HC Deb 04 December 1953 vol 521 cc1570-84

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

3.54 p.m.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

I should like, in the first place, to tender my apologies to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for delaying him yet further. He may not be a little man, but he certainly has had a busy day.

The matter which I wish to bring to the notice of the House is one which I regard as of great importance. It is the question of traffic and the parking of motor vehicles in the Metropolitan area. I am compelled to drag the Home Office into this matter, because, try as I would last year, I found it extremely difficult to pin this subject down on anyone. The Ministry of Transport were most reluctant, and I can only raise this matter with my hon. Friend in the capacity that the Home Office is in charge of the Metropolitan Police and therefore he is responsible to this House in that respect.

Let there be no doubt that this is not only a very important matter but an extremely costly one. I hope that other hon. Members may be able to point out what is the cost of this frustrating delay that goes on day after day and week after week in the streets of London. It must be many millions of pounds annually.

I have spent some of my time in the last 12 months trying to take an intelligent interest and to make intelligent suggestions for the solution of this problem. I would at any time be prepared to take the Parliamentary Secretary down to the streets about which I am talking, and I can guarantee to present to him 100 prosecutable cases within as much time as it takes him to write down the numbers of the cars. There have been reports on this matter, including the Report of the Working Party which made three recommendations. One was the construction of underground garages. The second was the introduction of parking meters, and the third was what one might call "a parking plan."

In dealing with this third recommendation, which is the least expensive, I would emphasise the word "plan." I have always understood a plan to be something which went according to one's expectations and the way one desired it to work, but it does not always go that way. It is certain that there is no plan whatever, so far as I can see, in the system by which cars are allowed—or are not allowed—to park in the Metropolitan area. If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that there is a plan, would he tell me what the plan is, and what system is at work?

For example, if the Minister of Transport wants to get from his office to Messrs. Thomas Cook and Sons, a matter of 50 yards, I suppose, across the street, I reckon he has to go up Hay Hill, along Dover Street, across to Albemarle Street, across Piccadilly, up St. James's Street, around by Arlington Street, round the corner, round by the Mayfair Hotel, and eventually around by Berkeley Street. That means three left turns and five right turns, including going across Piccadilly on two occasions. I wonder what sort of system that is?

We must accept the fact that about 16,000 cars have to be put somewhere in the West End of London, unless we are to go to the other extreme and to forbid them to come to the West End of London at all. That would not be an argument that I could accept. We have to make space and make arrangements, accepting the fact that these cars are in London and that they are entitled so to be. There is nowhere to put them, except in garages, nowhere that they can legally stop for more than two hours. We are trying to compelevery one of those 16,000 cars to move on every two hours to somewhere else. If that is not adding to the traffic problems of London. I do not know what is.

Take, for example, Dover Street and Albemarle Street, which I have already mentioned. I cannot see the logic upon which the parking arrangements are based. It is forbidden to park cars anywhere in Dover Street or Albemarle Street. In theory, it is perfectly all right for any hon. Member to park a car on either side of Stafford Street, which is only half the width of Dover Street or Albemarle Street. The result is that there is plenty of room in Dover Street and Albemarle Street. If we go across to Stafford Street the cars are parked on the southern side and across the street A little further on, they are parked on the other side. The result is absolute chaos. I saw a picture in today's "Evening News" of a policeman trying to sort that lot out.

The trouble is that it has never been accepted by any authority—the Government or the Metropolitan Police—that anyone has the right to park in the streets of London, but I think that right should and does exist. It is inevitable, unless we are to require that no cars should be allowed in the West End at all. If we permit cars in as of right—

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

Mr. Langford-Holt

—we must make accommodation for them and must accept the fact that they are going to be there.

Let me make it clear that I am not criticising the policeman on the beat. He is in just about as difficult a position as the average motorist. I do not think that the average policeman has the least idea what he is expected to do. For weeks on end he is told to get on to his beat and to do this that or the other. Then he is told to go out and get a few scalps. He does that without any difficulty at all, and there is the quota of prosecutions in that area for that particular month. Policemen are in an impossible position.

The other day I was parking just behind Tottenham Court Road, in a street where there are no parking restrictions whatever. I had selected that position because there was no restriction. A policeman came up to me and said, "Would you mind not parking here, because, when our police cars come out of the police station they cannot get out into the street?" A little further on there is a parking restriction which does not stop any traffic at all, and is quite worthless. The whole thing is illogical. It is one series of muddles.

I have for some time, been advocating an extension of the system of unilateral parking. The Ministry of Transport, after years of screwing up their courage, have approved for an experimental period of six months in the West End of London a unilateral parking system in three streets. This should be very greatly extended. It should certainly be extended to Dover Street and Albemarle Street, because at present people park on both sides.

There are, of course, many other streets to which it could and should be applied. I am coming to the Working Party's views on that later. If we accept the unilateral parking system, we surely then accept the principle that a car park is not in the way. Why, therefore, having accepted the fact that a car when standing there does not obstruct the traffic, do we then insist that every 20 minutes the car must change its place, adding to the traffic and probably creating more complications as it gets in and out of its parking place?

Pall Mall is a very good example. There used to be a system of lines down the middle of the street and central parking. Quite rightly, the Metropolitan Police have now abolished parking down the centre of Pall Mall. They have put tripods down the middle which are nearly as wide as cars so that one cannot use the middle of the street. I made a suggestion to the Minister of Transport six months ago. I said, "Why do you not have a system of unilateral parking in Pall Mall, either bumper to bumper or bumper to kerb?" At the moment there is parking on both sides with these very wide tripods down the middle, the result of which is that Pall Mall is very little easier to go down than it was a year ago.

The Working Party, whose report has been studied by many people, and is, I think, an extremely good report—although, I suppose, like all other reports very little will happen about it, or when anything does happen it will be years out of date—recommend that some 50 more streets should become unilateral parking streets. I ask my hon. Friend specifically if that particular recommendation of the Working Party is to be implemented.

Then there is the question of no parking signs. Any hon. Member who has been round the West End of London will have noticed that there are our old friends, yellow paint, yellow marks on the pavement, circular "no parking" signs and, to cap it all, signs looking like sandwich boards in the middle of the road, or an even newer one which is a single pedestal circular sign put on the pavement which says, "No Parking" or "This is a no-parking street."

In some streets one can see all those signs side by side—a yellow band, a circular sign on the top of a black and white pole, and these pedestal things on the pavement. The result is that the newest one—the pedestal—has given the impression to the motorist—certainly to me—that the yellow band and the other one do not mean a great deal. I should like to know what these signs are and what is the authority for them. Do they all mean "No Parking"? If so, why do we have to triplicate them and, in some cases, quadruplicate them? These tripods only take up room.

The result is that all over London there are masses and masses of "No Parking" signs, which, from a police point of view, are quite unenforceable. If the police were to enforce every "No Parking" sign, the magistrates' courts in the Metropolitan area would be absolutely over-loaded; they would not be able to cope.

For days on end, one can leave a car in certain streets with complete impunity. Anyone who studies the activities of the police knows almost to the day how often he can expect to be run in if he parks his car there regularly. I was with a man yesterday who had it all worked out to a nicety—how much it cost him a year in fines, how often he was run in, and how much it would cost to garage his car. The whole thing is absolutely farcical. I cannot understand the basis of this parking or of the traffic regulations.

Every night when I leave the House, I have to go home through Belgrave Square, where within the last few months a new set of islands has been put in. I quite understand that Belgrave Square should be made a one-way thoroughfare—it would probably be a very good thing if all our squares were one-way only—but I cannot for the life of me see the point of putting in islands which sit square across any traffic that is coming Into the square, so that any vehicle wanting to enter the square must do a sort of right-hand and left-hand wriggle to get into the square. The result is that when rush hour traffic is coming away from Hyde Park Corner, a stoppage is created at Belgrave Square which comes right back to Hyde Park Corner. That is certainly not in the interests of the police, who are trying to keep the traffic at Hyde Park Corner moving to the best of their ability.

I have a few suggestions which I earnestly ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to consider and which would cost practically nothing to put into effect. There is no question, therefore, as there would be with underground shelters, that a lot of money is involved and we cannot afford it. First, there are the middle-of-the-road taxi ranks. There is one outside the Park Lane Hotel, right in the middle of Piccadilly. Why is it there? Why cannot that taxi rank be put on the North side of the road? It is an incredible barrier to traffic passing up and down Piccadilly.

Some of the bus stops are duplicated in the most extraordinary way. At Piccadilly Circus, one can get on practically every bus on either side of the Circus, either entering or leaving the Circus. Then, there is a bus stop in Park Lane. One would think that a bus stop in Park Lane would be put in one of the straight parts of the road. Instead, it is put on the only bend in Park Lane. It sits right on the corner, so that if anything is to stop the traffic, it is that bus stop.

What about new buildings? Whenever a new building goes up in this part of London, it is my contention that not only should it have a pull-in, certainly in the case of hotels and large offices, but it should also have garage accommodation for people who are expected to work in or to visit the building regularly. I am very glad to see that a new hotel is being erected at the bottom of Conduit Street. I looked at the building yesterday and was told that means are being provided whereby cars can go underneath an arcade. I should be very interested to know from my hon. Friend whether that is so.

If not, how do the Metropolitan Police propose, not only to cope with that very difficult intersection between Bond Street and Conduit Street, but at the same time to deal with that already difficult situation, to which a large hotel is being added? It is worth noting that that hotel and the brand new building opposite are so sited that there is no other part in the whole of Bond Street, which is so narrow. Yet they are both new buildings; it is a most extraordinary situation.

There is one part of Bond Street coming up to Burlington Street where the pavement is large enough to give room to play football. It is an enormously large piece of pavement, which could be employed for a bus stop or for parking, because it is not used at the moment.

Another point I should like to stress is that every junction and crossing of pavement in the town comes up almost to a sharp point, which means a right angle. Cars are getting bigger, wider and longer, and it means that every time a car goes into the main street, if it is going to turn its rear wheel must go right into the middle of the traffic to get round that sharp corner, and so slow up the whole of the side-road and main-street traffic. Is it not possible for the Metropolitan Police to make such recommendations as to ensure that all corners are rounded as far as possible so that traffic will quickly get around and clear of the junction? That is the only way to keep the traffic moving.

Only this morning I tried to get round the corner of Grosvenor Gardens. As one comes up from Buckingham Palace Road towards Hobart Place and then takes a sharp turn to the right to get into Victoria Street, there is an enormous piece of pavement as big as half the size of this Chamber sticking out into the road. As the traffic goes round it there is a big sweep to the left. That corner could be cut off at very little cost and traffic speeded up as a result.

A new development on parking has started, and I have photographs of it if my hon. Friend would care to see them. Within 50yards of a police station in Savile Row not only are cars parking in one line, but a second line is now developing. In Conduit Street and Grosvenor Street any day or evening there are to be seen two lines of vehicles parked right out into the street.

On the subject of zebra crossings, I wonder if it is not possible to look at the sites of some of them. There is one at the junction of Burlington Street and Bond Street which should be shifted 50 yards towards the junction between Burlington Street and Stafford Street which could be treated likewise. They certainly should not be where they are.

Then we have got islands in the most extraordinary places. In Piccadilly Circus we have probably the biggest system of underground crossings in the world, and yet we solemnly put islands all the way round Piccadilly so that pedestrians are almost encouraged to commit suicide. I cannot see what use they are. If a motorist is going through Piccadilly Circus up to Regent Street he is very lucky if he does not knock two islands down, and, of course, a series of passengers running across the road. I do not see why there are not railings round the whole of Piccadilly Circus, because it has an ideal underground crossing system which the Ministry of Transport has spent years trying to encourage people to use.

I do not want to keep the House any longer, but I should like to emphasise the point that laws will be always disregarded if, in the first place, they are not enforced or, alternatively, they are regarded as being idiotic. These parking regulations in London have the distinction of being both unenforced and idiotic. Every driver who goes into the West End of London knows there is a larger percentage of these no parking regulations than are essential. He knows that committee after committee has pointed out the stupidity of the idea. He knows that nothing is done about it, and he sees nothing wrong in infringing the law.

I ask my hon. Friend to regard this matter as a very serious one. I raised this subject two or three times during the last year, and all I received were Departmental answers saying that the matter would be looked into. Some months ago I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Braithwaite), when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, saying that the situation was getting better. That may be all right for the Ministry of Transport, but nobody in London believes that it is true, and certainly anyone who drives round London knows it is quite untrue. We must get away from this rather self-satisfied idea that the situation is getting better. Something must be done, and something can be done. Suggestions have been made time after time, and I ask my hon. Friend to see that something is done very soon.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) and myself have been balloting for this subject for some time, and I am very glad to be able to support him today. Although I do so from a slightly different point of view, I arrive at the same conclusions. I happen to be a member of the London County Council, who, for many years, have kept very detailed statistics of London traffic and have had a traffic plan published in Chapter V of the Development Plan for London, 1951, which gives very detailed consideration to the question of improving the flow of London traffic.

We have now reached a stage where the volume of traffic on London roads is so heavy that in some cases the roads cannot carry any further load without a most serious reduction in speed, and where the accident rate and the loss of money and time because of waiting have reached proportions which must now engage the attention of the Government. I should like to give one or two figures of the growth of traffic in London streets, from two points of view. First, I shall quote the number of licences issued for motor vehicles in London. These figures do not refer to the total number of vehicles which come into London but only those licensed in the County.

In 1938, the number of driving licences issued by the County Council was 380,000. It is now 485,000. Taking the third quarter of each year, the number of vehicles currently licensed by the L.C.C. in 1938 was 265,000; in 1951, it was 323,000; and last year it was 337,000. Those figures refer only to the third quarter of each year, and they represent an increase of something like 27½per cent. The number of motor bicycles licensed has doubled and 50 per cent, of the increase is taken up by goods vehicles, with a very considerable proportion of the 2½-to 4-ton group coming into town. These figures, dealing only with traffic licensed in London, not other vehicles, give some indication of the very considerable extension.

If we look at the police traffic census for 1952 we find that at Hyde Park Corner, Trafalgar Square, the Bank, Marble Arch, Piccadilly, Hampstead Road and Euston Road, the traffic is now exceeding its 1939 volume; at Vauxhall Cross there is a 10 per cent. increase above the prewar figures; in Chiswick High Road and the Great West Road there is 9 per cent. increase; at Putney Bridge there is a 28 per cent. increase, and in Eastern Avenue a 22 per cent. increase. It is the view of the police, and certainly the view of the L.C.C. advisers, that these streets cannot carry any more traffic without a very serious reduction in speed and a great increase in waiting time, and in accidents.

We have estimated that the cost of waiting time in London, due to many of the parking irregularities—because of the volume of traffic—which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, and other causes, is now about £7 million a year. We assume that on the average a speed of 20 m.p.h. would not be excessive in the town but we find that during weekdays vehicles are running at at least 7 m.p.h. slower than that very ordinary rate. Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. the average speed of vehicles moving in London is 15 m.p.h., and between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. it is 13.5 m.p.h. By multiplying the number of vehicles by the waiting period lost we find that at least £7 million is the cost merely through waiting and delays within the county.

Here are some examples of the waiting hours lost every day at typical points in London—HydePark Corner 900 hours, Piccadilly Circus 900, Trafalgar Square 800, the Bank 600, Marble Arch and St. Giles's Circus 500, Southampton Row, Theobalds Road and High Holborn 460, Piccadilly 450, Hampstead Road and Euston Road 425, Strand and Wellington Street 400. This problem is getting worse and worse and I was unable to understand how the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation said in our debate on roads a few months ago that London traffic was moving faster—one mile per hour faster. I take leave to doubt that that is the case.

Unless a speedy solution can be found and money can be spent on road improvements we shall face ever increasing difficulties in London which will reflect itself in lives being lost, injuries being suffered and money and manpower being wasted.

4.22 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I shall try to deal with as many points as I can. On the general issue, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) really answered my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) when he indicated the enormous increase in traffic. I have not had the opportunity of checking the hon. Member's figures, but there has been an enormous increase. We are trying to put a quart in a pint pot. One way of solving the problem, of course, is to have a traffic plan and enforce it. The responsibility for making regulations is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, and the responsibility for enforcing them is that of the Home Office, or rather the police under the Home Secretary's general direction. At present, we are 20 per cent. deficient in the Metropolitan police force. In round figures there are about 4,000 policemen short and that does not help very much.

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury that the report of the working party on car parking is being given the most careful and urgent consideration. I cannot say any more than that, because, obviously, it would be impossible to arrive at any firm conclusions quickly on a problem of these dimensions. My hon. Friend asked specifically what was the system and he referred to the various signs that are used. The position really is a fairly simple one. There are two kinds of signs which are normally in use. One is the "no waiting" sign which forbids all waiting except for the purpose of putting down and picking up.

Mr. Langford-Holt

That is all right is it? I did not appreciate that a lorry can put down and pick up without infringing that regulation.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

That must be so. Obviously, one cannot exclude those living along a street from access to their houses, otherwise there would be no purpose in having a street at all.

Then there is the unilateral waiting sign to show that waiting is allowed on one side only. Those are the normal signs, but there is a new experiment in the shape of "no central waiting" and it will be necessary to deal with that by means of some special form of sign. Meantime it is essentially an experiment. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury referred to temporary signs put up by the police. They are authorised to experiment over a period not exceeding six months. Those signs are put up so that we may see how a scheme works on a temporary basis. I do not think anyone would deny that that is a sensible arrangement. One such experiment has been conducted in Pall Mall and, on the whole, it seems to be satisfactory. As soon as the scheme has been worked out permanent signs will be put up.

My hon. Friend asked about Dover Street, Albemarle Street and Stafford Street and how they fitted into the general plan. Dover Street and Albemarle Street are both in use as main thoroughfares. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was seeking to draw any comparison between those two. It is true that the position in Albemarle Street is better than that in Dover Street—

Mr. Langford-Holt

There are 20 cars parked in those streets now. I have just left them.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Both are "no waiting" streets because they are main thoroughfares. It is true that one is a better street, a wider street, than the other and there the position is easier. I do not know whether it is suggested that they should be treated differently. It is a pity that Dover Street is not as wide as Albemarle Street. Stafford Street is not a main thoroughfare. It is true that it is used and sometimes there may be inconvenience in getting through. But we must allow cars to stop somewhere; otherwise, there would be no purpose in having traffic. We must let them stop in streets which are not such important thoroughfares as others. That is the reason for the distinction between those streets.

My hon. Friend asked a number of other specific questions of which he gave me notice and I will try to answer one or two of them. He spoke of the islands in Belgrave Square and agreed that it was reasonable that the Square should be made "one way" for traffic, but he criticised the islands. The position there is that experiments have been going on. It is impossible to say of traffic exactly what will happen when some particular action is taken. We cannot say in advance what will be the effect when we lay down, for example, that there shall be one-way traffic in a particular street, on a particular kind of parking, or alter the shape of an island. There are all sorts of repercussions.

Clearly, the right thing to do is to experiment in the first place, as far as we can, and when we find the best arrangement that seems practicable to fix on that on a fairly permanent basis. That is what is happening in Belgrave Square. Before my hon. Friend raised this matter, I went to Belgrave Square and satisfied myself that what is being done there is reasonable. It is impossible in the time available now to discuss this matter fully, but I assure my hon. Friend that that is so.

My hon. Friend asked about the taxi rank in Piccadilly. Again, it is the choice of evils. There are three possibilities; one could park either on the north side of Piccadilly, in the middle, or on the south side. We cannot have parking on the north side because that would stop up the access to all the shops, houses and other buildings on that side. There are great objections to parking on the south side. The result would be that when taxis were called from the north side, as most frequently happens, they would have to cross all the lines of traffic going along that thoroughfare. In practice, it is best to put the taxi rank in the middle and that has been done. No one would say that having a taxi rank there is not a drawback, but it is the best place in which it can be put. The only alternative would be not to have taxi ranks. As far as—

The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Four o'Clock.