HC Deb 25 February 1930 vol 235 cc2209-16

Resolution reported, That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to make provision for the regulation of traffic on roads, and of motor vehicles and otherwise with respect to roads and vehicles thereon, to make provision for the protection of third parties against risks' arising out of the use of motor vehicles, and in connection with such protection to amend the Assurance Companies Act, 1909, and for other purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (a) the payment in every year out of moneys provided by Parliament of such sums as the Minister may, with the consent of the Treasury, direct in respect of the salaries, remuneration, establishment charges, and other expenses of the traffic commissioners, certifying officers, public service vehicle examiners, and any other officers or servants appointed by the Minister for the purpose of Part IV of the said Act, including any expenses incurred in connection with the employment of police officers as public service vehicle examiners; and
  2. (b) the payment into the Exchequer of all fines imposed by courts of summary jurisdiction in respect of offences under the said Act, or the regulations made under the said Act, and of all sums received by the councils of counties and county boroughs by way of fees for licences under Part I of the said Act; and
  3. 2210
  4. (c) any sums so paid into the Exchequer to be charged on and issued out of the Consolidated Fund as if they had been paid into the Exchequer under the Roads Act, 1920."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Colonel ASHLEY

It will be within the recollection of the House that when we discussed this Motion in Committee certain questions were put to the Minister of Transport which he was unable to answer very definitely, probably because he had not had sufficient notice. I want to ask whether he can give us more information now that he has had three or four days in which to consider these rather important details. Has he come to any conclusion as to the kind of persons he will approach with a view to their becoming chairmen of these traffic commissioners, and what sort of salary he expects to be able to offer? I would impress upon the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to be very careful in the selection of these chairmen, because on their tact, business knowledge and general common sense will depend very largely the success or failure of these commissioners, the appointment of whom I strongly support.

I would also like to know what the proposal is as to the appointment of certifying officers and public service vehicle examiners. He seemed to think on the Committee stage that that certifying officers would be part-time officers and the examiners whole-time officers. I suggest that that idea is not very sound from a business point of view, and that the certifying officers, who have to examine every one of the public service vehicles which will come on to the road and certify that they are fit to carry passengers should really give their whole time to the work. It is important that they should be properly qualified men and able to devote their whole time to the examination of those vehicles. That is the public service vehicles.

There was one point which was not raised and which I think ought to be made clear. How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to secure the services of police officers as public service vehicle examiners? In the Bill, it is laid down that the Minister may secure the services of police officers as public vehicle examiners, but I would like to know how he is going to approach the Chief Constables? Are they to devote all their time to this work, are they to be directing traffic in the morning and examining vehicles in the afternoon? Are they, to use an Army phrase, to be seconded for a time for this work, and then go back to their other duties? Before we allow this Resolution to go through, we should be told exactly what are to be the duties of these police officers, because it is certainly an innovation to use police in this direction.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I rather thought that we should not have to consider the provisions of the Bill itself upon this Resolution, or go into details on the points which were raised in Committee by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest (Colonel Ashley). Certainly, it is my great anxiety to give the House every piece of information that I possibly can, but, as I informed the Committee, my difficulty is one with which any other Minister would have been confronted in my position, and it is that the Bill is not yet passed, and we cannot tell between now and the final passage of the Bill exactly what provisions will be incorporated in the Measure restricting the duties of the officers who have been mentioned, giving them additional duties, or transforming their character. All sorts of changes are possible during the Committee stage and the Report stage of this Measure either on the initiative of the Government or of hon. Members. We have not yet come to anything like final conclusions as to the type of person we shall appoint as traffic commissioners, nor have we come to any final conclusions as to the certifying officers or the examining officers. I am concerned that they should have certain qualifications and characteristics.

The Chairman of the Commission does require, ideally, a whole series of good qualities. He ought to have business ability, and be able to see the problems facing the business community and the road transport industry. He ought to have an administrative sense, that is to say, he ought to be able to control the machine of administration so that it will run with smoothness and efficiency. He ought to be impartial, he ought to be able to weigh the evidence that is argued before the Traffic Commission. Generally speaking, he ought to have a good sense of fairness and justice as between one party and another. It may be said that people who have been in the municipal service, or the police service, or the transport world, are suited for that position, but directly I committed myself to that point objection would be raised that this municipal officer would not be suitable, or that police officer would not be suitable, or this business man would not be suitable, and, clearly, I must, when applications are received, when it is known that the appointments are to be made, endeavour to pick out the men who answer the qualifications I have indicated.

With regard to salary, again it would be premature to say what the salary will be. Clearly it must depend on the responsibilities which these gentlemen will have to carry. I cannot say what the responsibilities will be until we get the final passage of the Bill. With regard to certifying officers and the public service vehicles examining officers, it is possible that I may have been in error in giving the answer on the Committee stage as to whether they are part-time or full-time officers, and which the one and which the other. My prejudice, my instinct, is for full-time services in both cases, in order that one may have them more or less under continuous control and get the necessary type of technical qualification which must be an important factor; and particularly important in the case of the certifying officer who will discharge very great responsibilities indeed.

I am concerned to secure in both cases that they are men who are technically qualified for the work that they have to do. Certifying officers must be men of technical and professional experience. Examining officers must be men fully competent to discharge their duties, but it may be in the case of the examining officer that one can recruit for the service not necessarily men of the Institute of Civil Engineers or men of that type, but perhaps first-class mechanics with considerable practical experience of motor construction and repair work, could be considered for those duties. But subject to this reservation, one must wait for finality before one sees the definite duties of these persons as provided by the Bill. With regard to the police officers there is a permissive power as to examining officers, that, with the concurrence of the local police authority, the Minister may appoint police officers as examining officers. I do not imagine that all the examining officers or even the majority of them will be police officers. I only take this power because in some cases the local authorities have done their licensing duties so well and the police have been so efficient in their work, and we ought all to recognise that fact, although we are transferring their powers to someone else. As a matter of administrative continuity and sound administration, I may be very glad, or the Minister of the time may be very glad, to avail himself of the services of police officers, who are eminently suited for this class of duty. All I do is to take the power to use them if I desire. But I cannot say whether I all use them or not, nor whether the police authorities would be willing that I should use these police officers.

I do not imagine that the arrangement will be that the Minister of Transport will individually engage a series of police officers. Obviously, they must remain in the police force, and must be subject to police discipline and to the orders of the chief of police of the district in which they serve. If any arrangement of that kind is made, it must be made, in my judgment, between the Minister of Transport and the local police authority, and he must make, so to speak, a contract for the service of certain officers of the police force, in return for certain considerations which the Minister of Transport will give to the police authority. That is the kind of arrangement which we shall make.

I think that I have dealt with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. I say, again, that I am sorry that I cannot be more definite, but I think that the House in all quarters will see that it would be foolish of me to come to final conclusions or to make any definite administrative decisions until we see exactly the form that the Bill is going to take, and exactly the powers that I shall have to exercise under the Bill. I am, however, determined to secure the most efficient administration and the best brains: that I can for the work, in order that it may be carried on with smoothness and cleanness, absolutely free from corruption or any improper influence in the granting or refusal of licences, and with the greatest efficiency. I think the House will agree that that is as far as I can go in explanation at this stage, and I hope that the House will now be good enough to give me the Report stage of the Resolution.


I think everyone will agree with the last part of the Minister's statement, namely, that the administration of the various branches of this Measure should be as good as possible and absolutely clean. If the Minister follows the example of his predecessor, it will be a very good example. I must say, however, that, as a financial statement dealing with a great Bill, the statement which the Minister has just made is probably one of the crudest that has ever been made in the House of Commons. The Minister said, in reference to almost every subject, that he had not very much idea as to what was going to be done. He told us that, so far as money was concerned, when the Committee stage was reached, he expected that there might be very large changes, and that those changes might follow into the Report and further stages of the Bill. It has always seemed to me to be a sound axiom of finance in this House that, when we are dealing with Resolutions on Report, we should have some sort of idea as to where we stand, and for the Minister to say that he has no idea is surely directly sinning against the best interests of the House at large. Could not the Minister give us some idea of the actual total of traffic commissioners, certifying officers and so on who will come under the Bill? If he could we should be rather more inclined to give him the Report stage of the Resolutions. I feel sure every section of the House would wish to join in the great and highly deserved compliment which the hon. Gentleman paid to the police authorities throughout the country but we ought to be told, within a reasonable figure, the actual totals of these people who are to be engaged.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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