that the procedure under the Bill involves a commensurate cost, is to pronounce upon it without having gone into the subject very carefully. I ask the House to support the Second Reading of this Bill, to thrash out the details of it in Committee, and then, if they find it is an absolutely unworkable and impossible proposition, it might easily be rejected on the Motion for the Third Reading.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
In supporting this Bill, I should like to refer to a few things that have been said by the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). He pointed out that the failure of many municipal associations and corporation undertakings was due to the fact that lawyers and others without business training made up those bodies, and he went on carefully to tell us that he himself had had a business training. Notwithstanding that, he had given advice to one gentleman who was running a private omnibus, and that gentleman has not been heard of since. He said that private enterprise never talks about its losses. Well, I have done a good deal of negotiating on behalf of my fellow workers to get better conditions of service for them, and 2841 I have discovered that railway and other companies are composed of widows and orphans as a rule, and they are always talking about their poverty and about having no money. We never hear about the real earnings of the companies, especially transport companies, and we never know anything about concealed assets. A point was made dealing with the uniforms that are given to the conductors and so on. I remember riding in a privately-owned tramcar near Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, a little while ago, and the conductor was literally in rags, so I said to him: "Are you not provided with uniforms?" He said: "Yes, we are, but our uniforms are 18 months overdue." In fairness to the county council it should be said that we never get that sort of thing with them.
Reference has been made also to the danger on the roads. I was down a few months ago doing some week-end meetings in the Clitheroe Division, and on the Sunday night, in the dark, I rode in a private omnibus from Clitheroe to Padiham, where I was staying, and I was frightened out of my life almost. There were three or four of these fellows racing in the dark, and there was no moon, and I was jolly glad when we got to Padiham. That sort of thing ought not to be allowed. We have had it dinned into, our ears that these things must pay. No hon. Member who has opposed this Bill has made any reference to the question of serving the community. It is well known that no private company would put a service on the road merely in order to serve the community. They would say: "We put on the service, not for the benefit of our health or anybody else's health, but to make dividends." That is quite legitimate, but we should never get a service, as we get our all-night service of trams in London, if we went to work only on that basis. There is no question whether the all-night cars pay. I do not suppose they do, but what they do is that they serve people who are serving the community, and they take people to their homes who otherwise would have to walk home. People on the press and other services are working far into the night, and some of us in this House are sometimes rather late. When a wicked Government has kept us here late, for, of course, the Opposition is always innocent of anything like obstruction, we are very glad to get a ride home.
2842 Then the hon. and learned Member for Argyll spoke about the Glasgow Council taking over the services outside. If that service has co-ordinated all these services and made it better for the community, who cannot afford motor cars and other means of travel, to reach the outlying villages, it seems to me to be a good thing. He also criticised the tram as being obsolete, but everyone who has lived in great cities and studied the problem knows that there is nothing like the trams for shifting huge masses of people in the peak hours morning and evening. What would be the effect on the price of petrol, lubricating oil, and rubber tyres if we were to abolish our trams? Why, as soon as the winter goes and the sun begins to shine, up goes petrol 1d. a gallon, and we are told that there are still further increases ahead. If we were shifting all our town and other populations by omnibuses, and abolished our trams, as we are asked to do, no one knows to what height the prices would go, we should be completely in the hands of America, probably, for the price of spirit, and everybody would suffer as far as that is concerned. I was rather amused to hear an hon. Member who spoke from the other side speak about the unsophisticated private omnibus owners as compared with municipalities. There are plenty of agencies that can advise these people as to how to prepare their Bills, and, as well, there are plenty of learned gentlemen to do it, and even the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire would be always ready to offer his services in that respect.
An hon. Member below the Gangway spoke about the elected representatives being in the House of Commons, but surely the members of municipal authorities such as borough councils are elected representatives, and it seems to me that these people are the best judges of what their own districts need. A case in point was Leeds last year. In the Leeds Bill, the Leeds City Council desired to extend the operations of their transport and to run omnibuses outside the city of Leeds. That was turned down, and the result is that Leeds is now flooded with omnibuses of all descriptions, which run in and do not subscribe for the upkeep of the roads at all. Those omnibuses also tear about to the danger of the public. There is one further point. It seems to me that this Bill would provide 2843 municipalities with the powers they think they ought to have, would allow the people themselves to serve themselves, and would relieve Parliament of a great deal of unnecessary work. There is a great deal of work done in Committee upstairs, and I believe the Committee that deals with municipal work is about the hardest worked Committee of the lot. It seems to me that, with the growing needs of the people and ever more and more Bills coming for extensions, this Bill would at least be one way of relieving Parliament of some of its work. For these reasons, I support the Bill.
§ Captain WATERHOUSE
If I were able to stop here for a few more hours and listen to speeches in favour of this Bill, I should most certainly go into the Lobby against it. But there are two principles involved. With one, I am entirely in agreement, and the other, I think, can be remedied in Committee. The first is that this Bill will enable a local authority to get facilities for the running of omnibuses within their own district as easily as they can now get facilities for running trams, and I feel that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that that is only fair and right. After all, there is no very great difference between running an omnibus and running a tram, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport can give permission to run a tram, why should he not equally give permission to run an omnibus? We have got plenty to do during the few months that Parliament is sitting, and I myself welcome any Measure which will take these what I call trivialities from the jurisdiction of this House. But there is another point involved, and a much more serious one, because under the Bill, as it now stands, the powers of local authorities are going to be extended tremendously. Thy are no longer going to be limited to running a service in their own district. They are to be empowered to run a service all over England. Under Clause 1 theymay also run the same without their district along any road which is an extension of or in connection with any tramway.Every road in England is "an extension of or in connection with" practically every tramway service. The city I represent, Leicester, could run omnibuses through Loughborough to Derby or Nottingham, through Market Harborough to 2844 Northampton or Kettering. Why, Mr. Speaker, under this Bill the city of Leicester could run an omnibus service in Baker Street, for that street is in very direct connection with the London Road in Leicester. To grant powers such as these to a local authority is, I think, entirely wrong. It is not an easy thing to build up any new service. England is a Conservative country in spite of the efforts of hon. Members opposite, and people do not readily give up their farm gigs to go to a market town or readily give up their bicycles on going to a station and getting a train. The private owners have developed all over England what I may call the omnibus habit. They have paved the way, and are we going to allow local authorities to come in and pick the chestnut, not off the fire, but out of the plate on which they have put it? I do not think that is fair or right. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill made a most admirable speech in favour of municipal trading. I do not know whether he was guided by any of the small books which are published by Members on the other side of the House, but his speech would have been equally applicable to municipal trading in coal, milk, bread, or whisky—as I think somebody opposite said—or, indeed, anything else. On these grounds we should definitely set our faces against those Sections of the Bill, and it is because the hon. Member has promised to revise these Clauses, and especially Clause I, in Committee, that I am very glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
It seems to me that as we are now approaching four o'clock, we ought to come back to the realities of the situation. At least one or two of the previous speakers, particularly the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), attempted to impute that this Bill introduced a new principle which we ought not to condone. I should like, first of all, to dispose of that argument. There is no new principle involved in the mere question of facilitating and expediting the powers of local authorities to couple up with their tramway undertaking an omnibus service wherever that happens to be necessary. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire also said—and I think it was felt by some of his colleagues—that trams are obsolete. 2845 Should that be the case, it seems to me to be one of the greatest arguments for expediting these powers, so that municipalities can be brought up-to-date. But I should like to remind the hon. and learned Member and the House, that notwithstanding the change in our transport methods during the past few years, on the basis of the last figures available, the number of passengers on the trams in Great Britain in 1924 was no less than two and a-half times the number of those who rode on all the railways in Great Britain during the same period. The number of tramway passengers in 1924 was 4,443,000,000, while the number of passengers on all our trains was 1,760,000,000. So it seems, that although there is an undoubted change taking place, trams to-day are serving a very useful purpose, and we cannot dispense with them in a comparatively short space of time.
The argument of unfair competition does not apply to this Bill at all, for, as the Minister of Transport truly indicated, the unfairness is at the moment on the opposite side. He told us that if a tramway company or a private individual desires to run a motor omnibus service, all the company or individual need do is merely to purchase their omnibuses, and apply to the local authority for a licence. Should the local authority reject the application, they can then approach the right hon. Gentleman, who can override the local authority in certain cases. Likewise, a privately-owned tramway company which desires to extend its tramway service has no need to apply for Parliamentary powers. A local authority, however—and this, I submit, is the soundest argument for public control over any extensions that municipalities may desire to undertake—must first have a majority of the council in support. of an application for power to run an omnibus service. They must then advertise in either the London or the Edinburgh "Gazette"; they must then call a public meeting, and they must secure a majority of the people present Fourthly, they must have their Bill printed and bring sufficient evidence to the House of Commons to be able to secure Parliamentary powers, and during this lengthy period, which necessitates expense and delay, very often we find that some outside authority, or some 2846 individual, having seen the council explore all the possibilities of a fruitful service, intervenes and sets up a service while the local authority are seeking Parliamentary powers.
As the Mover of the Bill truly said, this is undoubtedly a moment when economy should be practised, and as long as the local authority have to pass through these various phases, and satisfy the whole of the ratepayers in their district as to the need for these facilities, there is no reason to doubt that the extended power, slight though it may be, is strictly on right lines, and ought to be granted by this House. The right hon. Gentleman also told us that while he dare not support the Bill, he should offer no opposition. I do not see how very well he could, since this Bill simply gives effect to the Report of a Departmental Committee. That being so, it seems to me that the Department itself realises the need for this change, and if it cannot support it does not intend to oppose this particular Bill. Therefore I want to suggest that, first of all, the ratepayers have ample provision in regard to safeguarding their interests. Secondly, the very great difference between private company and municipality is indefensible. No one can approve of it who desires to see that fair-play is given to any authority or anybody desiring to give a service.
Might I further suggest that the need for these extended powers can be seen almost every day of the week. Already we have local authorities who have sought for Parliamentary powers. In every case Parliamentary powers have been given in the long run, but how many thousands of pounds could have been saved if a Bill on these lines had been placed on the Statute Book years ago? Moreover, at the moment you have no less than 12 Bills before the House by which power is sought to carry on services. The chances are that they will meet with the same success as the others, but eventually the local authorities will be involved in a large expenditure. Not only are there these 12 new Bills, but there are no less than five urban councils seeking powers to provide omnibus services for their people. There is that instance, at all events, where the five have not provided the services the local people need. The position seems to indicate that private enterprise alone will no longer meet the 2847 needs of many parts of the country. Then, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Newcastle (Mr. Palin) intimated, the local authorities have already certain powers; have had for 50 years, and have run their tramways with more or less success in the face of very unfair competition in the matter of hours, wages and conditions. It is invariably the private people who fail to meet the needs of their workpeople in the way of agreeing to similar conditions to what obtain elsewhere, and Whitley Councils have to be called into play, and this causes a great deal of friction in various parts of the country. Individual companies can employ their men 70, 80 and 90 hours a week against the municipal authorities, who give 47 or 48 hours a week. There can be no fairness and no equity in a case like that.
I submit that having given to local authorities powers to run their own ser vices, there is nothing to be said against the attempt to propose any necessary extension for omnibus services. I would suggest that the whole of the arguments submitted against this Bill have been more or less similar arguments to those used during the past 50 years when an innovation came along. We have heard talk about the council being responsible to no one, but it seems to me that it is nearer the people whose money is going to be spent than the shareholder in any private undertaking. First of all, the municipal authority has to give a service at a reasonable price. It has to give justice to its workmen. It has to carry on an efficient service. If not, the likelihood is that at the next election the ratepayers will not elect the individual who fails to look after these matters. That is a much stronger call upon the people than is the demand put forth by the private companies which more often ignore matters and are apt to forget local circumstances. There can be no real opposition to the necessary extension of omnibus services, since local authorities all over the country are taking out their populations into the outlying districts.
It must be much better for rural people and, indeed, for all sections of the community, to have a really well-organised municipal service, where time tables are strictly adhered to, rather than the haphazard services prevailing in many 2848 parts of the country. Moreover, the local authorities are responsible for the roads, they have to meet the necessary expenses of maintaining them; whereas an omnibus proprietor merely buys his licence, and that is the end of his obligations. The local people who require the service and have to maintain the roads ought to have some say over the service they are going to have, the fares, the conditions for the workmen, and, indeed, general control. This Bill seeks merely to shorten the procedure for giving them these very necessary powers. Time is money, and the House ought to ignore all the arguments about new principles, which are not involved in this Bill, which have been put forward; for example, the argument about municipalisation as against private enterprise—that is not involved; about the extension of municipal powers to run over very wide areas—that is not involved to any extent. The House ought to ignore these things, and look at the objects of the Bill, which are to expedite the means of securing power to run these services, to avoid the waste of money, and generally to facilitate the giving of local services at cost price in place of services which are now run in a haphazard and very often costly and dangerous manner all over the country.
§ Commander CARLYON BELLAIRS
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I ask your ruling as to an Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper. That Instruction is intended to enable the Committee to put in a provision for existing tramways to be taken up, the object being to prevent blocks along main roads on which hundreds of thousands of pounds have been expended. If this can be moved as an Amendment in Committee, the Instruction falls to the ground. It will be open to a Member to move it as an Amendment in Committee in the event of the Bill being given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member's Instruction is out of Order, but only for the reason that it is unnecessary. The Committee will have power, without an Instruction, to do, if it thinks fit, what the hon. and gallant Member desires.
§ Sir GEORGE HUME
The more one hears about this Bill the more one realises that it should be carefully scrutinised. This is probably only a question of pro- 2849 cedure, but what I want to ask my local government Friends is this: In trying to get this short cut, have they counted the cost? Have they realised what they have to pay? If we scrutinise the Bill for a moment and see what powers are being given to the Minister, they will be able to draw their own conclusions. First, the Minister is authorised to issue an Order to permit omnibuses to be run. They may not be run outside the district without the consent of the Ministry. The consent of outside authorities is not necessary if in the opinion of the Minister they are unreasonable. Then again they have to bear the expenses of advertising. The Minister may also direct a local inquiry, and he may make an Order under the Bill on the application of the local authority, and there is also provision that he can specify what work has to be done in outside areas on roads and bridges upon which much expenditure may have to be incurred.
The Bill also prescribes the manner in which they should borrow money and the Minister will have control over that. There are provisions as to the formation of reserve funds, the application of revenue, and the payment of expenses and keeping of accounts. There are provisions enabling the Minister to determine the powers of the Order, and such supplemental and incidental provisions as the Minister may deem necessary. All these provisions are extremely wide. Further, you have a provision that an Order made by the Minister under this Bill shall be conclusive evidence that all the requirements of this Bill in respect of proceedings required to be taken before the making of the Order have been complied with. Consequently the Minister may make such rules regulating the procedure under the Act as he thinks fit.
Then again if the Minister, on consideration of an application for an Order, is of opinion that by reason of the magnitude of the proposed undertaking, or for any other special reason relating thereto, he may, if he thinks fit, submit them to Parliament by bringing in a Bill for the confirmation of the Order. Under Clause Sub-section (3) it is provided thata local authority shall not enter into or carry into effect any agreement under the provisions of this Section in relation to any omnibus services, lands, depots, buildings, sheds or property beyond their district 2850 otherwise than with the consent of the council of the borough or district within which such omnibus service are situate.It is further laid down:Provided that on complaint being made to the Minister that such consent is unreasonably withheld the Minister may, if he thinks fit, dispense with such consent.If this Bill be very carefully studied, one might reasonably ask why the Minister should not run the undertaking himself. In these circumstances, I think the local authorities are paying far too high a price for their mess of pottage. If I had not read the names on the back of this Measure I might have suspected that this was a Bill introduced by the Minister of Transport himself, I speak as the member of an authority that has suffered a great deal in the past in regard to these matters. If you take the history of London hon. Members will recollect that there was a time when it was freely said, although it was not true, that in London the Ministry was in the pockets of the combines.
I might be tempted, like the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), to go further into the question of tramways, but I should be out of order. I can say, I think with certainty, that a body, for instance, like the London County Council would not be willing to take a short cut at this price. I do not think it good for the welfare of the public that they should put themselves hand and foot in the power of any Department of the State. I hold a high opinion of the Ministry of Transport, and I am not in the least attacking them, but I am jealous of the independence of the local authorities of this country, who are being tempted to give their independence away for the small advantage which they would obtain in a short cut of this kind. After all, would it not lead to more expenditure by the local authorities. Supposing they failed with the Minister of Transport, what is to prevent them coming to Parliament in the ordinary way? You would then get double expense. If I understand the attitude of the local authorities aright, they are not going to be stopped by the refusal of the Minister to make an Order. If they have made up their minds in the interests of their public to go forward, then, of course, they will spend their money and come to Parliament. Under those circumstances, with great regret, I cannot support the Bill.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
It is, perhaps, somewhat unfortunate that in the early stages of the Debate upon this Bill the speeches were so long, and I hope I shall not be an offender in that respect. I would like to put forward a suggestion that, at any rate on Fridays, speeches between 12 and 2 o'Clock should be limited to 10 minutes each. It has been suggested that the principle contained. In this Bill has not been accepted by the House. It has been suggested that this is a dangerous Bill, a complicated Bill, and a Bill with far-reaching results. I can see none of those difficulties and none of those dangers in this Bill. For my part, I think it does what it purports to do—nothing more, and nothing less. It simplifies and cheapens procedure and makes it easier to do what the public of this country need and want.
I would like to point out that this Bill has the support of the Municipal Corporations Association. At an earlier stage in the Debate this afternoon, some disparaging remarks were made regarding the Municipal Corporations Association. I only want to say that that body is in every sense of the word a democratic and a representative body, and I feel it is a body whose opinion should carry some weight with the House in a matter of this kind. In 1924 three Bills of this kind were submitted to the House, and in 1925 there were nine such Acts passed. If the business continues to grow in that same proportion, and there is reason to believe that this business may well grow, we shall find the House overburdened with the -consideration of details of this kind. It is a constant complaint in this House that we are overtaxed, overburdened and overwhelmed with work, and this is one of the minor ways in which we can dispense with some of the work and lighten our load. Closely connected with this question of transport is the question of housing. They are indissolubly linked together, and, therefore, I feel that we must develop our veins as well as our arteries, and do all that we can, by facilitating methods of transport, to help solve the housing difficulty. I have pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I have sat through this Debate, and had intended to say a good many things in favour of the Bill, but the subject has been so well covered that I do not think I need detain 2852 the House for more than two or three minutes. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the very great difference in the attitude of the last two speakers. We listen to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume) with every respect. He has recently received some recognition of his local government services, and he undertakes very important duties in the London County Council. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), who followed him, has equally the right to speak with considerable authority in regard to the views of local authorities. I think that those Members of the House who know his associations will agree that that can be said with truth. I am interested to see the difference of opinion which has just been expressed. As far as I am concerned, I hold entirely the view of the hon. Member for Cambridge, and I think he made a very good case for the part that the Association of Municipal Corporations has played in this particular matter.
I want to say one word on another question. I have listened with very great regret during this Debate to the rather insidious attack that has been made on municipal officials. I resent that, not only because of the efficiency of the officials of my own corporation in Sheffield, but also because for 20 years I was a local government servant myself, and secretary of an association of local government officers. Although I have given up that work for many years now, I know from experience that there is no finer body of citizens in this country than those who are serving the local authorities, and I think it is a very grave thing to bring charges against officials of corporations in a Debate of this character.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Not only charges, but suggestions of corruption, and that those in charge of municipalities always manage to put their own relations in positions. That is a charge that has been made to-day. It is a very grave charge, and one which I repudiate here and now, and I am sure that Members of this House will join with me in repudiating such a charge. There is one other point that I would put to those who have been opposing this Bill. We are only asking 2853 that the municipalities should be put on terms of equality with private enterprise in this matter. If they are forced to remain in the present position, this is what happens. In Sheffield, we have been extending this service, and it is one of very great efficiency and profit to the municipality in relief of the rates. When an application is made by a neighbouring local authority, say a rural district council, for an extension of the service, and the ordinary procedure has to be followed, a notice appears in the "London Gazette" to that effect. Then some other private service comes in, after the application has been made, and puts on a more or less inefficient service, and can then put up all kinds of opposition in the public proceedings, with the result that the expense is very greatly enhanced From that point of view I think Members of the House ought to support this Bill.
I would only ask the hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill, who have presented their case with great efficiency to-day, not to be too anxious to make concessions when the Bill goes to a Committee. There may have to be some compromise in matters of this nature, but I hope they will not be too anxious to concede the main principles of the Bill. I was rather perturbed to hear from the hon. and gallant Member for South Leicester (Captain Waterhouse) that an agreement had been come to with the promoters of the Bill to the effect that Clause 1 would be seriously amended, and that for that reason he was going to support the Second Reading. I hope, however, that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill is not going to give too much away when it gets to the Committee. Otherwise, we should be losing a great deal of the economy which should accrue to municipalities by the passing of this Measure. There are many other things I wanted to say, but it would not be fair to take up the time of the House. I simply hope we shall give the Bill a Second Reading and carry it into law at the earliest possible date.
§ Mr. ATKINSON
If I thought that the Bill contained any threat against private enterprise I should vote against it, but I am convinced that the threat exists only in the imagination of those who are opposed to the Bill. Very often the best test of the arguments for and against a 2854 case is to apply them to a particular instance, and I only intervene because my own constituency supplies admirable material for testing which side is right. Altrincham is outside the Manchester district, but the Manchester tramways run as far as Altrincham. There is a big district on the South, West and East that is not supplied with tramways at all, in which the railway communication is very difficult. To get from one place to another you have to go into Manchester and out again, and it takes half the day to do it. A small company, recognising the necessity for an omnibus service, bought a fleet of 24 omnibuses and began to run it. The next thing that happened was that a larger company came along and applied for licences. The smaller districts refused to grant licences, but it was discovered that a licence was not wanted for merely driving through a district. They got their licence from the big towns', and so long as they did not stop in the smaller areas for the purpose of picking up they did not need a licence. They started their omnibuses one minute ahead of the omnibuses of the small company, and it was not very long before the latter were in distress. Nothing could be done, and in the end the inevitable happened, and their undertaking was sold to the bigger company. I mention that incident to show that a small private enterprise can easily under the conditions of to-day be eaten up by a bigger one. At any rate, in the end we got an admirable service.
If this Bill be passed, private enterprise will not be in any danger at all. If Manchester thought they would like to supply omnibuses there, it is obvious that it could not be done at a profit. There is certainly not enough money to be made out of it to support two enterprises. It is not their district and Manchester would have no desire to do it, but suppose they did, would the Minister grant an order in a case which is already served, and even if he did, could the consent of the various district councils be obtained? There is not the slightest chance of it. I am convinced that where there is an efficient private service there is not the least chance of any municipal authority getting an opportunity of doing it any harm. But supposing there were at this moment no omnibus service in this district, and Manchester came along and said to the local 2855 authorities, "We have looked into this, we think we can just make it pay and we are willing to run an omnibus service if you agree." The local authorities would welcome them with open arms, and this is the test of the whole case. Is the law then to step in and say, "You may be willing, they may all want you to do it, but you shall not do it unless you have incurred the vast expenditure of getting a private Bill through Parliament"? It is because I feel the absurdity of that position that I shall vote for the Bill.
I rise to support the Bill, but not because of any consideration connected with private enterprise. If a district wants omnibuses it should be allowed to get them. I do not think the House ought to consider so much whether there is to be a profit made out of it. What we want to look at is the position of our constituents. I appeal to the House to pass the Bill in the interests of people who live five or six miles from town, who have no tramway service and are not fortunate enough to own their own motor cars.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
As far as I have been able to follow the course of this Debate, those who have been promoting the Bill have put forward on its behalf two arguments. The first argument is that it is a very small and innocent Bill, and in the second place, they are wholly uncertain as to its paternity. Anyone who has listened to the Debate as carefully as I have could be in no sort of doubt as to, I will not say the paternity of the Bill, but the quarter of the House in which the Bill has its well-wishers and affectionate foster-parents. It is a case of Solomon's judgment. If you want to find out the parents of the Bill you must look at the people who are supporting it. It is obvious in what quarter of the House the Bill is enthusiastically supported. If it was the small, innocent Bill which has been represented, I would not oppose it. On the contrary, it would have my cordial support, because I know perfectly well that there are cases, many of them are within my own personal knowledge, where it would be ridiculous, I say it perfectly frankly, to deny to local authorities which at present operate their trams or their omnibuses, the right to extend their operations within their own 2856 immediate residential areas. If the promoters of the Bill had brought forward a Bill for that simple purpose, and to effect it by a simplified machinery, I believe it would have passed the House unanimously.
We know that there are many towns which have been obliged to develop garden cities or building sites outside their own immediate municipal boundaries. To deny to these local authorities in such circumstances the right to serve by vehicle routes, whether trams or omnibuses I do not care, districts which are essentially part of their own cities or areas, would be preposterous. I would not be found opposing that. If the promoters of the Bill had been content with a modest Measure of that character, I would not be in opposition to it; but I submit for the very grave consideration of the House that that is very far from being the character of the Bill which we are discussing to-day. This is a Bill supported by arguments which, if adopted, would really justify municipal trading on the widest possible scale. If these sentiments, some of which have fallen from hon. Members on this side of the House, are true, I do not know on what reason we could consistently refuse any kind of municipal trading. In the second place, this Bill confers almost unlimited powers upon local authorities. It is not a question, according to this Bill, of operating within their own area or even within their own immediate districts. What is the Title of the Bill? It isA Bill to make provision for enabling local authorities to provide and run omnibuses within and without their districts.To run "without their districts" without any limits on their powers, except the provision that, in the first place, they must gain the assent of any other local authority through whose district they propose to run. If that assent is withheld on grounds which appear to the Minister to be unreasonable, the Minister may, by his fiat, and without any reference to this House, override the wishes of the other local authority, and impose upon them the operation of the vehicles contemplated in this Bill. This Bill does not only propose to confer very large powers upon certain local authorities but it is also a Bill of vast application to this House of Commons. It proposes to confer, as we have heard from speaker after 2857 speaker, immense powers upon the Minister of Transport. There is no Minister, individually or personally, for whose talents and character I have greater admiration than I have for the present Minister of Transport, but it is just possible that he is not going to be perpetually in the Ministry of Transport. It is just possible he may have a successor, and I am not certain who that successor may be. But quite apart from that—I am sure I shall be on very good terms with any successor in any part of the House—I want to know, seeing that the Bill confers powers not so much on the Minister as upon a Ministry and a Department what is the power behind the throne.
When you talk about the Minister he is here to-day, he may be gone to-morrow; but whether he is here or there the Ministry is always behind him, and I want to make a serious appeal to this House on a matter which seems to me of grave general importance. It is this. This House of Commons, this Imperial Parliament, has developed, as it seems to me, in recent years a very dangerous tendency in regard to the general scope of its legislation. The practice of what is called the delegation of legislative powers to subordinate bodies is enormously and, as I think, very alarmingly on the increase. This is a very recent development. Hon. Members will be well aware of this very recent characteristic of English legislation. English Statutes in the old days were characterised by almost excessive and meticulous detail, they were rather over-detailed; but it was a very good fault. Anyone who scientifically examines the character of recent legislation cannot fail to be aware of a very grave departure from that ancient and wholesome practice. I do not want to detain the House, so let me say shortly why I hope this Bill will be rejected; and rejected on three grounds. First, I would like to see it rejected in the interests of ratepayers already overburdened; in the second place, I would like to see it rejected on the ground that I think it would create unfair and rate-aided competition for private enterprises; in the third place, I would like to see it rejected out of regard for the integrity of the legislative rights of this House of Commons.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I rise as one of the backers of the Bill to say that I am 2858 still unrepentant for having put my name to the Bill. I am sorry that Members on my side of the House have raised the question of Socialism and private enterprise versus the enterprise of local authorities. I am afraid that my short experience in this House has proved to me that if certain hon. Members take exception to any Measure which is in the least bit progressive, all that they have to do is to raise a bogey cry of Socialism, and they will sway many Members who spend their time in the smoking room and then go into the Lobby to vote against the Bill. As one who has fought Socialism up hill and down dale with his coat off and his waistcoat off, let me say that if I thought this Measure was in any way a question of Socialism, I should be opposing it and not supporting it. We Members of the House who have had considerable experience as members of local authorities know full well the great difficulty with which those authorities are faced when they want to provide reasonable services for the citizens of the districts that they control.
In my own particular district we promoted a Bill a few years ago to enable us to take over a tramway system. It meant either taking over the tramway system or the public in that district being left with a very derelict and bad system. We felt that it would be a wise thing to ask also for power to run omnibuses, because we realised that in certain parts of the town it was a danger to the public safety to run tramcars. But owing to the great opposition that was put up against us by people controlling private companies which ran omnibuses, we had to withdraw those particular Clauses from the Bill, and after the expenditure of a large sum of money we did not get the powers that we sought. What is the position to-day? We find ourselves with a certain section of the tramway system which we would like to scrap in the interests of public safety, but because we have not the power to run omnibuses, we cannot do so. Certainly we are allowed to introduce trackless trolly vehicles, but many people thought that an omnibus service would be far better for the public, cheaper to run by the corporation, and therefore in the best interests of the ratepayers.
It has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. 2859 Macquisten) that the telephone service is a great example of the advantage of private enterprise versus public enterprise. I would remind the House that it was a municipal authority which ran the most successful telephone service in this country, even against the National Telephone Company. That municipality has even set a good example to the State Department which is now running the telephones. There is a great difference between a municipal authority running a service, and the State doing so. In the first place you have not such a vast undertaking to manage. You get the best business brains in the district serving on the local authority, and you can rely upon it that if mistakes 'are made by the local councillors, the ratepayers who are close at hand, even if they do not wait until they can exercise the franchise, will come into your shop or your premises and tell you pretty plainly that they do not care about what you are doing.
The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Major Salmon) said an inquiry under the Bill would cost as much as if a corporation had to come to Parliament for a Bill. A more absurd statement was never made. Anyone with experience in these matters can tell the hon. and gallant Member that an inquiry under the Bill would probably only involve officials coming into the locality and would not necessitate the employment of the more expensive branch of the legal profession. The town clerk or town solicitor could probably do all that was necessary and an inquiry would not be costly. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume) took exception to the Bill on the ground that it gave the Minister of Transport too large powers, but those powers were introduced as safeguards to meet the case of the opponents of the Bill. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) used quite an opposite argument.
Let us clear away the smoke cloud of Socialism which has been raised, and look at this Bill from the commonsense point of view. We should ask ourselves if it is going to benefit the local authorities, without endangering any of the principles for which the Conservative party stands. Those of us who desire to progress on safe and steady lines are often told that we are encouraging a system with which we do not agree. That is not fair to members of the Conservative party like myself, 2860 and I would remind hon. Members of that party of the boy who cried "Wolf" until people would not believe him. If on every occasion when those who believe in steady progress bring up Measures to benefit the people the cry of "Socialism" is raised, those who raise that cry will in the long run defeat their own object. The promise given by the Mover of the Resolution across the Floor of the House should be regarded as an honourable promise, and one which it is intended to carry out.
The hon. Member said he was quite prepared to meet in conference those who have strong objections to certain portions of this Bill. One objection is that it affects small owners and that many of these are ex-service men who have invested their savings in omnibuses. There may be a few cases which ought to receive consideration and the supporters of the Bill are prepared to discuss a safeguarding Clause enabling these men to get a fairer chance. At the present moment what chance have they against the great combines? I am sure they would get more consideration from the local authorities. I appeal to Members of my own party not to allow the cry of "Socialism" to affect their voting to-day, but to use their own common sense in supporting a Measure which is not Socialism, but is simply a Measure to give local authorities powers which they ought to have.
§ Mr. COUPER
I rise to support this Bill as the representative of a Division of Glasgow which is one of the premier cities in the matter of electric traction. Our system has been recognised as a model system throughout the country, if not throughout the world, and the tramway department of Glasgow desires to support this Bill. These provisions the City of Glasgow are quite prepared to carry out if required in the interests of the citizens of Glasgow. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) is certainly to be credited with the disinterested manner in which he dealt with this Bill, because there is not in his constituency a single rail laid for tramways, but his premises and arguments were not in accordance with the interests of the community at large. There is no new creation in this Bill, and we already, in Glasgow, are possessed of this power and do not ask for any new powers. The regulation of the traffic is what we require 2861 the Bill for. If we are allowed to provide our own motor omnibuses as ancillary to the tramway service, we will find that the traffic of the city can be improved and very much better controlled in the interests of the community. We have in that city more than £6,000,000 invested in our tramway system, and we do not consider that that is the limit. It is only part of the final development of the service which we desire to give our citizens.
§ I desire to support this Bill in every sense.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 134; Noes, 130.2863
|Division No. 89.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hammersley, S. S.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Albery, Irving James||Hardie, George D.||Ritson, J.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Harland, A.||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Harris, Percy A.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Apsley, Lord||Hayes, John Henry||Rose, Frank H.|
|Atkinson, C.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hirst, G. H.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barnes, A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jacob, A. E.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Bromley, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Cape, Thomas||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Snell, Harry|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stamford, T. W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kennedy, T.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Compton, Joseph||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Connolly, M.||Lansbury, George||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Lawson, John James||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Couper, J. B.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Loder, J. de V.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lowth, T.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lunn, William||Varley, Frank B.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Viant, S. P.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Mackinder, W.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Dennison, R.||MacLaren, Andrew||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Duncan, C.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Malone, Major P. B.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, John H. (Accrington)||March, S.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|England, Colonel A.||Maxton, James||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Montague, Frederick||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Forrest W.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Naylor, T. E.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Gillett, George M.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Gosling, Harry||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Windsor, Walter|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Oliver, George Harold||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Palin, John Henry||Womersley, W. J.|
|Groves, T.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)||Ponsonby, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Radford and Colonel Burton.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr, Tydvil)||Potts, John S.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Fermoy, Lord|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cazalet, Captain Victor A,||Fielden, E. B.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Bennett, A. J.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Berry, Sir George||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gates, Percy|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Gee, Captain R.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Goff, Sir Park|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Grant, J. A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Eden, Captain Anthony||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Elveden, Viscount||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Hanbury, C.||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Savery, S. S.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Meller, R. J||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Meyer, Sir Frank||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Smithers, Waldron|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Morden, Colonel Walter Grant||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Holland, Sir Arthur||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Holt, Capt. H. P.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Strickland, sir Gerald|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Penny, Frederick George||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Philipson, Mabel||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Price, Major C. W. M.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Remer, J. R.||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)||Remnant, Sir James||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Litchfield)|
|Looker, Herbert William||Rice, Sir Frederick||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Lumley, L. R.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Salmon, Major I.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Macintyre, Ian||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir Patrick Ford and Sir W. Davison.|
|MacRobert, Alexander M.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Margesson, Captain D.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
§ Question put accordingly "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."2864
§ The House divided: Ayes, 128; Noes, 133.2865
|Division No. 90.]||AYES.||[4.8 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hardie, George D.||Ritson, J.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Harland, A.||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)|
|Amnion, Charles George||Harris, Percy A.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Apsley, Lord||Hayes, John Henry||Rose, Frank H.|
|Atkinson, C.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hirst, G. H.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barnes, A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Broad, F. A..||Jacob, A. E.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Bromley, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Cape, Thomas||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Snell, Harry|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stamford, T. W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kennedy, T.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Compton, Joseph||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Connolly, M.||Lansbury, George||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Lawson, John James||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Couper, J. B.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Loder, J. de V.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lowth, T.||Thurtle, E.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lunn, William||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Varley, Frank B.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Mackinder, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||MacLaren, Andrew||Water-house, Captain Charles|
|Dennison, R.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Duncan, C.||Malone, Major P. B.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||March, S.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Edwards, John H. (Accrington)||Maxton, James||Welsh, J. C.|
|England, Colonel A.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Montague, Frederick||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Forrest, W.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Gillett, George M.||Naylor, T. E.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Gosling, Harry||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Oliver, George Harold||Windsor, Walter|
|Groves, T.||Palin, John Henry||Womersley, W. J|
|Grundy, T. W.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Ponsonby, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Radford and Colonel Burton.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Potts, John S.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Berry, Sir George|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T,||Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Blades, Sir George Rowland|
|Albery, Irving James||Bennett, A. J.||Bourne, Captain Robert Croft|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hartington, Marquess of||Remer, J. R.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Remnant, Sir James|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Holland, Sir Arthur||Salmon, Major I.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Holt, Captain H. P.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester. City)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hurst, Gerald B.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hutchison. G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Savery, S. S.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Looker, Herbert William||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Lumley, L. R.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Strickland, Sir Gerald|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Macintyre, Ian||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Elvedon, Viscount||Macquisten, F. A.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Mac Robert, Alexander M.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Margesson, Captain D.||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Fermoy, Lord||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Fielden, E. B.||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Meller, R. J.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Meyer, Sir Frank||Williams. A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Gates, Percy||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gee, Captain R.||Morden, Colonel Walter Grant||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Goff, Sir Park||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Grant, J. A.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Oman, Sir Charles William C|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Penny, Frederick George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir Patrick Ford and Sir W. Davison.|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Philipson, Mabel|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.