HC Deb 01 May 1969 vol 782 cc1740-57

9.7 p.m.

Mr. John Peel (Leicester, South-East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Exemption) Regulations 1969 (S.I., 1969, No. 419), dated 18th March, 1969, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st March, be annulled. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will soon be with us, because it is rather important that he should hear what I say—I am glad to see that he is now taking his place.

One purpose of these regulations is to remove the exemption from the requirement to have test certificates which is at present enjoyed by hackney carriages and private hire cars licensed by the Leicester City Council. Apart from Liverpool, which, I observe, has also been singled out very invidiously for this unwelcome attention, the exemptions apparently are to continue in other areas.

I would like to know why we have been singled out for this unwelcome attention. If, as I suspect, the Minister of Transport has no good reason for his decision other than the overweaning one of all Socialist Administrations for more and more bureaucracy, I would ask him to reverse it.

I notice that the hon. Members for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) are not in their places this evening. I can draw only one conclusion: either that they support me wholeheartedly or perhaps are so embarrassed by the action which the Government have taken that they do not like to be here.

I should like, first, to draw the Minister's attention to the opening paragraph of the regulations: The Minister of Transport in exercise of his powers under section 66 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, and of all other powers him enabling in that behalf, and after consultation with representative organisations in accordance with the provisions of section 260(2) of the said Act of 1960, hereby makes the following Regulations:— I hope that the Minister will tell us what consultations he has had. One of the most important representative organisations with which he should have had consultations is the city council. All the evidence that I have shows that the city council is strongly opposed to these regulations. Therefore, if the Minister consulted the city council and was told that it strongly opposed these regulations, I should like to know why he proposes to bring them in.

I should like to present the position, as I see it, simply and clearly to the Minister. Under the general law—that is, Section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847—hackney carriages need to be licensed by the local authority. In Leicester, this involves an examination for their mechanical fitness. In Leicester, and some other places too, this has been extended by local Acts to private hire cars as well. Furthermore, the examination of a vehicle for the purpose of a taxicab licence is more severe in Leicester than the examination for a Ministry of Transport test certificate, and a fee of 40s. is charged for such a licence.

Until the amalagamation of the city and county police forces in April, 1967, the council, found it convenient to use the police for the licensing of taxicabs and their drivers and the enforcement of this branch of the law. But this duty was not strictly a police function, and the Home Office Inspectorate of Police recommended that police authorities should not be made responsible for it.

Although the police, up to 1967, dealt with the administration of licensing generally, their workshops were found to be not suitable for examining the large number of vehicles involved. The mechanical examination of taxicabs has, therefore, since 1967, been carried out by mechanics of the city transport department, which runs an authorised testing station for issuing Ministry of Transport test certificates for private vehicles under Section 66 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960.

In 1967, at the town clerk's request, the Minister exempted hackney carriages and private hire cars licensed by the city council from the test certificate requirement.

Although on the amalgamation of the city and county police forces in 1967 the administration and enforcement of the law relating to taxicabs was transferred from the police to the council's public protection officer, there was no change in the mechanical examination of the vehicles which is still carried out by mechanics of the city transport department. In these circumstances it seems unreasonable that exemptions should not be granted only because examinations of taxicabs are not supervised by the police, especially when, outside the Metropolitan area, this has never been a police function.

Furthermore, in Leicester there has been no change in the mechanical examination since the original exemptions which I mentioned were granted by the Minister. If the Minister is satisfied with the mechanical tests carried out by the city transport department for test certificates, I hope that he will tell me why he is not satisfied with the more rigorous tests carried out by the same people in respect of taxicabs. Leicester City Council and the taxicab proprietors—and there are 285 licensed vehicles in the city—will be very disappointed indeed if the present exemption is revoked so soon after its introduction with the agreement of the Minister.

The council itself is very much aware of the need to improve the taxicab service in the city, and I consider the present proposal to be totally unnecessary. It will certainly cause great irritation in the trade. It will add still further to the increasing costs of operating taxicabs. Once again, these cabs together with other motor cars and motor vehicles, have been disgracefully clobbered by the Chancellor in his Budget. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give us a reassuring answer and tell us that he does not propose to apply these regulations to Leicester.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)

I share the surprise expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) that at a time when the affairs of local government are coming under scrutiny by the electorate on Thursday no hon. Members representing Leicester on the benches opposite are here to listen to the case, because this is a local problem. Representations having been made to hon. Members on both sides of the House, I think that they should have been here, at any rate to hear the argument so ably put forward by my hon. Friend.

In 1967 taxicabs and hire cars in Leicester were exempted by Government regulations from undergoing these two tests. Now we have these Regulations, which we seek to annul, to make them liable to the M.O.T. test. Throughout this period the same depots have been carrying out these tests on taxicabs and hire cars. There have been the same stringent tests and the same high standards. The only change between 1967 when the Regulations were introduced exempting Leicester taxicabs from the M.O.T. test and what is proposed now is who is to sign the form. The tests will be carried out at the same depots, but it is now a question of who will sign the form—the police, or Leicester City Corporation. The hire-car tests are more rigorous than the M.O.T. tests. Yet it is only a few months since the House passed the Leicester Corporation Act, which placed on the council the obligation to test its taxis and hire cars. Now the Government introduce Regulations to remove that power. Do they not trust the city of Leicester? If not, let them say so, and say why.

This is a typical case of a Box and Cox act. It is almost a demarcation dispute about who signs the forms—someone approved by the Ministry as a police official, who is all right, or someone acting on behalf of the city council. There is no more reputable body in this country than the Leicester City Council—

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)


Mr. Boardman

My hon. Friend suggests that there are others. At least, Leicester is of equal calibre to any, but it is wrong in the eyes of the Government. If ever there was a case which illustrated that in the Government's view the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, this is it.

What inquiries did the Minister make? Did he inquire into the methods of testing used before 1967 and during 1967, when the Regulations were brought in, and those used today? If so, he will know that they are exactly the same today and will be the same in a month's time, when the Regulations go through—if they do—as they were when approved by the Government. Has he inquired of the police? Until amalgamation, the police used this depot and this method of testing for their own cars.

The Parliamentary Secretary may say that the same test being used for the taxis as the M.O.T. will result only in two forms being supplied for the same test. What will be the additional cost? Does that not matter? There will be two tests—the M.O.T. and the city council hire standard test. There will be two authorities, two bits of paper, two charges.

Taxis have been clobbered enough with petrol taxes and the rest and it would be a sad day if provincial cities were to lose their taxi services, which many hon. Members have cause to be thankful for when arriving at remote stations to attend meetings. We should not take them for granted and I would rue the day that the Government so penalised taxis that they disappeared.

What will be the cost to the Revenue of this, with more forms, more administration, more bureaucracy and more Regulations? What an absolute nonsense. This is the old Socialist attitude, which is repeated time and time again. Where will it stop? If they cannot trust the city of Leicester to test its own taxis, we will soon find that they do not trust it to test its own sewers and Ministers will be running down to Leicester to test the sewers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am neutral as between Leicester and Manchester City, but the hon. Member must keep to the Regulations.

Mr. Boardman

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I allowed myself to be carried away. But it is no wonder that public expenditure mounts in the face of this type of increasing bureaucracy. Hon. Members ask from time to time—

Mr. Clegg

What hon. Members?

Mr. Boardman

The empty back benches opposite show the amount of interest which Labour hon. Members have in a matter which should concern them deeply, for 285 taxis and private hire cars in Leicester will be clobbered by this Instrument. We are constantly asking why public expenditure is mounting. Although perhaps only a small amount is involved this time, multiplied over the series of similar measures which the Government have introduced for reasons of bureaucratic nonsense, public expenditure is bound to rise.

Mr. Clegg

Has my hon. Friend received, or is he aware of anybody else in Leicester who has received, any complaints about the present system? Has it led to accidents?

Mr. Boardman

I can say with confidence that the system of testing in Leicester is as high as anywhere in the country. I am not aware of any complaints having been received—I think I see the Minister nodding his consent—and, as far as I am aware, it has not led to any accidents or to a reduction in safety standards.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) and I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) in calling attention to the sparseness of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Of the seven Socialist hon. Members who represent Liverpool constituencies, not one is in his place. That is surprising, since Liverpool is considerably affected by this Instrument.

I will not repeat the arguments adduced by my hon. Friends. Until the amalgamation of the Liverpool and Bootle police forces, in 1967, Liverpool City Council found it convenient to use the police for the licensing of taxicabs and their drivers. This duty was not strictly a police function and the Home Office Inspectorate of Police recommended that police authorities should not be made responsible for it.

Since 1st July, 1968, subsequent to the amalgamation of the two police forces, the licensing of taxicabs has been carried out by the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures, and the mechanical examination, which until then had been done by the police, has been undertaken by our city engineer at his depot at Breckside Park. Because of the change relating to the mechanical examination of taxicabs, the Minister of Transport indicated that he could not grant exemption from the requirement of a test certificate and, despite representations made to him, this regulation is now to become operative.

It was pointed out to the Minister that the test which taxicabs must pass before their annual licence is issued is as thorough and stringent now as it had been hitherto. Indeed, the examination of a vehicle for the purpose of a taxicab licence is more severe than the examination for a Ministry test certificate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West pointed out that there were 285 taxis in Leicester. There are 400 in Liverpool. Their proprietors and owners, as well as the council, will be disappointed if, as is proposed, the exemption is revoked. I believe that this step is unnecessary and will only cause great irritation to the trade.

9.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

I have listened with great care to the points made by hon. Members tonight and the first thing I should like to say in reply is that the testing of motor vehicles under the provisions of Section 65 of the 1960 Road Traffic Act is entirely a road safety measure.

When these tests were first introduced they applied to vehicles which were 10 years old or more. By subsequent Orders this has now been reduced to three years. Unless he is specifically exempted, any person who uses on a road a vehicle which is subject to testing must be in possession of a test certificate issued within the last 12 months. It has been the policy of successive Ministers that the number of exemptions should be kept to an absolute minimum.

However, when the arrangements for testing were being debated in this House a very strong case was made out for the exemption of hackney carriages licensed in the Metropolitan Police area. This was because they were already subject to very thorough examinations by the police. These tests were, in fact, more stringent than those proposed for the general run of vehicles. In these circumstances, it was fairly argued, that it would be unreasonable to require that these vehicles should be subject to the Ministry of Transport test, particularly as the tests already carried out were done by the police who, being directly concerned with the enforcement of traffic regulations, were themselves a road safety agency.

Mr. Tom Boardman

The hon. Member said that the tests were being carried out by the police. Is he aware that they were not and are not carried out by the police in Leicester, but by the city transport department, which carries them out on behalf of the police?

Mr. Brown

I thank the hon. Member for trying to help me. If he will contain himself in patience I will come to that matter in due course.

I stress that the tests were already being done in the Metropolitan area by the police, who were directly concerned with the enforcement of road safety regulations and were themselves a road safety agency.

The argument was accepted and as a result, when the necessary regulations were drawn up, they included an exemption for hackney carriages licensed in the Metropolitan Police area. In the course of consultation on these regulations it was pointed out that other licensing authorities outside London exercise a similar degree of control over the inspection of hackney carriages licensed by them.

A case was accordingly made out for the exemption of these vehicles from the M.O.T. test. It was decided, therefore, that where a licensing authority required an examination of the mechanical condition of the hackney carriages licensed by them, which was on a parallel with the inspection of hackney carriages licensed in London, an exemption from the M.O.T. test should also be provided.

The main consideration in deciding whether an exemption was to be granted or not, was whether or not the inspection of mechanical condition was carried out by the police. If it was carried out by the police, an exemption was granted. If it was not, no matter what other arrangements were made for testing the vehicles concerned, an exemption was not granted. I ask the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) to be patient. I will deal with this point in more depth in a moment.

A number of requests were received from licensing authorities for exemptions for the hackney carriages which they licensed. In every case the alternative conditions of testing were investigated by technical officers of the Ministry's area staff. Where they found that the tests were of the required stringency and were carried out by the police, exemptions were granted. Where, however, it was found that the police did not do the inspections themselves, the request for exemption was turned down, even though the existing tests might be more exhaustive than those done under the M.O.T. scheme.

In the case of Leicester, an exemption was not sought until early in 1966. In the case of Liverpool the exemption was granted in 1961. As the circumstances are somewhat different, I will deal with them later. Technical officers from the East Midland traffic area visited the Leicester City police on 9th August, 1966 to inquire into the arrangements made for the testing of hackney carriages and private hire cars in the city. They were informed that all such tests were carried out by a suitably qualified police officer at the Leicester City transport depot, where a vehicle testing station was operated. The senior technical officer from the traffic area then interviewed the police constable who was named as the person responsible for carrying out the tests, and satisfied himself that the constable was fully competent to carry out the duties of a vehicle tester.

The technical officer also looked at the nature of the test and he was satisfied that it was, in fact, more extensive than that required for the Ministry of Transport test. On receipt of the report from the technical officer it was decided that hackney carriages and private hire cars licensed by the County Borough of Leicester should be exempted from the M.O.T. test. This decision was promulgated in SI 1967/261, which amended the Motor Vehicles (Test) (Exemption) Regu-Regulations, 1961.

I turn to the question of the revocation of the Leicester exemption. On 1st April, 1967, consequent upon the amalgamation of the Leicester City police with the Leicestershire and Rutland constabulary, the deputy chief constable of the amalgamated force confirmed to us that the administration, testing and licensing of hackney carriages and private hire cars for the City of Leicester had passed to the Leicester Corporation weights and measures department. Since the primary condition under which the exemption had been granted no longer prevailed,—that is, that the examination itself was carried out by a member of the police force—it was decided that this exemption should be revoked and the authority was informed accordingly. When it received our letter, the council replied, somewhat to our surprise in view of our initial inquiries which I have just described, that the examination of hackney carriage and private hire cars had never, in fact, been carried out by the police.

This confirms what the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West has said. The council told us that before the 1st April, 1967, when the amalgamation of police forces took place, the licensing of these vehicles, although not strictly a police function, was administered by the police. However, the mechanical examination of them was carried out by mechanics of the city transport department, and this had been the case since 1957.

When the amalgamation of the city and county police authorities took place, the responsibility for the issue of licences passed to the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures, but there was no change in the mechanical inspection nor of the personnel who carried them out.

This is very different from what the Ministry understood from the report of its own technical officer. Obviously, somewere along the line there was misunderstanding. All I can say is that, if it had come to light at the time our inquiries were made that the actual inspections were not carried out by the police themselves, the exemption would not have been granted in the first place, even if it had transpired that they were carried out under the general overall supervision of the police.

Mr. Peel

Why, then, did the Home Office Inspectorate of Police recommend that police authorities outside the Metropolitan area should not be made responsible for it? It was a precise recommendation.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member knows that we are dealing with motor vehicle test exemption regulations tonight and that I am not answerable for the Home Office. Quite clearly, this is a question for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It is not a question either for myself or for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

We are discussing specific regulations. The question was asked precisely what consultations we had in accord with the preamble to the regulation. I believe that it was the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East who asked the question. He will know that we had considerable correspondence with the Town Clerk of Leicester before we went to formal consultation. We then had formal consultation with the Association of Municipal Corporations who made representations directly on behalf of Leicester.

Perhaps I might, with respect, remind the hon. Gentleman that the conditions regarding London to which I have referred were specifically discussed in this House when vehicle testing measures were debated in Parliament in 1956; and the condition that exemption should be granted only to authorities where the police themselves carried out the examination, was not laid down by this Government. That condition was laid down by a previous Tory Government and a previous Tory Minister.

Mr. Speaker

We are not discussing the consolidated part of these regulations. We are discussing some new amendments which remove from exemption, Leicester, Liverpool and I believe Stockport. The hon. Gentleman must speak about those.

Mr. Brown

I respect your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Peel

When Leicester applied for an exemption the Minister felt bound to concede the possibility of exemption of taxicabs where the Department was satisfied that the conditions applying were exactly on all fours with those operating in London; therefore, it was presumably on that basis that he was prepared to grant the exemption, although he knew perfectly well what the changes were.

Mr. Brown

I do not want to get out of order which is precisely why I was referring to the inception of these Regulations. It is quite true that when Regulations were discussed by the House it was accepted that in London the Metropolitan Police did the actual physical examination of the vehicle. Whatever the situation may have been in the past, however, there is no disagreement now about who does the inspections. It is quite clear that in Leicester it is not the police, and so the Minister has decided that the exemption should be revoked.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Will the Minister confirm that tests are being carried out in Leicester by the same people, with the same experience and ability, that were carrying them out in 1967, and that those are the people who are approved for the Ministry of Transport test?

Mr. Brown

I will, of course, confirm that. I would not attempt to deny it, but I have explained that the Department have for some years now been under a misapprehension. I have conceded that point to the hon. Gentleman. But the fact remains that in accordance with the decision of this House regarding hackney carriages in London we need to withdraw this exemption because the examinations are not being carried out by the police themselves. This is quite specific.

Mr. Tilney

The Minister has not answered one of the questions my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) asked him. Is he really saying, as a member of the Government, that his right hand does not know what his left hand is doing? The Home Office Inspectorate of Police recommended that the police authority should not be responsible.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a debate, not a conversation.

Mr. Brown

In the case of Liverpool, the question is more clear-cut. There is no doubt that until the recent amalgamations of the local police forces the inspection of hackney carriages was carried out by the police. As a result of the amalgamations and in the interests of economy, the amalgamated forces have decided that they can no longer undertake the inspections. I do not deny that the inspections which have been instituted in their place may well be more exhaustive than the M.O.T. test. However, the Ministry adheres to the basic principle that inspection by the police is a necessary prerequisite to exemption from M.O.T. testing.

I said that I would deal more fully with the question of inspection by the police. It has been argued that the inspections carried out by the licensing authority at Leicester's City transport depot are more stringent than those required for the issue of a Ministry of Transport test certificate. I have already conceded this. Leicester is a designated council for the purposes of Section 65 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, and as such is empowered to run vehicle test stations to carry out the M.O.T. test. The City's transport depot where the hackney carriages and private hire cars are tested, is such a test station, and can, and no doubt does, issue Ministry of Transport test certificates. The Ministry is not directly concerned with any other conditions of mechanical fitness which the council may wish to impose for its own purposes on any vehicle which it licenses.

This is a matter for the council. But before we are prepared to exempt these vehicles from the M.O.T. test we insist that an alternative inspection should be carried out at least once a year by the police, who have a special position in that they are responsible for all kinds of law enforcement. It is, therefore, reasonable that the Minister should grant an exemption for vehicles which have been put through an equivalent test by them. Local authorities also concern themselves with some branches of law enforcement, and they are very much concerned about road safety, but standards of vehicle maintenance are already lower than we would wish, and this is no time to exempt any more classes of vehicles from the M.O.T. test.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)


Mr. Tom Boardman


Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)


Mr. Speaker

Order. With the best will in the world, we cannot have three interventions at once. It is for the Minister to decide which of the three contestants he should yield to.

Mr. Heseltine

On a point of order. I was rising to make a speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Fortescue

Further to that point of order. So was I.

Mr. Tom Boardman

I just wanted clarification from the Minister. Am I correct in understanding him to say that his interpretation of the regulations means that hire cars will now have to be tested under police supervision? If that is what he is saying, perhaps he will spell out how this comes about. If I understand the position correctly, this means that they must come under the ordinary M.O.T. test. Perhaps he would like to correct what he said a little earlier, because I am sure that he did not mean to say it.

Mr. Brown

I will come to that later. I had begun to talk about the standard of vehicle maintenance.

I was about to say that we do not want any more exemptions from the Ministry of Transport test. Any such exemptions are likely only to lower standards and not to raise them.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)


Mr. Brown

I have been generous in giving way.

Mr. Clegg


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we might get on with the debate.

Mr. Brown

Even if we were to continue to grant the exemptions which have now been withdrawn, where is the logic of drawing the line there? There are many other classes of vehicle besides taxis which are inspected by local authorities such as fleet operators and similar large users. If we were not to maintain some clear-cut distinction such as this, it would be illogical not to grant an exemption for these other vehicles as well. It might seem illogical that we should insist on only the police doing the examinations but that is what led the House to agree to exemption in London.

To grant all these exemptions would add immensely to the Ministry's administrative burdens and would make enforcement of testing standards much more difficult. It, in turn, would also lead to a decline in standards of testing and, therefore, to less safety on the roads. This we would not for a moment countenance.

Doubts have been cast recently in the press and on television, and to some extent in this House tonight, about the effectiveness of the Ministry test scheme. I can assure hon. Members that this is a matter of constant concern to the Minister and is a problem which we have tackled and are continuing to tackle. Specific allegations about evasion of the test requirements are now being investigated, and if they are substantiated criminal proceedings may well be instituted.

Measures were taken 12 months or so ago to tighten up the scheme and the effect of these measures is yet to be assessed. But let there be no doubt that it is the Minister's intention to see that this scheme works properly and efficiently in the interests of road safety. This will not be achieved if the scheme is weakened because of the exemptions which have been granted from it.

In answer to the question put to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman), hire cars in Leicester were previously exempted along with taxis, but their exemption has been withdrawn. They now simply have to have the Ministry of Transport test.

I therefore recommend that the Motion be rejected.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

Towards what I assumed a few moments ago was the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman was making what I thought was an eloquent plea for no lowering of standards by the granting of further exemption. My hon. Friends from Leicester will want to read HANSARD carefully to see the precise implications of his statement because, as I understood it, there was only one possible interpretation—that to allow these sort of exemptions to continue would mean that the Leicester City Council would be prepared to accept lower standards than are being enjoyed there now.

It is extraordinary that, when the hon. Gentleman was dealing with Leicester, with 285 hackney carriages, and Liverpool, with 400, he made not a single reference to any occasion when there has been any reflection on the standard of testing carried on in those two cities. A practical Minister of Transport in a practical Ministry would surely have wanted to look at the facts to see whether the system was working in practice.

It is ridiculous of the hon. Gentleman to tell us, nine years after the Act in which these exemptions were devised, that we must go back to the original principles, simply because of that decision nine years ago, quite regardless of the subsequent facts. The one thing which has emerged from the debate is that Leicester and Liverpool City Councils have administered their exemptions faithfully and have, indeed, demanded more exacting standards than would have been required under the Act.

That is the nub of the case, and it is the case which the Parliamentary Secretary admitted time and again in his speech. Simply because it is untidy, simply because someone has discovered that the report produced by the senior technical officers on their visit to Leicester all those years ago was wrong and is inaccurate, then the whole system has to be changed. It is interesting to see the effect of this change in the cities. It is not that the hackney carriages will now be tested by the Ministry under the Road Traffic Act system. Now they will, there will be one certificate issued under the Road Traffic Act, 1960, and another through the control exercised by the local authorities over hackney cabs.

One would have thought that at least there would have been some gesture to distinguish between the two tests, at least one would have had to drive the vehicle 100 yards down the road to indicate that there was some difference, but not a bit of it. It will be in the same building, carried out by the same men at the same time. But to ensure that the bureaucracy is tidied up the present standards, which it is not suggested should be replaced, will be augmented by lower ones. If there is not a nonsense in that then I confess I do not know what the law can do to make itself look ridiculous.

The extraordinary thing is that the one point which the Parliamentary Secretary is able to advocate in his argument is that the Ministry of Transport, to have the files neatly tidy, packed away, has to ensure that no exemptions are granted unless under police testing. My hon. Friends behind me rightly pointed out that the police do not want this power, do not regard themselves as able to exercise it any longer. There was reference to a report advocating that this should happen, but the Parliamentary Secretary's answer is not to justify this—he says it is nothing to do with him, it is for another Government Department. We ought to pray for our indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps take this Prayer all over again so that we can have someone here from the Home Office. Perhaps they could do a double-talk act and get it right.

It is extraordinary that the Parliamentary Secretary did not think fit to bring someone from the Home Office with him to explain why the anomaly exists. I am not involved in this from a constituency point of view. I have listened carefully to all that my hon. Friends have had to say and it is apparent that there has been consultation with local authorities. As is so often the case with consultation between this Government and local authorities, it has been totally ignored. It is obvious that, for the sake of a package, there have to be two forms where one would have done very well. The cities of Liverpool and Leicester have done a first-class job, they have imposed higher standards than the Ministry impose, and it is nothing short of shortsightedness on the part of the bureaucracy to insist on this Order.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)

I apologise for having arrived after the beginning of the debate. I somewhat misjudged the enthusiasm of hon. Members for the previous Measure.

There is one point which I doubt has been made, and which worries me. The House will remember that just after devaluation the Prime Minister solemnly said that no area of expenditure would be sacrosanct, that every possible economy in Government spending would be made, that there would be a raking-through the files of Department after Department, so that every penny that could possibly be saved would be saved. A few months later the fourth child in poor families was deprived of free milk—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am deeply moved, but we are discussing the regulations. The hon. Gentleman must come to them.

Mr. Fortescue

I accept your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

You will have observed the point I am making, that when it comes to making two tests when only one is necessary, supplementing one by less stringent tests, giving work to two men, or not giving work to two men, when the work does not need to be done, an entirely different attitude is taken, and a very simple economy which might save a few thousand pounds cannot be made because it would be untidy for the bureaucracy. This point should be taken into account. It nullifies the statement of the Prime Minister that he really wants to save money, and the statement of the Government that they are saving public expenditure wherever possible, and it makes the Government even more of a laughingstock than before in Liverpool.

Question put and negatived.

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