HC Deb 03 February 1971 vol 810 cc1811-37

10.13 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I beg to move, That the Functions of Traffic Wardens (Scotland) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th January, be approved. This Order extends and consolidates the functions which may be carried out by traffic wardens in Scotland, their existing functions having been laid down in the previous Orders of 1962 and 1966. This is in similar terms to the Order approved for England and Wales in December last year.

The main effect of the Order is to permit chief constables to employ traffic wardens on some functions which are at present undertaken by the police in connection with the regulation and control of traffic. These new functions will give traffic wardens, if so employed by their chief constables—I emphasise that it is only if they are so employed by their chief constables—power to control and regulate pedestrians as well as road traffic; power to obtain the names and addresses of drivers, owners of vehicles, and pedestrians when offences appear to have been committed against the laws they are permitted to enforce; and power to enforce the vehicle excise law. In addition, it will be an offence for pedestrians and drivers to disregard directions given by a traffic warden.

As elsewhere, the volume of traffic in Scotland is increasing substantially year by year. In the five years ending in December, 1969, the number of vehicles registered in Scotland rose by over 200,000 to produce a total exceeding 1,100,000.

By sharing some of the duties which were previously undertaken only by the police, traffic wardens will be able not only to play an increasingly important role in ensuring the free flow of traffic in our towns and cities but to assist the police further by allowing them to be released for other duties such as the prevention and detection of crime.

Since they were first employed in Scotland in 1962, traffic wardens have had their powers extended only once before. That was in 1966 when an Order was approved permitting them to direct and control moving traffic at road junctions and other places similarly liable to become congested. At the time when that Order was before the House there were only 120 wardens in the whole of Scotland. This number had risen to 566 at the end of 1970.

Traffic wardens are responsible to the chief constable, and they act under his direction. We believe that it is most important that traffic wardens should be adequately trained before undertaking their duties. Indeed, this is a requirement of the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, and we have drawn the attention of chief constables to this Act.

Consultations on the Order have taken place with the organisations representative of the police and also with the local authorities and the motoring interests.

As I am sure the House will agree, the value of traffic wardens in relieving the police of some of their more routine traffic duties has come to be very widely recognised. All of us are now accustomed to the sight of traffic wardens on point duty, particularly during rush-hour periods; and I do not think that any of us, nor indeed the public generally, consider this as something exceptional.

I pay tribute to the contribution traffic wardens have made to the successful regulation of traffic in our burghs and cities. We hope that the Order will serve to provide further support for the police in their traffic duties and also in their primary task of fighting crime and maintaining law and order.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Woodside)

The Under-Secretary will realise that we would like to have a number of points elucidated, particularly about the power traffic wardens are to have to enforce the law.

The House has a right to know precisely what is meant by traffic wardens enforcing the law. I can understand their being given powers to ask for information and to take note of vehicles contravening the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957, or of vehicles being parked in such a way as to be hazards to safety or the free flow of other traffic. However, the Order goes further, at least in words—unless the Under-Secretary has another interpretation—and empowers traffic wardens to enforce the law. Exactly what powers are these? Are they the same as those possessed by constables?

In Article 3(2), in the expression For the purposes of the discharge by traffic wardens of such functions, references to a constable or police constable in the following enactments shall include references to a traffic warden is there a difference between "constable" and "police constable"?

Have the police been fully consulted about this transfer of powers to traffic wardens? The Under-Secretary will expect me to ask whether he has consulted his fellow Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). In the debate on the English Order, which gave English traffic wardens almost the same powers, the hon. Member for Cathcart, who at that time represented the Police Federation, said this: We should be thinking in terms of a fundamental change in our way of tackling the problem. The real answer lies in the development of the police forces as we now have them. The problems of traffic control are far too serious to be considered in any other way, and it is for this reason that I should be reluctant to give approval to the Order without more explanation from the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1965; Vol. 712, c. 446.] The hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned with the police and no doubt is fully aware of their views. No doubt also he has conveyed them to his hon. Friend.

How do the police view these new powers, particularly the power to enforce the law? Suppose, for example, a person in charge of a vehicle refuses to show his driving licence or in general is difficult. As a layman, I would regard the wording employed to enforce the law as giving the traffic warden the same power as the police constable in that he could apprehend the person and escort him to the police station. Is that envisaged? The idea that the traffic warden may be employed to enforce the law seems to be a big departure.

There is another point which causes certain annoyance in certain towns. In paragraph 3(3)(a) of the Order there is reference to lights or reflectors. I assume that the traffic warden will be able to check vehicles parked in the street, including their lights and reflectors. Will there be any change in local byelaws which permit the police to allow parking without lights, as is the case in many towns in Scotland? This provision has caused some confusion. The hon. Gentleman reminded us that there are one million vehicles in Scotland. All of us get a bit mixed up with the law occasionally in regard to our rights and obligations in charge of motor vehicles. Very often, in going to strange towns—as we all do—we are unsure whether we may leave our car under a street light or whether we must take it off the main highway or leave it with a parking light. It is a small point but it interests many people. Is there any basic change?

There appears to be a discrepancy between paragraph 1(1)(b) of the Schedule and paragraph 3(3)b) of the Order. The Schedule refers to a vehicle being left or parked, or being unloaded or loaded, in a road or other public place". The Order itself makes no reference to any place other than a road. Is there anything significant in this difference?

I recall the unfortunate experience we had when I was at the Ministry of Transport in that there can be no amendment of Orders of this kind, so it is important to have a full explanation now. It might seem a minor point but the Order becomes law tonight and we should have a satisfactory explanation. I am sure that there is a simple explanation, but the traffic laws are complicated, no doubt necessarily, and are, therefore, confusing.

Paragraph 3(3) refers to the functions in the Schedule and to Section 14 of the 1960 Act, but that is omitted from the Schedule. No doubt there is a simple explanation, and I should be glad to hear it.

This is an important Order. When traffic wardens were introduced, there was much concern to ensure that their powers would be strictly limited. However, their powers were extended in 1962 and 1967, and this is a further extension. All that seems to be omitted now is authority to operate from a moving vehicle, and perhaps this is the point beyond which the police would not allow traffic wardens to encroach on their responsibilities. Was this the point at which a compromise was reached with the police, or are the police totally unhappy about traffic wardens being given these extra powers?

This debate provides us with one of our few opportunities to consider this subject. We seem to be moving inexorably towards some sort of special road police. This has been the view which hon. Members have voiced as Orders of this kind have been introduced for Scotland or for England and Wales, regardless of which party has been in power. Does the Under-Secretary think from his discussion with various organisations and with his officials, if it is the Government's intention that there should be such a force——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

To discuss new functions while we are dealing with the Order would quickly lead the hon. Gentleman into becoming out of order.

Mr. Carmichael

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was making the point that this was just one more step, and after taking one step, it is always easier to take the next, and so one goes on and on. This may not be the appropriate moment to ask, but I wanted to know whether the Under-Secretary thought that the Order would take us closer to having a separate road police force, as is the case in other countries. Are these new powers sufficient to permit chief constables or Ministers to set up a totally separate road police force, or does the Order fall far short of that point?

Will the Order take us much further, allowing for the present police pattern? Are there enough powers in the Order? What powers has the Under-Secretary had to omit because of the necessity to reach a compromise with the police, for instance, and what powers does he think he may require in future? Has he considered the whole subject of traffic and its increase while drafting the Order, and is he unlikely to need additional powers for a long time?

Whenever Orders of this kind have been brought before the House by Conservative or Labour Governments, all hon. Members have been fascinated to know whether it was the intention to establish a separate police force to deal with traffic offences, or whether the present powers would be sufficient to allow a departure from our pattern of police forces towards that of the separate traffic police, as in many other countries.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

When I looked at this Order originally I thought it was fairly harmless, but the more I examine it the more suspicious I become. The House will understand that the debate of this type is necessarily short and narrow, and so I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I appear to be unreasonably brief.

I want to pay a deserved tribute to the traffic wardens, as did the Under-Secretary in his remarks, which I thought were rather curt. This warrants a little more explanation than he gave us and I shall try to fill in a few of the gaps.

The traffic wardens are being given what might be called quasi-police powers. There are certain qualifications needed to become a member of the police force, relating to age, height, education, and physical fitness. There are no such qualifications as far as I know for traffic wardens. Almost anyone can be a traffic warden.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

Perhaps the hon. Member will accept that good character is a basic qualification for a traffic warden in any circumstances?

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree. That is a necessary qualification for police and traffic wardens. I am saying that there are certain qualifications required of the police which are not required of traffic wardens. This Order gives functions which have hitherto been performed by men and women with the necesary qualifications of education and physical fitness to those who do not have such qualifications.

The same applies to training. The hon. Gentleman said that traffic wardens will be trained, but we do not know anything about that—how long or how intensive the training will be, what training grants there may be and whether they will be paid during training.

The purpose of the Order is set out in the Schedule which specifies the functions of wardens. In paragraph (2) on page 2 it says, in effect, that the functions to be discharged by traffic wardens will in many cases be the same as are currently being discharged by police constables. The hon. Gentleman said that this was being done to allow the police to get on with more important work, such as the pursuit of criminals. But is it not being done because there is a shortage of police and the police have put in a substantial pay claim which the Government will resist'? The Government say that they propose to deal with the inflationary spiral in the public sector. Supose they take certain functions from the police and say, "Now you have less work to do. Therefore, your wage claim becomes weaker."

This is a very sinister part of the Government's prices and incomes policy. If the police threaten to strike, the Government can say, "We will get the traffic wardens to do your job."

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the traffic wardens took over more duties of the police they would have an irresistible case for a wage increase?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend is jumping the gun. I have thought of such matters and I propose to put them forward.

In any event, there will be an increase in public expenditure. The White Paper on public expenditure published yesterday refers to a quite substantial increase in the amount to be spent on law and order in Scotland during the period 1969–70 to 1974–75. I want to know how much of it will be devoted to the police. If we get the necessary number of recruits for the police, it will not be necessary to transfer these jobs to the traffic wardens; we shall have enough police to do the job for which they have been trained and are qualified.

Let me return to the question of the increased burdens which will be placed on the traffic wardens. The Minister went out of his way to say that the authorities concerned had been consulted —the police, the motoring organisations and the local authorities. I wonder whether the advisory council for the police was asked for its advice and what its opinion was. I do not know to which union the traffic wardens belong—

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

They belong to the National Union of Public Employees, the Municipal and General Workers' Union and the Transport and General Workers' Union. They are very well organised. If I get the chance, I shall say a few words on this subject.

Mr. Hamilton

I would think that they were in several unions, in which case they would come within the Industrial Relations Bill, which is very sinister legislation. The more we delve into this matter, the more we find behind it. To bring the Order on for debate at this time of night makes it impossible for us to discuss it properly.

Let me deal with some of the extra duties of the traffic wardens. Paragraph 3(3) of the Order refers to what may happen if a traffic warden has reasonable cause to believe that there has been committed an offence

  1. (a) in respect of a vehicle by its being left or parked on a road during the hours of darkness …without the lights or reflectors required by law;
  2. (b) in respect of a vehicle by its obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked or being loaded or unloaded, in a road;
  3. (c) in contravention of section 14 of the Act of 1960;
  4. (d) in contravention of a provision of the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1962(b)"—
all of which I have looked up. I was tempted to bring the provisions into the Chamber, but I did not do so in view of the shortage of time. Some of my hon. Friends might care to do so: the provisions are in the Lobby.

Paragraph 3(3) of the Order goes on to refer to offences created by section 42 of the Act of 1967". That is the one relating to parking offences. If one of these offences has been committed, or if the warden has reason to believe that it has been committed, the warden can demand the name and address of the person concerned.

These are extremely wide powers. Traffic wardens will become law enforcement officers, and the Schedule says precisely that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the Lord Advocate?"] He should have been here. He has probably gone home to bed. We shall divide on this Order, because it is extremely important.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Hon. Members on the other side—there are only a couple here—were jeering when my hon. Friend mentioned the Lord Advocate, but there are some serious legal points which I want to raise if I can catch the eye of the Chair, and I do not think the Under-Secretary is able to answer them. Perhaps my hon. Friend can assist.

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend understates the case: the Under-Secretary cannot answer anything, let alone on matters of law.

Paragraph 1 of the Schedule has this extremely worrying sentence: Traffic wardens may be employed to enforce the law". This is the first time, in my knowledge, that somebody who is classified as a civilian warden, who is not a policeman, is given authority to enforce the law. Does that mean that wardens will have the power to arrest? Suppose an individual refuses to give his name and address. What happens then? Does the traffic warden arrest him? Suppose the traffic warden is a blonde of 18 or 19, and there is a big Glaswegian who has just come out of a pub and she tries to get his name and address. She might be misunderstood.

An Hon. Member

So might he.

Mr. Hamilton

So might he. I am just drawing the attention of the House to the implications of this Order.

Quite apart from that, the words I have quoted about having reasonable cause to believe that there has been committed an offence might lead to malicious prosecution. A traffic warden may have a grievance against his neighbour, and may say, "I will get you. I have reasonable cause to believe you have been obstructing this road" or "The reflectors on your car are not according to regulations", or he may allege one or another of a dozen other offences. The traffic warden can say, I will have your name and address. I will report you." The more I have studied this Order the more sleep I have lost.

The Schedule says: Traffic wardens may be employed to enforce the law". I do not know what that means. Is it at somebody's discretion? If so, at whose discretion is it? Who will decide that traffic wardens will be used to enforce the law? Is it the chief constable? Is it the local authority? Is it the Scottish Secretary? I presume it is the chief constable, but I would like to know.

Paragraph 1 (1,a) refers to a vehicle being left or parked on a road during the hours of darkness without the necessary lights or reflectors. What is the difference between leaving a vehicle and parking it? I do not know what the legal difference is. Again, the Lord Advocate would have been the very fellow to answer this. I am not quite sure, but if a fellow leaves his car for 10 minutes it is parked, so far as I know, and if the traffic warden is maliciously minded he or she can say, "It is parked, not just left." In any event, if it is left for 10 minutes he or she can say, "Give me your name and address." These are important points which deserve an answer.

Then I come to paragraph 1(2) of the Schedule, which refers to offences under Section 80 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967. Traffic wardens can act in that respect as if they were police constables, but it does not make clear what they can do. Section 80—I think I am right; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am not—enables a police constable to punish without prosecution; that is, he can give one a ticket for a fine, and one pays without going to court. Traffic wardens can do that, I presume. I suppose that that is the only punishment traffic wardens can mete out under that Section.

Paragraph 2(1) of the Schedule says: Traffic wardens may … be employed as parking attendants at street parking places". Earlier today we had a debate in which Scottish unemployment figured prominently. In certain parking places and official parks unemployed men hang around presuming to look after people's cars and earning a few shillings, for which they are grateful. Anyone is grateful for anything with this Government in power. These men may be done out of a job if traffic wardens take over that duty.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

If the Government continue with their economic policies, there will be fewer and fewer people with cars and greater competition for fewer and fewer parking places.

Mr. Hamilton

That thought occurred to me when the hon. Gentleman was talking about the increased number of vehicles in Scotland. If the motor industry continues in the way it is going, there will be fewer vehicles in the next few years and the Order will be irrelevant.

The Schedule also provides that traffic wardens may take the place of "lollypop" men on road crossing patrol. These jobs are done by old men and women who earn a few shillings to add to the inadequate family income. The Government are saying that people shall not have wage increases, so more and more people will be looking for these jobs which are now to be done by traffic wardens.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)

When the initial Orders were introduced a great deal of concern was expressed because the jobs mentioned by my hon. Friend had previously been done by members of the British Legion in the pay of the British Legion. We should bear this in mind.

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, this is a vicious attack on the British Legion and the ex-Servicemen who do this job. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to bring in the Order without saying whether he has had consultations with the British Legion about the effect on the employment of ex-Servicemen.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

I had hoped that my hon. Friend would deal more fully with the financial implications. Local authorities will have to meet a considerable part of the cost of traffic wardens. Police expenditure attracts a 50 per cent. grant from the national Exchequer, but what percentage of the cost of traffic wardens will be met by the national Exchequer?

Mr. Hamilton

I am leading up to this. The Government are on record as saying that they want a high wage economy so long as it is linked to increased productivity. Traffic wardens will be doing work they have not done before and will be entitled to a productivity bonus. The Government have got rid of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, and therefore, they themselves will sit in judgment. They might even set up a court of inquiry and appoint Jack Scamp to look into the pay of traffic wardens in Scotland.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Or even Lord Wilberforce.

Mr. Hamilton

We want to know how this will be financed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

The hon. Gentleman will see from the heading of the Order that this relates mainly to functions.

Mr. Hamilton

I understand that perfectly well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the functions imply extra work for the traffic warden. I doubt whether the Government are adopting a new doctrine that the more work one does the less pay one gets, but if they are imposing more jobs on traffic wardens those wardens have a right to claim extra pay. All I am asking is whether this exercise has been costed and who will pay what. I want to know how much will be borne by the local authority and how much by central Government.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

My hon. Friend has mentioned pay and conditions in relation to productivity. Is it not a frightening thought for Scottish motorists that such productivity might be on the basis that the more motorists a traffic warden can knock off the more he can justify an increase in pay?

Mr. Hamilton

That is a very good point. My hon. Friend is suggesting that productivity could be measured by the number of motorists' names and addresses wardens can take. I do not know whether that will be the case, but this is the problem the hon. Gentleman is creating for himself by this Order.

To take another example, if these wardens are to be put on to directing the pedestrians who attend football matches, taking over this function from the police, is that again not good ground for a pay claim? I hope Jack Jones and other union leaders are having a good look at such Orders as this.

Mr. Lamond

My hon. Friend may have noticed that one paragraph mentions carrying out duties in a moving vehicle. Would this not be an impediment to increased productivity, and, therefore, is it wise to have such a disabling paragraph in the Order which might inhibit traffic wardens from obtaining more wages as a result of increased productivity?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend has anticipated what I was about to say. Paragraph 5(2) of the schedule says: Nothing in this paragraph shall permit the functions described in sub-paragraph (1) to be exercised by a traffic warden who is in a moving vehicle. Suppose he is on a bike—he is not then in a moving vehicle.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

My hon. Friend will no doubt realise that traffic wardens already uses mopeds. Perhaps he could ascertain whether those would be classified as "moving vehicles".

Mr. Hamilton

I do not know whether this Order is an exact copy of the English one and whether that matter has any significance. Can a traffic warden using a moped be deemed to be in a moving vehicle, and if such is used will he be precluded from carrying out these duties?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is my hon. Friend considering the fact that this is actually happening now in London where we see Panda cars with police officers——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is out of order, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, to discuss the functions in the English Order.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I have not discussed the functions of the English Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am giving an illustration of what is now happening, or what may happen, in regard to that particular paragraph of the Order we are now discussing. I am asking my hon. Friend whether he is aware that traffic wardens are to be found in Panda cars and police cars and whether—I do not know whether my hon. Friend is legally knowledgeable enough to answer this without the advice of the Lord Advocate—because the traffic warden is in a moving vehicle he could act in the way provided by the Order.

Mr. Hamilton

I do not know. I am not legally qualified to answer that question. I hope that the Lord Advocate has been sent for to answer it. If he has not, it is a gross insult to the House

If paragraph 5(2) is to be implemented, traffic wardens will be less efficient in carrying out their functions than they would be if they were allowed to travel in moving vehicles. It seems an absurdity, on the one hand to give them these additional functions but, on the other hand, to restrict them.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is reading this correctly: Nothing in this paragraph shall permit the functions described in sub-paragraph (1) to be exercised by a traffic warden who is in a moving vehicle. As I read that, a warden cannot exercise the function of taking anyone's name and address when he is in a moving vehicle. I am wondering whether it is not incorrectly written, and whether it means a traffic warden who is "with" a moving vehicle. I cannot understand how a warden could possibly take someone's name and address when he is in a moving vehicle. There is something very sinister in this. In a Committee upstairs we have been discussing for about 22½ hours the meaning of certain words. It would take more time than that to obtain the meaning of these words.

Mr. Hamilton

That is a case for extending the debate. A possibility which occurs to me is that a warden might be in a moving vehicle which is being driven by the owner, and then discover that the lights are inadequate or that the driver is causing an obstruction, and then he might say to the driver, "Give me your name and address". That is a possibility which would be precluded under the terms of paragraph 5(2). There is a lot more to the Order than meets the eye.

Mr. Lawson

It would be undesirable to preclude the traffic warden from exercising her powers under those circumstances, so again those words seems to defeat at least any intelligible purpose which one can read into the Order. My hon. Friend will agree that we cannot think that an Order should be so drafted as to completely defeat its purpose. There seems to be something very far wrong or sinister here.

Mr. Hamilton

Uncharacteristically, my hon. Friend has been rather tediously repetitious. That is exactly the point which I made five minutes ago. I shall be tediously repetitious——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) insists on pointing out that he is being tediously repetitious, the Chair will perhaps bring to his notice that this is so.

Mr. Hamilton

I withdraw that remark Mr. Deputy Speaker. In one and the same Order, it seems to be absurd and a contradiction to say to traffic wardens, "You may be ordered to carry out certain functions but you are not allowed to do so in one of the most efficient ways; namely, in a moving vehicle." That is the point which my hon. Friend was making. Why is this sub-paragraph in the Schedule at all?

My remarks have been quite brief, but I hope that I have covered—

Mr. Buchan

I was hoping that my hon. Friend would examine the problem which arises from the difficulty of defining "a moving vehicle". Could a traffic warden ask for a person's name and address on an escalator, for example?

Mr. Hamilton

Well, the words are "in a moving vehicle". A person does not travel "in" an escalator. That is why I mentioned a bicycle: a person cannot be "in" a bicycle.

This problem of obtaining clear definitions is one which has occupied many hours in the Scottish Grand Committee. Hon. Members want precise definitions, and it is not good enough for the Under-Secretary to make a five-minute cursory speech and hope to wrap up the whole matter. We are deeply suspicious of this Government. The hon. Gentleman is a very charming character, but we do not trust him further than we can see him.

11.1 p.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

At a time when Scottish police forces are under strength and sorely pressed, I have never heard more stupid remarks than those to which we have just listened—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Just listen from now on!

Sir J. Gilmour

Surely we should be seeking ways of making the job of our hard-worked police forces easier, and one obvious method would seem to me to be by amending and strengthening the powers of traffic wardens.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have no difficulty in dealing with some of the abstruse questions which hon. Gentlemen opposite have sought to raise. I cannot help thinking that hon. Members in all parts of the House want to do all that they can to help our police forces by the increased use of traffic wardens. Those who say otherwise are being obstructive citizens and should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I hesitate to intervene in a debate on a Scottish matter, but there are some important points which require clarification, one or two of which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton).

The Police Federation is bound to view any extension of the powers of traffic wardens with grave suspicion and alarm. It is well known that our police forces are very much under strength, and that they have a substantial wage increase in the offing which is being resisted by the Government.

As a member of a police authority and having some experience of policemen—in that sense, of course—I know that they are extremely upset at the way in which their pay claim is being treated. Any proposal which appeared to undermine their powers and duties would naturally cause them dismay. When the Under-Secretary replies to the debate, he ought to deal with this point and give our police some assurance that the Government do not intend to undermine their duties or erode their position and their relationship to people in other professions.

Hon. Members should also pay some attention to the physical job which traffic wardens will be expected to perform under the terms of the Order. When this point was raised by my hon. Friend, I noticed that some hon. Members opposite tittered a little. It is no laughing matter. We have all seen policemen standing for hours in pouring rain, in snow, in hail and in vicious cold, especially in Scotland. You know that better than I——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. The Chair may or may not know. It is not for the hon. Gentleman to decide.

Mr. Stoddart

I apologise. I meant that the Minister knew better than I about the physical conditions in Scotland. I should think that before men and women were put on this kind of job they would need a rigorous medical examination. I should like to hear what the proposals—they would have to be new proposals—are for ensuring that people to be employed on this kind of work undergo a medical examination to make sure that they are really physically fit for the job and will not suffer illness because of it.

I should also like to mention the indemnification of traffic wardens. This is an important matter. The British public have accepted over a long period that policemen are there to help, that they are their friends and, therefore, happy to help. Policemen have becomes an accustomed part of the scenery. But traffic wardens have not been with us all that long——

An Hon. Member

Too long.

Mr. Stoddart

That may be. Nevertheless, that is indicative of the public attitude towards traffic wardens. They have not been accepted by the public.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I do not agree.

Mr. Stoddart

I do not expect my hon. Friend to agree with everything that I say. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will agree when I have gone on a little longer.

The fact is that, even under the present law, there have been many assaults upon traffic wardens simply and solely for issuing parking tickets. What will be the situation when the traffic warden not only issues parking tickets, but wants a person's name and address? The traffic warden will be laying himself open to even graver physical assault than has taken place on previous occasions. It is therefore very important that they should be indemnified to a great degree against assault.

It would indeed be an erosion of individual freedom if these additional powers are a step towards not fixed penalties, but on-the-spot fines. This would be inimical to British practice and would not be accepted by the public. We need to be assured that the extension of these powers to traffic wardens will not lead towards on-the-spot fines.

Article 3(3)(a) of the Order states: in respect of a vehicle by its being left or parked on a road during the hours of darkness". I understand that at present a traffic warden works what might be called office hours—a nine to six job. The article does not say during certain hours of darkness; but during the hours of darkness Is it proposed that traffic wardens should do a rotary shift similar to that worked by policemen? I think that the Minister should deal with this important point when he winds up the debate. As the article reads, it appears that, far from having restricted hours, traffic wardens will be able, and perhaps required, to work round the clock. I therefore hope that that point will be answered.

Under paragraph 5 of the Schedule traffic wardens will be able to direct "foot passengers". I am a great believer in individual liberty. The pedestrian, the chap who walks on his two feet instead of driving around on four wheels, has had a pretty bad deal over the past few years. He has been shunted off his usual roads; he has been hemmed in by railings; he can cross the road only in particular places; his shopping centres have become cluttered up with fuming, smoking noisy vehicles; his whole environment has been ruined; his home has become a dumping ground for vehicles, whether in good order or with the wheels removed. Here we are suggesting that even more people should order him about, as to where he should and should not walk. It is a fundamental right of an Englishman—[Interruption.] —of a Britisher, including a Scot, to walk where he will. It is odious that we should extend to other people the right to order him about.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to clear up these points. If he cannot, I feel that I and my hon. Friends will be unable to vote for the Order.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), I initially thought that there was very little to this relatively short Statutory Instrument. But having heard the various points of debate I feel that it is clear that this is a matter of some import.

The first thing we should hear from the Minister is the extent to which there has been consultations with various organisations. We have heard a great deal from his hon. Friends about trade unions recently, and we should have thought that trade unions would be consulted. I think that the hon. Gentleman said that the Police Federation had been consulted, but I am not sure that he said that he had consulted anybody else. A number of trade unions that might have been consulted have been suggested. The traffic wardens are in the process of setting up their own union, and they are very concerned to have their own negotiating rights. We want to know how far they might be consulted.

New Members have to learn their trade. I am surprised to see in Article 1 that: This Order may be cited as the Functions of Traffic Wardens (Scotland) Order 1971 and shall come into operation on 1971. There is no date; we have no idea when it will come into force.

The heading tells me that this is a Draft Statutory Instrument. I wonder whether, when we have decided on this Order tonight, another comes along for us to have a second look at it, or is this the only opportunity we shall have to consider the matter?

In Article 3(3) there is something that also causes me to wonder. We have an extension here of powers of traffic wardens not yet mentioned in the debate.

That provision reeds: For the purposes of the discharge by traffic wardens"— in the plural— of the functions set out in the Schedule to this order, references in section 226 (1) of the Act of 1960 to a police constable shall, in so far as it applies to the furnishing of names and addresses, include references to a traffic warden if the traffic warden has reasonable cause to believe that there has been commited an offence … Wardens in Aberdeen always hunt in pairs, and ratepayers have complained about the necessity of having two to do the job of one. This is a serious matter of ecnomocis and efficiency. If one of the pair is late for work, the other cannot start. There might be some deterrent in the fact that they are, unjustly, referred to as "yellow perils"——

Mr. Lamond

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a notice of motion before Aberdeen Town Council, which is a police authority in its own right, asking it to make representations to ensure that one warden be permitted to operate in place of two?

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a member of the same local authority as I am. This Order may make the passage of that motion unnecessary—

Mr. Lamond

Or more difficult.

Mr. Hughes

If the Order makes life more difficult, I hope that the usual channels are in operation, so that I and my hon. Friend can go north to Aberdeen to pass on the knowledge which we gain tonight.

This is a very important point of law. Again, we must deprecate the fact that the Lord Advocate is not here. The reason that wardens hunt in pairs is that, for prosecution, corroboration is needed, even of a police constable's word.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Mary hill)

Is my hon Friend aware that, in the Scottish Grand Committee, on the subject of salmon stealing and poaching, we fought to the death on the issue that, on the testimony of one witness, a person could be accused. This is dangerous ground.

Mr. Hughes

When I used to do a lot of fishing, I seem to remember a fish with "yellow" in its name. My hon. Friend need not worry about the salmon and the grilse.

This point about hunting in pairs and this reference in the Order to "wardens", in the plural, is important, because it refers to "the warden" having reasonable cause to believe that an offence has been committed. Does the Order mean that, if two traffic wardens, in their normal duties, are out on the beat and one has reasonable cause to believe that an offence has been committed and the other has not, they must then seek to act in unison? By the time they had argued the matter out, the smart motorist would have driven off to avoid being booked.

I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West will not take offence if I cross swords with him over paragraph 2 of Article 5, which says: Nothing in this paragraph shall permit the functions described in sub-paragraph (1) to be exercised by a traffic warden who is in a moving vehicle". My hon. Friend thought there was no need for that provision but, considering the eloquent plea made towards the end of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) about the liberty of the individual, I suggest that there is real point in it. In Article 5(2) one is referred back to sub-paragraph (1) and this makes it difficult for those of us who do not have legal experience to understand these matters. However, sub-paragraph (1) points out that Traffic wardens may be employed to enforce the law with respect to an offence— (a) committed in respect of a vehicle by its being left or parked on a road during the hours of darkness".

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has sufficient legal experience to deal with the word "may" in that context. Does he consider that "may be employed" could mean "shall be employed", meaning that a traffic warden would have to do this work?

Mr. Hughes

I hesitate to give a legal definition of "may" as opposed to "shall". If I did, we might find ourselves discussing it all night.

Article 5(2) is extremely important because it would be intolerable if a police constable or even a chief constable, let alone a traffic warden, were given authority to decide, while travelling in a moving vehicle, whether a vehicle was improperly parked or had improper reflectors, and so on. If a traffic warden were speeding past a parked vehicle and represented that an offence under this paragraph had been committed, all sorts of difficulties, including that of identification, could arise.

I can imagine some extremely ingenious defences, and I am not a lawyer. Motorists might, for example, question whether a warden in those circumstances could adequately see the number plates of a parked vehicle. For this reason I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West that this provision is absurd.

However, I do regard Article 2(2) as absurd in that it says: A traffic warden may exercise functions conferred on a traffic warden by a traffic order or a street parking place order". Why not simply refer to a traffic warden exercising "his functions"? After all, there is nobody else on whom the functions will be conferred. It is obscure language like this which makes hon. Members who are quite new to Parliament wonder what other matters require our attention, and we cannot be expected to have examined the Order minutely.

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)

My hon. Friends are right to raise the points they have raised in the course of this short debate. At the risk of incurring the wrath of some of my hon. Friends, I warmly echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), because he stressed the need for the police to be relieved of part of their responsibilities. This need was very much in the minds of those of my colleagues who were responsible for these matters at the Scottish Office in recent years and action was taken in the form of enrolment of cadets, the mechanisation of police units, and so on.

Over the past few years the extension of the power of traffic wardens has caused an undesirable friction between wardens and members of the police force. The Scottish Police Federation made strong comments in this regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and I have no doubt that the federation will be making similar comments to the present Secretary of State; because, anxious though the federation is to protect the interests of its members, it is only right that it should make these points to whoever is at the Scottish Office for the time being. We do not want any friction to develop between traffic wardens and their colleagues in the police force. We want relations to be as amicable as possible. It was right for my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes), for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) to ask the questions they did, so that any difficulties which might arise between the police, traffic wardens and the general public can be straightened out.

I have read the Order carefully. I do not pretend to be an expert on Statutory Instruments. I am sure that my hon. Friends noticed with great delight that for much of the debate we have been blessed by the presence of the Minister for Local Government and Development —the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page)—who when in opposition was the doyen of Statutory Instruments. I tremble when I think what would have happened to the Under-Secretary had the hon. Member for Crosby been performing the function that he used to perform in opposition, because the hon. Member for Crosby would have been very displeased with the Under-Secretary's performance in attempting to explain the Order to us.

The Order uses the words without the lights or reflectors required by law". Not long ago the hon. Member for Crosby brought this matter to the attention of the House when he asked an Under-Secretary to specify much more clearly what he meant by reflectors as defined by law; the hon. Member quite properly wanted to know the diameter of the reflector involved, and so on. It may well be that tonight the hon. Member for Crosby came to the Chamber to counsel the Under-Secretary on matters of this kind, in the unavoidable absence of the Lord Advocate. Far be it from me to interfere in the domestic arrangements made by the Government Chief Whip.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I am delighted to hear that the Lord Advocate is unavoidably absent, but what evidence does my hon. Friend have for that statement?

Mr. Mackenzie

Being normally a courteous man, I was assuming that there was some explanation and that in the course of his comments later the Under-Secretary would be making an apology for the Lord Advocate's absence. Far be it from me to interfere in the domestic arrangements of the Government and their supporters. It is a matter between the Lord Advocate and the Patronage Secretary and we would not want to make an issue of that kind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon raised the whole question of the definition of "hours of darkness" from the point of view of whether or not traffic wardens are to be employed on such a basis that they would have to work overtime, round the clock and so on. I am concerned about it from a narrower, perhaps personal, point of view. Most of the traffic wardens in Scotland have to concern themselves with the operation of the meters. The meters operate from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday and not at all on Sunday. At certain times of the year. we have darkness between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. But there are times when we do not. Perhaps we have misread the Order but we should like an assurance that the hon. Gentleman intends to advise local authorities to keep to the times of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for meters because it appears to innocents like myself that the term "hours of darkness" means that we could have meters operating all the time, day and night, as they do at some of our airports. I know that meters are essential but to some of us they are rather awkward. My constituents and I would not like to think that the meters were going to operate any longer in the day than they do at present.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Has my hon. Friend considered the inequity which arises, if his line of reasoning is correct, from the different hours of darkness in different parts of Scotland and how undesirable it would he in the Western Isles that there should be meter parking hours much longer than in Galloway, for instance?

Mr. Mackenzie

My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) represents a part of the country I know very well. My people come from Stoer, where it would be a great hardship if meters were operating throughout the hours of darkness. The same goes for Lochinvar. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with this important question.

Several Hon. Membersrose——

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

By leave of the House, I will reply to some of the points raised in the debate. I am sorry that so many hon. Members who were anxious to take part have not been able to have the opportunity. What has been so encouraging is that in the closing stages, in the hours of darkness, of a uniquely Scottish day in the House, there has been such tremendous interest by hon. Members from South of the Border. My only real disappointment is that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) was unable to get in. He has supported certain additional powers given to traffic wardens in England.

Mr. Arthur Lewisindicated assent.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be able to give us the support of at least one hon. Member opposite, for giving traffic wardens certain powers in respect of vehicle excise duties. It is a cause he has pursued over the years.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like myself, is rather disappointed that I did not catch Mr. Speaker's eye, because I was indeed going to support the Government on this, which would have been a unique occasion. I was going to disagree with my hon. Friends. However, I did not catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Perhaps I can explain it all later to the Lord Advocate, who was not here.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The Lord Advocate would particularly enjoy a discussion with the hon. Member. That is why I mentioned this subject at the beginning of my reply. I knew that I would get the support of the hon. Member and that it would give him great pleasure to support me this evening. I am glad that he has now had that opportunity.

Hon. Members complain about the Order being taken late at night, but in doing so they show great ignorance of the procedures of the House, for when they were in power, there were many nights when I stayed up to debate Orders which they introduced, and I see among my hon. Friends who are present tonight many who supported me on those occasions in that job.

I assure hon. Members that I can deal adequately with the many legal questions which have been asked. By calling for the presence of the Lord Advocate, Opposition Members were merely demonstrating their jealousy of the fact that we have the services of the Lord Advocate available to us, while for six years they were unable to have a Lord Advocate sitting in the House. There is no need for them to show such petty jealousy on happy occasions such as this.

I was surprised that the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), who is usually so level headed on these occasions, should have shown his jealousy at our having the services of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). If hon. Members opposite had shown the sort of skills which my hon. Friend showed so frequently from the Opposition Box, I would have approached the debate with far more trepidation.

It has been interesting to note that the Chair has several times had to call the attention of Labour Members to the narrow confines of the debate. Opposition Members have discussed the general principles of the use of traffic wardens in helping the police. Those are principles which we have often debated in the House, and there is no change of principle in this Order. There is an extension of the functions of traffic wardens, but not of principle. I was distressed to see that, with the exceptions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael), my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen, hon. Members have given little credit to the police for their job of traffic control and the job which traffic wardens themselves do.

Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)

Traffic wardens have no discretion, but the police have. The Order will give traffic wardens additional powers which the police could exercise with discretion. Will not the hon. Gentleman now take steps to give discretion to traffic wardens?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Member has exposed the shallowness of so many of the arguments of Labour Members and the low standard of their speeches. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), for instance, and I always enjoy the usual courtesy which he shows towards me and the kind remarks he makes, made a speech not worthy of his usual standard. He was toiling to find arguments.

That demonstrated the purpose of the debate and the schizophrenia of hon. Members opposite—they say that we must not give traffic wardens any more powers, and so reduce the importance of the police, and, on the other hand, they want traffic wardens to have an extension of powers and more to do.

I except the hon. Member for Woodside, but if hon. Members opposite want to criticise these Orders, they must at least make up their minds about what they want and not advance several conflicting arguments at the same time.

The other strange thing is the extraordinary interest taken by hon. Members in the Order. This is an important Order and I welcome their interest. I do not object to English Members coming in and I will be pleased to answer the points raised, but the interesting thing is that there is a parallel English Order, which came before the House on 10th December and which occupied precisely four lines in the OFFICIAL REPORT: