HC Deb 10 July 1930 vol 241 cc776-87

Amendments made: In page 53, line 34, leave out the words "this Part of."

In page 54, line 5, leave out the word "any" and insert instead thereof the word "the."—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]


I beg to move in page 54, line 8, after the word "undertaking," to insert the words: or is a member of a local authority controlling any transport undertaking. It seems fair that if any one of the commissioners who is to be appointed under this Bill has to declare whether he has any financial interest in any transport undertakings that he should also declare whether he is a member of a local authority controlling any transport undertakings. For these reasons it is of the greatest national importance that nobody should be in charge of these very important services which we are creating under this Bill who has a personal interest in the undertakings. For these reasons I think when these appointments are made the full facts ought to be placed before the Minister.


I beg to second the Amendment.


This Amendment was rejected by 20 votes to seven in the Committee upstairs. The Clause as it stands requires any traffic commissioner whom it is proposed to be appointed to make a declaration if he has a personal interest in any traffic undertaking. It does not follow and there is no compulsory direction for the Minister of Transport that he cannot appoint such a person, but the person is required to declare his personal interest in any transport undertaking. That is desirable for obvious reasons, and it is a common condition in appointments made by local authorities. I cannot agree that a person who happens to be a member of a local authority controlling any transport undertaking should be placed in the same category, because, as a rule, he has no personal interest in the financial success or otherwise of the local authorities' undertakings and his income is not increased or decreased. Therefore I cannot put such a person in the same category as a person who has a personal and private interest in an undertaking. It must be remembered that if the doctrine be that a councillor representing a local authority which controls a transport undertaking cannot be appointed, that would disqualify the great bulk of those who are members of borough councils, most of whom possess transport undertakings. Having regard to these circumstances, and the decisive way in which the Amendment was rejected in Committee, and also having regard to the hour, I hope that the Amendment may not be pressed.

11.0 p.m.

Colonel ASHLEY

I think the speech of the Minister shows that his indications, earlier in the discussion of the Bill, that he wished to see private enterprise and municipal enterprise on an equality, are untrue. He says, quite truly, that we must try to prevent any of these commissioners being in any way biased in the exercise of their duty, and, in order to carry that out, he says, very properly, that any individual who is going to be appointed as a commissioner shall have to disclose whether he himself has any personal interest in any transport undertaking, so that, if his appointment would not be a proper one, he may not be appointed. In rejecting this Amendment, however, the Minister suggests that the curtailment of partiality on the part of a person representing a municipality should be done away with, and that anybody representing a municipal undertaking owning omnibuses should be allowed to be appointed. As he says, most of these municipal undertakings do run omnibuses, and, therefore, we have the in my opinion, unfair position that anybody who has any private enterprise interest is ruled out, whereas an individual who represents a municipality, and who wishes, very naturally, to do the best he can for his municipality, is allowed to be there and to be as partial as he likes. That being so, I think we ought to have some more convincing answer in regard to this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 54, line 11, after the word "counties" to insert the words: and urban districts, other than boroughs. The object of this Amendment is to change the panels from which the Minister appoints the first two of the commissioners. The Bill lays down that there are to be two such panels, the first composed of persons nominated by the county councils whose areas are concerned, and the second nominated by the councils of county boroughs or urban districts. The second panel, therefore, would consist of persons nominated, firstly, by the county boroughs, secondly, by the non-county boroughs, and, thirdly, by the urban districts—a very big appointing body, as the House will realise. The Royal Commission on Transport, on page 31 of their report, advised a different division of these county bodies, and suggested that one panel should consist of nominees of county councils, and that the second should be nominated by county boroughs and non-county boroughs. That, I submit, is a better division. I have not followed it in my Amendment, for my Amendment proposes that the first panel should be nominated by the county councils and the urban district councils, and the second by the county boroughs and non-county boroughs. All the boroughs, whether county or non-county, possess the same sort of interest, and I suggest that the urban authorities are better left with the rural district councils and merged with the county councils.

You have only two nominating bodies from whom the commissioners are chosen, and you have to divide the local authorities among these two bodies in some way or other. I suggest that the Government have chosen the wrong way, and the best way is for the first panel to consist of the county councils and urban district councils, and the second to be nominated by the two classes of boroughs, county and non-county boroughs. I believe the Amendment would be satisfactory to the local authorities concerned and it would not do any harm to the Bill, in fact it would be a great improvement.


I have carefully considered this Amendment before Committee and again between Committee and Report, but I am afraid I cannot accept it. I am bound to admit that the number of local authorities that will nominate to the town panel, which will only have one representative, will be very large, and the number of local authorities that nominate to the county panel, which will also have one representative, will be very small. Because the number of county councils in a given traffic area will be relatively small, the number of boroughs and urban districts will be relatively large. But this is not a question of counting noses by numbers of local authorities. It is a question of getting a proper balance on the Traffic Commission as a whole. The chairman will be appointed by the Minister and of the other two, one will be drawn from an urban area and the other from a county or rural area. There can be no question that different questions of policy are raised in rural and in urban areas and it must certainly be the case that one of the persons to be appointed should represent the towns and it is equally important that the other should be particularly cognisant of the problems of rural transport. Even if the Amendment were carried, any Minister would be bound to take that view, and it might merely result in the urban districts, which would be classed with the counties under the Amendment, being ignored altogether. We must get town experience and county experience. That is the basis on which I have gone, and I hope that point of view will commend itself to the House.


I am sorry the Minister has taken this view because there is behind the Amendment a very considerable demand, at any rate, on the part of county boroughs, and it is backed by representatives of the three political parties. I am quite prepared to admit that in a matter like this we cannot simply count noses. We must count the population. We must count the number of motor cars. Let us see what the present position is with the present panel as proposed in this Clause. Take the North Western area. There are 20 county boroughs, 40 non-county boroughs and 140 urban districts. That is, 180 nominating bodies with a vast population behind them, to form one panel. There are only nine counties on the other panel. Let us look at the nine counties. I speak with all respect, as hon. Members from Wales are seated rather thickly around me. There are Montgomeryshire, Merionethshire, Carnarvonshire, Anglesey, Denbigh and Flint. That is only six—all very delightful counties. Politically they are a paradise. The Bill is not concerned with politics, but with population, and therefore with the number of motorists. Those counties have not got a population between them equal to the county boroughs. It seems to me that the panels are altogether wrongly calculated. The Minister said we had to consider town and country. I want to recall to him something that he said earlier in the debate under Clause 46. We were discussing the power to restrict the use of vehicles to specified roads, and he said that some of the small urban district councils had not got a town mentality. He went on to say that the county boroughs had the town mentality. That is our point. If the county boroughs have the town mentality for Clause 46, they have it for Clause 64.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 54, line 35, leave out the words "a term".—[The Solicitor-General.]


I beg to move, in page 55, line 11, at the end, to insert the words: At least one of the three commissioners appointed for the north-western traffic area and of the three commissioners appointed for the South Wales traffic area, specified respectively in the first column of Part I of the Third Schedule to this Act, and an adequate number of the officers and servants of the commissioners for the said two areas, shall have a competent knowledge of the Welsh language. It is not often that Wales has occupied the attention of the House in recent Sessions, although we hear a good deal about Scottish matters. I make no apology for asking the House to agree to the Amendment. It is possible to appeal to the House on sentimental grounds, for, of course, no one can ignore the sentiment of nationality. Fully 50 years ago, the House in its wisdom ignored the sentiment of nationality in a neighbouring isle, and we know with what tragic results. It was very frequently said, with regard to the country to which I referred, that England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity. So far as my country is concerned, the interpretation of that phrase was a very different one.

When Britain was in difficulties a few years ago, it was an opportunity for Wales, with all its patriotism, to show its loyalty to the United Kingdom, of which it forms a part. I am not going to deal with this question on sentimental grounds. I do not think that the House of Commons is disposed to listen to sentiment, but I believe that it is prepared to do justice, and is anxious that the legislation which passes the House should be in a form to secure efficiency in the administration of the law. In approaching the Amendment from this angle, I wish to point out what will be the functions of the Commissioners. It is not necessary for me to deal with the duties which are common to all the Commissioners, but they are mainly concerned with the granting of road service licences, public service vehicle licences, and licences for drivers and conductors of motor vehicles. It is provided in Clause 63 that, The commissioners shall, for the purpose of hearing and determining applications for the grant and backing of road service licences,"— the most important functions they have to exercise— and may for any other purpose, if they so think fit, hold public sittings at such places in any part of their area as appears to them convenient. Both in the North Western Area, of which the North Wales counties form part, and also in several of the counties in South Wales there are areas where you will find that a large number of the population either speak Welsh solely or that their knowledge of English is so limited that they would not be able to do justice to themselves if they were called upon to appear before Commissioners who were not able to understand the language of the people. I speak in this connection with a good deal of experience. I have frequently had occasion to attend courts in various parts of North Wales, and I am certain that unless the tribunal is constituted of men who have a good knowledge of the Welsh language it will be impossible for justice to be done to the litigants who appear before the court. This question has been recog- nised to such an extent that for a large number of years no County Court Judge has been appointed to any Circuit in North Wales who has not had a good knowledge of the language of the mass of the people. In moving this Amendment, I am in a position to refer to precedents. I know what influence precedent has upon this House, and, if I can point out that Parliament, in its wisdom has in the past dealt with similar problems on the lines which I now suggest, I am certain that it will make an appeal to members on both sides of the House. As far back as 1887, in the Coal Mines Bill of that year, a provision to this effect was introduced with regard to the appointment of inspectors in Wales: Provided always that in the appointment of inspectors of mines in Wales and Monmouthshire among the candidates otherwise equally qualified persons having a knowledge of the Welsh language shall be preferred. I looked up the report on the debates which took place in 1887 and I find that a well-known industrial leader, Mr. W. Abraham, better known as Mabon moved an amendment to the Bill to insert a Clause of this character. It was opposed by Mr. Mathews, who was then Home Secretary, but so great was the demand from both sides of the House that something should be done to meet the case of Wales that the Home Secretary ultimately agreed to the Section to which I have just referred. In the last few days we have been told in reply to a question that 13 out of the 22 mining inspectors in Wales are fully acquainted with the Welsh language. A Clause to the same effect was introduced into the Quarries Act, and in 1901 into the Factories Act. I trust that all sections of the House would agree to meet out this act of justice to the Principality. We have heard a great deal of the claims of national minorities and we shall in a few days be discussing this question in this House. If it is known that this House, in the case of the loyal minority in Wales, is prepared to recognise their claims in this respect it will have an enormous influence. I appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House to support this Amendment.

I have no hestitation in appealing to the Conservative party because it was the Conservative party which in 1887 recognised that Wales was entitled to special legislation in this respect. As far as the Liberal party is concerned, with the traditions of Gladstone and Campbell-Bannerman, there is no question as to their attitude. With regard to the Labour party, may I point this out. They are in a minority so far as England is concerned, they have equality in Scotland, but Wales sends 25 out of 36 members to support the Government. What we are asking is but a measure of justice which means that it can be effectively administered because it is recognised that the people of Wales have the right to put their case before people who are cognisant with their own language.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN

I beg to second the Amendment.

I trust that the Minister of Transport will assure us that he will deal with this matter and thus render efficient service to the Principality in this respect.


I think I can give an assurance to my hon. Friends from Wales on this point, and so, I hope, dispose of the Amendment and make the measure of progress which we desire. Under the Schedule to the Bill, as the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) has said, there will be two traffic areas which will affect Wales, one in South Wales and Monmouthshire, which in substance is Wales all the way through, and the other in North Wales, which, it is agreed, could not carry an independent traffic commission of its own because it is not big enough, and, in any case, from the point of view of transport, is intimately related to the transport services by road from Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and so on. Therefore, both on traffic grounds and on population grounds it is inevitable that North Wales should be linked up with the North-Western counties of England. I understand that my hon. Friends do not dispute that proposition. What they are asking is that among the three Traffic Commissioners for South Wales and the three for North Wales and the North-Western area one shall be Welsh-speaking, or at any rate with a working knowledge of the Welsh language, and that some members of the staff in those two offices shall be Welsh- speaking or have a working knowledge of the Welsh language.

On the last point, I see no difficulty at all in admininstration in providing that that shall be so. As a matter of fact I personally should regard it as essential that there should be Welsh-speaking members of the staff in order that they may deal with that section of the population which may be able to speak English but finds it difficult to think in the English language. That difficulty should be met. But, of course, it must be remembered that the traffic commission in the main will be dealing not with the mass of the people so much as with licensees and owners of omnibus undertakings, drivers, conductors and so on, who probably will all be able to speak English. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a point of substance in his argument that cannot be ignored.

The House will agree that I must appoint all the chairmen of traffic commissions on the ground of various abilities in business, their judgment, administrative and organising ability and so on. If I were restricted to any one consideration upon the point it would not be a proper thing to impose on me. There are besides the chairman the two traffic commissioners. In South Wales one will be drawn from the counties and the other from the towns. I think it is highly probable and certainly it is a factor which I shall keep sympathetically in mind, that we can draw from North Wales at least one Welshman who speaks the Welsh language or has a working knowledge of the Welsh language. But in the case of South Wales there are a good number who in origin are real Welshmen but may not have the proper knowledge or a working knowledge of the Welsh language, and yet are competent and eminently desirable people, from the point of view of their knowledge of transport, to sit upon the traffic commission. If I were driven to the position that I had to choose between a Welsh-speaking Welshman in South Wales who is not particularly able for the job and a non-Welsh-speaking Welshman who was outstandingly able for the position, I might be in a position of great difficulty. [Interruption.] I have to face the facts.


What difficulty does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate in regard to this particular qualification of a knowledge of Welsh?


It is conceivable—I do not put it higher than that—that I might be driven into making a choice of that kind. Is the House going to tell me in such a case "Although one of these men is greatly superior to the other and is Welsh, he does not speak the Welsh language and you cannot, therefore, appoint him. We will drive you into appointing the less able man of the two"? I am sure the House is not going to do that. Other things being equal, I quite agree that a Welsh-speaking Welshman should have preference and I am prepared to say that that will be the spirit of the administration and that I will do the best I can, but there must be equality in other respects. I only want to get that point clear. As regards North Wales, the case is stronger. I have just been touring North Wales and I have been filled with a great admiration for the people and the country. If I had had to come to a decision on the spot, it is possible that my emotions at the moment might have run away with me. I will never—not even after last night's events—quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for singing the praises of the Welsh mountains. I said so before, and I say it again, even after the experiences of yesterday. As I say, the case in regard to North Wales is stronger but there I must be careful because if I promise that the townsman Shall be drawn from Wales and shall be a Welshman I exclude the Lancashire towns and vice versa. But I see a great deal in the points which my hon. Friends have raised. They may be assured that in the course of administration I will do my best to meet it, and I think that, in the course of administration, I can meet it. But I ask the House not to tie me down by Statute, when circumstances may arise in which I ought not to be tied down. My hon. Friends from Wales, whose feelings I genuinely respect and understand, may be assured that as a matter of administration, I will do my very best to meet the real substance of the claim which they have put forward and I think I can succeed in meeting it.


I am sure we all appreciate the spirit in which the Minister has addressed the House on this subject. I am sure, also, that the right hon. Gentleman himself will be the first to appreciate—especially in view of the fact that yesterday's proceedings seem to weigh upon his mind to some extent—the possibility that he may not be the particular Minister of Transport to make this appointment, and from his successor we may not get that sympathy to which the right hon. Gentleman has given expression. [An HON. MEMBER: "He will not be a Welshman."] I am afraid not, and it is a pity, because if he were Welsh, he would probably be a very sucessful Minister. In view of the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed for our purpose, I appeal to him to go just a little further than he has gone to-night. He speaks of the practical difficulties, and he suggests that he might be confronted with the situation of having to appoint either a Welshman with no other qualifications for the post, or else somebody who had the other qualifications, but was not a Welshman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Welsh-speaking."] The differentiation is very small and not very important, because I venture to say, with some knowledge of the country, that, as regards the possibility of finding a Welsh-speaking man to fill the office of Commissioner, Wales would be a very poor country indeed if it could not produce a man possessing all the qualifications for the position and also a knowledge of the Welsh language. I happen to know something of local administration in Wales, and the fact cannot be ignored that a very large number of men and women in Wales think in Welsh and speak in Welsh. Their native language is Welsh, and it is extraordinarily difficult for them to express their real feelings in any other language. It is no good ignoring that fact. There is a large number of people whose only language is Welsh, both in thought and expression, and they are not getting fair play if they have to express their views in a language which is other than their native tongue. All that we are asking is that in these appointments due consideration should be given to that fact. North Wales includes five or six counties where Welsh in definitely their language, and in South Wales some of the counties are inhabited by people whose only language is Welsh. It is only right, therefore, when we are setting up a system of this sort, that we should include among those who are to be entrusted with the responsibility of putting this Bill into operation, people who are sufficiently acquainted with the language to ensure fair play to the people who will be affected.


May I ask the Minister to deal with this problem in the Highland countries of Scotland in the same sympathetic spirit that he has shown in regard to Wales?


I endorse the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friends on the other side on behalf of the claims of Wales. The Minister does not recognise the intensity with which Welsh people regard questions of this kind. There is unfortunately growing in Wales, as in other part of the country, the feeling that this kind of sentiment is disregarded to an extent that it ought not to be. North Wales is the most typically Welsh part of Wales, and it would be a calamity if there were not a Commissioner who could deal with these matters from the essentially Welsh point of view. It is a vital matter to a small country like Wales.

Amendment negatived.