HC Deb 04 June 1951 vol 488 cc757-63

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 18th May 1951, entitled the London Traffic (Prescribed Routes) (No. 11) Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 888), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st May, be annulled. This Prayer differs from so many that we have in this House in that there is a principle involved, and I do not think the question of cutting across the politics of either side of the House arises at all. It is the duty of this House and of hon. Members to see that when Acts of Parliament have been passed that they are properly carried out. It is a part of our duty to see that the various channels through which the Acts are passed are at all times strictly complied with. We look upon the Police Force as the body most concerned with the carrying out of the various Acts of Parliament.

I will not dispute with the Minister of Transport the decision of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolitan area to make Cannon Row a one-way street. That decision was most probably taken after a great deal of consideration. What I object to is that before the prescribed day, which in this Order is named as 8th June, 1951, Cannon Row has been turned into a one-way street. To my knowledge that notice has been up for more than a week. I am led to believe that, as the result of the notice being put up there, and the speed with which it was put up, this spot has very probably been used as an extra parking place for Scotland Yard.

I was up that street this afternoon and I was alarmed at the number of vehicles parked there, and parked outside private premises where there was a large notice erected stating that no parking was allowed. I noticed last week, and again today, that vehicles are parked beyond the notice erected there saying that to parking is allowed in the street between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. I cannot conceive that anyone other than members of the Police Force would be allowed to leave their vehicles parked in this manner during the day.

I am aware, and the Minister may say, that he has temporary powers to make it a one-way street. If he has those powers, I argue that if he has been using them to keep this a one-way street, a temporary notice should have been continued in use until 8th June. It may have been more convenient to erect the notice saying that it was a one-way street on the day on which it was erected; but the notice should have been screened by having a bag or something over it until the appropriate day. For some considerable time since I have been a Member of this House I have seen a temporary notice there and I feel that hon. Gentlemen have noticed it also. In fact, you, Sir, may have noticed it because it is not very far from the Speaker's House—this flashing beacon which has prevented people from going down there. This House, I consider, would be failing in its duty if we did not draw attention to a matter of this kind, which is a deliberate flouting of the law made by this House.

I hope that, as a result of bringing this matter before the House, that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that in the future, when a decision is taken to make a street a one-way street or when the police are bringing in other orders which may be of assistance, they will not be put into effect until the stated day.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I beg to second the Motion.

The point at issue is indeed a very narrow one, as is the street to which these Regulations refer. We do not suggest that Cannon Row should not be a one-way street; it could hardly be anything else. It is, in fact, a very narrow street going down in a steep gradient, and it must have been difficult at any time for vehicles to pass each other in it.

One suspects, indeed, that this street was designed certainly long before the days of planning of any sort, and probably before the days of vehicles. One suspects that this is a relic of those days when the district between Westminster and the City of London consisted of a mass of alleys which were used by footpads, and which made the cry of "Who goes home?" a very practical suggestion. At any rate, Cannon Row is not now used by footpads. It appears to be used by the inmates of Scotland Yard. It is rather an extraordinary thing that here in this street situate between Scotland Yard and the Houses of Parliament, something should be taking place which appears to be an encroachment on the powers of the Legislature by the Executive.

The notice to which my hon. Friend has referred has been there to my knowledge for a considerable time. It has not been covered and it is still there, because I had a look this morning. It is, I think, regrettable that something should be placed at the entrance to this street indicating that it is already a one-way street when paragraph 4 of these Regulations gives the date when they should come into operation as 8th June. It is, of course, stated in Section 10 (7) of the London Traffic Act, 1924, that: Any regulation made under this section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith; and, if an address is presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty-eight days on which that House has sat after any such regulation is laid before it praying that the regulation may be annulled, it shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or the making of a new regulation. I submit that that subsection has nothing to do with the issue in this particular case, because the Regulations themselves, on the face of them, do not come into operation until 8th June.

It is for these reasons, and because this appears to be an encroachment by the Executive on the powers of the Legislature here within the very shadow of the House of Commons, that I second this Motion.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

So far as these Regulations are concerned, my objection to them is somewhat different to that of both my hon. Friends. I say at once that, I suppose, I am an interested party. Several times a week I have to call at premises which have a back entrance in Cannon Row. When I take my car there I frequently find that there is a long line of parked cars, and sometimes it is extremely difficult to find room to put my car there at all. Therefore, perhaps I have an interest in the matter. If so, I declare it at once.

I should like to disabuse my hon. Friend of one point he has in mind. I do not think that it is always Scotland Yard that is to blame. There are a large number of commercial and business offices situated in buildings fronting or backing on to Cannon Row. It is mainly people who work in these buildings who use that street as a sort of unofficial car park, but I have no doubt that some police cars are left there too. I cannot really blame the police, because the space inside Scotland Yard itself is rather congested. As the police force becomes more and more motorised, obviously they need more room for their cars.

There is one point about the Regulations on which I have some complaint. Paragraph I says: Every vehicle entering Cannon Row in the City of Westminster shall, between the point of its entry therein and the point of its departure therefrom, proceed from north to south. I should like to ask a question about this. Suppose I come into Cannon Row in my car approaching from the only entrance which is available, that is to say from Whitehall. When I get down to the bottom of the little slope, and before I turn right, there are buildings which completely obstruct my view. I cannot see, until I am some yards along Cannon Row, whether there is space for me to park my car. If there is not, and I then back my car to get out of Cannon Row by the way I came in, am I committing an offence under this paragraph? My car will be proceeding from south to north, albeit in a reverse direction. I suppose that technically this is an offence.

I only mention what may seem to be a fanciful point so that I can suggest that the wording of this sort of provision might be changed in future Regulations to make it clear that every vehicle shall approach a certain road which is intended to be a one-way street from a certain point or by a certain entrance. If it were said: every vehicle shall enter Cannon Row from the south end thereof, then I do not think there would be the slightest doubt that a car which happened to back would not be automatically committing an offence if the driver was compelled to reverse because of some obstruction.

That is the small point I had in mind. I felt that in view of the fact that Cannon Row is used by a large number of lorries which unload goods into warehouses and other buildings situate there, this position might often arise. A car might go into Cannon Row and the driver find that a lorry completely blocks the path. Unless the driver is to settle down for a long wait, he has to back out because there is no way of getting round. I suggest that possibly a provision similar to that which I have suggested might be included in future orders.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The hon. Member suggests that he might want to park his car in Cannon Row. The Regulation says: Every vehicle entering Cannon Row…shall proceed from north to south. Surely, it would be inconsistent with proceeding from north to south to stop in Cannon Row?

Mr. Hay

That shows how difficult these Regulations can be. The hon. Gentleman has raised a very good point. I suggest that the whole of those Regulations might be withdrawn so that the Minister can reconsider the wording and perhaps introduce a further regulation setting out the position more clearly.

7.24 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

The various points which have been mentioned emphasise the difficulty of the Minister of Transport in his efforts to facilitate the movement of traffic in London. I am afraid that in many instances if I had to wait until I had solved all the language difficulties and legal possibilities arising from these Regulations nothing would be done. When we talk in these Regulations of the movement of vehicles along a route, that does not cover the question of whether every vehicle must be perpetually on the move.

One of my difficulties in London is that these bottlenecks tend to bring traffic to a standstill. It is my major preoccupation to avoid that. I appreciate the difficulty of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). He is right on one point. I do not think that the difficulty in Cannon Row is caused mainly by the parking of police cars. There are a large number of important businesses in Parliament Street and Cannon Row, which is only a very narrow thoroughfare—

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

On which side of Parliament Street are the important businesses?

Mr. Barnes

Both—one commercial and one political. I can hardly underestimate the importance of the political side of Parliament Street, particularly at the moment when hon. Members are discussing the issue that the laws which emanate from the political side of Parliament Street should be observed. Cannon Row, is a very narrow thoroughfare, as the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) admitted. I think it is about 14 feet wide. While commercial vans are delivering goods there one can appreciate that there is difficulty, and I think that that justifies those one-way Regulations.

I was particularly pleased that those Members who raised this question did not object to the purpose of the regulations. They insist that the procedure should be correctly and accurately carried out. This is not a matter of principle. Questions of procedure are involved. I should be the first to admit that the procedure laid down should be correctly carried out. In this case the procedure that the notice authorising the one-way street should not be observable until the Regulations were enforced has not been carried out. That is a point of omission I acknowledge and for which I express my regret.

I give an undertaking to see that steps are taken in future to ensure that these notices are not, exhibited to the public until the date of the Regulations. Directly this matter was brought to my notice I called the attention of the City of Westminster to this omission. I should like to state that the notice has been covered up and that the position will be in order until the appropriate date. Now that the matter has been ventilated and the fact has been emphasised that Departments should observe in every detail the procedure that Parliament lays down, I hope that hon. Members will withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Crouch

I very much appreciate the interest the right hon. Gentleman has taken in this notice since Questions this afternoon, because that was the time of my last visit to Cannon Row and the notice was still exposed. I hope that as a result of this question being brought before the House the Government will ensure that the officers of the law who carry out the orders of this House abide by those orders.

I have no interest in any of the business firms occupying premises in Cannon Row. However, I hope that some steps will be taken to ease the difficulties of these firms which have notices on their walls that clearly state, "No Parking," but find that cars are parked outside their premises with the doors locked. This causes great difficulty when drivers of lorries wish to deliver goods. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.