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Orders of the Day — ROAD TRAFFIC [Money]

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1955.

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Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—

[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made. and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to road traffic and the provision of parking places and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) of any expenses incurred by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in providing for the examination of vehicles and their accessories and equipment;
  2. (b) of any expenses incurred by the said Minister with the approval of the Treasury in providing for the promotion of road safety by disseminating information and advice and in contributing to the cost of arrangements made by local authorities and other bodies for that purpose or for giving practical training to road users;
  3. (c)of any increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act of the present Session relating to the speed limit in built-up areas in the expenses of the Minister in respect of trunk roads and the grants payable to local authorities;
  4. (d) of any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under Part I of the Local Government Act, 1948, or under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1954;
  5. (e) of any increase in the sums payable under the Superannuation Acts, 1834 to 1950, attributable to the repeal of the provision for modifying those Acts made by section two of the Chairmen of Traffic Commissioners, etc. (Tenure of Office) Act, 1937;
and the payment into the Exchequer of any receipts of the said Minister under the said Act of the present Session and of any other sums which by virtue of that Act are payable into the Exchequer.—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.]

9.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Cardiff South East

Are we not to have a word of explanation from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in whose name the Resolution stands?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The hon. Member knows and, if he does not know, I can tell him, for I have had some experience of the office of Financial Secretary, that the Financial Secretary does not intervene in respect of these Departmental Bills on the Money Resolution. If, however, the hon. Member desires a brief explanation of the Money Resolution. I shall be happy to furnish it.

10.0 p.m.

The Money Resolution is put down in the normal way to cover the discussion in Committee of those Clauses of the Bill which do or might involve some call upon public funds. The Clauses which it is designed to cover are Clause 1, concerning the testing of vehicles. Clause 11, which contains a specific provision for the provision of funds, in this case for road safety propaganda and assistance to local authorities in that respect, Clause 12 (3) in respect of traffic signs, where there might be some small liability, and where, indeed, the equalisation grant to local authorities may be affected. There is also the provision in Clause 31 (1) in respect of the additional administrative expenses of my Department, which are not expected to be appreciable or indeed noticeable. Clause 30 and the Third Schedule, which relate to the Traffic Commissioners, also may cost some small expenditure.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the purpose of a Money Resolution is not, as is sometimes thought, to authorise the expenditure, but to authorise to go forward into Committee the Clauses which themselves might involve some expenditure. It will be the wish of this Committee that the Committee to which this Bill goes should have the opportunity to discuss these Clauses, several of which have received fairly general approval during the Second Reading debate.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Cardiff South East

If, in Opposition, the Minister had heard such an explanation from one of my right hon. Friends on exempted business, we should have been in for an all-night sitting, and, as this is exempted business, I cannot regard the Minister's explanation as in any way satisfactory. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have not been here for the debate, but who have just come in to see that everything is quite all right, might now listen to the reasons why everything is not all right, and why they should have a little more concern about the expenditure of public funds, because what we are here concerned with is whether we are to give sanction for these Clauses to go forward into Committee.

The remarkable thing is that the Parliamentary Secretary has already thrown out the main Clause—Clause 1 of this Bill—which the Minister is asking us to give him sanction to go forward with. In his winding-up speech, the Parliamentary Secretary told us the Government were not prepared to work the Bill as it stands; that is to say, the system of Government testing-stations, as laid down in subsection (3), or, presumably, the appointment of inspectors, as laid down in subsection (1). He has told us—and this is my complaint against the Government—that that relates not only to the Money Resolution but also to the Bill as a whole in this particular connection. Are the Government so very imprecise in their own thinking that they cannot give us any guidance as to the amount of money which will be involved because they do not know what their own policy is?

I say to the Minister of Transport that it is lamentable that we were promised a Road Safety Bill in the Queen's Speech of 1953, and yet, in the middle of 1955, the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary now says "I am thinking aloud about certain propositions. It occurs to me that we cannot work Clause 1 in this way. I am going to ask the House to consider how we should work this Bill." After the lapse of four years, or nearly four years, the Minister is unable to give us more guidance than this.

As the Clause stands at the moment, the Minister is asking for money to set up a series of testing stations in the country for the purpose of examining some—is it 5 million or 6 million vehicles?—and the apparatus for carrying out such examinations. He is asking for authority for the appointment of inspectors who shall examine these vehicles. I say to the Minister that, before the Committee passes this Money Resolution, we would like to have some idea how many inspectors he wants to appoint, and what they will cost in terms of salaries.

What is going to be the cost of setting up this series of testing stations that he wants to establish? What is the programme for setting them up? What is, indeed, the financial liability to which Clause 1 is committed. It is no good the Minister saying, "Oh well, give me sanction for the money, because I do not propose to ask you to spend it in any case, as I do not intend to implement this scheme." If that is his argument, I must say that it is a pretty poor way of bringing legislation before the House. If the Minister is going to pursue that policy during the progress of the Bill he is going to be pushed around by interests in all parts of the House.

It is lack of leadership on his part at the present time that is getting us into the difficulty. He cannot tell us what sort of a scheme he wants and is asking us to sanction, and he cannot give us any indication at all as to the magnitude of the sum of money which he will need. Of course, he may be going to tell us that he does not need any money for this purpose. If that is the case—I do not know if his nod indicates that it is so—because the experimental station is being dealt with in some other way, then I suggest that it would be better for him to amend the Money Resolution or, better still, withdraw it altogether, because paragraph (a) asks for the sanction of money incurred in providing for the examination of vehicles, their accessories and equipment.

From what the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have told us, there is no intention at all at the present time of incurring any cost that may be brought under this Bill. One experimental station is to be set up in a few weeks, which will be before the Bill is passed, and, therefore, it would seem that the Minister is not calling on the Vote associated with this Bill. If that is so, I would ask him for what purpose this money is required if he does not propose to implement Clause 1, which is one of the pivots of the whole Bill, and if he does not propose to use the money as suggested in paragraph (a).

Then in paragraph (c) the Minister asks for the money for any increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act … relating to the speed limit in built-up areas in the expenses of the Minister in respect of trunk roads. … What expenditure is involved in that? I should not have thought it would have been of any high order, but I think the Committee is entitled to some explanation. If hon. Members opposite were in Opposition they would certainly be chasing this matter. All I am asking is for the reasons for which this is asked, and I say to the Minister that in the absence of a more reasoned explanation than we have had so far, we shall not be able to part with this Money Resolution for the time being.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The hon. Gentleman completely fails to appreciate the purpose of a Money Resolution. I attempted to explain it to him earlier, and I must try again. I do not know whether it was his attempt to repeat rather less effectively the speech he made earlier this afternoon which caused him to indulge in some such observations about Clause 1, but the truth of the matter is that the Money Resolution does not—as he said over and over again—authorise expenditure for this or that. It is an essential part of our legislative process so that the Clauses of a Bill which, as I explained it earlier, could involve expenditure, require to be covered by a Money Resolution moved from the Government Front Bench. The purpose of moving this Money Resolution is not to authorise the expenditure of these sums of money, as the hon. Gentleman appears to think, but to permit these Clauses themselves to be discussed in Committee.

Let me take the first matter to which the hon. Gentleman spoke most of the time, and which relates to vehicle testing. His right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), in what I thought was a very impressive part of his speech, indicated the importance of vehicle testing. If this Clause has to go forward to the Committee, where the views of hon. Members may be expressed on it in more directions than one, it requires to be covered by this Money Resolution, and the hon. Gentleman was talking completely at large and quite irresponsibly when he suggested that this Resolution authorises expenditure. All it is doing is authorising a Clause, whose purpose was very warmly and properly commended by his right hon. Friend in his winding up speech, to go forward into Committee.

Then the hon. Gentleman asked what expenditure could be attributable to the Clause covered by paragraph (c). Again, if the hon. Gentleman will look at the Clause relating to the speed limit, he will see that it covers, among other things, the erection of signs in limited or delimited areas, not only at the beginning and end of the areas, but at various points inside them, so that the motorist shall be certain about the sort of area he is in.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Clause permits some expenditure, probably mainly by local authorities, which will have an effect on the equalisation grant. Therefore, if that proposition is to go forward to the Committee, it is essential that it should be covered by the Money Resolution. In those circumstances, the matter before this Committee is plain. It is not a question of whether we wish here and now to authorise expenditure under any of these heads; it is, on the contrary, whether we wish the Clauses dealing with these subjects to go to the Committee for discussion.

It is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman, wholly ignoring that reality, to indulge in a repeat performance—I think not very well done—of his attempt to work up a certain amount of excitement, because this Government, at any rate, on a non-political subject of this sort, and many others, desires to take the opinion of the House of Commons and its Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to road traffic and the provision of parking places and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament— (a) of any expenses incurred by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in providing for the examination of vehicles and their accessories and equipment; (b) of any expenses incurred by the said Minister with the approval of the Treasury in providing for the promotion of road safety by disseminating information and advice and in contributing to the cost of arrangements made by local authorities and other bodies for that purpose or for giving practical training to road users; (c) of any increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act of the prevent Session relating to the speed limit in built-up areas in the expenses of the Minister in respect of trunk roads and the grants payable to local authorities; (d) of any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under Part I of the Local Government Act, 1948, or under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1954; (e) of any increase in the sums payable under the Superannuation Acts, 1834 to 1950, attributable to the repeal of the provision for modifying those Acts made by section two of the Chairmen of Traffic Commissioners, etc. (Tenure of Office) Act, 1937; and the payment into the Exchequer of any receipts of the said Minister under the said Act of the present Session and of any other sums which by virtue of that Act are payable into the Exchequer.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.