HC Deb 18 March 1935 vol 299 cc820-5

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether in view of the statement made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that police officers, both male and female, are to be disguised as civilians when trapping motorists in the Metropolitan area, he can lay down guidance for the ordinary driver to distinguish between genuine police officers and car bandits?

54. Mr. J. WILMOT

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the statement of the Commissioner of Police that plain clothes officers will be employed on motor-car patrol duties; and whether he will withhold his approval of this practice in view of the fact that it would contravene Section 20 of the Road Traffic Act?


asked the Home Secretary whether the members of the police force detailed for patrolling the roads in the special police motor-cars for enforcing the observance of the 30-miles-per-hour speed limit in built-up areas will, on all occasions when engaged on this duty, wear a distinctive police uniform?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

I am glad to have this opportunity of dealing with certain misapprehensions as to the effect of the statement issued by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. If only uniformed police were employed, their presence would no doubt be effective up to a point in preventing breaches of the law. But the police, in view of their limited numbers, cannot be everywhere and the object of the method of enforcement which is being adopted is not to set traps for unwary motorists but to put a general check on driving at excessive speed and in particular upon overtaking by persons at speeds in excess of the prescribed limit. There is no question of this method of enforcement involving any infringement of Section 20 of the Road Traffic Act on the part of the police. I wish to make it clear that the police are entitled to patrol in plain clothes whether on foot or in vehicles. It is true that Parliament has enacted that it is not an offence for a driver of a vehicle to fail to stop on the signal of a constable if he is not in uniform, but I have no doubt that most drivers, when signalled in the manner described in the police notice, will obey the signal.




Perhaps hon. Members will wait until I have finished answering the question.

If, however, a driver does not stop and cannot be overtaken, e.g., at an adjacent road intersection, the police will have to adopt other means of establishing his identity, and I would point out that those who do not stop when signalled will have no legitimate cause for complaint if they do not receive warning at the time that they are to be reported with a view to proceedings. The speed limit, of course, applies only to built-up areas and, apart from the steps which are being taken to cause police signs to be displayed, I think it is rather far fetched to suggest that in areas where the speed limit applies there is any likelihood of motorists being signalled to stop by unauthorised persons. The sole object of the arrangements which are being adopted is to make effective the intention of Parliament. The task of the police is bound in any case to be difficult. I am confident that they will have the co-operation of motorists generally in what is, after all, a measure for making the roads safer for all who use them.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the motoring organisations have advised their members to ignore requests to stop by unauthorised persons, for obvious reasons? Does he not see that the introduction of a plain clothes patrolling system is likely to lead to undesirable results?


Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate how a driver when a gong is sounded behind him will be able to know that it is for him and not for some other vehicle?

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

Will a person who has voluntarily stopped at the request of one of these apparently plain clothes officers have the right to ask the officer to display some kind of badge or warrant?


Certainly. Every plain clothes policeman on being asked to produce his authority must always do so. That undoubtedly will be the case here. The object of sounding the gong will be to give notice to a car passing a police car, rather than otherwise.


May I ask how a motorist can distinguish between one of these police officers and a motor bandit?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the police officers are to have regard to the speed limit when endeavouring to overtake a driver?


No, Sir. If they have to pursue somebody who is obviously breaking the law, they will have immunity from the speed limit.


Will the right hon. Gentleman advise the police to keep a sharp eye on Green Street and Plashet Road, Upton Park?

55. Sir W. BRASS

asked the Home Secretary the number of extra police patrol cars which his department has hired or bought in order to carry out the timing of motorists, as described in the circular issued recently by the Chief Commissioner of Police, and the estimated extra weekly cost to his department?


I am not in a position at present to give particulars of either numbers or cost as these will depend upon circumstances and may vary from time to time.


If I put a question down later, will the right hon. Gentleman give me an answer? The House has to vote this money, and we ought to know?


I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity on the Vote of Supply.

56. Sir W. BRASS

asked the Home Secretary at what intervals of time and over what ranges of speed the speedometers on the police-patrol cars are to be tested in order to make certain that they are always kept accurate?


The speedometers On police vehicles engaged in the enforcement of speed limits in the Metropolitan Police District are to be tested twice a day in order to ensure their accuracy. These tests will be carried out at various speeds in the neighbourhood of 30 miles per hour.


Is my right hon. Friend aware that these speedometers vary with speed and with road conditions, and is he going to test them twice a day when they are being worked under the varying conditions under which they may be worked?

Sir G. FOX

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any of these police patrols will be using motor lorries?


I must have notice of that question.

58. Mr. LEVY

asked the Home Secretary whether in all cases the motorist who is alleged to have broken the 30-miles-an-hour speed limit will be told at the time of the offence that he is to be prosecuted, so as to enable him to check the police testimony in relation to time and place and other details?


Drivers who are observed to be exceeding the speed limit will be signalled to stop. Those who comply will then be warned of the intention to report the matter with a view to the question being considered of the institution of proceedings. On the other hand, if they fail to stop they will have no legitimate cause for complaint that they were not warned at the time of the commission of the alleged offence.


Are we to understand from that reply that whether they stop or not a summons can be sent, like a bolt from the blue, without the man knowing that he has committed any offence?

59. Mr. LEVY

asked the Home Secretary whether any special latitude is to be given to police engaged in enforcing the 30-miles-an-hour speed limit in built-up areas to enable them to sound the warning gong after 11.30 p.m.; and if not, what method is to be employed to indicate to the private motorist that he is exceeding the limit and must stop?


The Regulations made by my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport contain a provision exempting any vehicle on an occasion when it is being used for fire brigade, ambulance, or police purposes, if the observance of the Regulations would be likely to hinder the use of the vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used on that occasion.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any likelihood of any of these vehicles being on the road in view of the speedometers having to be tested twice a day?

60. Mr. LEVY

asked the Home Secretary whether it is proposed to employ extra women police for the purpose of enforcing the 30-miles-an-hour speed limit in built-up areas; and if so, how many?


No, Sir. I am not aware of any such intention.

61. Sir W. BRASS

asked the Home Secretary on whom a summons will be served if a car, against the driver of which a speed-limit offence has been alleged, fails to stop when a following police car sounds its gong?


The summons would be addressed to the alleged offender and would be served on him in the usual way. If my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind cases where the driver is not identified at the time because he fails to stop, steps would be taken, as at present, to ascertain his identity and service of a summons would follow in the ordinary course. I am not aware of any new difficulty which is likely to arise in this matter.


If a bicycle overtakes a police car, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the bicyclist is going to be summoned?

64. Commander BOWER

asked the Home Secretary in what way the note of the gongs or the bells to be used by police cars will differ from that of the gongs or bells which may be used by other motor vehicles to give audible warning of their approach?


The gongs that will be used on police cars in the Metropolitan Police district are electrically operated bells of the same type as those in general use on ambulances but with a distinctive note.


Is it not a, fact that any ordinary motorist can have a gong fitted of the same type?


In that case will there not be something in the nature of sounding brass?