HC Deb 16 March 1926 vol 193 cc235-9

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that there is misconception as to the function of the Ministry of Transport in relation to street traffic, and as to the powers vested in the Home Office and the Commissioner of Police in relation to the control of taximeter cabs and other users of the streets, he will lay a Paper stating exactly what powers each of the two Ministries possesses?


I assume that the question relates solely to London. [Mr. ERSKINE: Yes.] With the permission of my hon. Friend I will have a note circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT Summarising the powers of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, the Minister of Transport, and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis in relation to London traffic and the control of public vehicles.

Following is the note promised:


(a) Powers of the Minister of Transport.

Under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, and the Roads Act, 1920, the Minister of Transport is responsible for the central administration of the Acts relating to mechanically-propelled vehicles generally, including the Motor Car Act and the Locomotives Acts. Under the Light Locomotives Act, 1896, and the Motor Car Act, 1903, various Orders have been made as to the registration and licensing of these vehicles, and as to their use and construction, including the speeds of various types of heavy motor cars, etc. He is also empowered to make Orders imposing 10-mile speed limits in respect of certain roads where he is satisfied, on the application of a county council or county borough council, that such an Order is in the public interest. The Minister is also responsible for the approval of the construction of tramway tracks and tramcars, and for the fixing of the speeds at which the trams shall be operated.

He also exercises general supervision over the collection by the appropriate local authorities of the taxes on mechanically-propelled road vehicles.

Under Section 7 (4) of the Roads Act he is empowered, on the application of the, county council or county borough council to make Orders prohibiting or restricting the driving of vehicles of any specified class on any specified highway where it appears to him, as the result of an inquiry, to he proved that a vehicle of that class cannot be used on that highway without endangering the safety of the vehicle or the persons therein or of other traffic using the highway, or that the highway is unsuitable for use by a vehicle of that class. Under Section 14 (3) of the same Act an appeal lies to him by an applicant for a licence to ply for hire with an omnibus who has had his licence refused or granted subject to conditions by the licensing authority.

Under the London Traffic Act, 1924, by Section 4 he is responsible for the coordination of street works in the London traffic area so as to mitigate, as far as possible, the congestion of traffic due to the closing of streets for the purpose of the execution of such work, but this Section only applies to works undertaken by highway authorities.

By Section 7 he is empowered to declare streets or parts of streets in the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London to be "restricted streets," and to prohibit or restrict the plying for hire by omnibuses in such streets, either generally or at particular hours.

Section 10 enables him, after reference to the Advisory Committee for advice and report, to make Regulations covering a variety of matters which are dealt with in detail in the Third Schedule to the Act, one or two examples of which are:

  1. (a) Conditions subject to which and times at which articles of exceptionally heavy weight or large dimensions may be carried by road.
  2. (b) Conditions subject to which and the times at which articles may be loaded on to, or unloaded from, vehicles or vehicles of any particular class or description.
  3. (c) The conditions and times when vehicles generally or vehicles of any particular clam or description delivering or collecting goods or merchandise may stand in streets.
  4. (d) The conditions subject to which and the times at which vehicles may be used on streets for collecting refuse.
  5. (e) Requiring the erection, exhibition and removal of traffic notices.
  6. (f) Provision of parking places.
  7. (g) Lighting and guarding of street works, etc.

Under Section 12 the Minister is entitled to hold inquiries into road accidents in certain defined cases and provision is made for his being represented at inquests where the death is alleged to be due to an accident caused by the nature or character of the road or the road surface, or a defect in the design or construction of a road vehicle.

The Act also provides for investigation by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee set up under the Act for Inquiry and Report by them to the Minister on important matters referred to them for this purpose, examples of which are

  1. (a) The co-ordination of all or any of the various forms of transport services and co-operation between the persons operating the same with a view to the combined operation of all means of transport in the area in the best interests of the public.
  2. (b) The causes tending to hinder free circulation of traffic on streets, and the measure to be adopted to remove such causes or minimise their defects.
  3. (c) The comparative desirability of different forms of transport services in various circumstances, either generally or in particular localities or in any specific case.
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  5. (d) The development, improvement or extension of the existing system of road communication in the area.
  6. (e) The formulation of proposals for the equitable distribution amongst the various authorities in the London Traffic Area of the cost of any scheme of road development, improvement or extension.

(b) Powers of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.

The powers and duties of the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis in relation to London traffic are given in the Metropolitan Traffic Manual which is published by the Stationery Office. They may be generally summarised as follows:

With regard to cabs and stage carriages (omnibuses, tramcars and some chars-a-bane), the existing powers are delegated to the Commissioner by order of the Secretary of State to whom they were primarily entrusted by the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act, 1869. The order at present in force was made on the 1st May, 1917 (S.R. & O., 1917, No. 426) with subsequent amendments. The Commissioner is responsible for licensing such cabs and stage carriages as comply with the conditions of fitness which he has prescribed; and no such vehicles may ply for hire without this licence, which is renewable annually, and may be suspended or revoked if the vehicle becomes unfit for public service. Under the terms of their licences the Commissioner is responsible for approving the routes on which stage carriages may ply for hire. He is similarly responsible for licensing the drivers of these vehicles, and for suspending or revoking these licences in certain circumstances. He appoints and regulates standings for cabs (London Hackney Carriage Act, 1850, section 4) and stopping places for stage carriages (London Hackney Carriages Act, 1843, Section 29 and London Cab and Stage Carriage Act, 1907, Section 4).

The fares to be charged by cabs are prescribed by Order of the Secretary of State. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Commissioner has any control over the fares of licensed stage carriages, nor of unlicensed (private-hire) vehicles, whether cars or chars-a-bane.

The Commissioner is responsible for the general regulation of traffic in the streets, including the prevention of obstruction and the enforcement of the enactments and Orders for the time being in force (e.g., the Motor Car Acts and Orders, and any Orders or Regulations made by the Ministry of Transport under the London Traffic Act, 1924). He has also certain special powers under the Metropolitan Streets Act, 1867. Within a radius of six miles from Charing Cross his permission is required for the driving of cattle between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., and in certain scheduled streets in that area (known as "the special limits") for the carriage between the same hours of long and bulky articles extending certain dimensions specified, or for the use of a vehicle drawn by more than four horses. Within the "special limits" the Commissioner also has power to prescribe the routes to be followed by through traffic, including power to prohibit the use of any street as a thoroughfare by any vehicle. The City Commissioner has similar powers within the City. Under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, the Commissioner has further powers to prescribe routes and to give directions to his constables for the regulation of traffic so as to prevent obstruction on certain occasions liable to lead to special congestion. These powers extend throughout the Metropolitan Police District.

By the Metropolitan Streets Act Amendment Act, 1867, costermongers, street hawkers, or itinerant traders are exempted from the general law governing obstruction in the streets within the six-mile radius so long as they carry on their trade in compliance with Regulations made by the Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary of State.