§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 25th April, 1951, entitled the London Traffic (Festival of Britain) (Traffic Notices) Regulations, 1951 (S.I. 1951, No. 737), a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th April, be annulled.It is very fitting that on a matter relating to the Festival of Britain the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is to reply, should come before the House attired in such sartorial splendour. It is indeed fitting that we shall for a few moments be discussing matters pertaining to the West End of London. As will be seen from the Statutory Instrument with which this Motion is concerned, the Minister of Transport is empowered to make regulations for the control of traffic during the period of the Festival. But it should be pointed out that the powers are of a permissive character and relate to a part or the whole of the period.
The Minister has seen fit to make regulations covering the whole of the period of the Festival commencing from 4th May. There is no doubt that making the Regulations to cover that period was done in the expectation that very heavy traffic would ensue. I think that the volume of traffic which has been apparent in London during the last few days has been the result, not of the Festival, but of the visit of their Majesties the King and Queen of Denmark.
The first of the four points I have to put before the Under-Secretary is that these Regulations are in part unnecessary, but it is of the very nature of these Regulations that one cannot pray against them in part; one has to pray against the Whole. I contend—(1) that they are unnecessary; (2) that no reasonable alternative parking accommodation is made available; (3) that in some cases they cannot possibly affect the Festival traffic which is the ostensible purpose of the Regulations; and (4) that great inconvenience will be imposed upon people who wish to travel to the West End of London during the coming months.
Before 4th May regulations existed in practically all of the area under discussion 2279 from 11.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., and by this latter hour most of the business traffic had gone and it was possible to park without interference. Indeed, a great many cars were parked, without visible dislocation of the general flow of traffic. In some streets covered by the Regulations it is undoubtedly desirable that extra restrictions should be imposed, but in others, such extra restrictions are unnecessary. I do not propose to deal with every one of the streets covered by these Regulations; it is sufficient for me to mention a few, such as Albemarle Street. Dover Street, Berkeley Street, Stratton Street and Jermyn Street.
Some of these are one-way streets and only a small volume of traffic normally flows through them after 6 or 6.30 p.m. It is therefore my submission that in these streets the restrictions are unnecessary and should not be extended beyond 6.30 which existed before the new Regulations came into force. Then there is no reasonable alternative accommodation. In imposing these Regulations it is obvious that the intention was to free the traffic of London. But the effect is to do something quite contrary. It certainly takes away some of the traffic from some of these streets, but it imposes it on what I might call the reception areas where greater inconvenience is caused than if the Regulations had never been imposed at all. As hon. Members know, garages in the West End of London are invariably full and the only alternative open to motorists is to park in streets well away from this area.
The third point is that the Regulations cannot possibly affect Festival traffic which is their ostensible reason. The main part of the Festival is on the South Bank and the roads which I have specified are by no stretch of the imagination within any direct route of Festival traffic. The Regulations are a great inconvenience. The object of the Festival of Britain is to encourage people to come to London to see what we have to offer.
The whole purpose of these Regulations seems to me to be to hide from the rest of the world what we have in London and to make life as difficult and inconvenient as possible for anyone who wishes to visit London. Practically all the theatres in London start at a relatively early hour, and it is quite impossible 2280 for people to park their cars at 9 o'clock in the evening and to come out of the theatre and do just that. The Regulations reveal evidence of inadequate examination of the problem and if enforced rigidly, will lead to a complete blockage of all London traffic, which is the reverse of what is desired.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I beg to second the Motion.
We realise that in framing not only these Regulations but also the various other Regulations relating to the parking of cars in the central district of London during the Festival of Britain, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis has an extremely difficult job. I suppose that when the Regulations were first thought of it was expected that a vast number of people would be coming into London, many by car; and it was probably conceived that there would be a tremendous congestion in the West End. The Under-Secretary will probably agree that it does not appear from what we have seen this far that anything like these stringent Regulations prohibiting the waiting of cars in a whole series of streets in the very heart of the Metropolis are really necessary at this stage; and I hope that we shall hear tonight that the Government and the Commissioner of Police are thinking again about this matter.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) put four major points and I should like to take up and amplify them a little, and to refer first to the point about the inconvenience which will be caused by this arrangement. The traffic in Central London has for many years been a tremendous problem and no one knows that better than the Minister of Transport whom we are glad to see here tonight. It is not an easy task for any police force to regulate the traffic adequately, but I do not think at the moment there is any need for the inconvenience which would be caused to two distinct types of people if these Regulations are allowed to stand.
There are the people coming to London to see not only the South Bank Exhibition, but the Exhibition of Science at South Kensington and the Lansbury, Poplar, and the other minor exhibitions and attractions which are being arranged. These people will want to park their cars, 2281 and, really, unless the Government tell us that either they or the Festival authorities have provided adequate car parking facilities, not only on the South Bank and in South Kensington and elsewhere, but also around the centre of London, I do not think that we ought to say that people coming to London ought to be prohibited from allowing their cars to stand in the streets.
That is the first section of people with whom I want to deal, but there is another section who are, I would say, of even greater importance, and they are the ordinary people of London themselves. Let us take the case of the business or professional man who has an office in the centre of the West End. He finds, as a result of these Regulations, that, whereas he was formerly able to park his car without inconvenience and substantial hindrance outside his premises or very close to them without causing obstruction—and, if he had been causing obstruction he would have been "chivvied" and eventually prosecuted—under these Regulations, he is prohibited from doing what he used to do for years past. He finds that he has to take his car right out of his way to one of the other car parks or garages in the locality, or else leave his car at a substantial distance away from his place of business, and travel to it by some other method of transport, which, in view of the crowds coming into London, will be something of a burden.
I feel that these Regulations and this plan for London car parking during the Festival of Britain have not been adequately thought out. Whether that be so or not, I suggest that, in the light of the experience which we have already gained over this last week, when, probably, the pressure has been pretty close to the highest we shall ever get during the Festival season, we might consider whether or not there might be some relaxation of these very stringent provisions. After all, the West End of London is the heart around which the whole Festival is built. People come here not only to see the South Bank Exhibition and the other attractions, but also for shopping, to go to the theatres and to do all sorts of other things which they want to do. We ought to try to make their lot as easy as we possibly can, commensurate with the safety of the roads in the metropolis and the need for avoiding 2282 tremendous congestion. Therefore, I hope that, the Under-Secretary will tell us that the Government have thought again about the whole problem, and that they are prepared to introduce some kind of relaxation. In those circumstances, I doubt very much whether my hon. Friend would wish to press his Motion.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
I should like, if possible, to get from the Under-Secretary some idea of how these Regulations were arrived at and what bodies were consulted before this extraordinary stuff was put on paper. I wonder, for example, whether the motor associations, the R.A.C. and the A.A., were consulted. I very much doubt whether they were. I wonder whether, indeed, the Minister of Transport really looked at the Regulations fully and carefully before he signed them. I have a feeling that the Commissioner of Police presented the Minister of Transport with a list of the Regulations he desired, and that the right hon. Gentleman obligingly signed them. I should be glad to hear exactly what is the history of these Regulations, because I cannot conceive that they have been formulated with due regard to the interests concerned and as a result of consultation with them.
My hon. Friend has said, quite properly, that we are experiencing, or will shortly experience, perhaps the peak of the traffic so far as London and the Festival are concerned, because, although many people will come here, the holiday season will soon be upon us, and, of course, a lot of people will leave the centre of London and the normal life of Central London will be less busy than it is at the present time. So we are dealing at the moment, at any rate, with what appears to be almost the peak period of this traffic problem. I do not think, and I am sure the House will not think, that these Regulations are justified.
When a short time ago the right hon. Gentleman announced the findings of the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee, I told him that what he was going to do was to put more restrictions on the motorist and to make no provision at all for extra visitors. This is precisely what has happened. No attempt at all has been made to provide extra facilities, but only, in my submission, an attempt in many cases to impose more senseless restrictions. The London and Home 2283 Counties Advisory Committee pointed out that the Government had requisitioned 20 garages. Will the hon. Gentleman say what steps have been taken to get these garages out of Government hands so that there may be some chance of motorists getting their cars into them? Will he also say what consideration has been given to parking in the London parks?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I doubt if that question bears any relation to the matter of the various streets in respect of which the Regulations have been made. The hon. Gentleman must. I am afraid, confine himself to the Regulations.
§ Mr. Shepherd
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I say the explanatory note makes it quite clear that the Commissioner of Police is empowered to make regulations for preventing obstruction, and if the case is—and it obviously is—that these cars are causing obstruction, surely I am entitled to say that in order to do away with obstruction, some more positive steps should have been taken?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman may refer to the matter in general terms, but I gathered that he was going into some question of garages, which I did not quite follow and which did not seem to me to have any direct relation to the Regulations.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I will not pursue that point further except to say that I feel that instead of these punitive measures, there should have been some more practical response from the Government.
I want to turn for a moment to the question of the prohibition of parking until 9 o'clock in the evening. I want the hon. Gentleman to tell the House precisely why parking it to be prohibited in these streets until 9 p.m. Could anything be more senseless at Festival time than to say that people who bring their cars to the theatres shall not be allowed to park them? It is really a piece of utter nonsense, and it fortifies my view that these Regulations have been laid down by the Commissioner of Police without any of the authorities giving them proper consideration. I understand that the Fire Brigade are interested in this 2284 question. If they are, let us hear about it. It appears that the Festival has nothing to do with this 9 o'clock regulation, and that it is purely a question of the Fire Brigade. As I say, if that is so, let us hear about it, and not have it foisted on us as something relating to the Festival.
I wish to refer to another aspect. In the West End we have a worse position than ever before, because, as my hon. Friend said, the side roads covered by the Regulations are now more congested than ever. We still have streets, such as Sackville Street, where there is bilateral parking, and where very often there is traffic passing either up or down, thus adding to the congestion. Is it not quite absurd to have the centre of the aisle in wide thoroughfares, such as St. James's and parts of Piccadilly, closed to traffic, and yet to allow streets like Sackville Street to be completely jammed?
Will the hon. Gentleman say why there is no prohibition of parking in the centre lane? In places like St. James's and the bottom end of Regent Street, it is almost impossible for traffic to move because one cannot drive over a series of obelisks Surely, this deliberate intensification of what we all know to be a difficult problem is not justifiable, especially when we trying to encourage visitors to London. I hope the hon. Gentleman is going to be practical in his reply, and will say how he has arrived at these decisions. I hope he will say what organisations have been consulted, what is the justification for the 9 o'clock rule and if he will give us an undertaking that there will be a review of these most absurd Regulations.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I shall be a little longer than I was yesterday because I have now recovered some of my voice. The plain truth of the matter is that the Traffic Department of Scotland Yard are completely incompetent. Yet they arrange all these fines and I used to get fined at intervals for parking. When one considers the way they carry on their job, one must agree that they are just too incompetent for words. We ought to send a lot of policemen over to Paris. Our London policemen ought to be instructed how to control traffic. The Paris policemen are so much more competent.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order! This is not a question of the competency or in-competency of the police but of the authority given by these Regulations to erect notices.
§ Sir H. Williams
I agree, but paragraphs 2 and 3 of these Regulations, for instance, have been inserted on the advice of the Traffic Department of Scotland Yard and it is Scotland Yard that we are attacking. I live in Westminster not very far away from here and I am very familiar with all these streets. Why should these Regulations have to apply for instance to Vauxhall Bridge Road,between its Junction with Victoria Street and a point 300 feet south of that junction"?What has that to do with the Festival of Britain? I have something to say to the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department whom we all like very much in a way. He is in the wrong Government but he is a nice chap. I very much doubt whether the document on no waiting between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. would be found to be valid if it were brought before a court. If I were a judge of the High Court, which I am not likely to be because I am too old and I am not a lawyer anyway, I think the police would be in an awful mess about this. I have not heard before of regulation by picture, such as the diagram in this Statutory Instrument.
I was being driven in a taxicab today and twice I saw these silly notices. There is no reason for them at all from a practical point of ciew, not even today when there was a great deal of ceremonial in the streets. Yet there was a mass of these "No waiting" notices. Why should one not wait? Why should one not leave one's vehicle in a place where it does not cause obstruction? These Regulations are a complete bureaucratic obstruction of the freedom of the private individual. I would not mind these things if they were done by an intelligent and competent traffic authority. The traffic authority to whom we are addressing ourselves are represented by the Ministry of Transport and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, but they are subject to the discretion of the Metropolitan Police. If I thought the Metropolitan Police were competent in traffic regulation, which they are not, I would take more notice of these Regulations.
2286 I think we are entitled to consider not merely the Regulations before us but the competence of the people who propose them. When somebody promotes a Bill in Parliament and petitions Parliament for this that and the other, we are entitled on Second Reading to analyse the morals—in the higher sense—of those who petition. In this case it is the Ministry of Transport who petitions Parliament with the assistance of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Therefore, we are entitled to examine the Under-Secretary's morals. He knows what I mean. I have nothing against him; we are very good personal friends. We are entitled to examine not merely the proposals before us but those who promote these proposals.
If I had the faintest idea that London traffic was being competently controlled today I might foe impressed, but I think it is being most incompetently controlled. One only has to observe a policeman see somebody breaking one of these Regulations which causes an obstruction. He will hold up all the traffic for 10 minutes while, with a stub pencil, he writes down all the details. It is really too dreadful for words. Therefore, the time has come when we who represent the ordinary public, should make our protest against the incompetent way in which London traffic is being controlled. I think these Regulations will make the matter infinitely worse. For that reason, if my hon. and gallant Friend goes to a Division, I shall be delighted to go into the Lobby with him.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
I have a higher regard for members of the Metropolitan police than my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be an excellent thing that this question has been raised, because a good many people feel that these Regulations are what I might call a precautionary panic measure, and that the experience of the summer of 1951 is not going to justify them.
We all, except possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Transport and the Commissioner of Police in the task they have to perform in keeping traffic moving in London. We all know that the fundamental cause of 2287 these troubles which the Regulations are endeavouring to correct is the lack of parking space arising from the failure in years gone by to provide the parking accommodation which alone could cater for all the motor traffic which is using London. Now we have to make the best of a bad job.
I should very much like to hear from the Under-Secretary what authorities have been consulted about this matter. It is one of the odd features of London local government that the London County Council, though it is the town planning authority concerned with road junctions and the like, has no control over questions like the restriction of parking. I am quite sure that the whole of these restrictions lasting from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. cannot be explained by reference to the requirements of the London Fire Brigade. There are many considerations besides fire which have to be taken into account, and I can say from personal knowledge that the General Purposes Committee of the London County Council has not had an opportunity to consider or express an opinion on the policy which is represented by these regulations.
The main point I want to make is this. It is impossible to manage the flow of London traffic without obtaining the good will of all the participants in it. On the whole, the ordinary motorist who uses Central London frequently gains a fair impression of where he will be obstructing and where he will not be obstructing. In the individual case he may be wrong; nevertheless, he builds up a sort of corpus of knowledge. No one but a madman would park his car in the Strand between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and imagine that he was not going to cause an obstruction; nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that any serious obstruction whatever will be caused by cars parked at five minutes past nine in the morning or five minutes to nine in the evening in a wide one-way street such as Albemarle Street. The result of that will be that the motorists who have to find parking spaces will be encouraged to disregard and try and get round the Regulations which the Government are making.
So as to secure the good will of all concerned I would urge the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to reconsider this matter and make sure he is not seeking to 2288 impose on London in 1951 a more drastic control than is really needed. I urge him to adapt his Regulations flexibly in order that we can achieve the result on which we have all set our hearts—to keep traffic moving and yet to persuade everybody coming to London—Festival visitors and Londoners alike—that they will be treated reasonably.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I hope it will not be considered an impertinence for a countryman to barge into the affairs of London in a discussion of this sort. These Regulations are really made to prevent country folks from making too much of a nuisance of themselves when they come to London for the Festival. My first thought is one of regret that it should be found necessary to increase the number of warning signs to motorists, particularly at a time when there are going to be so many motorists up from the provinces in London. The behaviour of London pedestrians differs greatly from that of pedestrians in the country and I regret that it is necessary to impose any additional restrictions which mean that motorists have yet something else to look out for, apart from finding their way about the city.
The form in which these Regulations are laid is a little unusual. I understand that the Order is binding on one person only—the Commissioner of Police. He has already made rules which apply to motorists and this Order is necessary, for some reason which I do not quite understand, before he is entitled to put up the notices necessary to draw the attention of motorists to the Regulations he has made. It is only for that purpose that the Government have to come to the House with this Order. Consequently, our discussion should be limited strictly to the question of whether this notice which is illustrated on the back of the Order is an adequate message to convey to the eyes of the motorists in order that they may know by what regulations they are bound. If a motorist is prosecuted, he will not be prosecuted under this Order. The only person who could be prosecuted under the Order is the Commissioner of Police, for not putting up the notices.
It is a matter of reasonable comment, I think, that the Regulations made by the Commissioner of Police which make this Order necessary, are not published 2289 nor, so far as I know, is there any place where hon. Members can conveniently find a copy. How we are to judge whether this notice which is here depicted is adequate warning to motorists of the Regulations we have not seen, I do not understand. It is the duty of this House to scrutinise an Order such as this.
There are one or two questions I should like to ask about what is on this piece of paper. All those who have had occasion to be in a magistrates' court when such matters as this come up, are familiar with the rather monotonous routine which police officers have to go through to prove a case against an offender. They have to prove that the speedometer was at a certain level over a certain time, that tyres were at the correct pressure during their tour of duty, and so on. Why is it necessary to compel the Commissioner of Police to hang these notices on a post, a lamp-post or other standard? Most of the notices which I have seen when travelling the streets during the last week are standing like newspaper placards on the pavement edge.
If I am right, and if these notices which say "No parking here: Festival of Britain" are intended to convey to the motorist a warning about regulations which the Commissioner of Police has made, I hope no policeman will prosecute me because the notices are standing on a placard and not suspended from a post, lamp or other standard. I have no doubt that the Commissioner of Police will do his best to place these notices in such a position that they are conspicuous, and that the post is arranged "in alternate black or yellow horizontal bands 12 inches in depth."
If I am prosecuted for disobeying one of the notices it will be sufficient defence for me if I can go and measure one of these posts and find that the yellow band is 11½ inches in depth and the black band is 12½ inches. I have no doubt, this wasp-like colour is attractive and will catch the eye of the motorist. I take the view that the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, if he is ordered by the House, can be trusted to put the notices in such a colour and position that they will be reasonable to look on and they will catch the eye.
There are one or two other points that arise. One gathers from the name of the 2290 regulations, where the words "Festival of Britain" appear in brackets and in small lettering on the notice, that it is to be a part of the celebration of the Festival. If one reads the wording of the Order, the only clue one gets is that the Regulations came into operation on 4th May, 1951. If, as we suspect, these Regulations are part of the Festival of Britain, how are they to be brought to an end?
The Commissioner of Police will be in serious difficulty, if, at the end, he takes the notices down, unless the Minister goes to the trouble of coming to the House and lays other Regulations cancelling these. I should have thought it would have been reasonable to anticipate that the Festival would end some time. It might have saved some little time, trouble and money. If my recollection of the Act of 1924 is correct, I believe there is a statutory obligation in Section 10 on the Minister of Transport to consult his advisory committee before any regulations are made. That he has probably done, and we shall perhaps be told about it. Also I believe under the same Section of the Act he has the obligation of convincing the Secretary of State that the time and trouble of police officers in carrying out the regulations will be well spent. Has he done so?
All these points occur to me on the face of these Regulations, but I repeat what I said at the beginning that we are unable to decide whether these Regulations are necessary, or whether the sign is good enough to convey the message it is intended to. I suppose if we could inspect the Regulation which the Commissioner of Police has made, we should learn what is the sting in the tail of the wasp, and what, therefore, is the penalty I shall have to pay if I decide to park my car in the centre of Westminster Bridge while I go to the Festival.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
Although the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), was not in the last Parliament, we passed some good legislation, and the Public Works (Festival of Britain) Act, 1949, expressly recognised that special conditions would prevail in the Metropolis at the time of the Festival of Britain and in that Act Parliament extended to the Commissioners 2291 powers under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839.
The traffic congestion in Central London has been getting worse for several years, and if the day to day business of the Metropolis was to be continued, it was considered essential that "dead" traffic—that is, parked, lifeless vehicles—should not stay in the main thoroughfares and the roads leading into them. The extent of the prohibition is that all the roads covered in the Schedule are at present "yellow band" roads and waiting in them is prohibited only between 11.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. from Monday to Friday. The Festival hours at the South Bank Exhibition and at the Festival Gardens are from 10.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m., and not only from Monday to Friday but from Monday to Saturday inclusive. Therefore, it was considered that the hours should be extended from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. because the 11.30 a.m.—I take that as an example—was considerably after the 10.30 a.m. at which the South Bank Exhibition and the Festival Gardens opened.
As to the discussion beforehand—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Croydon, East, has gone—this was thought out by the men in New Scotland Yard who have had many years' experience of keeping London's traffic flowing, but, naturally, the details of the project were discussed with the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) asked if the R.A.C. and the A.A. were represented on that body. They were on the Committee which considered this, and also on it were a number of members of the L.C.C., and the regulation came as a result of their discussions.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Can the hon. Gentleman say if the Advisory Committee approved the regulations, and can he say why it is necessary to prohibit parking in the West End of London on a Sunday morning?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I do not understand that. The Regulations prohibit parking from Monday to Saturday only.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I said that it was one day longer than in the case of the "yellow band" streets because the exhibition 2292 and the gardens are open on Saturdays as well.
If hon. Members will study the wording of the Regulations they will see that it is not nearly as restrictive as it at first appears. Vauxhall Bridge Road was mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon, East. Only the junction with Victoria Street is concerned, and hon. Members will know that that is a very busy junction indeed.
There is a point which I agree is, at first sight, more difficult. Several hon. Members, especially the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper), referred to Albemarle Street, Dover Street and Berkeley Street, a cluster of streets north of Piccadilly, and Jermyn Street, south of Piccadilly. To anyone who has not studied these traffic problems—and I must confess it was difficult for me when I first saw them—it is difficult to realise that these streets are all part of a general plan for the traffic going in and out of Piccadilly. When we argue that traffic in these parts is so far away that it cannot affect the Festival traffic, we are wrong. These streets are so close to Piccadilly that any blockage of them will affect the flow down one of our main thoroughfares. That is why those streets are included.
On the general point of necessity, I was surprised that no hon. Member mentioned the fact that the Festival Gardens have not yet opened. That has an important bearing on the subject. Then of course, most important of all, there is the weather. The traffic in connection with the Festival has been considerably less in the last week owing to the very poor weather.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The South Bank Exhibition and the Festival Gardens are going to attract a large number of people, who will come up to London to see the sights and look at the lights possibly without even going into the Exhibition. That fact has to be faced by those people who live in London. An extremely important factor about such visitors is the weather, and we cannot say that up to 2293 the present, thanks to the weather, the scheme has been overworked.
Let us consider for a moment what would happen if we had average May weather. [Interruption.] I did not appreciate that the hon. Member for Croydon, East, was giving us the benefit of his company again. I know that the hon. Member thinks that the Government seek to control a great deal, but we do not claim to be able to control the weather, and the weather here is an important factor. One day probably there will be a Minister for the Precipitation, Planning and Control of the Weather. It is within sight now, and I submit that if we had had weather control, this question of traffic control in London would never have arisen.
§ Sir H. Williams
On the subject of weather control, is it not a fact that it always rains when the Conservatives are holding a féte?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman tempted me by a remark which he made under his breath on the subject of controls.
The fact that the weather so far has stopped the traffic we had every right to expect would come in a normal May should not blind us to the importance of this matter. Those whose duty it is to keep the traffic flowing in the Metropolis are convinced that given average weather for the remainder of May, June and July and throughout the summer, it will be seen that these Regulations are essential. If I may sum up, these Regulations are far less restrictive than they appear to be at first sight. Given average summer weather, they will be essential and that fact has already been apparent. So far as we can judge, the Regulations are supported by the general public, and also in this instance by the Press, who for once have been very congratulatory.
I can make this point, that the Commissioner is looking at this in the light of experience. He will bear in mind what has been said during this debate by hon. Members who have criticised the Regulations. In the light of that experience over the next few weeks—and it is important that we have a big holiday coming along which may be some measure, especially if the weather is fine—the Commissioner will consider whether some of these Regulations can be modified. 2294 I would ask hon. Members not to press this Prayer.
§ Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)
May I put this question to the hon. Gentleman before he sits down? He has made several observations on the weather. But surely he is not seriously suggesting that if any Government had control of the weather it would be better than the kind we have experienced lately?
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I think this matter is well illustrated by the last point which the hon. Gentleman made. That was with regard to the likelihood that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis might change these Regulations in the light of the experience gained during the next few weeks. Can the Commissioner do that without a subsequent regulation?
§ Mr. de Freitas
It depends upon the kind of change. If it is a matter of changing the time, the Commissioner makes a regulation, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has to make an order. If it is a question of changing the streets, the Commissioner of Police would have to make a regulation, and my right hon. Friend would have to make two orders.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
It rather seems as though the Police Commissioner was uncertain of his designs, and might find it necessary to come to the House to effect a change. That surely is not the way to conduct the business of the House—week by week, according to whether it is fine or wet, hot or cold, the Minister of Transport having to come and lay regulations on the Table which may be prayed against day in and day out. That seems to be a stupid proceeding.
One would have thought that the Police Commissioner would have conducted a more serious inquiry before making the Regulations. The hon. Gentleman has cited the advice given to the Minister by the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee, and by other persons. I would put against that the practical experience of London of the politicians who have spoken tonight, and would say that they are very much more wise than the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee. It looks as if the Regulations have been badly framed, and have not been properly thought out, and 2295 I think they ought to be retracted forthwith, and new ones brought in.
The Under-Secretary has made out a poor case, and has not dealt with the points raised in this debate by my hon. Friends. We admit that the flow of traffic to the Festival of Britain Exhibition in the morning, on fine warm days, may be heavy enough to justify putting up a notice restricting parking in some streets as early as 9 o'clock, but who supposes that it is necessary, in any state of the weather, to put these parking restrictions on as late as 9 o'clock at night?
The real reason for these Regulations is the normal volume of commercial traffic which blocks the roads. That is added to by the Festival traffic in the early hours of the day and in the afternoon. But that commercial traffic is removed from the streets of London in the early evening. Therefore, I can see no justification for adding this couple of hours in the evening. It would be quite easy to imagine a large volume of cars parked at the Festival of Britain Exhibition as late as 9 or 10, or 11 p.m. But even when those people leave the exhibition, and have to get away through the streets mentioned in these Regulations, they could do so with ease even if both sides of the roads were blocked by parked vehicles.
The hon. Gentleman has not considered at all the theatre situation. He must not believe that this is a case of rich Americans living at the Savoy, or the Ritz, who hire Rolls Royce cars and go to the theatre with a chauffeur, dressed rather as the hon. Gentleman is himself, with a shirt front from which in the words of Kipling, "the lights in the roof are reflected with more than all the Emperor's splendour" This is a matter of a large number of visiting French people, and Belgians, and Dutch, as well as Americans, living in the suburbs with friends and borrowing their friends' cars, or hiring cars to come into the theatres during Festival year, probably after having been to the Festival itself earlier in the day. Where are they to find space to park in order to go to the theatre? All these streets which are near to the theatres are sealed off by this fatuous Order—Glasshouse Street, Windmill Street, Upper St. Martin's Lane, Sackville Street, and all the streets where, 2296 traditionally and for years past, people have been able to park without doing the slightest damage to anybody or interfering in any way with the traffic that flows by night.
This is one of the poorest pieces of legislation that I have yet seen, and perhaps the Under-Secretary can reply again so that we may know whether these Regulations are to be permanent. It looks to me, in spite of what he has said of the likelihood of the Commissioner coming along in a few weeks and changing them, that nothing will be done. These notices will prove to be complete nonsense by what we experience from visitors to the exhibitions, but they will remain in fact. The Festival will be used as a means of retaining a prohibition which ought never to have been. We shall arrive at the end of the summer months, and nobody will have the enterprise or the courage to cut down the restrictions.
I know the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport too well. Once he has introduced a restrictive type of Order, limiting the freedom of the people in matters of transport, he allows it to remain; never does he give greater freedom. Before the House decides whether to divide or not on these extraordinary and inappropriate Regulations, may we be told whether they are to remain permanently?
I deplore that the Government should think so little of the general experience of the Londoner in travelling about, and his desire to park his vehicle when amusing himself in this Festival year, that they should have brought these Regulations forward; and I hope that the Minister of Transport, not having spoken yet in this debate tonight, will rise and say that he is convinced by the arguments we have made and will, as a result, go back tomorrow to the Commissioner of Police and ask him to think again.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I was hoping that the assurance of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in his concluding remarks, would have been sufficient. I would remind the noble Lord that when these Regulations were discussed here tonight, the objections were levelled, not against the main plan of the police, but to a very limited number of thoroughfares. The assurance 2297 which the Under-Secretary gave appeared to me to meet this position adequately.
I do really want to stress the difficult problems which the police may have to meet in the next few months. It is really beside the point to urge that the police of London, who are handling this very great problem day by day, are inconsiderate towards the public needs and I was particularly pleased to hear the acknowledgment which the hon. Member made of the London police. We have, in consultations on this matter, received an assurance that in the light of experience it will be reviewed from time to time. It can only affect limited areas, and amendments, if they should be proved to be required, will not be difficult. If hon. Members themselves feel that the hardship or the inconvenience is limited to very small areas, I suggest that is no justification for rejecting these safeguards which the police consider as essential under these circumstances.
I can give the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), a very definite assurance that these are not permanent Regulations, but are quite clearly to cover the Festival period. Whether the period each day will be justified or not, we shall see later on. As far as permanent regulations are concerned, these will not be of that character. I hope this debate has accomplished its main purpose and I hope we shall not unduly cause difficulty for the police whilst effectively expressing our views as Members of this House. The Under-Secretary of State has given a very adequate assurance to meet the purpose of the debate.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will understand that hon. Members on this side do not wish to raise any difficulty for the police force of the Metropolis at this time. My difficulty is a humble one about which I invite the right hon. Gentleman's assistance. Has he power as the matter now stands to revoke regulations which he makes? I quite understand he has power to make regulations for special occasions or at special times only, but I have not heard in the answer of the Under-Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman any reply to 2298 the point raised by my hon. Friend about the question of how these Regulations are to be brought to an end, and I do consider respectfully that before we are asked to give due effect to them tonight, we should know the answer to that problem. For myself, it may be my ignorance, but I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's power is to revoke Regulations. If he has no power to revoke them, is not it wasteful to enact regulations for a special occasion if he will have to come back to this House with another special provision, in order to revoke them at the end of the Festival or the special period? I am merely asking for information.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I am sure the Under-Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to be satisfied with the limited assurance he has given us tonight. I took the trouble of seeing both the Minister of Transport and the Under-Secretary 24 hours before I raised this matter in debate, and I went so far as to indicate to them yesterday the streets in which I was particularly concerned. I also indicated to the Under-Secretary this evening, as well, the four main points of criticism which I had against these Regulations. I cannot think that I could have gone to greater lengths to apprise the Government of our main points of criticism or give them more adequate time for consideration.
But the Under-Secretary has given tonight a totally inadequate answer to the points raised. He has merely indicated that at some date, if the weather happens to keep cold or maybe if it gets warmer, he may come down with some form of amendment to these Regulations. He has not indicated at all that the main burden of our criticism—the extension of the parking prohibition after 6.30 in the evening—is to be reconsidered. I indicated that we accepted the view that in many of these streets there should be an extension; but I indicated also streets where such an extension of the prohibition is not justified at all. I regret very much that the Under-Secretary has not found it in his power to give the House any assurance whatever that the matter will receive more sympathetic consideration than it has been given tonight.
§ Question put, and negatived.