HC Deb 24 June 1924 vol 175 cc335-43

I beg to move, in page 5, line 23, to leave out the words "such public inquiry as they may think fit, or."

7.0 P.M.

Sub-section (3) deals solely with the power of the Advisory Committee to hold inquiries. Clearly, if the duty of holding an inquiry under, say, the Motor Car Act be delegated to a Committee, the inquiry they hold must be under the Motor Car Act.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, at the end to insert the words The Minister may direct that all or any one or more of the additional members shall form part of the Committee for the purposes of this Sub-section. This is an Amendment to enable the Committee, if they wish, to have the assistance of additional members in holding an inquiry.


I am not quite certain that this Amendment is desirable or necessary. As I understand it, additional members are placed on the Committee because of their special knowledge, for the purposes of transacting the ordinary business of the Committee. Under this Clause we are making provision for inquiries. These inquiries, I understand, are to take evidence, and the interests affected will be entitled to appear as witnesses before the Committee. In these circumstances, it is surely wrong, and not in accordance with sound practice, to have the interests concerned at once represented on the Committee which is holding the inquiry, and giving evidence before the Committee. I hope, therefore, the Minister will at least reconsider the matter. It seems to me that it is mixing up the functions of the Committee. When it is simply a matter of giving advice without an inquiry, namely, when the additional members are to give advice to the Minister through the Committee on matters within their knowledge, I agree that it is advisable that their services should be available; but under this Amendment the Minister proposes to include them upon the Committee of Inquiry, in which witnesses representing their own interests will give evidence. It will be better, therefore, that the Minister should not make this change.


May I point out that this Amendment is out of order? I have an Amendment, on page 4, which ought to have come before the Amendment which has just been moved by the Minister.


How is that? Was it wrongly printed on the Order Paper?


I think so.


Then I must take the hon. Member's Amendment first.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, after the word "do" to insert the words, "or where an industry affected requests them to do so."

This is a very small concession, which I hope the Minister will be prepared to make. It concerns a number of interests likely to be affected by the Regulations under the Bill. It merely says that the Committee may, at the instigation of any industry that is likely to be affected by its Regulations, have an inquiry. I see an hon. Member opposite who is very much interested in the theatre industry. The theatre industry is very nervous indeed lest some of these Regulations should interfere with proper access to places of entertainment. It is not a very big matter, but it is one in regard to which, I understand, the police and the theatre managers in the past have always worked most amicably together, with reference to queues, etc. Not merely theatres, but many other industries are likely to be affected. My Amendment merely suggests that any industry affected should have the right to make representations to be heard in a Committee of Inquiry, and the Committee—I am not suggesting must hear them—may hear them.


I am afraid the hon. Member was too late in raising his point, because we have already put in the Bill an Amendment on page 5. I did not notice the error in the Order Paper. The hon. Member should have drawn my attention to it before we actually inserted that Amendment. I was willing to go back as far as the second one moved by the Minister. Now my attention is called to the fact that we have actually inserted an Amendment in the Bill on page 5. Therefore, we cannot go back beyond something we have actually concluded. It is necessary now to proceed with the Minister's Amendment. I will put that Question again to the House.

Question again proposed, "That the words 'The Minister may direct that all or any one or more of the additional members shall form part of the Committee for the purposes of this Sub-section,' be there inserted in the Bill."

Viscount WOLMER

Now we are back on the Minister s Amendment, I should like to reinforce the protest of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) against it. I think the Minister might have given a few more reasons in support of it, when he moved it. It is really an extraordinary proposition, that when you are holding an inquiry, the interested parties about whom you are holding the inquiry to a large extent, and who may be expected to appear in the witness box, should be represented in the jury box. That is an extraordinary proposal at any time, but especially so coming from the Labour party. I hope very much that the House will not agree to it. I do hope hon. Members, irrespective of party, will realise the very great danger we are running in this matter. I am not out to attack the traffic combine as such, but I confess I do think we ought, in the interests of the public, to prevent that combine having an unfair, or privileged position, as compared with that of the small motor omnibus owner or any other individual who tries to compete against the combine for the London traffic. The combine is a highly efficient organisation, and, on the whole, gives a very good service to the public; but we must protect its competitors, the ex-service men and the other small men who are starting in competition with Lord Ashfield. The organisation and machinery we are setting up under this Bill possess tremendous powers. At every turn we have got to be careful that where an inquiry is held, preparatory to administrative action, and when administrative action is taken, the small man is treated on an absolute parity, and receives absolute justice, as against Lord Ashfield and the combine.

The House has decided, I am sorry to say, to keep the additional Members. I regret that decision and voted against it; but it is going a great deal further to say that these additional members shall have the power and the right, if nominated, to sit on these inquiries. These inquiries will be very important indeed. The results will probably be published; they will be quoted in Parliament and the Press, and Ministers, as a rule, will find it very difficult to depart from their findings. An inquiry into a technical matter of this sort carries a great deal of weight, and it requires a strong Minister, one who knows his business thoroughly well and who has a good deal of leisure, to be able to go against the findings of a committee of inquiry. Therefore, these inquiries are very important. In so much as the small man will be practically unrepresented among the additional members, we can take it that the additional members mean the combine and their employés; and those are the interests to whose mercies the public should not be left unprotected. Therefore, I hope very much that the House will not agree with the extraordinary proposition that interested parties should be both members of the inquiring board and witnesses in the witness box.

Viscount CURZON

I cannot understand the reasoning of my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) in this matter. For exactly the same reason that he opposes this Amendment, I wish to support it. The small omnibusmen will get their representation through the additional members of a committee. I can imagine a case of an inquiry being held, where the London County Council might oppose the omnibuses or something to do with the omnibuses; indeed, any matter affecting traffic in the London traffic area. The London County Council might be opposing the interests of the small omnibus owners. Surely they would, at the same time, be represented on the advisory committee in their capacity as ordinary members. Would it not, therefore, be fairer for the additional members to come in as far as possible without any distinction between them? That is what we want. We do not want any distinction between them at all. We want them all to be on the same footing, so that there shall be no suspicion of favouritism, in order that the small men may get exactly the same chance as the London County Council, or any other traffic authority. I hope the House will support the Amendment which does something to get rid of the distinction between the ordinary and additional members of the committee.


I agree that the additional members ought not to be both judge and jury. This seems to me a combination of bureaucracy, plutocracy and autocracy, and I object to people being allowed to act as judge and jury in their own cases. I shall, therefore, vote against this Amendment.


I do not think that any question arises of these additional members acting as judge and jury in their own cases—


Why not?


This is an advisory committee to the Minister of Transport. If the Minister wants advice from people other than those specified in the Bill, there is no reason why he should not have it. There are representatives of trade unions and others who might quite usefully, in so far as they definitely represent a body and are in a position to render first-hand information, and reasonably be added to the committee. It is rather stressing the point to represent this Amendment as a provision for placing a body of persons in the anomalous position of being judge and jury. I support the Amendment.


I think the Minister of Transport should explain the position more in detail, so that we may know exactly what his proposal is. We have heard speeches from two Noble Lords giving an absolutely contrary version of the purpose of this Amendment, and I feel in a great difficulty to know exactly what the Amendment really calls for. I wish to give the right hon. Gentleman the Minister every opportunity of getting his Bill through as quickly as possible, and I hope, therefore, before we go to a Division, he will give further explanations of exactly the effect of this Amendment.


I feel that in dealing with matters which come before the advisory committee these additional members could be used with great advantage. It must be remembered all the time that they are experts, and I do not understand the idea underlying the suggestion that they will be acting both as judge and jury. They will be doing nothing of the kind.


Will these gentlemen be allowed to vote? Suppose an inquiry is being held, will they be allowed to vote on the recommendations they themselves make?


Voting is not of very great importance. As to the advisory committee, I should want to know, not only what the advice of the additional members was, but on what grounds they came to their conclusion. I should want to know if the committee came to its conclusion by a narrow majority or by a unanimous vote. I do not want to press this unfairly if the House does not want the Amendment, but I think it would be a useful addition to the Bill that the Minister should have power to add these gentlemen, who are experts, to the committee.


I am sorry, but I still do not understand the position. Let me put it as I see it. These gentlemen are to be called in on an inquiry which is being conducted into circumstances in which their interests may be involved. They will make certain recommendations. Are they also to be allowed to vote? If so, then it seems to me they are acting both as judge and jury. If these experts are to be called as witnesses, the decision on the matter should be left to people who are absolutely independent.


I still feel that the Minister of Transport has not made yet exactly clear what will be the functions of these additional members. On a previous Amendment he stated, rather vaguely, I admit, that the additional members would in a matter which affected their interests not be entitled to vote, but there is nothing whatever in the Bill of any kind or sort to say that. If the Minister for Transport will add words to the Bill which will make it impossible for these additional members to vote on the committee of inquiry, it will go some way towards meeting the objections which have been expressed. These committees are empowered not only to inquire into matters affected by this Bill, but also into matters affected by every previous Act of Parliament which gives the Minister of Transport any power whatsoever to inquire into the question of transport facilities in London. It will have very wide powers, and it is proposed to add the additional members to the sub-committee which will conduct the inquiry. They will make their report; it may or may not be unanimous, and the additional members representing various interests which are deeply concerned under this Bill and under previous Acts, may, by their weight on these committees, overrule the opinions of the independent members. I think it would be a very grave infringement of the proper function of government to allow representatives of special interests to make inquiries into the functioning of their own interests and to probably outweigh independent opinion on that inquiry. Everyone knows that a majority report of an advisory committee of this nature is very difficult to overrule, and I should have thought, under the circumstances, the Minister would be wise to withdraw his Amendment.

Lieut.-Commander BURNEY

I, too, would like to know what the Minister really means by this Amendment. There are two totally different sets of opinion in regard to it. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) that, if the Minister wishes to call certain gentlemen, being experts, as witnesses in order that the Advisory Committee may arrive at a decision as to what is, or is not, the correct thing to do in certain circumstances, then the Amendment can be supported. But if it means that the Advisory Committee is to be composed of persons who are not impartial, but who are interested in the business either as trade unionists or in any other capacity, then I contend the Amendment ought not to be adopted. I do not think it matters much whether the interests concerned are big or small. It is entirely a matter of principle. If experts are to be called, they may equally be called from those representing small interests as from those representing large interest. If the persons composing the committee are themselves interested, then it becomes a question of principle, and it does not matter whether the interest is big or small. So far as I am concerned, the Minister has not made his meaning clear, and I want to get further information as to what is to be the constitution of this Advisory Committee.


This proposal for using these additional members seems to have given rise to a considerable difference of opinion, and to save time I am quite willing to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.